Georges Brassens (French: [ʒɔʁʒ bʁasɛ̃s]; 22 October 1921
– 29 October 1981) was a French singer-songwriter and poet.
He wrote and sang, with his guitar, more than a hundred of his poems,
as well as texts from many others such as Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine,
or Louis Aragon. In 1967, he received the Grand Prix de Poésie of the
Between 1952 and 1976, he recorded fourteen albums that include
several popular French songs such as Les copains d'abord,
l'Auvergnat, La mauvaise réputation, and Mourir pour des idées. Most
of his texts are black humour-tinged and often anarchist-minded.
3.1 Studio albums
3.2 Live albums
6 Heritage sites
8 External links
Brassens was born in the town of Sète, a town in southern
Montpellier. Now an iconic figure in France, he achieved fame through
his elegant songs with their harmonically complex music for voice and
guitar and articulate, diverse lyrics; indeed, he is considered one of
France's most accomplished postwar poets. He has also set to music
poems by both well-known and relatively obscure poets, including Louis
Aragon (Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux),
Victor Hugo (La Légende de la
Nonne, Gastibelza), Jean Richepin,
François Villon (La Ballade des
Dames du Temps Jadis), and
Antoine Pol (Les Passantes).
During World War II, he was forced by the Germans to work in a labor
camp at a
BMW aircraft engine plant in Basdorf near Berlin in Germany
(March 1943). Here Brassens met some of his future friends, such as
Pierre Onténiente, whom he called Gibraltar because he was "steady as
a rock." They would later become close friends.
After being given ten days' leave in France, he decided not to return
to the labour camp. Brassens took refuge in a small cul-de-sac called
"Impasse Florimont," in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, a popular
and working class district, where he lived for several years with its
owner, Jeanne Planche, a friend of his aunt. Planche lived with her
husband Marcel in relative poverty: without gas, running water, or
electricity. Brassens remained hidden there until the end of the war
five months later, but ended up staying for 22 years. Planche was the
inspiration for Brassens's song Jeanne.
Apart from Paris and Sète, he lived first in
Crespières (near Paris)
and latterly in
Brassens grew up in the family home in
Sète with his mother, Elvira
Dagrosa, father, Jean-Louis, half-sister, Simone (daughter of Elvira
and her first husband, who was killed in World War I), and paternal
grandfather, Jules. His mother, who came from southern Italy (Marsico
Nuovo in Basilicata), was a devout Roman Catholic, while his father
was an easy-going, generous, openminded, anticlerical man. Brassens
grew up between these two starkly contrasting personalities, who
nonetheless shared a love for music. His mother—whom Brassens
labelled a "missionary for songs" (militante de la chanson), Simone
and Jules, were always singing. This environment imparted to Brassens
a passion for singing that would come to define his life. At the time
he listened constantly to his early idols: Charles Trenet, Tino Rossi,
and Ray Ventura. He was said to love music above all else: it was his
first passion and the path that led him to his career. He told his
friend André Sève, "[It is] a kind of internal vibration, something
intense, a pleasure that has something of the sensual to it." He hoped
to enroll at a music conservatory, but his mother insisted that he
could only do so if his grades improved. Consequently, he never
learned to read music. A poor student, Brassens performed badly in
Alphonse Bonnafé, Brassens's ninth-grade teacher, strongly encouraged
his apparent gift for poetry and creativity. Brassens had already been
experimenting with songwriting and poetry. Bonnafé aided his attempts
at poetry and pushed him to spend more time on his schoolwork,
suggesting he begin to study classical poetry. Brassens developed an
interest in versification and rhyme. By Brassens's admission,
Bonnafé's influence on his work was enormous: "We were thugs, at
fourteen, fifteen, and we started to like poets. That is quite a
transformation. Thanks to this teacher, I opened my mind to something
bigger. Later on, every time I wrote a song, I asked myself the
question: would Bonnafé like it?" By this point, music had taken a
slight backstage to poetry for Brassens, who now dreamed of being a
Nonetheless, personal friendships and adolescence still defined
Brassens in his teens. At age seventeen, he was implicated in crimes
that would prove to be a turning point in his life. To get money,
Georges and his gang started to steal from their families and others.
Georges stole a ring and a bracelet from his sister. The police found
and caught him, which caused a scandal. The young men were publicly
characterized as "high school mobsters" or "scum" - voyous. Some of
the perpetrators, unsupported by their families, spent time in prison.
While Brassens's father was more forgiving and immediately picked up
his son, Brassens was expelled from school. He decided to move to
Paris in February 1940, following a short trial as an apprentice mason
in his father's business after World War II had already broken out.
Brassens lived with his aunt Antoinette in the 14th arrondissement of
Paris, where he taught himself to play piano. He began working at a
Renault car factory. In May 1940 the factory was bombed, and France
invaded by Germany. Brassens returned to the family home in Sète. He
spent the summer in his home town, but soon returned to Paris, feeling
that this was where his future lay. He did not work, since employment
would serve only to profit the occupying enemy. Saddened by the lack
of poetic culture, Brassens spent most of his days in the library. It
was then that he set a pattern of rising at five in the morning, and
going to bed at sunset – a pattern he maintained the greater part of
his life. He meticulously studied the great masters: Villon,
Baudelaire, Verlaine and Hugo. His approach to poetry was almost
scientific. Reading, for instance, a poem by Verlaine, he dissected it
image by image, attentive to the slightest change in rhythm, analysing
the rhymes and the way they alternated. He drew on this enormous
literary culture as he wrote his first collection of poems, Des coups
d’épée dans l’eau, whose conclusion foreshadowed the anarchism
of his future songs:
9 impasse Florimont where Brassens lived for twenty-two years with a
plaque commemorating his time there
Le siècle où nous vivons est un siècle pourri.
Tout n'est que lâcheté, bassesse,
Les plus grands assassins vont aux plus grandes messes
Et sont des plus grands rois les plus grands favoris.
Hommage de l'auteur à ceux qui l'ont compris,
Et merde aux autres.
The century we live in is a rotten century.
Everything is but cowardice and baseness.
The greatest murderers attend the highest Masses
And are the greatest favourites of the greatest kings.
Homage from the author to those who understood this,
And to hell with the others (shit to the others).
Brassens also published À la venvole in 1942, thanks to the money of
his family and friends, and with the surprising help of a woman named
Jeanne Planche, a neighbour of Antoinette, probably the first Brassens
fan. Brassens later commented on his early works: "In those times, I
was only regurgitating what I had learned reading the poets. I hadn't
transformed it into honey yet."
In March 1943, Brassens was requisitioned for the STO (Service du
travail obligatoire) forced labour organisation in Germany. He found
time to write Bonhomme and Pauvre Martin, along with more than a
hundred other songs, that were later either burned or frequently
altered before they reached their final form (Le Mauvais sujet
repenti). He also wrote the beginning of his first novel, Lalie
Kakamou. In Germany, he met some of his best friends like Pierre
Onténiente, whom he nicknamed "Gibraltar", because he was "firm as a
rock." Onténiente later became his right-hand man and his private
A year after he arrived in Basdorf, Brassens was granted a ten-day
furlough. It was obvious to him and his new friends that he wouldn't
come back. In Paris, he had to find a hideout, but he knew very few
people. He had indeed led quite a lonely life in Paris, seeing only a
Sète and the girls. Finally, Jeanne Planche came to his
aid and offered to put him up as long as necessary. Jeanne lived with
her husband Marcel in a hovel at 9 impasse Florimont, with no gas,
water or electricity. Brassens accepted... and stayed there for twenty
two years. He once said on the radio: "I was nice there, and I have
gained since then quite an amazing sense of discomfort." According to
Pierre Onténiente: "Jeanne had a crush on Georges and Marcel knew
nothing, as he started to get drunk at eight in the morning."
Brassens in 1952
Once put up at Jeanne Planche's, Georges had to stay hidden for five
months, waiting for the war to come to an end. He continued writing
poems and songs. He composed using as his only instrument a small
piece of furniture that he called "my drum" on which he beat out the
rhythm. He resumed writing the novel he started in Basdorf, for only
now did he consider a career as a famous novelist. The end of World
War II and the freedom suddenly regained didn't change his habits
much, except that he got his library card back and resumed studying
The end of the war meant the homecoming of the friends from Basdorf,
with whom Brassens planned to create an anarchist-minded paper, Le Cri
des Gueux (The villains' cry), which never came into being for lack of
money. At the same time, he set up the "Prehistoric Party" with Emile
Miramont (a friend from
Sète nicknamed "Corne d'Auroch" – the horn
of an Aurochs, an ancient large bovine species) and André Larue (whom
he met in Basdorf), which advocated the return to a more modest way of
life, but whose chief purpose was to ridicule the other political
parties. After the failure of Le Cri des Gueux, Brassens joined the
Anarchist Federation and wrote some virulent, black humour-tinged
articles for Le Libertaire, the Federation's paper. But the
extravagance of the future songwriter wasn’t to everybody’s taste,
and he soon had to leave the Federation, albeit without resentment.
Brassens said in an interview: "I'm an anarchist, so much so that I
always cross at the zebra crossing to avoid arguing with the
police."[this quote needs a citation] He also said: "I'm not very fond
of the law. As Léautaud would say, I could do without laws [...] I
think most people couldn’t."
His friends who heard and liked his songs urged him to go and try them
out in a cabaret, café or concert hall. He was shy and had difficulty
performing in front of people. At first, he wanted to sell his songs
to well-known singers such as "les frères Jacques". The owner of a
cafe told him that his songs were not the type he was looking for. But
at one point he met the singer
Patachou in a very well known cafe, Les
Trois Baudets, and she brought him into the music scene. Several
famous singers came into the music industry this way, including
Jacques Brel and Léo Ferré. He later on made several appearances at
Paris Olympia under Bruno Coquatrix' management and at the Bobino
music hall theater.
He toured with Pierre Louki, who wrote a book of recollections
entitled Avec Brassens (éditions Christian Pirot, 1999,
ISBN 2-86808-129-0). After 1952, Brassens rarely left France. A
few trips to Belgium and Switzerland; a month in Canada (1961,
recording issued on CD in 2011) and another in North Africa were his
only trips outside
France – except for his concerts in Wales in 1970
and 1973 (Cardiff).
All of Georges Brassens' studio albums are untitled. They are referred
either as self-titled with a number, or by the title of the first song
on the album, or by the most well-known song.
Brassens performing live in 1964
1952: La Mauvaise Réputation
1953: Le Vent (or Les Amoureux des bancs publics)
including Pauvre Martin
1954: Les Sabots d'Hélène (or
Chanson pour l'Auvergnat)
1956: Je me suis fait tout petit
1957: Oncle Archibald
1958: Le Pornographe
1960: Les Funérailles d'antan (or Le Mécréant)
1961: Le Temps ne fait rien à l'affaire
1962: Les Trompettes de la renommée
1964: Les Copains d'abord
1966: Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète
1969: Misogynie à part (or La Religieuse)
1976: Trompe la mort (or Nouvelles chansons)
1979: Brassens-Moustache jouent Brassens en jazz (with Moustache and
les Petits français, jazz versions of previously released songs;
re-released in 1989 as Giants of Jazz Play Brassens)
Georges Brassens chante les chansons de sa jeunesse (cover album
of old songs)
Georges Brassens in Great Britain
Georges Brassens au TNP (recorded in 1966)
Georges Brassens à la Villa d'Este (recorded in 1953)
2006: Concerts de 1959 à 1976 (box set featuring concerts from 1960,
1969, 1970, 1973 and 1976)
Brassens rarely performed abroad. His lyrics are difficult to
translate, though attempts have been made. He accompanied himself
on acoustic guitar. Most of the time the only other accompaniment came
from his friend Pierre Nicolas with a double bass, and sometimes a
second guitar (Barthélémy Rosso, Joël Favreau).
His songs often decry hypocrisy and self-righteousness in the
conservative French society of the time, especially among the
religious, the well-to-do, and those in law enforcement. The criticism
is often indirect, focusing on the good deeds or innocence of others
in contrast. His elegant use of florid language and dark humor, along
with bouncy rhythms, often give a rather jocular feel to even the
Some of his most famous songs include:
Les copains d'abord, about a boat of that name, and friendship,
written for a movie Les copains (1964) directed by Yves Robert;
(translated and covered by
Asleep At The Wheel
Asleep At The Wheel as "
and by a Polish cover band Zespół Reprezentacyjny as "Kumple to
grunt" and included on their 2007 eponymously titled CD).
Chanson pour l'Auvergnat, lauding those who take care of the
downtrodden against the pettiness of the bourgeois and the harshness
of law enforcement.
Brave Margot, about a young girl who gives a young kitten the breast,
which attracts a large group of male onlookers.
La Cane de Jeanne for Marcel and Jeanne Planche, who befriended and
sheltered him and others.
La mauvaise réputation – "the bad reputation" – a
semi-autobiographical tune with its catchy lyric: "Mais les braves
gens n'aiment pas que l'on suive une autre route qu'eux" (But the good
folks don't like it if you take a different road than they do.)
Les amoureux des bancs publics – about young lovers who kiss each
other publicly and shock self-righteous people.
Pauvre Martin, the suffering of a poor peasant.
Le gorille – tells, in a humorous fashion, of a gorilla with a large
penis (and admired for this by ladies) who escapes his cage. Mistaking
a robed judge for a woman, the beast forcefully sodomizes him. The
song contrasts the wooden attitude that the judge had exhibited when
sentencing a man to death by the guillotine with his cries for mercy
when being assaulted by the gorilla. This song, considered
pornographic, was banned for a while. The song's refrain (Gare au gori
– i – i – i – ille, "beware the gorilla") is widely known; it
was translated into English by
Jake Thackray as Brother Gorilla, by
Greek singer-songwriter Christos Thivaios as Ο Γορίλλας ("The
Gorilla"), by Spanish songwriter Joaquín Carbonell as "El Gorila"
("The Gorilla"), by Italian songwriter
Fabrizio De André
Fabrizio De André as "Il
Gorilla" ("The Gorilla" – FDA included this translation into his
1968 album "Volume III"), by a Polish cover band Zespół
Reprezentacyjny as "Goryl" and by Israeli writer Dan Almagor as
Fernande – a 'virile antiphon' about the women lonely men think
about to inspire self-gratification (or to nip it in the bud). Its
infamous refrain (Quand je pense à Fernande, je bande, je bande...,
`When I think about Fernande, I get hard') is still immediately
recognized in France, and has essentially ended the use of several
female first names.
(in French) Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète, a long
song (7:18) describing, in a colourful, "live" and poetic way, his
wish to be buried on a particular sandy beach in his hometown, "Plage
de la Corniche".
Mourir pour des idées, describing the recurring violence over ideas
and an exhortation to be left in peace (translated into Italian by
Fabrizio De André
Fabrizio De André as "Morire per delle
idee" and included in FDA's 1974 album "Canzoni" and by a Polish cover
band Zespół Reprezentacyjny as "Śmierć za idee" and included on
their 2007 CD "Kumple to grunt").
Brassens died of cancer in 1981, in Saint-Gély-du-Fesc, having
suffered health problems for many years, and rests at the Cimetière
le Py in Sète.
In recent years,[when?] more than 50 doctoral dissertations have been
written about Georges Brassens. Many artists from
Japan, Israel, Russia, the United States (where there is a Georges
Brassens fan club), Italy and Spain have made cover versions of his
songs. His songs have been translated into 20 languages, including
Many singers have covered Georges Brassens' lyrics in other languages,
for instance Pierre de Gaillande, who translates Brassens' songs and
performs them in English, Koshiji Fubuki in Japanese, Fabrizio De
André (in Italian), Alberto Patrucco (in Italian), and Nanni Svampa
(in Italian and Milanese),
Graeme Allwright and
Jake Thackray (in
English), Sam Alpha (in creole),
Yossi Banai (in Hebrew), Arsen Dedić
Jiří Dědeček (in Czech),
Mark Freidkin (in
Russian), Loquillo, Paco Ibáñez, Javier Krahe, Joaquín Carbonell
and Eduardo Peralta (in Spanish), Jacques Ivart (in esperanto), Franz
Josef Degenhardt and Ralf Tauchmann (in German),
Mani Matter in
Bernese Dialect, Zespół Reprezentacyjny (they released 2 CDs of
Brassens' songs in Polish) and Piotr Machalica (in Polish), Cornelis
Vreeswijk (Swedish) and Tuula Amberla (in Finnish). Dieter Kaiser, a
Belgian-German singer who performs in public concerts with the
French-German professional guitarist Stéphane Bazire under the name
Stéphane & Didier has translated into German language and
gathered in a brochure 19 Brassens songs. He also translated among
others the poem "Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux" of the French
contemporary poet Louis Aragon. Franco-Cameroonian singer Kristo
Numpuby also released a cover-album with the original French lyrics
but adapted the songs to various African rhythms.
An international association of
Georges Brassens fans exists and there
is also a fan club in Berlin-Basdorf which organizes a Brassens
festival every year in September.
Brassens composed about 250 songs, of which 200 were recorded, the
other 50 remaining unfinished.
Renée Claude, an important Québécois singer, dedicated a
tribute-album to him, J'ai rendez-vous avec vous (1993).
His songs have a major influence on many French singers across several
generations, including Maxime Le Forestier, Renaud,
In 2008, the English folk-singer
Leon Rosselson included a tribute
song to Brassens, entitled "The Ghost of Georges Brassens", on his
album A Proper State.
The song "À Brassens" ("To Brassens") from Jean Ferrat's album Ferrat
was dedicated to Brassens.
In 2014, Australian-French duo Mountain Men released a live tribute
album Mountain Men chante Georges Brassens.
Bust of Brassens in the
Parc Georges-Brassens in Paris
Many schools, theatres, parks, public gardens, and public places are
Georges Brassens and his work, including:
L'Espace Brassens in his hometown of Sète, a museum to his life.
A park built on the site of the former Vaugirard horse market &
slaughterhouses, was named Parc Georges-Brassens. Brassens lived a
large part of his life about hundred metres from the slaughterhouses,
at 9, impasse Florimont and then at 42, rue Santos-Dumont. The park
was inaugurated in 1975.
A nearby station of Tram line 3 in Paris is also named in Brassens'
The Place du Marché of
Brive-la-Gaillarde was renamed Place
Georges-Brassens as a tribute to his well-known song Hécatombe, which
name-drops the market.
Paris Métro station Porte des Lilas (Line 11) there is a mural
portrait of Brassens along with a quote from his song "Les Lilas",
written for the 1957 film Porte des Lilas by René Clair. In this
film, Brassens had a supporting role, practically playing himself.
^ Mura, Gianni (13 March 2011). "Brassens, il burbero maestro di tutti
i cantautori". repubblica.it. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
Georges Brassens – La marguerite et le chrysanthème. Pierre
Berruer. Les Presses de la Cité, 1981. ISBN 2-7242-1229-0
^ There are performing versions of a number of songs in Spanish, for
example, and Le Gorile has been translated into various languages.
^ Mountain Men Chante Georges Brassens
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Georges Brassens.
(in English) Espace Brassens museum in Sète
(in French) Georges-Brassens.com
Georges Brassens on IMDb
Georges Brassens Page from the Daily Bleed's Anarchist
French language and French-speaking world portal
ISNI: 0000 0000 8348 9112
BNF: cb11893806j (data)