For those of you who didn’t know it yet, after spending 7 years in England and 7 years in the US, I have moved back to France. I’ll share more about this in the following weeks. So! While I organize my new video setting I decided to remain in the Boris Vian theme because

a) I’m a big fan.

b) both his short life and his gigantic work are fascinating, I encourage you to look him up read his books and listen to his music because he will teach you so much of the French spirit.

c) I love learning foreign languages and cultures with songs plus this one is VERY VERY SLOW so fabulous for easy comprehension and a great help for pronunciation.

By the way in case you missed the last 2 posts on Boris Vian here’s the first one and here’s the second one. Make sure you start with the first one.

Why did Boris Vian write an anti-war song in 1954? Just a random year? Not at all. You probably already know that France was at the head of a massive colonial empire all over the world. Most of it was lost via wars of independence during the 20th century, especially after the French debacle of WW2.

So what was going on in 1954 that prompted Boris Vian to tell “Monsieur le Président” he was going to desert? WW2 was of course long finished but another war was taking place in what we called then Indochina, or in French, Indochine. Indochina was today’s Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. The people of Indochina started rebelling against the French presence in 1945 but it’s not until February 1954 that the French troops found themselves surrounded by the Viêt Minh in Dien Bien Phu. In France, rumors started spreading that men might soon be receiving a letter prompting them to abandon their families to go to war and help the struggling French troops in Indochina.

This is what triggered Boris Vian to write Le Déserteur, which 60 years later, remains translated in almost all languages, and also censured in almost all languages! Vian didn’t yet sing when he wrote Le Déserteur but when he did start singing it himself in 1955, the song was immediately forbidden and remained so until 1962, the end of the Algerian independence war lost by France.

In 1959, Boris Vian died of a heart attack at the young age of 39 and after that everyone forgot about Le Déserteur.

However the Viet-Nam war brought it back to life particularly with the English version of Peter, Paul, & Mary which they named The Pacifist. Remember this?

And here’s what I just read in Wikipedia about Le déserteur: “Mais le sujet reste brûlant : une directrice des écoles à Montluçon, Mme Pinon, fut suspendue à vie de toute direction d’établissement pour l’avoir fait chanter à deux élèves le 8 mai 1999 pour commémorer la capitulation allemande du 8 mai 1945.”

Vous comprenez?

On May 8th 1999, a French school headmaster was suspended and prevented from ever occupying such a position again because she made two students sing Le déserteur to commemorate the German surrender on May 8th 1945!

Ok here’s the song now, sang by Boris Vian. Enjoy! (I know you will especially appreciate the slooow pace!)

Le déserteur by Boris Vian 1954

Monsieur le Président – Mister President
Je vous fais une lettre – I’m writing you a letter
Que vous lirez peut-être – That you will read perhaps
Si vous avez le temps – If you have time
Je viens de recevoir – I just received
Mes papiers militaires – My (military) draft papers
Pour partir à la guerre – To go to war
Avant mercredi soir – Before Wednesday evening
Monsieur le Président – Mister President
Je ne veux pas la faire – I don’t want to do it
Je ne suis pas sur terre – I am not on Earth
Pour tuer des pauvres gens – To kill poor people
C’est pas pour vous fâcher – I don’t mean to anger you
Il faut que je vous dise – I do have to tell you
Ma décision est prise – I made up my mind
Je m’en vais déserter – I’m going to desert

Depuis que je suis né – Since I was born
J’ai vu mourir mon père – I saw my father die
J’ai vu partir mes frères – I saw my brothers leave
Et pleurer mes enfants – And my children cry
Ma mère a tant souffert – My mother suffered so
Elle est dedans sa tombe – She is in her grave
Et se moque des bombes – And she mocks bombs
Et se moque des vers – And she mocks worms (Se moquer in French can mean two things. Je me moque de toi is both I am mocking you I am making fun of you AND I couldn’t care less about you)
Quand j’étais prisonnier – When I was a prisoner
On m’a volé ma femme – My wife was stolen
On m’a volé mon âme – My soul was stolen
Et tout mon cher passé – And all my dear past
Demain de bon matin – Tomorrow in the early morning
Je fermerai ma porte – I will slam my door
Au nez des années mortes – In the face of dead years
J’irai sur les chemins – I will walk down paths

Je mendierai ma vie – I will beg for my life
Sur les routes de France – On the roads of France
De Bretagne en Provence – From Brittany to Provence
Et je dirai aux gens: – And I will tell people:
Refusez d’obéir – Refuse to obey
Refusez de la faire – Refuse to do it
N’allez pas à la guerre – Do not go to war
Refusez de partir – Refuse to leave
S’il faut donner son sang – If we have to give our blood
Allez donner le vôtre – Go give yours
Vous êtes bon apôtre – You are a good apostle (in French this means being a hypocrite)
Monsieur le Président – Mister President
Si vous me poursuivez – If you chase me
Prévenez vos gendarmes – Warn your policemen
Que je n’aurai pas d’armes – That I won’t be armed
Et qu’ils pourront tirer – And that they’ll be able to shoot

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