Dré Is Dead

Volkszanger André Hazes died last week, aged only 53.

By Steve Korver, 29-09-2004, Amsterdam Weekly


andre_is_deadWhen the news came through last week that people’s singer André Hazes had died, it pushed the Shakespearean drama then unfolding around the Hells Angels right off the front pages. Dré is dead.

Every bar in town began playing his songs.  Text messaging  traffic doubled for the first hours as the news spread, according to KPN. Signings of the condolence register on his website at a rate of more than a dozen a minute. His memorial, this past Monday — his body lying in state at the centre line — packed the ArenA stadium with over 50,000 people as the likes of Blof, René Froger, Guus Meeuwis and Xander de Buisonjé paid tribute. Time stopped the following day at five minutes before noon when he was cremated. Many Amsterdammers opened their windows to let ‘Zij gelooft in mij’ ring out into the street. It was a simultaneous demonstration of sympathy that may have helped to make the single, his signature song, the number one hit he always craved for in his lifetime.

Some outsiders to the Hazes phenomenon might lump him with the sentimental singing superstars of other countries — France’s Johnny Halliday, Canada’s Celine Dion, Germany’s Udo Jurgens, England’s Robbie Williams… But André was different. He was a 130-kilo blob of heart-on-your-sleeveness, a sweaty and unlikely icon who sang straight from the heart while dripping (literally) with the residue of tragedies and marital breakdowns which were first lived, then obsessively covered by the nation’s tabloids, and then written up into song format with the aid of a rhyming dictionary.

Hazes had a hardcore honesty that was capable of winning over even the most jaded or irony-crippled soul (yours truly, for instance). Those who had their doubts were put in their place by John Appel’s 1999 documentary, André Hazes: zij gelooft in mij, which depicted an open wound of a man in midst of another marriage crisis who obviously did not have a bone of pretension in him. My bet is that no serious Amsterdammer would be willing to dis him.

In many ways, Hazes came to represent the inferiority complex that dwells within us all — that gibbering social incompetent who finally gets a break when we toss back a few drinks. He spun tales of broken hearts and spilt beers that were obviously true; he had obviously drunk to the bottom of both. The Inuit are said to have many words for snow; in Hazes’ repertoire, similarly, there are a near-infinite number of modes of drunkenness. André was a giant whose life is a heart-warming tale about transcending limitations. He even transcended his obvious weight problem and — let’s face it — hoggish features by using both to full humorous advantage in a series of canned wiener commercials that resulted in an immediate 35% sales — in the wieners.

Often described as the ‘Netherlands’ only true soul singer’ or ‘a Dutch fado singer’, André considered himself a bluesman like his first hero Muddy Waters. But in fact, he was always more of a levenslied boy. The levenslied is a Jordaan-born genre that mixes sing-a-long drinking melodies with lyrics that glorify poverty, neighbourhood bonds and the simple pleasures of issuing curses, making babies, drinking coffee, and passing comment on passers-by — and which sometimes dwelt suspiciously long on the ‘long stiff tower’ of Westerkerk. Besides a greater degree of honesty than usual in the genre, Hazes’ contribution to the levenslied was to dump the accordion and replace it with guitar, which he liked because of — as he put it — its ‘Kedang!’ sound. He turned the levenslied into levenspop.

Hazes was in fact born in the Pijp, a ’hood with equally solid working-class roots, where he began his career at the age of eight, singing on the pool-tables around the Albert Cuypmarkt. He broke through in 1977 with the single ‘Eenzame kerst’, which he had written for Willy Alberti. However Alberti wisely advised him to release it himself. André quickly swelled both literally and figuratively to become the fat superstar who could fill stadiums for week-long stretches. He recorded countless gold records (‘De vlieger’ and ‘De nacht’ were just a couple) and his album, Gewoon André achieved 5-times platinum status. Yep, his was a good ol’ tale of rags to riches… But while all this was going on, he also managed to be a bartender, a ‘singing bartender’, a builder, a butcher and a market seller. He liked to keep it real.

When the Gemeentelijke Vervoerbedrijf was asked if they would continue their transport strike on the night of his ArenA memorial concert last Monday, a spokesman answered: ‘Of course we are… André was a man of the people, he’d understand.’

Although his wide vibrato was certainly expressive, Hazes wasn’t a ‘great’ singer. But he was certainly a ‘big’ singer. And you couldn’t help but like a guy who was willing to cry in the name of communication. Like no other, he deserves his stature as a true people’s singer. He also deserves a statue — whether decked out like a Blues Brother or more relaxed in his tracksuit — alongside those of Tante Leni, Johnny Meier and Johnny Jordaan on the Elandsgracht.

His death at the relatively young age of 53 is very sad. Hazes had long been a walking warning against the dangers of caloric excess. He lived his life as he sang his songs: as if each moment would be his last. While that last sentence might sound like a cliché, there are times in life when only a cliché will do. Andre knew this better than most. And bless him for it.

4 Replies

  1. Katie Holder Sep 30th 2009

    I love it more each time I read it. Great work Stevie.

    Long Live Andre!

    Thanks, Katie

  2. i just loved this singer his songs have so much emotion.I wish i could understand the language but with andre you didnt need too,Also i wish i could obtain his life story in english but i have had no luck in that quarter .have managd to purchase his cd^s on amazon but no luck with his story in english
    Many thank

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