J’aime mieux vivre en enfer que mourir en paradis

Barbara, possibly the last representative of the French Chanson style of music, was born on June 9, 1930. Her real name was Monique Andrée Serf, and her early life was simply horrible. When she was ten, her Jewish family started a peripatetic and precarious existence living in hiding from the occupying German Army. That same year, her father began to molest her. Eventually, he abandoned his family totally. No wonder she changed her name.

After the war, a neighbor overheard Barbara singing and took her musical education in hand. She wrote her own material and sang the hits of Edith Piaf and Juliette Gréco. She eventually began to appear in cabarets, but success came slowly. Barbara began to develop a fan base for her emotional songs and dramatic delivery. La dame en noir (The lady in black) began to collaborate with some of the huge names of the day, including George Brassens and Jacques Brel.

Cover of "Ma Plus Belle Histoire D'Amour&...

Cover of Ma Plus Belle Histoire D’Amour

The relationship between the performer and the audience was very important to Barbara. She recorded a tribute to her fans “Ma Plus belle histoire d’amour c’est vous” (“My Most Beautiful Love Story Is You”) that, unsurprisingly, became a huge hit. Who doesn’t love to be loved? Barbara went from strength to strength. In 1966, she was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque and she tore the award into four pieces so that she could give a part of it to each of her technicians.

She continued to perform, record, and tour internationally and eventually expanded her repertoire to include theatre and movies. Barbara used her money and influence to work on behalf of impoverished children and in support of AIDS awareness. She released her last album in 1996. It sold 1,000,000 copies in 12 hours. Barbara died of respiratory failure on November 24, 1997.

Today’s saying, « j’aime mieux vivre en enfer que mourir en paradis » (jem mjuh veevruh ehn paradee) means “I prefer to live in hell than die in paradise” is a line from a Barbara song “Les Insomnies” (“Insomnia”). Since it sounds like her childhood was hell, it would only be fair if she had a chance a paradise as well.

Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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6 Responses to J’aime mieux vivre en enfer que mourir en paradis

  1. theinkbrain says:

    Lovely to see her remembered. I have loved her music from the first moment I heard it. She is almost unknown here in the U.S – more’s the pity. Her music is great, but her lyrics are remarkable.

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