Grab a hankie.
Here it is - - the saddest 45 single ever created.
Not merely because it's a disco remake of the 1963 song hit 'Dominique', but because of where it fits in the tragic story of its creator, Jeanine Deckers, a.k.a. Soeur Sourire
('Sister Smile'), best
remembered as The Singing Nun.
Often bordering close to the territory of urban myth, and with a bountiful variety of slight misinformation readily available, her story goes something like this...
Born in Brussels in 1933, by the age of 20 Jeanine Deckers worked as a high school art teacher. Within the next few years she studied art, played guitar, and broke off an engagement to be married.
In 1959 she became a Dominican nun and entered the Fichermont Convent in Waterloo, Belgium, taking the name Sister Luc Gabriel.
She entertained locals and her fellow Sisters playing guitar and singing songs she'd written.
After composing 'Dominique', she was encouraged by her co-sisters to record the song.
She reluctantly agreed, and payed for the sessions so she could give out copies of the record as gifts.
The recording fell under the notice of executives at Phillips Records who in 1962 signed her to a recording contract and concocted the name Soeur Sourire ('Sister Smile').
Sister Luc Gabriel reluctantly agreed to the name, and turned all her profits from the record over to her convent.
By 1963 the record had become a huge hit in the USA and elsewhere.
Uncomfortable with fame, she reluctantly gave concerts and agreed to tape a performance for a 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1966, 'The Singing Nun', a movie about her starring Debbie Reynolds was released.
Sister Luc Gabriel dismissed the film as 'fiction'.
By this time she had stopped performing, to concentrate more fully on a devotional life.
Although very religious, she began to find fault in the conservatism of the Roman Catholic Church, and especially their stance on birth control.
Also, in 1966 she had spoken out in agreement with John Lennon on his controversial remark about The Beatles then being "more popular than Jesus".
By this time she was receiving flak from her Mother Superior and the powers-that-be, and though the convent had started the ball rolling, they'd never been too comfortable with the attention brought by her musical career.
In 1967, she had left the convent, resumed her musical career, (most of her proceeds still going to the convent) and had moved in with a childhood friend, Annie Pécher.
Jeanine Deckers and Annie Pécher would remain companions from then on, though it is not 'officially' known if they were lovers.
Deckers had already subsided into relative obscurity when she released her second LP in 1967,
'I Am Not a Star in Heaven', now recording under the professional name of Luc Dominique.
It seems that one of the stipulations she'd signed off on upon leaving her convent may have been giving up the name of 'Soeur Sourire'.
In an act of further distancing, it appears that the convent demanded that official records of her affiliation with them be expunged.
That 1967 album included a song that stated "...Sister Smile is dead, God is the only star...", as well as a controversial song praising contraception; ‘La Pilule d’Or’
(..."Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill").
The album didn't sell well.
She had a variety of new, more militant anti-establishment and church-critical songs that she then took with her on a concert tour of the US and Canada.
The tour did not do well.
Her 1968 book of inspirational passages, 'Vivre Sa Verite' did not sell well.
In 1968, her musical career fairly well finished, Jeanine Deckers and Annie Pécher opened a school for autistic children.
It was around this same time that Deckers was hit with a tax bill for her proceeds from 'Dominique' and her first album.
The Belgian government claimed that she owed them somewhere in the neighborhood of US $50,000 -
US $80,000 in back taxes (the quoted amount varies).
Jeanine countered that all the profits went to the convent, thus making her exempt.
As no receipts or record could be produced, the Belgian tax authorities ruled that she was to be held responsible for the debt.
The ensuing court case, which Jeanine would eventually lose, continued until 1982.
Sometime during this period she developed problems with drug and alcohol addiction, in addition to bouts of severe depression and nervous breakdowns.
She did begin painting again, and to help raise money she started teaching art and giving guitar lessons while helping Annie to run the school.
By the early '80s, as expenses mounted, in a last-ditch attempt to raise money she was convinced to make a Singing Nun 'comeback' record, giving her hit 'Dominique' a modern spin.
The revival project included a promotional music video...
The 'comeback' 45 did not do well.
The court case was lost.
Expenses forced Annie to close the school for autistic children.
Jeanine soon was fired from her teaching job.
The two struggled along for a couple of more years, but on March 29, 1985 they each took an overdose of pills and alcohol at their apartment in Wavre, Belgium, as part of a suicide pact.
Jeanine and Annie are buried together.
"Am I a failure? I try to stay honest with myself. To look for the truth, and try to question everything in my life...
Ten years ago I would have said I was a loser.
Now I don't think in terms of losing or winning...
Life is a continuum. You're constantly on your way. One day I feel good, the next I feel bad. Altogether it's bearable.
Would I do it all over again? That's not a good question. You can't.
You can't do it all over again. Voila"
- - Jeanine Deckers
"Jeanine... is in constant depression and only lives for me. I live for her. That can't go on.
"We do suffer really too much... We have no more place in life, no ideal except God, but we can't eat that.
"We go to eternity in peace.
We trust God will forgive us.
He saw us both suffer and he won't let us down.
"It would please Jeanine not to die for the world.
She had a hard time on earth.
She deserves to live in the minds of people."
- - Annie Pécher, from Jeanine and Annie's suicide note, 1985
- Notes and audio accompanying a 'best of' album at CD Baby
- More info and many photographs at:
D.A. Chadwick's Soeur Sourire website
Listen to: The Singing Nun - Dominique (1982)
Scalp Records 45 (1982)
(click for audio)
Listen to: The Singing Nun - Dominique (electronique-nique-nique)
Scalp Records 45 (1982)
(click for audio)
ADDENDUM, 1.25.09: A comment to this post cites a recent addition to the Wikipedia entry for
Jeanine Deckers that makes for a poignant postscript:
"In a great irony, the very day of her suicide and unknown to her, the Belgian association that collects royalties for songwriters (SABAM) awarded her approximately $300,000 (571,658 Belgian francs)
- - more than enough to have paid off her debt and provide for her."
Friday, September 14, 2007
Grab a hankie.