The Black Veils present…


The Round Table: Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, and Léo Ferré

Paris, Jan. 6, 1969



L-R: Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré, Georges Brassens



This famous meeting of the three giants of French chanson was arranged and led by François-René Christiani. The following English translation, by Robert Alfonso and Todd Heller (the Black Veils), is the only one in existence, as far as we know. The original French text can be found here: A simple Google search will bring up audio files of the event.

The Black Veils offer this English translation for the sole purpose of promoting these artists, their work, French chanson, and international understanding. Please enjoy it in that spirit.

A brief note: In France and wherever French is spoken, Brassens, Brel, and Ferré were, and remain, a Trinity comparable to their contemporaries the Beatles, Dylan, and Elvis. Imagine those guys sitting around a table in 1969 talking about life, God, women, and music!

Enjoy! And please feel free to send comments.

 – The Black Veils  © 2010


- Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, and Léo Ferré: Are you conscious of the fact that you are the three greatest songwriters and performers of French chanson, and have been for years now, and with same success?

FERRÉ: First of all I am conscious of being with my two colleagues, who are immensely talented, it’s true, but mostly of being with two friends. And I’ve wanted this for a long time. These days people keep asking: "What is chanson for you, what is your approach?" Who cares? What’s important, I believe, is the little bit of love you can give or take – like this, around a microphone, for example. Now that we have been making songs for twenty years, and worked so hard at it, that we’ve, as we say back home, "zugumé" at the job so long, and that now we can sing peacefully in a room without the cops or people coming to jeer at us, it is only justice, finally. We do what we can, say what we want to say, and we don’t have to smash windows to do it. 

You are all the three in the famous collection Poets of Today.

BRASSENS: But we’re not the only ones. And then it doesn’t mean much, this way of compartmentalizing….

- You don’t take yourself for a poet, then?

BRASSENS: Not really. I don’t know if I’m poet. It’s possible I’m a little bit of one, but it doesn’t matter. I mix words and music and then sing them.

- I believe that Jacques Brel also defends himself against being a poet?

BREL: I’m a “chansonnier,” that’s the right word! I’m a little craftsman of song.

FERRÉ: People who say they’re poets are the people who really aren’t, deep down. People who are honored to be called poets are Sunday poets who have published little books at their own expense.… That said, if they call me a poet, I like it. But it’s like someone saying to me that I’m a shoemaker who makes beautiful shoes. I agree with Brel’s point of view.

- Is chanson an art, in your opinion? A major art or a minor art?

FERRÉ: Brassens said something true: “I mix words and music.” That’s just what I do.

BRASSENS: Well yes, it’s completely different from what’s commonly called poetry, which is made to be read or spoken. A song is very different. Even if guys like Ferré succeeded in putting poets to music, like Baudelaire, it is difficult to use a song in the way the poets who preceded us used words. When you write for the ear, you’re pretty much forced to use a slightly different vocabulary, words that catch the ear more quickly…. Even though you also have that with records, it’s easier for a reader to go back….

BREL: Yes, but the record is a by-product of the song, let’s not kid ourselves.… The song was made to be sung, not to be released and sold on a record.

FERRÉ: I agree completely. It’s like if you made good chocolates, extraordinary chocolates, non-commercially, and you kept them to yourself. But from the moment you put them in a package and put them up for sale, you’re not interested anymore. Me, if I make good chocolates and others eat them, I don’t care.… The package is the record, and the record is sort of the death of the music.

BRASSENS: In another time, people sang. When a guy made up a song, people heard it, learned it and sang it. They took part, they had books of songs…. Today, the public has become more passive.

FERRÉ: There are people who get the music first, others get the words first. The most intelligent people get the words first. The most sensitive people – they can be the least intelligent, which is possible also – first get the music. As a result, I could make Baudelaire known to people who did not know who Baudelaire was.

BREL: Before, when a guy wrote a song people reproduced it – as Georges said –, whereas today we reproduce it ourselves. It made a chain, before… I mean before the long-playing record. In fact, the greatest inventor of song is that English engineer who discovered the principle of the LP, during the war. It starts in incubators… and now I have the feeling I’m laying eggs.

FERRÉ: That’s right. You said awhile ago that we were poets or craftsmen, or whatever…. No, you know what the three of us are?

BRASSENS: Poor bastards in front of microphones!

FERRÉ: No… we’re singers. Because if we didn’t have voices, we couldn’t create. Because without a voice, you Georges, or you Jacques, you wouldn’t write and I wouldn’t either.

BRASSENS: You’re really nice to say that to me. Because in that respect, I’m not all that great, eh?

FERRÉ: Yes, you have a voice. You sing. And he does too. If he didn’t have the voice, who would sing Brel’s songs? All that he has done, he would not have written. He wrote his songs because he could “publish” them with his voice. And me too….

BRASSENS: Yes, he surely would have written other things….

BREL: That comes back to saying that you can be a singer… just because you have a voice.

- Did you ever do anything other than write, compose or sing, and has it served you in your trade as a singer?

FERRÉ: At the same time you can’t do anything else. Now what we did before, we had to go to school, do our studies, odd jobs, and so on.

BRASSENS: I lived, you know. But, in fact, I always made songs.

FERRÉ: We had to earn a living, sometimes. When Brel arrived in Paris with his guitar, I don’t know what he did to earn a living, but it couldn’t have been much fun. He doesn’t want to talk about it, I suppose….

BREL: Oh, it’s all the same to me, I didn’t do anything at all! [laughs]

FERRÉ: That’s great… it’s much better that way! [laughs]

BRASSENS: You’re not alone. That’s all I’ve ever done….

- All three of you, more or less, have worked in film. Do you think there are connections between the actor and the singer?

FERRÉ: I haven’t done any acting. I would like to, but I don’t think I’d know how. I’d like to do it in the way that you want to do something you don’t know how to do.

BRASSENS: I don’t know how to do it either, sincerely… I don’t know.

BREL: I made two films. Not for film’s sake, the cinematography of the Lumière brothers, but because both times there was a sense of freedom…. And I’m very attached to my little ideas about freedom! The first time, it was Risks of the Trade, the other time, Bonnot’s Band. It was the idea that allured me. And I believe that if you can lend a hand to an idea, you should do it.

- Cinema is teamwork more than anything…. Was that a big change from your solitary work as a singer?

BREL: No…. With musical comedy you can talk a lot more about teamwork.

BRASSENS: I don’t believe that it’s teamwork, or whetever else, that gives you or doesn’t give you something more…. A person likes to act or he doesn’t. I don’t like it, but I don’t have anything against teamwork. The film that I made, Porte des Lilas, I did it with some friends like Brasseur, Bussières, and it worked very well. They didn’t get in my way, I didn’t get in theirs. What I don’t like is the technical, mechanical side; no more than this microphone you’ve shoved under our noses!

FERRÉ: When we sing, alone in the spotlights, with just our clothes, a guitar or a piano, we know what the loneliness of a singer is. You learn to manage with what they call “experience,” but it’s not always easy. What I wonder is if, for Brel, the loneliness of the theatre is the same as that of the concert?

BREL: Yes, it’s the same loneliness.

FERRÉ: You mean when you play your part, in among the others, you are as alone as when you sing in a concert for two hours? That’s new to me…. I don’t understand.

BRASSENS: But yes…. Because if it’s no good, they’ll say that it’s him who’s no good. But all the same he has to sing his song….

FERRÉ: He’s already in his shell when he makes his entrance….

BREL: For the Man of La Mancha it is a little different because I’m the one who caused the madness. So I stay a little bit alone with my madness.

- Don't the others share it?

BREL: Yes, they share it! But they probably don’t consider it all as madness. Anyway, in the moment when I’m acting, I am as alone as when I sing.

BRASSENS: Don’t worry. In any event, you’re always alone everywhere, all the time. And besides, you’re not alone!

BREL: Of course! Whoever tells me he’s not alone in life is more Belgian than I am!

- Whatever you do, you are always alone? Does that mean that to make great and beautiful things you must be alone and unhappy?

FERRÉ: Oh yes! The only valid things are done in sadness and loneliness. I believe that art is an outgrowth of loneliness. Artists are lonely….

BREL: The artist it is a good man, completely maladjusted, who only manages to say publicly what a normal guy says to his old lady in the evening.

FERRÉ: Rather what a normal guy could say to his wife in the evening.

BRASSENS: Sometimes he says it better, all the same! [laughter]

BREL: Yes, but the artist is a shy person, a guy who doesn’t dare to approach things “head on,” as they say, and who only manages to say publicly what he should say in the normal course of life…. He’s a little proud too. Finally he’s very clinical, very medical, the artist. However, the worst is the artist who is not an artist, the shy one who doesn’t lay his egg. That’s what’s awful, because he goes head-first into a clinical case.

- He’s no longer an artist, then?

BREL: In the proper sense, no.

FERRÉ: There is only one word for him, it’s “amateur.”

- Can you say that, in your work, you have always done what you wanted to do?

FERRÉ: Surely not. If I did my job as I wanted to, I would empty the rooms. And still, I don’t put myself out, you know…. Then I make also concessions.

BRASSENS: You mean by that that you don’t say everything you want to, exactly as you want to? Yes, of course, but finally you still have the possibility of singing when you want and pretty much what you want, by shouting it a little bit….

FERRÉ: Ah yes, but why? Because now we’re public figures. But when I started out, I was thrown out of the publishers’ doors. I spit in their faces, of course, but immediately I was thrown out the door….

BREL: I don’t have that feeling. I feel like I do more or less what I want to do. I always have…. I’m not saying I was happy all the time, that’s got nothing to do with it, and I wasn’t, but on the whole I’ve always done pretty much what I wanted.

BRASSENS: We are still among those who can do about whatever they want…. Of course, we’re not going to go on stage and threaten the audience or fire at them with a machine gun. We do what we want, but within certain limits, with a little civility….

FERRÉ: I have a problem, which is the same one I’ve had for years: each time I create songs, it’s because I need them for my show, then I write them quickly and then after that I’m lazy, I wait…. And each time I ask myself: will I still know how to write them? And I don’t know, is it the same for you?

BREL: Yes… of course! Each time you write one, you say to yourself: this one’s the last. It’s normal.

BRASSENS: Every time I try again, I don’t know how to do it anymore either….

BREL: And me, I can’t really do it any more… I forget how it’s done!

BRASSENS: Yes, but it comes back quickly.

- And if you couldn’t sing anymore, if you had to choose another job?

BRASSENS: Ah! You know… I would choose retirement! At my age, it is the only job I could choose. [laughter]

- What did you do with your first windfall?

FERRÉ: Blew it, I believe….

- At first, maybe. But after that, with success and the money you earned from it, didn't you feel that your relationships with people changed?

FERRÉ: Money gives absolute independence. It is important, independence is expensive. Now, too much money, I believe all three of us couldn’t care less about that. I don’t know what saving is….

BRASSENS: It’s really a pain in the ass, this money thing. Because a lot of guys go into music just for that. We were very happy to earn our living from our little songs, but we didn’t do it with that intention, we did it because we enjoyed it. If no one paid us we would have done it anyway! We wouldn’t have sold canned sardines – I don’t know if that pays, but – if that paid better than music. If we were paid like civil servants to do what we do, we would continue anyway. Because we like it. And for a few years now, all you hear about is these incredible sums. There are loads of these folks who throw themselves into this adventure and knock themselves out.

BREL: Because they make a financial venture of it.

- Do you live in fear of becoming old singers, of growing old with your songs?

BRASSENS: As for me, me and Ferré – that other guy, he’s younger than us –, we’re approaching 50 peacefully. To a young person, or to you, we’re old men, it’s true, you have to speak of things as they are… but, don’t worry, we’re not really aware of it! [laughter] Any end is painful. Everything that ends is sad. It is rare that things end well…. It’s always sad to get old, not to do what you like anymore or what you used to do. And to retire, of course it’s sad….

- And the anguish of death? Do you feel it?

BRASSENS: No… in agreeing to live, I agreed to die too. So….

FERRÉ: Those who write, like us, are naturally obsessed with death. We think about it every day….

BRASSENS: It’s one of our favorite subjects, inevitably. There aren’t thirty-six subjects, you know; when you write you’re bound to run into death.

FERRÉ: But it isn’t inevitably sad. Georges’s song about his funeral isn’t sad….

BRASSENS: On this subject, Léo, I announce to you that I don’t care if I’m buried on the beach at Sète! It’s all completely the same to me…. I did that to amuse myself. To go for a dip in the sea. [laughter]

- Do you have the feeling you’ve become adults?

BRASSENS: Aye aye aye!

BREL: Not me.

FERRÉ: Me neither.

BRASSENS: We’re all left behind a little! To become an adult, first you have to do your military service, get married, have children. You have to embrace a career, you have to follow it, rise in the ranks. That’s how you become an adult…. We others have a life a bit on the margins of normal life, outside of reality. We can’t become adults.

- Perhaps because you didn’t want to adapt to the traditional system?

BREL: Or we couldn’t!

BRASSENS: Because it was our character not to adapt to it; that’s all. We didn’t do it purposely. There’s no boastfulness in saying you’re a loner. You’re just that way.

FERRÉ: That gets back to the child-poet. As Brel sings without laughing, and he believes it, when he says this marvelous thing, “I will light up my guitar, we will believe we are Spanish”[sic], only a kid could say that!

BREL: Of course. It’s finally a question of temperament…. The whole thing is in knowing what you do when you face a wall: do you go around it, jump over it, or knock it down?

BRASSENS: Me, I think about it!

BREL: I knock it down! I want to grab a pickaxe….

FERRÉ: Me, I go around it!

BREL: Yes, but the common point is that every month, instantaneously, we want to go to the other side of the wall that’s been put up. That’s all that matters, and it proves that we’re not adults. What does a normal guy do? He builds another wall in front of it, puts a roof on it and settles down. It’s what they call construction! [laughter]

- You have all, at one time or another in your existence, or even now, flirted with the anarchistic or libertarian movements. For Brassens it was a whole period, for Brel a nickname, and for Ferré it’s still a militant cause, a pretext for almost insurrectionary performances….

FERRÉ: No! I am not, I cannot be militant. I cannot militate for some idea or another because I would not be free. And I believe that Brassens and Brel are like me, because anarchy is first of all the negation of all authority, wherever it comes from. Anarchy initially scared people, at the end of the 19th century, because there were bombs. After that it made them laugh. Then, the word anarchy left a bad taste in people’s mouths. And then, for a few months now, notably since May, things have gone back into place. I assure you that when you say the word anarchy, or anarchists, even on stage, people don’t laugh anymore, they are in agreement, and they want to know what it is.

BRASSENS: It is difficult to explain, anarchy…. The anarchists themselves have a hard time explaining it. When I was with the anarchist movement – I stayed in it two or three years, I made Le Libertaire in 45, 46, 47, and I never completely broke with it, but finally I don’t militate anymore like I used to –, each person had a completely personal idea about anarchy. But that’s what’s exciting about anarchy: that there’s not one true dogma. It is an ethic, a way of understanding life, I believe….

BREL: … And which gives priority to the individual!

FERRÉ: It’s an ethic of refusal. Because if there had not been throughout the millenia some rowdy characters to say no at certain moments, we would be still in the trees!

BREL: I completely agree with what Léo says. That said, though, there are people who don’t feel alone or maladjusted and who find their security collectively.

BRASSENS: Of course. As for me, I never disapprove of anything, people mostly do what they want. I agree or I disagree, that’s all. Because I’ve said that, I’ve often been reproached for not wanting to remake society. It’s just that I don’t feel I’m capable. If I had collective solutions –

BREL: But who, who has the collective solution?

BRASSENS: There are some who claim to. But in the world today, there aren’t many who really seem to have it… [laughter]. I don’t know what must be done. If I knew, if I were persuaded that by turning right or left, by doing this or that, the world was going to change, I would sacrifice my little bit of tranquility! But I don’t really believe it….

- Léo Ferré?

FERRÉ: I am less lyrical than him….

BRASSENS: Léo, you are completely hopeless!

BREL: There is a phenomenon of impotence too, which is absolutely dreadful ….

- So you really have the impression that there’s nothing you can do?

BRASSENS: No, I do something around my neighbors, my friends, within my small limits. I think anyway that that’s as valid as if I militated somewhere…. Not to raise a hue and a cry is a form of engagement like any another.

FERRÉ: I find that Georges, in his heart, militates much more than I do. Because I don’t believe any more in many things he wants to believe in.

BRASSENS: I pretend, Léo. I’m doing what you do when love goes away. I pretend to believe in it, and that makes it last a little while….

FERRÉ: No, no. When love goes away, it’s already been gone a long time.

- If, according to you, there is no political solution, is there a “mystical” solution? God… or any form of religion?

BREL: Ah! there… that’s another thing! [Burst of general laughter] I actually believe….

BRASSENS: All right, now we’re more at ease!

FERRÉ: Yes! …Uh, well, I went to a religious school, I served mass for eight years, I was a choir-boy, and there you go…. I haven’t gone to mass, obviously, since then.

BREL: I went to a religious school, I served mass. Not eight years, one year I believe, just enough time to buy a bicycle with what they gave me.

BRASSENS: I was a French boy scout.

BREL: Me too, but not French. I was a Belgian scout!

BRASSENS: As a non-believer, it’s difficult for me to talk about God….

- Would God be a kind of fetishism in your eyes?

FERRÉ: No, we are not fetishistic. Or yes… we are. With women.

BRASSENS: To a certain extent, yes, that very well could be a kind of fetishism. Somebody called God the Great Fetish. I talk about him a lot in my songs, but only so that people understand what I mean.

- Are you sometimes aware that you have a tradition behind you, French folklore, the Bérangers, etc?

BRASSENS: We have behind us all we’ve heard, all we’ve read, all we’ve loved….

FERRÉ: All we’ve done! All that we do today, we know a little something about our profession.

BREL: All that we haven’t done, also… that plays a big part. When I write, all that I haven’t done – and that attracts me a little bit – plays a big part.

- Do you think there is a difference between chanson as you write it, sing it, and the songs of today, a little electric, with movement, flash, the songs of [Serge] Gainsbourg for example?

BREL: It’s not about flash, it’s about movement….

BRASSENS: There are differences between everyone, you know. He is looking for something.

FERRÉ: It was taking a side, for him, at the beginning. But he found something. It’s well done, it’s rhythmically insane. And then, he’s an “erotomaniac”; and I love erotomaniacs, because I am not one, no doubt. He shows off, but anyway, that’s no secret. Now he’s played a card, perhaps he played it consciously… but it’s all right.

BRASSENS: And then, it corresponds to his nature, to his character, it’s very simple.

- And pop music… the Beatles? What feelings do these people, this music, inspire in you?

BRASSENS: I like it a lot on the musical level. As for the words, I don’t understand English, so that’s all I’ve got.

FERRÉ: Like Georges, I like it a lot on the musical level and I’m not trying to understand the words, except those of a song called “Hey Jude” which ends with a thing that doesn’t end, I would really like to know why and what it means. They’re real musicians.

BREL: I’m really happy that someone is popularizing the harmonies of Gabriel Fauré. They added a Charleston step to the harmonies of Gabriel Fauré. It’s all very Faurian. I think it’s great that they made something popular out of it. It’s really nice. Otherwise, I have the same troubles as Georges with English, I never know exactly what they’re saying, but I don’t think it’s very important.

BRASSENS: It’s all in knowing how people like them. If they like them deeply or if they like them because it’s the fashion.

FERRÉ: What’s more, I think that, politically, they’re good people.

- They are more or less in the “hippie” movement. What do you think, exactly, of these hippies or beatniks?

BREL: It’s modern anarchy! A form of refusal. It’s something new and which, in any case, has nothing warlike about it, so it’s already appealing. I don’t care as much for the necklaces and all that stuff, that bores me a little. But there’s nothing violent in it. It’s not bad, when you think that twenty-year-olds have been raised to kill since forever…. Where it gets a little complicated is that there’s a bit of the American in there; there are Hindus mixed up in it too, who really knows anymore.

BRASSENS: There’s always a little snobbery too, people who pretend to like it….

BREL: Yes… but that has a color that’s not really antipathetic.

FERRÉ: You’ve got the answer, I like that a lot.

- How do you react to publicity? Is it useful to you, does it interest you?

FERRÉ: People have to know where we’re singing.

BRASSENS: When you sign a contract, you don’t forbid people from talking about you, obviously. But there’s publicity and publicity, it’s always the same.

BREL: There’s publicity and there’s conditioning.

BRASSENS: When we appear in public, it’s announced and that’s all. We don’t go as far as parades…. It was nice, at the time. Now it’s hardly done any more. Do you see us having a parade?

BREL: In the winter, no. Summer, yes!

FERRÉ: [in a soft voice] I have an idea. Well, I don’t know, but I’m saying this to both of them. I would like one day, it would be extraordinary, for us to choose the ten biggest halls of France, for all three of us to choose twelve songs each, and there’ll be a parade if we need it, then we go on stage, Brassens, a song, he goes away, Brel, a song, then me, then Brel, then Brassens, then me… for two hours. There, it’s a crazy idea I have….


BREL: It is pretty crazy! [silence] So I like it!

BRASSENS: Yes, it’s not a bad idea. But you’d risk pissing off people who’d like to see others too. Why us three, you know what I mean?

FERRÉ: Well, because, we three, finally…. A little syndicate, just like that.

BREL: Ah, now you’re talking! [laughter]

FERRÉ: It’s something fraternal I’m saying just now, obviously. And without any thought of money or anything in the back of my mind. I would like that a lot.

BRASSENS: Yes, we could do it, why not, I’ve got nothing against it. We could do it for some occasion, but to do it every day, I don’t know if it’s feasible.

FERRÉ: No, two or three times. Wouldn't be bad, would it?

BREL: Oh yes! Whenever it’s demented, I dive in!

- How do you live? With friends? A woman? In the company of animals? How?

FERRÉ: People are always intrigued by our lives. They want to enter into our lives…. Each time people have come into my home through some sentimental housebreak, it’s been an abominable salad. There are people who debase themselves to get into artists’ lives…. And they’re filthy people!

- Maybe it’s, partly, because of your talent, that you are public men?

BRASSENS: Oh yes! But that doesn’t imply that I have to do everything, accept everything, tell everything. There are still rights. Rights that nobody contests for others, why are they contested for us?

FERRÉ: We are public men, agreed. But with the work we do, we can’t not suffer from it. I’ll tell you a story…. Each time I meet a woman in the street who sells her body – i.e. a whore –, if she recognizes me, she never offers me her merchandise. I searched a long time and I discovered why: it’s because I’m in the same business as her, because I sell something of my body. When you’re in the spotlight, people pay, they buy a ticket, they come see you, they wait until you please them or you fall on your face. In any event, they expect something: it is you with your body! And what do you sell? Your voice! Ah well, between the upper and the lower part, there’s not much difference…. There it is, why the whores don’t offer me their merchandise when they recognize me. And I’m sure it’s the same for you….

BRASSENS: You know, I won’t go very often to where those ladies are of which you speak! [Burst of general laughter]

BREL: Anyway, on the whole, they’re as artistic as us, and we are as whorish as them.

FERRÉ: Bravo! That’s marvelous….

BREL: To return from there to our little lives, I believe that if you write, it’s because you don’t live all that much.

FERRÉ: We live like anyone else. Brassens, he likes painting, I don’t know what, coffee with milk, cats…. Brel… what does he like?

BREL: Me? Work! Whatever. I like to work [laughs], it’s my old vice!

BRASSENS: Take the life of anyone, that’s ours. Everyone has his tics, his quirks, his habits.

- What place does woman hold in your life?

BRASSENS: Oh, that’s another story!

[Brel laughs]

FERRÉ: We’re all in the same boat.

BREL: I believe we’ve all answered! [laughter]

BRASSENS: Oh, woman is a charming thing when she goes to the trouble, and trouble with no trouble at all! [laughter]

BREL: I believe that woman is a creature that always and in any event gives herself a lot of trouble…. But men too! [laughter]

- What do you appreciate in a woman?

BRASSENS: [silence] That depends on what you expect…. 

BREL: …What you hope or what you fear.

BRASSENS: It’s very simple: a guy meets a woman, he’s in love with her, that lasts two months, two years, twenty years, and then that’s all. It’s the same for everyone. There again it’s similar….

- Do you think a woman can give something important to a man? Equilibrium, for example?


- Why?

FERRÉ: [silence] Because.

BRASSENS: I think we three are of the type that, in terms of equilibrium, can do without women. In other terms, no. Besides, do you really need so much equilibrium? Maybe you don’t need any. [laughter] No, a woman can be a pain in the ass, a woman can be charming, it depends on which one. It depends on the woman you’re dealing with, her nature, her character or what you have in common with her…. Woman in general, that’s another story.

- Léo Ferré is much more categorical…

FERRÉ: I say no, because a woman won’t rest until – after love – comes tenderness, that insufferable bastard love, which trashes everything; and which makes me even more lonely. Tenderness is the end of the world…. Because you’ve been had. When someone is tender with me, I get taken in, I’m a slave. And if I’m a slave I’m no longer a man! That’s all. You’ve got no fucking rights at all in the clutches of a good woman who keeps you on a leash!

BREL: I’m too young to talk about this! [laughter]

BRASSENS: I believe that in our lives as singers, we don’t need women much; we need them like everybody does, and you know why….

BREL: To do the shopping!

BRASSENS: Love is a difficult thing…. Anyway, as you see, it doesn’t work out too well for most people.

BREL: But very few people are made for love, very few….

BRASSENS: Of course. Most people, if someone hadn’t told them about it, it would never have entered their minds!

BREL: It was an invention of the literature of the Renaissance, in fact….

BRASSENS: And then, let’s not forget that a sexual life is important for individuals. It’s even one of the most important things, after….

FERRÉ: Love is an instantaneous thing. It is the story of the familiar dream of Verlaine, or the passante of Baudelaire…. You would have to be able to make love – I say this in all quietude, without any impure thoughts – with a woman instantaneously. And that’s not possible. And yet, sometimes, it has happened sometimes that you’ve met a girl on the street who you would have made love to immediately. But that’s not possible; there are ten thousand taboos against that….

BREL: All three of us are too feminine to appreciate women madly….

FERRÉ:  Men, utimately, are always exploited by women!

BREL: Oh no! no! I have the reputation of being a misogynist, but I don’t agree with you. I am relatively misogynist, but I don’t find that all women exploit all men.

FERRÉ: I like “relatively”! Explain to me what that means, “relatively misogynist”….

BRASSENS: As for me, I am not a misogynist at all. If I like a woman, I like her. If I don’t like her, I don’t like her. That’s as far as it goes. I don’t take a position.

FERRÉ: But that’s not what misogynist means.

BRASSENS: Yes… it’s more the guy who is mistrustful of women.

BREL: That’s it, I’m mistrustful. I don’t believe all their bullshit.

BRASSENS: Yes, but, from another side, are women really responsible?

BREL: No, not at all. That’s why I say “relatively misogynist.” They are raised that way, often, with this instinct for possession in love…. But like us, we are also raised a certain way.

FERRÉ: You know, I believe that a man is a child, whereas a woman is not a child. Voilà.

- Do you have the feeling, the three of you, of having made a success, or even a great success, of your lives?

BREL: It’s not over yet!

BRASSENS: We’ll see at the end. Maybe it will end badly? Till then, I’ve done pretty much what I wanted, as I said before.

FERRÉ: I’m free. I do what I want, anyway….

BRASSENS: Listen, to make songs, to sing them in public, and to have the pleasure of seeing that the public accepts them and receives them, anyway it’s not bad. It’s something to be happy about, yes.

Remarks collected by François-Rene CRISTIANI and Jean-Pierre LELOIR

English translation by Robert ALFONSO and Todd HELLER – The Black Veils 2010