11 January 2011

Loir-et-Cher, the song by Michel Delpech

The singer and songwriter Jean-Michel Delpech was born in Courbevoie, in the well-to-do westside Paris suburbs, in 1946. He chose Michel Delpech as his stage name and starting performing in the 1960s. He was the opening act (la vedette américaine in French) for Jacques Brel, for example, when Brel gave his final concert at the Olympia theater in Paris in 1966.

Michel Delpech continued his career with a string of hit songs in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. I came to France in 1970 for six months, and then returned to spend the 1972-73 school year in Rouen (Normandy). Delpech's songs were on the radio all the time. Some of his biggest titles were:
  • Pour un flirt (1971) — I remember this one because it was kind of racy for the times and it taught me that the English word flirt got a different meaning when it was imported into the French language. In French, « un flirt » is what is also called « une aventure » — what the dictionary calls "a brief romance." It's an old-fashioned term now, and might already have been back then.
  • Les Divorcés (1973) was about a man whose wife is leaving him for another. He's getting a divorce and has accepted the situation, even though his lawyer says he has to testify against his wife. « La vie continue, malgré tout », he sings. Divorce by mutual consent was not yet possible in France then, unless I'm mistaken.
  • Que Marianne était jolie (also 1973) is one I remember for the music and the style. It's a song about the symbol of the French Republic — the New Regime, after abolition of the monarchy in the 1790s. I was always a little mystified by the subject and words, but Delpech's refrain « Dieu ! mais que Marianne était jolie ! » was catchy and memorable. It's a song about Paris and the revolutionary spirit. Here's a live version from a couple of decades ago.
And finally, there was the song called Le Loir-et-Cher, in 1977. Now Walt and I live in the Loir-et-Cher, which is the territory around the old royal town of Blois. It straddles the Loir River in the north and the Cher River in the south — both are tributaries of the major local river, the Loire. Here's the song on YouTube:

These are the lyrics in French:
Le Loir-et-Cher

Ma famille habite dans le Loir-et-Cher,
Ces gens-là ne font pas de manières.
Ils passent tout l'automne à creuser des sillons,
A retourner des hectares de terre.
Je n’ai jamais eu grand chose à leur dire
Mais je les aime depuis toujours.
De temps en temps, je vais les voir.
Je passe le dimanche dans le Loir-et-Cher.

{Refrain:} Ils me disent, ils me disent :
« Tu vis sans jamais voir un cheval, un hibou. »
Ils me disent :
« Tu ne viens plus, même pour pêcher un poisson.
Tu ne penses plus à nous.
On dirait que ça te gêne de marcher dans la boue,
On dirait que ça te gêne de dîner avec nous.
On dirait que ça te gêne de marcher dans la boue,
On dirait que ça te gêne de dîner avec nous. »

Chaque fois que je m’arrête dans le Loir-et-Cher,
Ils ne me laissent plus partir de chez eux.
Je leur dis qu’il faut que je rentre sur Paris,
Que je ne fais pas toujours ce que je veux
Et qu’il faut que je trouve encore un poste d'essence,
Que je n'ai pas le temps de finir ma bière
Et que je reviendrai un de ces dimanches
Passer la nuit dans le Loir-et-Cher.

And here's my loose translation:
The Loir-et-Cher

My family lives in the Loir-et-Cher,
They're the kind of people who don't put on airs.
They spend the whole autumn working the fields,
Plowing up acres and acres of soil.
I've never had much to talk to them about
But they've always been dear to me.
Once in a while I go to see them.
I spend a Sunday in the Loir-et-Cher.

And they'll say to me, they'll say:
"You live your life without ever seeing a horse or an owl."
And they'll say:
"You don't come see us any more, not even to go fishing.
It's like you've forgotten all about us.
It's as if you're afraid you might get mud on your shoes.
As if you don't really care about sharing a meal with us.
It's as if you're afraid you might get mud on your shoes.
As if you don't really care about sharing a meal with us."

Every time I stop off in the Loir-et-Cher,
They don't want to let me leave again.
I tell them that I have to get back to Paris,
That I can't always do exactly as I please.
And that I need to find one more place to fuel up my car,
So I don't have time to finish that last beer
And I'll be sure to come back some Sunday soon
To spend another night in the Loir-et-Cher.

Here's a much more recent live performance by an older Michel Delpech:

I'm a true believer when it comes to songs like these as a way to learn French pronunciation and expressions. They can teach you the music of the language. They are full of historical and cultural references. And they're fun, at least to me.


  1. an irregular follower ;)12 January, 2011 12:24

    Nice translation, You got the mood

    This song is about the country and the city, the old and the new era a very human way

  2. Really interesting insight into French culture, sort of like a country-western, no? Terrific.

  3. I didn't know "Loir et Cher". How nice to listen to the other songs too.
    Thanks Ken!

  4. He's still got it!

    But Ken, I have some doubt about learning French through lyrics. What if you can't catch individual words? A further problem is, for example, that though I know the word 'boue' and would understand it in context, I don't expect it to crop up in a song. Wrong of me, I know.

  5. Oh, I like both the young and old Delpechs!
    Thanks for this interesting post, Ken.

    The CBS morning Sunday morning show interviewed Javier Bardem (I like him;) here http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/10/sunday/main7231013.shtml?tag=cbsnewsTwoColUpperPromoArea

    "He took acting jobs to support his painting, and listened to music to learn English. He credits the group AC/DC for his fluency in English, in some respects: "I love heavy metal music. That's why I know how to curse!" "

    I had never thought about leaning language through songs, but we do it as children all the time don't we?

  6. Thanks for this post, Professor B. I picked up a couple new words and have a song-story to attach them to, an easy way for me to remember. I'll have to see if I can get this on my Ipod to listen to while exercising. I already have "Une Belle Histoire" by Michel Fugain on it - got several new words from that one (e.g. "brouillard").

  7. I've learned something new today. It's going on the iPod.

  8. Hi Carolyn, it's so easy to get the words to songs on the Internet these days. And the YouTube clips.

    Irregular follower, that's right, the old life in the country and the new life in the cities. Families separated, geographically and culturally.

    Cynthia, a lot of French popular music has the story-telling in common with U.S. country music.

  9. C'est vraiment intéressant et rafraichissant de redécouvrir des morceaux de culture française à travers votre regard.

    Ces chansons ont bercé mon enfance, mais je n'aurais pas été capable d'en nommer l'interprète !

    Vraiment, ce Blog est super sympathique :-).

  10. Bonjour Ken

    Growing up I used to go to the Centre Culturel Français on the island ( since it is considered Francophone they did not have Alliance Française per se) to borrow French books and magazines and I discovered the beautiful voice of Jean Ferrat watching "la vieille dame indigne":
    The lyrics are very moving.

    another song of his that I like ( city versus the country)
    I am pretty sure Diogenes will pick some new words :-)

  11. A wonderful post, thank you Ken!


  12. I love this post, thank you Ken! Just humming along, bouncing a bit... hey! was that my great-grandfather in that first clip?! ;-)

  13. Ken, another expression to teach your followers "faire un tabac".
    I added Michel Delpech to my list of my favorite "you tube".
    Thank God for "radio Nostalgie" so I can listen to all the singers of
    my generation (late 70's early 80's). I have 2 older sisters so I was exposed very young to Johnny,
    Eddie, Richard Anthony, Adamo...
    At work, I work with people who were born in the late 80's. Amazing!

  14. My favorite Michel Delpech song is "Quand j'étais chanteur". It is sung from the perspective of a 73 year old former rock star looking back on events in his life, including the time (if I'm translating correctly) he sang at the "kermesse" in Saint-Georges and his wife was tossed in the Indre River by his fan club.

  15. Ken, you're absolutely right.
    Listening to a song in French, while at the same time reading the French lyrics is a great adjunct to learning French vocabulary and pronunciation.
    As an example: Having difficulty learning the future tense in French?
    Watch a video of Mouloudji singing "Un Jour Tu Verras".
    While doing so, read the printed French lyrics; lyrics which are (almost) exclusively written in the future tense.
    I credit this method (and Mouloudji) with helping me with both the concept and construction of French verbs in the future tense (regular and irregular!).
    And you learn an awesome song to boot!

  16. Hello Dean, that Delpech song mentions Saint-Georges, and there's a village called by that name just down the river from us. It's on the Cher River, though, not the Indre, and is in the Loir-et-Cher.

    You know, in (all those) pre-Internet days, it was really hard to find French song lyrics. I know I spent hours transcribing songs by Georges Brassens, Maxime Leforestier, and Alain Souchon, to name a few, because I wanted to understand them and share them with my students.

    Evelyn, you are right, children learn language through songs. They are memorable, they have rhymes that teach you how words are pronounced, and they tell culturally important stories.

    Bonjour Olivier, je suis content de savoir que vous lisez ce que j'écris. Je suis sûr que mes sujets sont plus ou moins intéressants selon le jour, mais c'est toujours comme ça, non? Moi j'ai vraiment appris le français, en bonne partie, dans ces chansons des années '70.

    Hi Nadège, Adamo's songs were big ones for me in learning French. C'est ma vie, for example. And Julien Clerc, Alain Souchon, France Gall, Véronique Sanson, Maxime Leforestier. And of course Brel, Brassens, and Piaf. Also Patachou.

    And Beaver, yes, Jean Ferrat too. And Léo Ferré. Ferrat passed away not too many months ago.

    Hi Ellen, I didn't know your grandfather grew prunes in the Loir-et-Cher!

  17. I was being silly about my ancestor, actually, but the fellow about 16 seconds into the video with his hat a-tilt looks very like an old photo I have. My grandfather was Italian but his father was French; my grandfather, too, wore his hat just so. Carried the rakish attitude all his life, he did! :-)

  18. Paris s'éveille -- Jacques Dutronc!
    on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-7vv8F6XBE
    from http://www.lyrics007.com
    Paroles : Jacques Lanzmann, Anne Ségalen
    Musique : Jacques Dutronc
    (c) Éditions Musicales Alpha

    1 Je suis le dauphin de la place Dauphine
    Et la place Blanche a mauvais' mine
    Les camions sont pleins de lait
    Les balayeurs sont pleins d'balais

    R Il est 5 heures, Paris s'éveille, Paris s'éveille

    2 Les travestis vont se raser
    Les strip-teaseuses sont rhabillées
    Les traversins sont écrasés
    Les amoureux sont fatigués

    3 Le café est dans les tasses
    Les cafés nettoient leurs glaces
    Et sur le boulevard Montparnasse
    La gare n'est plus qu'une carcasse

    4 Les banlieusards sont dans les gares
    À la Villette on tranche le lard
    Paris by night regagne les cars
    Les boulangers font des bâtards

    5 La Tour Eiffel a froid aux pieds
    L'Arc de Triomphe est ranimé
    Et l'Obélisque est bien dressé
    Entre la nuit et la journée

    6 Les journaux sont imprimés
    Les ouvriers sont déprimés
    Les gens se lèvent ils sont brimés
    C'est l'heure où je vais me coucher

    R Il est 5 heures Paris se lève
    Il est 5 heures je n'ai pas sommeil

  19. I envy you. The content and design of your blog is much better than mine. Who made a design for you?!…


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