Árpád Kun, Hungary
Georges Brassens: Don Juan
Árpád Kun chose the song Don Juan by the French singer-songwriter Georges Brassens, which for him stands for deviation from norms, for freedom and independence.
My choice falls on Don Juan, one of the songs of the chansonnier Georges Brassens, written in the 1970s. I first heard it in Paris in the 1990s. Not on the radio, nor in the street, but on a CD borrowed from the library. It was not simply music that I was looking for, but that sensuous, full-blooded French poetry that seemed to have ceased to exist after Apollinaire, along with those rhymes in their language of which the French claimed to have exhausted every possible variation and were by then deemed kitschy embellishments. What remained of French poetry had become an increasingly dry and abstract word-magic. It left me cold. Then I discovered Brassens, who proved that the kind of poetry I was passionate about continued to thrive.
Brassens was allergic to every form of pomp and ceremony, patriotic pathos, and herd mentality. In one of his posthumous songs his friend Jean Bertola sings on his behalf that the Légion d'honneur is unforgivable. Nonetheless, Brassens' Don Juan is a song of praise but one in which he dispenses la gloire in his own fashion. For him a hero is the driver who screeches his car to a life-threatening halt in order to avoid running over a hedgehog or a toad, the policeman who holds up the traffic to allow a French littérateur's cats to cross the road, the nun whose compassion extends to warming the penis of an armless cripple, the priest who rescues his foe in the St Bartholomew's Day massacre, and so forth. These are all people who behave unlike the crowd. Their good deeds spring, beyond love of their fellow man, from their daring to be independent, to deviate from the norms that the majority expects of them. They are able to overcome the pressure from their peers that would diminish their humanity. They are free and brave. That is why it is to them that la gloire belongs.
In Brassens' Don Juan, the wonderfully conceived Don Juan of the title stands out from all these heroes, since he is not the heartless womanizer depicted in every other work, from Molière's to Mozart's. Quite the contrary. What he is obsessed with is seducing those women whom no one else wants to seduce: he makes women of those who without him would die as virgins.
The refrain of Brassens's song runs: "This girl is too ugly, she's the one I want." This is a call to arms: let us dare to behave otherwise than is the norm.
Georges Brassens was born in 1921, one year later than my father. Whereas Vichy France sent Brassens to do forced labour in Germany, in the Second World War the Russians took my father to a labour camp in the Crimean peninsula. My father married three times; Brassens explained in a song to his lifelong partner (even though they did not live together) why he didn't want to destroy their love by getting married. My father had three children; Brassens had none. He became a father in the sense that he called his landlady Jeanne a mother: "What use being the mother of three kids/ When Jeanne is a universal mother/ When there belong to her/ All the children of the earth, the sea, and the sky."
I would like to believe that here in Europe we are all the children of Georges Brassens. Upon the earth, the sea, and in the air. Independent and free.