La Vie Bohème: A Biography Of Jacques Brel is the only English language account of the great Belgian chansonier. Riven with new and rediscovered information, it remains too the most candid - and probably definitive - exploration of both a figurehead and éminence grise of modern songwriting, whose global impact comes not from one or two 'standards', but myriad items spread over decades of translated covers and revivals. Chief among these are 'Seasons In The Sun' - which topped the UK chart in both 1974 (by Terry Jacks) and 1999 (Westlife) - 'Amsterdam', 'Next' and 'If You Go Away'.
This achievement is all the more remarkable in the light of Brel's indifference towards overseas success beyond banking royalty cheques, and being paid as per contract for obligated recitals in Britain, the USA and Russia. In 1967, he withdrew from the concert stage altogether to embark on ambitious but often misunderstood artistic enterprises, whilst tit-bits about an eye-stretching private life became more rivetting to Joe Average than a snail-paced recording career - especially after Brel, fighting the cancer that killed him in 1978, fled to the last bolt-hole his fans and the media would expect to find him, namely the remote Pacific island where Gauguin too had lived out his final years..
Yet a huge cult following snowballed - and Brel was to burn his brand on such discerning and diverse composers as Mort Shuman, Rod McKuen, Ray Davies, Leonard Cohen, Victoria Wood, David Bowie and, the foremost interpreter of his work, Scott Walker. Moreover, no longer the exclusive property of undergraduates flirting with bohemia, Brel's posthumous popularity has been exemplified by Marc Almond's Jacques album (and spin-off 'Jackie' Top 10 single) in 1990, and his effect on output by the likes of Tom Robinson, Julian Cope, Glen Matlock, Billy Bragg, Howard Devoto, Scritti Politti and Nick 'Momus' Currie. He is also very much alive and well in Jarvis Cocker's gauche apres-punk romanticism and, as demonstrated on 1998's Ne Me Quitte Pas: Brel Songs By..., a Brel tribute album that garnered rave reviews, a cast that ranges from 1960s pop stars to denizens of the roots scene. Furthermore, in this Transvaal township or that fjordic bailiwick, you'll still come across provincial repertory companies approximating Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, the off-Broadway musical hinged on twenty-five Brel chansons that, as Scott Walker noted, 'rarely offer solutions yet state the confusion beautifully.'