© Danny Willems
As the crowd of Brusseleirs huddled in front of the Plaisirs d’hiver standing in search of a mulled wine, we see Arnold Charles Ernest Hintjens in Archiduc, his residence on rue Dansaert. The employer, Jean-Louis, opened the establishment just for us. Arno ordered a “decaf”. No more red wine as a “pre-aperitif”. Compared to the latest official promotional photos illustrating this article, salt-and-pepper hair has grown back. The body, on the other hand, loses weight. But the smile and the valve “à la Arno” (“you wear clean socks before you come here, hopefully”) Is always appropriate, as reassuring us about his or her health condition as distracting the conversation when it is deeply touched by buried memories.
The year 2021, should we forget it?
ARNO- This was the worst year of my life. I did very little music and all my concerts were postponed. And music is my adrenaline. He’s the one who allows me to travel the world when I’m not good at anything. He gives me strength and keeps me alive. She’s my mistress, she never cheated on me. But it wasn’t just my cancer in 2020 and 2021. In the last two years, I’ve also lost a lot of friends: the comedian Michel Piccoli, the singer Christophe that I just met -duet. The Lost Paradises (on the duo album “Christophe etc.” in 2020 – Editor’s note). My “brother” Paul Couter (blues guitarist who founded the band Tjens Couter in 1972) died of cancer. My teacher, Hubert Decleer, the teacher who introduced me to the blues, also left. What a mess…
Do you still remain optimistic?
“Always look at the bright side of life” (“Always look at the bright side of life”-he begins to hum this ode to the optimism we owe the collective of English comedians Monty Python). After five months in the hospital, I returned home. They put me in a special bed. A nurse still comes regularly, but I can go out, walk around, play with my musicians. We rehearse every weekend in Ghent with my bassist. We have to perform live for VRT in January. I hope the concerts continue in February. Let’s see. I don’t think about the future, fuck the past, I live in the present.
What was the first thing you did when you got out of the hospital?
Strange. The very day I got out of the hospital, I forgot everything that had happened there. I have no memories. But I accepted what happened to me and now I enjoy life. I stopped drinking, I ate less because I lost my taste because of chemo sessions. Every day, I bring tea on the terrace of the Place du Marché aux Herbes district. I watched people pass by. I like that. All my inspiration came from there. I also went back to Ostend (his hometown, where he still has an apartment on the dike). I have to walk to the beach. I’m addicted. The best time is when the sun sets in the sea, then the sky goes through all the colors. Blue, yellow, orange… You look at it and you will see five different paintings by Léon Spilliaert in five minutes. Very nice.
“Live” was released in May 2021, when you were hospitalized. Different album on your discography?
Yes, because it’s not my idea. Kenny Gates, the manager of my Play It Again Sam label, wants to start a new record collection (with) where an artist revisits his repertoire in piano-sound format. He introduced me to young pianist Sofiane Pamart, we got along well, and we recorded the album in five days. Everyone says songs have a different meaning because of my cancer… I don’t know. I do it with instinct. Great studio experience with Sofiane. But by covering some songs that I haven’t performed in a long time, there are a lot of images of the past that come back to me and I hate that.
Have you ever written new songs?
Yes, in French, English and Ostend. It’s about people, life, the younger generation, not Covid or politics.
Covid, Codecos, are you still following?
I’m vaccinated, but I also respect people who don’t. I don’t understand this different thing and I have no solution. I have great respect for the politicians who have to deal with this. Started with Frank Vandenbroucke. He was unbelievable. I took my hat off of him. When did he sleep, Frank? We can see it in the morning, at night, anywhere. He will not hide, he will not show. He makes decisions without thinking about his future or position. I don’t think a young politician can do his job, he’s on fire.
Representative like you in a belgitude, Grand Jojo left us on December 1. Do you know him?
I have a picture of us posing but I don’t know him. After Annie Cordy, another real Belgian left. Fortunately we still have Salvatore Adamo.
Are you a survivor?
I don’t like that word. The truth is that I am lucky. You too. Our parents and grandparents experienced a world war. They are deprived of freedom, they know what it is. Pandemic is also a global thing. Covid has already stolen two years of freedom from the new generation. And we had our ass in butter. At twenty, you can party all night, drink, smoke, dance, go to Kathmandu if you want. Today, young people are deprived of all that. We need to pay more attention to them. Listen to them, help them. They will change the world, not us.
You sang on stage with Stromae and recorded with rapper Zwangere Guy. In the past, there have been collaborations with Starflam or the rock duo The Black Box Revelation. Why do all the young people love you?
You have to ask them the question. Definitely because I love them. I love Angela. I just listened to Stromae’s new album, it was so beautiful. Paul (Paul Van Haver, Stromae’s real name) is the new Brel. He was humble, whole, surreal. When we meet, he will call me “uncle”, like Zwangere Guy. I was touched.
Your dreams for 2022?
Peace and love for all. For my part, I want to continue the concerts, record a new album and duet with Mireille Mathieu. Idol nako ni. For her voice and her hair. France, for me, is the Eiffel Tower and Mireille Mathieu. Thanks to Mosquito for decaf and take care of your return.