Cabaretier and writer Jeroen van Merwijk died this morning in his hometown of Sainte-Juliette in France. He died at the age of 65 from the effects of colon cancer. In addition to his work as a comedian, he made visual art and wrote thousands of columns, radio plays, sketches and songs.
Life is pussy Life is pussy Life is totally complete pussy Absolutely totally utter and totally pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy and once more pussy
In 1996 Van Merwijk sang the song that probably typified him best. In Het leven is kut used the Utrecht cabaret artist and lyricist and songwriter 41 times the word “pussy” in two minutes. It seemed, like much of his work, ironic, cynical and absurd, but it was mostly moralistic. The somewhat melancholic looking Van Merwijk wanted to uplift people.
Precisely Het leven is pussy he thought appropriate: “We live in a world of pumped up images. Advertises constantly want to seduce. They make the feeling that you can choose anything. People are used to being pleased. I just want to show them the other side of life and hope that something changes in the heads.”
He was a Social Democrat who, to his grief, saw the Netherlands change into a society in which the market forces and the individual are central. It brought the originally Catholic, but infidel Van Merwijk back into the church: churches could hire him for a moralistic sermon, which was also laugh. Business did not want him to have anything, but companies could also book him “for a discouragement speech”.
Jeroen van Merwijk grew up in the then completely white district of Utrecht Kanaleneiland. He would always be Ufunchter. In the Dome City, he felt at home, not least because of the language: “That calm proats, with that tasty áccent.”
Van Merwijk graduated from the Art Academy in 1983 after a graduated study in Dutch. He wanted to be an art painter and painted all his life, but earned his money as a comedian, songwriter and lyricist. Already in the 1970s he began writing for radio programmes of the KRO and the VARA. In 1986 he travelled through the country with his first theatre show.
He was very productive, made more than twenty theatre shows, wrote a thousand columns and possibly thousands of sketches, songs and poems; not everything has been preserved. He often worked for others and he stayed in the background himself, as in 2010 and 2012, when he wrote his New Years conferences Doog, hope and love en Het eerlijke verhaal with Erik van Muiswinkel.
Apartheid is a clean thing
Typical was the course of things with the song Apartheid es ien skone case from 1988, about a white South African returning enthusiastically from a visit to the Netherlands. In self-produced Afrikaans Van Merwijk sang in a ridiculous way how well apartheid in the Netherlands has succeeded: the poor live with the poor, the rich with the rich, the Moroccans and the Turks clean everything and there is no black one in the parliament.
In Van Merwijks performance the song remained unnoticed, but Karin Bloemen celebrated great successes from 1992 and performed with it for Nelson Mandela. Flowers had more schwung than Van Merwijk, who felt uncomfortable on stage, and had a swinging arrangement put under it, where Van Merwijk accompanied himself as always only with simple guitar chords.
A few times he announced that he would stop performing, because he preferred to paint in silence. It sounded some bitterness. For example, he once said he was the best lyricist, but as a comedian, “people who are not yet good enough to tie your shoelaces”. But yes: because of “the damn market forces” they stood in a hall for a thousand people, while he played in a hall for forty people.
Still, he went on. At the end of 2019 he travelled through the country with a New Years conference for which he had written a news poem every day from 1 January. He had already captured the title on January 6:
If only next year was over What should a man be with all those years
Sitting again on new blisters Consuming again and belly gazing for another kitchen Saving over next year
On 25 January 2020 he said in the radio program De Taalstaat to Frits Spits that he was happy that he was rid of it. “If the pleasure of writing stops, or you think, “It has become a task, you have to quit, so Im cut off.”
Shortly afterwards, he announced that he did not have long to live because of metastatic colon cancer. After that, he lived another year; a year in which finally came the recognition he had missed. In December he was surprised with a CD on which thirty comedians, including Herman Finkers,Harrie Jekkers, Paul van Vliet and Hans Dorrestijn performed songs by him. That same month he received the Edison Oeuvre Prize Kleinkunst, an award that was last awarded to Youp vant Hek in 2014.
In November he released the book Cancer for Beginners. He had already retired to France and spent the few hours being fit to what he liked most: painting. He was pleased with all the appreciation he had received in the last months of his life. “All that attention has touched me tremendously. I thought I was working in a small niche for a few thousand men. But my work turns out to be much broader and that is fantastic to experience. When you suddenly die, you never hear that kind of thing.”