The news of the unexpected death of Flemish rock icon Luc De Vos reached me this weekend. He was only 52, and he will be missed much. Since I do not expect any of my international readers to have ever heard of him I do think an introduction to this unique artist might not be a bad idea… I’m aware that it’s impossible to even try to understand a phenomenon like Luc De Vos without being Flemish, but I can try to give a small introduction…
Growing up in Flanders means that you’re always subject to the influence of a lot of different cultures in the media, especially language-wise, more than having your own culture around all the time. Most of the music on the radio and the programs on TV were not in Dutch, but in English, or French, or in the case of TV German or Scandinavian even sometimes, subtitled in Dutch. In such a situation using your own language for art is always a bit strange, and I always has a strange connection with the phenomenon of language myself. Music in my own language was always a bit weird too. Both standard Dutch and Dutch from the Netherlands sound a bit sterile and foreign, and people who had their own voice in my own language were rare when I was a teenager. Flemish rock in our own language was a very limited phenomenon in the nineties. Most people circumvented the problem completely and sung in English, but there were a few exceptions who did make decent rock music in Flemish, like Stijn Meuris (Noordkaap), Frank Vanderlinden (De mens) and Luc De Vos (Gorki). Together with many other bands in English they were part of the soundtrack of my younger years.
Luc De Vos always was one of the most notorious people in the Flemish scene. He was a unique musician who had found his own voice, and given a platform to do his unique stuff. His way of singing might be completely unorthodox already, but his were the strange minimalist melodies and surreal lyrics that stood out most. He could break all rules of lyric-writing, sing it in a very raw rudimentary melody, and still be played on the radio. Because for some reason it worked. I can remember hearing ‘wie zal er voor de kinderen zorgen‘ for the first time and thinking ‘What on Earth is this song’. Now it’s still one of my favorite songs of all time…
As a songwriter I can’t deny that Gorki did probably have more influence on my songwriting than I’ve always admitted, and probably not just when writing in Dutch. I also sang some of his songs regularly when I was busking with my guitar in Atwerp in you young twentysomething years (primarily to get over my anxiety of being on stage, I never made that much money with it). I can still play and sing most of his hits ‘Mia‘, ‘lieve kleine piranha‘ & ‘Anja‘ if you give me a guitar. Those songs are part of my history.
And then there’s the phenomenon of the song ‘Mia’, about which I wrote already a post some years ago. The very unlikely ‘greatest Flemish song of all times’, which was originally just a B-side. It’ a very unlikely song to be a hit, let alone occupy the first place in a list of timeless classics. And still it happened to pass that this song became the best Flemish song ever. The MIA-awards (Belgian music awards) were even named after that song.
Luc De Vos was more than that one song though. He recorded more than 11 CD’s with Gorki, and some side projects too. He also was a writer, and a thinker, and a very human person, some kind of basic humanist. A very intelligent person with very layered humor, who was constantly mocking himself, as if he couldn’t believe that people liked his music. And on the other hand a very professional musician who knew very well what he was doing on stage. A man with an opinion, and with his own vision.
A man that was way too young too die.
He will be missed.
His legacy will remain.
PS: as a tribute I decided to do one of his songs in English, so that people who don’t understand Dutch can have a glimpse of what Luc De Vos was like. (although his lyrics are untranslatable) I chose ‘wie zal er voor de kinderen zorgen’ and did not try to copy the original, but made my own version in vintage lo-fi Bram Cools style. All rights are owned by Luc and his family. But you better go listen to the original and buy the album ‘ik ben aanwezig’.