The 21st Century
The turn of the Century brought a change in so far, that post midnight I went home from the party where I was celebrating, in order to start writing the Darclée book. After a decade of research, the time had arrived to turn the results into words. I wrote till deep into the day, and continued writing vigorously for weeks, and then off and on, as far as my work permitted. Suddenly, I was no longer planning to write a book, but writing one and that felt pretty good. Onwards I continued to combine further research and completing new chapters, until the end of 2002, when Tirion publishers asked me to write a book on… Jacques Brel!
accepted the offer because I liked Brel’s decision to leave his name and fame behind him, when he started sailing toward the Pacific, ending up living there, at Hiva Oa. Tirion had agreed to give me a substantial amount of support for research, and in a few months I managed to get an astonishing amount of source information together. In addition, I met with Brel’s partner in the final years of his life, Maddly Bamy, who provided a fascinating insight in Brel’s latter years.
Maddly also gave us photographs from their joint boat journey on the Askoy II, and their stay on Hiva Oa. Being a dancer, actress (she met Brel on the set of L’aventure c’est l’aventure), and musician herself, she later devoted several albums to Brel’s memory. A sample of Maddly singing ‘Mon ami est mort’ (My friend has died) accompanies the slide show provided above.
The Brel publication had further wetted my appetite for the three projects I was then working on: the completion of The Links Project and the work on Darclée and Corelli books. Because of some new
friends that I had made online, and a sudden revival of interest in Corelli, I decided to contact him through EMI records, where I had good relations due to my flourishing career as an opera critic. I was
thinking to discuss the results of my research with him in order to see if we could work together. The answer came already the next day: Corelli had suffered a stroke, was in critical condition and no longer able to speak. Shortly after the presentation of the Brel biography, Franco passed away. It was then that the rainbow train visited me once again over night, and someone up there told me to take the first plane to Ancona, where Franco was born. It sounded pretty much like the ‘Italie! Italie!’ summonings to Eneas in Berlioz’ setting of the epic: ‘Ancona! Ancona!’
Indeed, there was no time to lose if I wanted to find his colleagues, managers and childhood friends alive. So I took the next airplane to Ancona, where Franco was born, and started asking people in the streets if they knew some elderly person who had known Franco Corelli. That worked wonders. Within a few hours I was sitting at a table with his cousin Marco, who then brought me to each and every remaining childhood friend of Franco. In the years of writing, I worked closely together with Marco, and by 2007 I was ready for a publisher. Since I had written the book in English, I decided on Amadeus Press. My friend and colleague Frans van der Beek came up with the best approach: since Amadeus had a booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair in September, we would find them there ‘in the flesh’. So I went with Frans to the book fair, walking straight to the Amadeus booth. Since it was empty, I took a seat. Frans remained standing. A few minutes later a man in an approachable suit appeared, saying; ‘Since you are already occupying my seat, I might as well ask what I can do for you?’ I replied that I wasn’t an incidental passer by who landed on his seat for a rest, but told him that I was there to make him happy:
I have written the definitive biography of Franco Corelli… It answers all question anyone has ever had about the man! His childhood is reconstructed, we have pictures from him in the Italian army, there are pictures and testimonies of his friends and family. Many roles of which hitherto no documentation existed, have been traced either in photographs or recordings and -‘
The man in the booth cut me short:
Frans and I accepted the coffee, canceled our hotel and went back to
Amsterdam on the next train. What followed were seven months of
incredibly concentrated work with their immaculate editor Barbara
Norton, and Franco Corelli Prince of Tenors was published by October 2008.
It was Nr. 1 in the Amazon opera biography bestseller list for almost half a year, staying permanently ahead of the simultaneously released biographies of Renée Fleming and Luciano Pavarotti. More info on Corelli and Prince of Tenors can be found on francocorelli.nl. One may not be able to live from books like that, but seeing Prince of Tenors published was a highlight in my life.
2012 – 2013
2012 should have been the big year for Darclée, but it proved impossible to solve all problems on the road to a publication that would coincide with the Tenth Anniversary of the Hariclea Darclée International Voice Competition, in her birth place Braila.
With the Darclée publication postponed, 2012 is the big year for my revised and expanded Jacques Brel biography. Apart from fine-tuning the biography part, it features a completely new and adventurous chapter on what happened to Brel’s boat, the Askoy II, after he sold it to two hippies in 1976. From an early No Nukes & love generation vessel it then turned into a fish freeze container, before becoming the mother ship to a drugs runner syndicate. In an anti-drugs raid, the boat was confiscated on the Fiji Islands, where it withered for years, until it was auctioned off to the adventurer Lindsay Wright. He repaired it and sailed it solo to New Zeeland, where the boat perished in a hurricane. Buried on the Tasmanian coast, it became part of the beach, until the brave Belgians Piet & Staf Wittevrongel read my first Brel book. They had been working in their father’s sail sewery, when Brel came there to order the sails for his boat, and, after reading my chapters on his journey, they wondered what happened to the boat after Brel sold it. When they finally located the wreck, they decided to salvage it. It took them years of preparation, but eventually, and against all odds… they succeeded!
Another new feature of the book focuses on Brel interpretation. Few people realize that Brel is the most performed non classical singer-songwriter from the 20th Century.
Another new feature of the book focuses on Brel interpretation. Few people realize that Brel is the most performed non classical singer-songwriter from the 20th Century. Brel has over 5,000 officially released cover versions on 78RPM, vinyl, video or cd/dvd + over 100 songs and albums devoted to, or in protest of his songs. There is even a band named after him: Le Jacques Brel Massacre! If in tribute or protest is unclear, but their albums revealed stunningly beautiful Neue Welle music, as can be sampled in the mp3 fragment that goes with the slide show. The 1968 musical Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris is still running to date! Info on this project can be found here.
Dawn of a new era…
Meanwhile, Brel De Definitieve has been published in a lavish, luxury edition by Tirion/Houtekiet. More about the book van be found at 401Brel.nl
In addition, the Darclée book is ready, and I am currently discussing its publication with some interested Romanian parties. Having said that, I finally hope to find the time to complete some other long running projects, beginning with The Links Project.
Then, there is that novel I have been working on of and on since I was sixteen, and there are some new books coming up. One would focus on the correspondence between Metropolitan Opera manager Rudolph Bing and his right hand in Europe, Roberto Bauer. Another might zoom in on Corelli’s rival of the 1950s, Mario Del Monaco. Most actual though, is my work on a Dutch Opera anthology, something I have been spending the larger part of my free time on since December 2011.
The first aim of the Dutch Opera Anthology is to document all Dutch Operas since 1678, and to describe the best 250 of them in detail. Next, the plan is to preserve all scores by digitalizing them, and from there to revive Dutch Opera and present it to the world in the form of performances and audiovisual presentations on whatever distribution format is hot when the moment is there. More info can be found on 401dutchoperas.com.
Another case of the stars claiming their birthright occurred when Joop Lindeijer died in July 2011, leaving his wife, children and his Dutch Divas website behind. Once the hosting contract lapsed, the website disappeared. I contacted his widow, offering to take over the website on the promise of bringing it back online, and keeping it alive. We are currently working on a plan to integrate it in the 401 Dutch Operas project.
Awarded The Nobel Prize of Peace
In October 2012 I had the ‘great honor’ to be awarded ‘The Nobel Prize of Peace’, which placed me in line with the likes of Martin Luther King (1964), Mother Teresa (1979), The 14th Dalai lama (1989), Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1990), Nelson Mandela (1993), Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres & Yitzhak Rabin (1993), Barack Obama (2008) and a few hundred million other Europeans (2012). Did I deserve the prize? Given the amount of blood that washed from the hands of a good number of my predecessors, I think I’m certainly not less a candidate than most of them. At least I didn’t start an armed revolution to win the prize by means of a mere cease fire. Neither did I throw cluster bombs on people to end a war started by myself. Instead I merely advocated culture and traveled with that poem ‘Undestined’ from Ireland to Japan, to unite people in the context of words. So hell yes, I deserved that prize, although… I thought the Nobel Prize of Literature would perhaps have been more appropriate.
This slight disconcern made me wonder if I should actually accept the prize… Being diplomatic, I decided to accept but not collect it in person. Instead, I asked our foreman Herman van Rompuy to collect it on my behalf in Oslo. Thanks mate!
Additionally, I became chief editor of the Villa d’Arte Special Art & Culture, and started initiating new magazine titles in print, while embracing also new media formats. Together with my close friend Bas ten Have I have launched an agency in integrated multimedia projects that combine attractive high profile online presentation with social media networking/ publicity and quality personal relations maintenance, at low cost. We are not aiming at the crowded market for companies and large institutions, but aim to find customers among small scale companies and individuals that hitherto could not afford high brow, individualized design and professional presentation/marketing, due to the often astronomic costs.
Our approach is simple: the projects above are, or will soon show what we are capable of in the field of integrated multimedia presentation and online presence. We know how to avoid mailings from ending in spam boxes, how to optimize search engine parameters, and how to implement payment systems in any given programming language.
Some people asked me how I got from writing books to commercial online activities, but as usual with the events described on these pages, it proved a matter of one thing following from another thing. In this case, I created optimized newsletters in a very personal design, which resulted in a number of people asking if I could also tailor such designs to their personalities, activities and style. That made me realize that there was a niche market, where I had less competition, since our designs are all exclusive, created from scratch by a small group of adventurous programmers and web designers. You can soon find info on this at 401www.nl