Together with Jacques Brel
and Léo Ferré, Georges Brassens (1921-1981) is considered to be one of the three great names in French Chanson
. Born in a working-class family (his mother was an Italian immigrant and his father a bricklayer), he engaged in petty larceny as a teenager and interrupted his studies early. He spent part of WW2
as a conscripted laborer in Germany before going AWOL. After the war, he grew close to Anarchism and tried his hand at poetry, before being talked into becoming a singer-songwriter.
His singing career took off in the early 1950s, and although he published two novels and several collections of poems, he would from then on mostly be known as a singer. His musical style was spare: just his voice, an acoustic guitar, and occasionally a contrabass accompaniment (played pizzicato, jazz-style, to mark the beat). Most of his songs were by himself, though he also adapted in song format poems by various authors: François Villon, Victor Hugo
, Louis Aragon, etc. Among his favorite themes were friendship, women, tales of naughtiness, bourgeois hypocrisy, and ridiculing figures of authority.
Georges Brassens's songs contain examples of:
- Badass Mustache
- Band of Brothels: "La Complainte des filles de joie" is about the hardships faced by streetwalkers.
- Big Ball of Violence: "Hécatombe".
- Black Comedy Rape: "Le Gorille" is about a randy gorilla who escapes from the zoo and rapes a magistrate.
- Space Whale Aesop: The Aesop of "Le Gorille"? Abolish the death penalty. According to the song, the magistrate crying for his mother while being graphically raped by a gorilla is an Asshole Victim for having smugly sentenced some shmuck to death minutes earlier while ignoring his pleas for mercy.
- Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Averted by Georges Brassens himself.
- Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: "Supplique pour être enterré sur la plage de Sète".
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: There are a lot of photographs showing him holding his pipe or with his pipe between his lips.
- Ethical Slut: Lisa in "Les Croquants".
- First Girl After All: In "La Première Fille" Brassens sings that you always remember your first girlfriend.
- Also a bit of Sex as Rite-of-Passage in that same song in that it isn't so much his first girlfriend, but his first girl (literally "the first girl you've taken in your arms"), which as he points out could be a virgin or a prostitute, the message being that for better or for worse you remember your first forever.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar
- Good Samaritan: "Chanson pour l'Auvergnat" is one of the most famous illustrations of this trope in French pop culture.
- Grey and Grey Morality: His most controversial song, "Les Deux Oncles", implies that The Resistance and The Collaborators were morally equivalent.
- Mood Whiplash: "Brave Margot" is about a young farm girl who breastfeeds a kitten who has lost its mother. It is cute and funny at first, because all the men in the village kept watching her doing it, and Margot innocently believed they wanted to see the kitten. Then the women of the village got jealous and burned the poor kitty down. Ouch.
- Moral Guardians: " La Mauvaise Réputation" has the recurring line "No, good/respectable folk don't like it when // One follows a different path than theirs."
- Precision F-Strike: Brassens liked to insert expletives in his songs for shock value. A good example is "Marinette", a perky little ditty in which the singer tries several times to demonstrate his feelings to Marinette, but each time something prevents her from noticing him including, in the penultimate verse, the fact that she's died, and in the final verse, when he goes to her funeral, she's come back to life again: the last line of the chorus is "J'avais l'air d'un con" ("I looked like a c***").
- Princess in Rags: Referenced in "Les Sabots d'Hélène", about a raggedy girl who's passed over by three army officers, yet turns out to have "the heart of a queen".
- The Power of Friendship: "Les Copains d'Abord"
- Raging Stiffie: In "Fernande" Brassens sings how an erection decides to rise according to its own wishes.
- Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: The straight-laced family who casts disapproving stares at kissing couples on public benches in "Les Amoureux des bancs publics". "The whole family, the father, the mother, the son, the daughter, the holy spirit, wouldn't mind every once in a while being able to behave like that."
- Smoking Is Cool: Brassens was an iconic pipe smoker.
- Umbrella of Togetherness: "Un P'tit Coin d'Parapluie" is about a boy who shares his umbrella with a girl. "A little piece of umbrella/For a piece of heaven/She sure looked like an angel".
- Take That: "Mourir pour des idées" has the line "to die for one's ideals, alright, but of a slow death", and is aimed at both Moral Guardians and fellow anarchists taking shots at him for songs like "Les Deux Oncles" mentioned above.
- WW1: "La Guerre de 14-18".
- You're Drinking Breast Milk: The girl in "Brave Margot" breastfeeds a little kitten.