Category Archives: Literature, Lyrics & Poetry

All Quiet on the Western Front

…geen nieuws van het westelijk front” by Henri Theunisse, published by N.V. Algemene Muziekhandel en Uitgeversmaatschappij van Esso en Co (Rotterdam, 1929) and illustrated by Haas.

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?” – Carl Maria Remarque

In 1929 the German novelist Carl Maria Remarque wrote his anti-war masterpiece Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front). This book about war’s physical horror was the inspiration for a Dutch song by Henri Theunisse. You can hear his wife Jeanne Horsten sing the song together with Louis Noiret.

The book follows a young German, barely nineteen, and his fellow German classmates who fight in the Great War. They joined the army voluntarily after listening to the patriotic speeches of their teacher. After weeks of fighting Paul Baumer realizes that war is not glorious nor honourable, and that it makes enemies of people who have no grudge against one another. Amidst the ravages of poison gas, artillery bombs, destroyed horses and lost limbs Paul faces sorrowful disillusionment.

Left: ‘Kriegers los‘ by Fritz Redl & Hermann Frey, published by Fülnhorn Verlag (Berlin) Right: ‘Vision…‘ by P. Jullien, published by Schott Frères (Brussels) and illustrated by Amedée Lynen (1917).

The book became an international bestseller. A year later, in 1930, it was adapted as an American film. It became one of the first talkies to win the Oscar for best picture. Because of the defeatist view on war’s meaningless slaughter the book and film were vilified by the emerging National Socialists In Germany. Goebbels led some Brownshirts into tossing stink bombs from the balcony of a Berlin theatre, throwing sneezing powder in the air and releasing white mice. These obnoxious pranks however went further by shouting insults to Jews and even beating people thought to be Jewish. The show was stopped. The next evenings rallies were organised against the film and similar riots erupted across Germany. The film was banned.

When I was in my early teens All Quiet on the Western Front was required reading at school. It moved me so much though that I couldn’t sleep for nights in a row. Since then I’ve been a committed pacifist.

My language teacher —who was responsible for the class’ reading list— was quite an appearance! She was a short, matronly lady with a heavily made-up face: white powder and ruby lips. Her hair was painted raven-black, which she wore in an imposing chignon. A heavy bosom completed her formidable look. At the time I thought her to be at least 100 years old. She held her husband, a now long forgotten poet and writer, in adulation. Her boundless admiration for him led her to tell us interminable stories about him and his works. Boring, but sometimes surprisingly interesting… Contrary to her old-fashioned demeanour, she was a feminist, a pacifist and atheist.

On the right my language teacher next to her husband, the poet and writer Paul Rogghé. Picture taken in 1948, some 20 years before I became one of her pupils. (source: AMVC-Letterenhuis, Antwerpen)

She not only taught us to appreciate literature but told us all about  Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe and the role of Bernadette Devlin in the student-led civil rights movement in 1968. At the same time, as she found us an unruly bunch of young teenage girls, she taught us about etiquette, which magazines were appropriate for young women, and how to decorate our future homes. After all, you wouldn’t want to live in a petty-bourgeois interior, now would you?

Speaking for myself, I’m inclined to say: mission accomplished Mrs R.! Except maybe for the etiquette thing.
This song is for you.

Pierre de Régnier aka Tigre

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Milina, chica mia‘, tango milonga by Marcel Guit, published by the author (Talence, s.d.), cover illustrated by Tigre

The French writer and cartoonist Pierre de Régnier (1898-1943),  aka Tigre, had an artistic pedigree to be proud of. His maternal grandfather was the Cuban-born French poet José-Maria de Heredia, a respected member of the Académie française. His mother was Marie de Régnier, novelist and poet, nom de plume Gérard d’Houville. His legal father was the French aristocrat, Henri de Régnier, one of the most important symbolist poets. Pierre referred to him as The Immortal. And his godfather (and biological father) was the nonconformist poet and writer Pierre Louÿs.

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Marie de Régnier between her husband Henri de Régnier, on the left, and her lover Pierre Louÿs

His mother Marie was a non-conformist to say the least. She defied her aristocratic-bourgeois milieu by not wearing a corset and by having several lovers, male and female, during her marriage and by posing naked for her lover Pierre Louÿs.

Marie de Régnier, photograph by Pierre Louÿs

Pierre Louÿs was born in our beloved and beautiful Belgian city, Ghent. He wrote erotic texts set in antiquity, delicate obscene verses but also loads of secret and quite filthy ones, only to be found after his death. He is best known for his lesbian-themed poems Chansons de Bilitis (Songs of Bilitis). Louÿs sold these poems as translations from a Greek poetess, Bilitis, a contemporary of Sappho. In fact it was a hoax which his good friend and brother in mischief, Claude Debussy could very well appreciate. Debussy set three of Louÿs’s Chansons de Bilitis to music. The sexually obsessed Louÿs was also a keen amateur photographer…

Photographs by Pierre Louÿs. Eat this Kim Kardashian !

As a child, Pierre de Régnier was cherished by his unconventional mother, who lovingly called him Tigre (Tiger).

Tigre, the spitting image of his mother (in Femina, january 1905).

As a young man, just after World War I, he plunged head first into the Années Folles (the Roaring Twenties). A real party animal, clad in a tuxedo and white scarf, he tumbled every night head over heels into the Parisian nightlife.

Pierre de Régnier
Pierre de Régnier

In summer he left Paris for the casino’s and racecourses of Deauville or the French Riviera. Pierre de Régnier was a big spender and his parents had to help him out more than once. His life in the fast lane was alas a short one. His obstinacy for partying turned out nasty and self-destructive.

Deauville, written and illustrated by Pierre de Régnier (Tigre) in 1927. Dedicated to ‘Fred, the bartender of the Casino, who prevented me from dying of thirst’.

Pierre de Régnier left a diary in which he wrote about his empty life of a wastrel, consuming opium, cocaine, absinthe, gin or calvados. Every entry of this diary ends with the word: cuite (plastered) followed by  the hour of his arrival home, never before dawn of course. According to him everyone and everything had to be rigolo or funny; seriousness was an ugly trait. But deep down he was melancholic, and his poems are drenched in mal de vivre or spleen.

‘Je bois mes nuits mélancoliques
En vieux noceur désabusé
Mes aurores sont romantiques
Et mes regrets désespérés’

Pierre de Regnier wrote only about subjects he knew well: parties, endless nights, alcohol, bars and beautiful women, mondaine or demi-mondaine.The novels and poems he wrote are now mostly forgotten. Only Chroniques d’un Patachon, a collection of society columns about the Parisian nightlife in the thirties is still printed. The columns, short and ephemeral, like his pleasures, were written in his typical style: humorous, frivolous, ironic and tender. 

Henri de Régnier, The Immortal, by Tigre

Pierre de Régnier illustrated his columns himself with simple caricatures in black ink. He always signed his drawings Tigre. I’ll let you be the judge whether he successfully portrayed his subjects on the following sheet music covers.

Left, ‘Japona‘ foxtrot by Marcel Learsi,  illustrated by Tigre, published by Hachette (Paris, 1919) and danced by Odette Florelle (pictured above right) and by Armand Bernard (pictured below right).
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Left, ‘Hep!‘ Foxtrot by Fr. Withers. Published by R. Furnari (Paris, 1921) and illustrated by Tigre. ‘Dedicated to the sagouins‘. Right: a cotton-top tamarin (a kind of sagouin).

Hep! was dedicated to the sagouins (tamarins in English) but Tigre clearly had no notions of their morphology. Tamarins are squirrel-sized New World monkeys. The morphology was not that important because the word sagouins is used here to indicate men with despicable behaviour like bastards or S.O.B.s.

Musidora as Irma Vep illustrated by Guy Arnoux

We end this post with an extract of Les Vampires, the famous silent crime serial by Louis Feuillade from 1915. If you fast-forward to 5:20 you can see Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire) perform in the ‘Howling Cat’ Club. Irma Vep was portrayed by the beautiful femme fatale Musidora, the first mistress of Pierre de Régnier. Now incidentally, she also had been the mistress of Pierre’s biological father, Pierre Louÿs. Well yes, these artistic circles surely had their share of complicated relations! And then, what to say about Pierre Louÿs probably being the son of his half brother…

Nisa: 12 Points!

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Taratapunt-ti-e, Storia d’un valzer’ (illustrated by Nisa). An Italian version of the ‘Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay‘ world hit (Edizione Curci, 1933).

Nisa was a talented illustrator of children’s books and designer of sheet music covers (a.o. for the publishers Edizioni Curci and Bixio). Our collection holds a dozen or so Nisa covers, mostly in the typical Italian art-deco style of the Thirties.

'Maria la O'
‘Maria la O’ and ‘Primo Amore’, two songs illustrated by Nisa (s.d.)
'Yava Nera'
‘Yava Nera’ and ‘Canta Bandoneon’, illustrated by Nisa (1932 and 1931)
Photo arrangements by Nisa for the film music
Photo arrangements by Nisa for the film music songs ‘Torna, Piccina!‘ (from the 1936 film ‘Vivere’) and ‘Son Come Tu mi Vuoi‘ (from the 1934 film ‘Il Caso Haller’).

It took us some time to discover that Nisa was a nom de plume for Nicola Salerno (1910-1969), a lyricist born in Naples. During four decades, from the Thirties until the Sixties, Nisa put his mark on Neapolitan music.

NISA - Nicola Salerno portrait
Nicola Salerno (Nisa) in 1938.

He was the writer of many songs, some of them became big hits even out of Italy. One of these songs (Tu vuò fa’ l’americano) was resampled in an Australian version and became a world-wide success in 2010. To experience once again the nervous electronic beats of ‘We No Speak Americano’, have a peek here. Or, you can enjoy the original boogie-woogie version by the cheery Renato Carosone.  (Earworm alert!)


The aficionados of the Eurovision song festival will remember the 1964 winning song ‘Non ho l’età’ (previously also the winner of the Festival di Sanremo). The song is about a girl not being old enough to go out with someone for love and romance. Nisa gave words to this eternal tristesse and longing of the youth:

          Non ho l’età,
          [I’m not old enough]
          Non ho l’età per amarti
          [I’m not old enough to love you]
          Non ho l’età per uscire sola con te
          [I’m not old enough to go out alone with you]

          E non avrei, non avrei nulla da dirti
          [And I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have anything to say]
          Perchè tu sai molte più cose di me
          [Because you know many more things than me]

          Lascia ch’io viva un amore romantico
          [Let me live a romantic love]
          Nell’attesa che venga quel giorno
          [While I’m waiting for that day to come]
          Ma ora no
[But not now]

The then 16-year-old Gigliola Cinquetti won with historic high scores. The original footage of her performance in Copenhagen was lost, but we have to thank a certain Dave (‘1947dave’s channel’ on YouTube) for editing original stills and video from her 1 minute reprise on top of the original radio broadcast. It gives a pretty good idea of the girl’s triumph in far-away Denmark…

Nisa’s oeuvre of songs spans from 1937 to 1967, so tells us the Italian Wikipedia. Strangely the fascist marching song L’Italia ha vinto (to celebrate the victory over Ethiopia in 1936) is omitted in his authorship list on l’Encyclopedia Libera.

Nisa as a soldier
Nicola Salerno in uniform (possibly during his military service in Africa?)

A stain on our song writer’s reputation? Or a one-time faute de parcours? It makes us wonder how much sympathy the then 26-year old Nisa had for the fascist regime. Mussolini was then already an outspoken supporter of Franco and Hitler, and would two year later enact racist and anti-Semitic laws.

'O Sarracino', (music: Carosone - Lyrics: Nisa), illustrator unknown. Edizioni EDIR, Milano, 1958.
‘O Sarracino’, illustrator unknown. Edizioni EDIR, Milano, 1958.

In 1958 Nisa and his composer companion Renato Carosone again scored a major hit with a song about a cool Casanova. We pluck the following lyric translation from the net:


You can find many versions of the song, but we have a soft spot for the fast pace of Rocco Granata (yes, Marina…) and Buscemi.