Seasons in the Sun was a world wide hit in 1974. In the UK it was no 1 in the pop charts for 4 weeks in April of that same year. It's a melancholic song in which a dying man says goodbye to his family and friends; an usual theme for a successful "pop" record. The original music and lyrics were actually written by Jacques Brel (1929 - 1978) a Belgian singer-songwriter, actor and director whose own recordings have sold over 25 million but whose songs have also been covered by artists as diverse as Marc Almond, Westlife, Nirvana and Shirley Bassey. However, in many of these recordings the translators/artists have put their own spin upon the songs. This is very much the case with Seasons in the Sun where Terry Jacks substituted a verse about infidelity for, perhaps, one with even more poignancy.
The original verse by Jacques Brel;
Good-bye, my wife, I loved you well
Good-bye, my wife, I loved you well, you know,
But I'm taking the train for the Good Lord,
I'm taking the train before yours
But you take whatever train you can;
Goodbye, my wife, I'm going to die,
It's hard to die in springtime, you know,
But I'm leaving for the flowers with my eyes closed, my wife,
Because I closed them so often,
I know you will take care of my soul.
The Terry Jacks version;
Goodbye, Michelle, my little one,
You gave me love and helped me find the sun,
And every time that I was down
You would always come around
And get my feet back on the ground;
Goodbye, Michelle, it's hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky,
Now that the spring is in the air,
Whiff of flowers ev'rywhere,
I wish that we could both be there!
As you can see, the lyrics have some strong emotional elements. I was a still a young child when the song was released so perhaps it's surprising that I remember it so well. However, the combination of the soulful lyrics and simplistic music seemed very vivid at the time. They struck a chord with me; one which I found particularly hard to deal with.
The reason for this was my first real exposure to death. My grandmother, who I'd adored, had died in the September of the previous year. It had come as a huge, profound shock to me. Earlier, in the spring of 1973, we'd gone on a wonderful vacation together. It had been incredibly exciting and even though I knew my grandmother had been ill in following months, I thought there would be many more wonderful family holidays. I had no idea she was going to die. Like the innocent child I was, I thought she was going to get better.
So when my father gathered us around the kitchen table, cream buns at the ready, and told us she had died I was absolutely floored. It took me weeks, months, maybe even years, to get over her death. Sometimes I would weep into my pillow at night without anyone knowing. My sadness at her loss was compounded by the fact that I never had the opportunity to say goodbye to her and tell her I loved her. So, as you can imagine, when Seasons in the Sun came out in the spring of 1974 it was almost unbearable for me to listen to and even now, 35 years on, the song still has the power to stir those early, painful, childhood memories.
It is difficult enough dealing with death as an adult but my own childhood experiences have led me to believe that it is essential to prepare children for what awaits them by helping them to understand death and the process of dying. Not only how it might affect them individually, but as part of a family and as part of the wider world. How we are all part of that huge Circle of Life.
With my own children I have talked openly about death, not the unpleasant intimate details which would be too much for little minds, but about illness, ageing and, inevitably, the concept of life after death. I believe it helped to put the loss of 3 of their grandparents last year into perspective and has enabled them to remember them with joy and not with sadness. I hope too that when my time comes, they'll be able to do the same for me.
Well here's Seasons in the Sun. And if you've recently been bereaved you have my sincerest condolences but instead of listening to Terry Jacks I suggest you listen to Kool and the Gang and remember to Celebrate The Good Times.