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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment

Song for the Auvergnat

Georges Brassens

Song for the Auvergnat

Georges Brassens

3mins 01sec
© Mercury/Universal

View this work in the Fire exhibition

The work

Released in 1955, this is one of Georges Brassens's best-known songs. Sung in schools and whistled and hummed in the street, it is almost a command, a moral one in any case. It is the product of an encounter during the horrible winter of 1954 between the artist and Abbé Pierre, the founder of Emmaus. Written as a fable and repetitive like a nursery rhyme, children love it. It tells the story of a poor devil, a drop-out on society's fringes in today's lingo, who is rejected by people who have everything and comforted by those with nothing! Good, truly generous people share what little they have—bread, a warm fire, a smile—and appear as a man from Auvergne, a hostess and a stranger. In contrast, cruel people lacking in real generosity wear the mask of "boorish bumpkins."

The song's almost naive, even Manichean tale helps it hit its target: selfishness and indifference to the suffering of others. It accomplishes this not only by its use of simple, direct language but by the magic of an instantly memorizable, timeless melody.

The artist

French writer, composer and singer, born in Sète October 21, 1921. Young Georges grew up in a big Franco-Italian family. He had a happy childhood, filled with music from a very young age, especially French songs and jazz. Uninterested in school but an increasingly avid reader, young Brassens began writing, especially poems, at the age of 14. A painful episode in his youth gave him a chance to leave his native region of Hérault for the capital. He did a stint in prison for theft—an adventure he would later use to write two songs, "La mauvaise réputation" and "Les quatre bacheliers". Working as a laborer for Renault by day, trying his hand at the piano at his aunt's lodging house at night, he immersed himself more and more avidly in the discovery of Fort, Rimbaud and Villon, publishing a first collection of poems in 1942. Then came the war, a stint of compulsory work service in Germany and the years went by, not always in a carefree way. Brassens also did some freelancing for "Le Libertaire," an anarchist magazine.

At that point several encounters shaped the destiny of the still undiscovered artist: Jeanne Le Bonnier, "La Jeanne", Puppchen, his lifelong companion, René Fallet, a loyal friend, and Patachou, who pushed him to face the public and introduced him to Pierre Nicolas, who became his accomplice on the double bass (and in Brassens, the double bass is important!). Jacques Canetti, from his base at the Trois Baudets concert hall, accelerated the launch of his career. Finally Brassens found success and his audience, the venues got bigger (Bobino, Olympia), he went on tour after tour and was showered with awards (Academie Charles Cros Grand Prix). This was in 1954. After that he released one record after another, often recorded at home, that proved popular with both the general public and professionals! The list of what today would be called his hit singles includes Le gorille, La mauvaise réputation, Le petit cheval, La chanson pour l'Auvergnat, Les amoureux des bancs publics, Les copains d'abord and La supplique pour être enterré sur la plage de Sète. Each of the 14 albums he recorded, totaling over 200 songs, contains several less well known morsels.

Up to his death in 1981, Brassens composed a body of work of rare richness and originality that will have a permanent place in the French songwriting heritage. His writing was obviously poetic, with its adherence to rhyme, tight rhythms, inventive images, originality and mastery of words. But it was also remarkable for its raw but never vulgar language, word play, alliterations and consonances, reminding us that he was a close friend of a certain Boby Lapointe! Brassens dealt with major social themes such as the death penalty, pacifism, prejudice, authority, religion, marriage and others in a subtle way. And his music, which some might too hastily write off as old fashioned, even repetitive, offers rhythmic finds to those who know how to listen that continue to amaze the new generation of composers even today.