In the continuing series of his music, Jean-Yves Ragot has a new take on the chicken or egg question.
I am often asked whether I write the lyrics or the music first. With Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you could follow the creation of a rhythm. Today, let me tell you the story of a song with lyrics that I did not write.
Once upon a time…more than 60 years ago, in Saverne, a five/six-year-old boy grew up with his parents and grandmother in a house close to the station restaurant and the immense Vosges forests.
This sensitive child collected images, sensations, and memories from these few years in Saverne, which nourished his artistic vocation. This child would become a draughtsman, illustrator, poet, songwriter, translator, filmmaker… and a great defender of the Alsatian dialect. As well as my friend. He composed the graphic model of the 33 rpm record I told you about last time. His name is Raymond Piela.
In the year 2000, a collection of his poems was published and sold in bookshops. One text, in particular, caught my attention. “In those years”. And what I have described of his childhood fully illuminates this beautiful text. The rhythm and phrasing of the first bars of my music forced me to adapt the text and make choices.
I recorded a version in 2001. A recording that, strangely enough, I forgot about until that beautiful day in April 2020. In the middle of the Lockdown Act 1. I took out my Revox, a mythical tape recorder, to listen to my old tapes. Amongst my, fifteen or so reels, was the surprising In those years. It doesn’t sound like any of my songs.
I couldn’t play it again like in 2001. I didn’t have the same keyboard or software, and therefore the same sounds. To add it to our repertoire, I tried to match it as close as possible to what I had done in 2001. Chris included his rich and tonic musical ideas.
I will let you discover it, and in pictures, here:
Wishing you the best of luck, until next time, with a totally different song.
Using three different examples, Jean-Yves Ragot explains how songs can evolve and where they can come from.
The song version 1991/1992
I was an active member of the association Aide à Toute Détresse (ATD) (Help in Need) Quart-Monde for a long time. For a certain period, I was one of the animators of the Wednesday Club for children.
In response to a call for a competition, launched by the national headquarters of ATD, inviting me to compose a song for the World Day Against Poverty, I composed “Une dalle de pierre”.
Peut-on parler des droits de l’homme Quand la misère touche tant d’hommes Quand ils ont faim, quand ils ont froid Et qu’ils n’ont même plus un toit Même en plein cœur de nos richesses Même à deux pas de nos avenues Des familles vivent dans la détresse Des hommes meurent comme des exclus
UNE DALLE DE PIERRE CONTRE LA MISÈRE UNE DALLE D’ESPOIR SOUS TOUS LES REGARDS AU COEUR D’UN PARI(S) CONTRE LA MISÈRE SUR TOUTE LA TERRE UNE DALLE DE PIERRE CONTRE LA MISÈRE POUR UN MONDE NOUVEAU LA DALLE DU TROCADÉRO
Chaque fois qu’un homme est humilié Bafoué, rejeté ou méprisé En fait c’est toute l’humanité Qui perd un peu sa dignité
Peut-on parler des droits de l’homme Quand la misère touche tant d’hommes Quand ils ont faim, quand ils ont froid Et qu’ils n’ont même plus un toit REFRAIN
Can we talk about human rights When misery affects so many people When they are hungry, when they are cold And they don’t even have a roof over their heads Even in the heart of our wealth Even just a stone’s throw from our avenues Families live in distress Men die as outcasts
A SLAB OF STONE AGAINST MISERY A SLAB OF HOPE UNDER ALL EYES IN THE HEART OF A BET AGAINST MISERY ON THE WHOLE EARTH A STONE SLAB AGAINST MISERY FOR A NEW WORLD THE SLAB OF THE TROCADERO
Every time a man is humiliated scorned, rejected or despised In fact it is all of humanity Which loses a little of its dignity Can we talk about human rights
When misery affects so many people When they are hungry, when they are cold And they don’t even have a roof over their heads REFRAIN
Copyright Jean-Yves Ragot
It is a text about the slab inaugurated on the Trocadero Square, in Paris, on October 17th, 1987. The founder of the ATD movement, and the initiator of this World Day, was Father Joseph Wresinski. You can see this slab in detail in the video, with the central phrase which is so important.
The young people who had gathered at the ATD national centre in Noisy-le-Grand chose my song for this World Day Against Poverty. It was officially recognised in 1992 by the UN and is now held every 17th October.
The song is still in our repertoire. You will discover it, with pictures, with my accomplice Chris on the guitar here. :
The song version 2015/2017
Some years later, a faithful friend who knows who is meant, and for whom this music was “my best music”, urged me to rework it and to open it to a wider public with a less specialized theme.
So, I wrote a completely different text to the same music.
In the heading, I wrote “two totally different sound worlds”. Of us seven children, five wrote or still write songs. For “Je reviens de si loin”, which is the title of this second version, it was my big brother Michel, from Paris, who did all the orchestration.
I have placed it on my website, which, thanks to you, for sharing, I have started to update.
J’ai traversé tous les abîmes Dans des vertiges de déprimes J’ai traversé toutes les tempêtes Quand toutes les fuites sont des défaites
J’ai traversé tous les déserts Et tous les cercles des enfers J’ai traversé toutes les souffrances Et jusqu’aux portes de la démence
Je reviens de si loin Mais je te reviens Du fin fond de moi-même De tous les extrêmes Impatient de vivre Chaque seconde De ton cœur Je reviens de si loin Mais je te reviens Du fin fond de moi-même Comme un tout premier je t’aime
J’ai traversé tous ces cauchemars Qui nous déchirent dans le noir J’ai traversé toutes ces angoisses Qui nous submergent et qui nous glacent
Mais durant toutes ces traversées C’est ton visage que je voyais C’est ta présence qui me portait C’est ton amour qui me guidait Refrain
Je reviens de si loin Je reviens de si loin
Je reviens de si loin Mais je te reviens La tendresse dans les yeux Et le corps en feu Je te reviens plus fort Pour t’aimer mille ans Et bien plus encore Je reviens de si loin Mais je te reviens Du fin fond de moi-même Comme un… tout premier… je t’aime
Je reviens de si loin De si loin
I have crossed all the abysses In dizzy spells of despondency I’ve been through all the storms When all escapes are defeats
I’ve crossed all the deserts And all the circles of hell I’ve been through all the sufferings And to the gates of insanity
I’ve come back from so far But I come back to you From the depths of myself From all extremes Eager to live Every second Of your heart I’ve come so far But I come back to you From the depths of my being Like a very first I love you
I’ve been through all these nightmares That tear us apart in the dark I’ve been through all these anxieties That overwhelm us and freeze us
But through it all It was your face that I saw It was your presence that carried me It was your love that guided me Refrain
I’ve come back from so far I’ve come back from so far
I come back from so far But I come back to you The tenderness in my eyes And my body on fire I come back stronger To love you for a thousand years And much more I come back from so far away But I come back to you From the depths of my being Like a… very first… I love you
I’ve come back from so far away From so far away
Copyright: Jean-Yves Ragot.
Creation is magic!
Take a block of stone or a piece of wood and make an animal or a statue out of it. Buy an old, dilapidated farmhouse and turn it into a superb and pleasant place to live. With old clothes or brand-new fabric cuts, you can make surprising and elegant clothes. One can multiply the examples endlessly and in all fields.
Now, add to this: having a phrase or the beginning of a melody in your head, or under your fingers, making a complete song out of it, orchestrating it, recording it and being able to share it. At each level we are craftsmen. And the creation keeps its magic side each time.
So, in keeping with the spirit of what I wrote earlier, it was my big brother Michel, from Paris, who again did all the orchestration and came up with a valuable remark.
He pointed out to me that I should leave more breathing space and music between my words, and inside my stanzas and refrains.
“Breathe when you sing.” I had the first sentence. A new song was in gestation. This is the one you are about to discover.
For those of you who prefer to listen to the song without looking at the pictures, I would like to point out that in this montage, there are more texts than pictures.
And you can even breathe as the song unfolds, or even experience this “mindfulness breathing”, which has rightly been well publicised recently.
How does inspiration become a song? Jean-Yves Ragot has an anecdote.
Here is the story of a song. We go back…35 years! Is it possible? January 1985…
Once upon a time… there was a dishwasher and a rhythm that was running through my head. So, I started to sing this rhythm by tapping on the tray of the dishwasher. I had fun re-enacting the moment…Come on, smile 😉
Then, little by little, I began to sing “in yoghurt”. Singing “in yoghurt” is a technique that consists of singing a little bit of anything to a melody when you do not yet have the idea of a text.
Wikipedia gives us this example:
During the composition of Yesterday, Paul McCartney had no lyrics and started by singing “Scrambled eggs…”. “(scrambled eggs)”.
There too, for my future song, I had fun reconstructing, with “yoghurt” which is meant to sound “English” 🤗 in
Once I had finished composing the music for the verses and the chorus, I had to replace the “yoghurt” with real words.
Ten years earlier, my sister had given me a huge, little book that had left its mark on me as it has on millions of readers all over the world: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, a descendant of the great Johann Sebastian.
It tells the story of a seagull that didn’t want to spend its life, like the others, watching for the fish it would eat, but that was constantly trying to go beyond its limits in ecstasies of gliding flights.
A small book of about forty luminous pages, a poetic parable and philosophical tale, full of quotations that have become classics such as: “You can rise even higher because you wanted to learn”. “You must strive to see the true gull – the good one – in each of your fellow creatures and help them discover it in themselves. This is what I mean by love”.
In my song lyrics, I then choose to highlight Jonathan’s determination to always start over, to try, to remain faithful to his deepest aspiration, even if it means being mocked by others – in the book he will be excluded from the clan.
At that time, with Michel Gangloff on keyboards and rhythm programming, and Claude Ruff on guitars and flute, we were giving concerts all over Alsace. Very quickly, the song became a key title in our repertoire. An unforgettable memory linked to this song. We arrived in the large hall – where the Haguenau Youth Forum was to be held – to settle down and adjust the sound. And there, on the doorstep, the three of us remain astonished and amazed: creative hands had secretly made an impressive seagull that covered the whole wall of the stage! May they be forever thanked!
And this song, we quite naturally placed it at the top of the B-side of our LP, released some time later.
A song that I have always kept in my repertoire. Like under this link, at the moment, with my accomplice Chris. Good listening!
So much for the story of a song.
Let’s move on to the announced BONUS, to make you, I hope, smile in these gloomy times.
Rémi Boos is a prodigious pianist – don’t hesitate to look for other videos on his channel – and a fabulous joker. He was my accompanist for a few years and he remains a friend with whom I sometimes cooperate on certain occasions. Four years ago, he came up with an idea for a children’s song (not especially for children) that would take the opposite tack to what we hear, and expect, most of the time. I wrote the text, he did the music and the arrangement. And he did the drawings and the editing for this video. As for the voice…it’s mine…yes, it is!
Retired French Literature teacher and musician, Jean-Yves Ragot, raises the curtain on some of his songs. As his thoughts go “Blowing in the wind”, they land on my desk. However, I quickly discover that you need to do more than just “Listen to the music” to understand about “The way we were”.
In these gloomy times and context, a bit of lightness and a big step back with my first guitar chords.
I was 14 years old, and every time my big brother Claude was away, I hurried to go and play on his superb jazz guitar like the one :
I strummed my first chords. MI RE LA. The simplest ones. So many songs have been made with these three chords!
I remember perfectly to have, for example, strummed for hours the MI LA RE of “La poupée qui fait non” by Michel Polnareff:
or the MI RE LA of “Gloria“by Van Morrison and his band Them.
Souvenirs, memories…guitarists have to recognise each other…
But at the same time, from these chords, quickly enriched by others, I started to compose my first songs. And I can’t say why. The guitar, so practical to animate the singing as an instructor in the airy centre, to set the atmosphere with friends. And sometimes I slide one of my compositions.
In 1968, inspired by my muse of the time, and while everyone still had in mind the Beatles’ song which had won the Grammy Award for “Song of the Year” the previous year (although it had been released at the end of 1965) :
I composed what was soon to become a “tube” in our little band.
By the way, you should know that the word ‘tube’ was invented by Boris Vian in 1957, then artistic director at Philips.
“Tube” refers to the expensive cylinders of our old phonographs, and therefore reserved for future successes. But also, for Vian, “tube” was for those songs with hollow lyrics like a “hit”. But he himself, a gifted writer and musician, wrote several of them.
Before this word “tube”, people in musical circles used to talk about… “sausage” to designate these melodies composed by the kilometre to be cut into slices.
So, with my lover and the title of the Beatles in mind, I composed the song you are about to discover. In 2016, I had fun orchestrating and recording it, and Raymond Scheu, a childhood friend, surprised me by having fun putting it into pictures.
I can thank my lucky stars that the man was a teacher. This thought is my lifeline, my safety net to the experience I am about to embark upon.
But, as is with most good stories, there is an overture.
Had Jean-Yves Ragot’s wife not taken part in one of my English courses, had she not had a quiet word with me about that class, had she not actively encouraged the Brida Journal and the Brida Project, I would not be having this conversation with her husband. Michèle is the sort of person who has a permanent question mark floating above her. There is something that puzzles one. Slowly it emerges. The patchwork family which now houses 12 grandchildren. The casual remarks, dropped like a handkerchief, waiting to be picked up and returned. In the summer comes an invitation for some coffee in the Blue House. And when the two halves present themselves as one whole, I still see the question marks. Months later, I realise, I am using the wrong sense. Do not look, listen.
At some point the handkerchief is dropped for the umpteenth time, “Jean-Yves writes an email about his work, would you like to receive them too….?” Meekly, I pick up the handkerchief, say yes and hesitantly something arrives. I read, it stirs, I listen, it stirs…but the end of year exhaustion is too great. An idea formulates but my body is crying for shutdown.
Eventually I open the door to this new world. Again, the question marks are jumping around, telling me to do something. But what? A question mark whispers into my ear, “you are using the wrong sense. Do not look, do not listen. Feel.”
And so, I jump into swimming pool and swim in music.
It is just over a week before Michèle and Jean-Yves come here to discuss his work. My head is spinning. This is one of these golden moments which I do not want to screw up. But how?
How do you talk to the man when he writes and then sings?
On en crève De tout c’qu’nous n’disons pas De ces mots que l’on garde pour soi.
We’re dying Of all the things we don’t say Of these words that one keeps to oneself.
He does not make it easy:
Qui, même toi Que je n’connais qu’depuis si peu de temps Mais avec qui je viens d’passer de superbes moments Toi qui es là Un peu paumé.
Yes, even you That I have known for such a short time But with whom I’ve just had a wonderful time You who are here A little lost
A little lost?
Je connais Paris, ville d’art et de misère J’ai vu Venise et les grandes villes d’Italie J’ai vu Munich et son Octobre de folie J’ai voyagé dans tellement de contrées.
I know Paris, city of art and misery I saw Venice and the big cities of Italy I saw Munich and its crazy October I’ve travelled to so many places.
I breathe a sigh of relief. I can look him in the eye. We share common ground.
But, before I know it, he pulls the rug from under my feet.
Mais mes voisins de palier, de quartier Je ne les ai jamais bien regardés
But my neighbours on the landing, the district I’ve never looked at them properly.
Yes, I admit, I had not heard of the person nor his music, although he lives only 15 km from me.
As I swim to the deeper end of the pool, I meet Madame Louise. She must be a beautiful woman as I listen to the softness of the music with a hint of melancholy.
Comme si c’était la première fois Puis elle regagne à petits pas Son vieux fauteuil où elle s’assoit L’instant sacré est arrivé Quelqu’un va enfin lui parler
As if it was the first time Then she returns in small steps Her old armchair where she sits The sacred moment has arrived Someone will finally talk to her.
The song softly unfolds and reveals a deep humanity, so elegantly portrayed, so simple yet so complex as life can be.
A lap or two later, as I continue swimming, the humanity is perhaps a little more risqué.
Le diable au corps J’en redemande encore Je calcule, je manipule Le diable au corps J’en redemande encore Je fais tout ce qu’il me plait Sans vraiment penser Au mal que je fais
The devil in the body I want more I calculate, I manipulate The devil in the body I want more I do whatever I like Without really thinking To the evil that I do.
Yes, we were young once. How could we forget?
As I continue swimming, I encounter Mathieu, Julien, Fabien and Benoit. They are a cheery bunch, as the music tells me in a slight up-tempo gallop. Who are these characters?
Mathieu, Julien Fabien et toi Benoît Venez, venez tous voir passer Passer là-bas sur le grand sentir De splendide cavaliers.
Mathieu, Julien Fabien and you Benoît Come, come and see all of us pass by. Passing over there on the big trail Splendid riders.
And as I look “over there” I notice something else, up in the sky. I meet an old friend, whom I had not spoken with since I lived in London, some 30 years ago. And the mist in my brain begins to clear and I begin to see, to hear and to feel, all at once.
File, file, redouble tous tes efforts Comme Jonathan Livingston le Goéland Monte encore, vole de plus en plus fortFile, file vers une nouvelle aurore.
Go, go, double your efforts Like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull Go up again, fly stronger and strongerFlying, flying to a new dawn.
Working with another client, we stride through several “self-help books” as our discussion material. Jonathan reminds me how easy it is to glide through the sky and be different. And how to look for that next air current to propel us forward. Afterall, we just need to look, listen and feel. The seagull replaces the shrink.
The freedom that we experience here saves us from certain problems.
Avant de juger un homme Il faut marcher sept lunes dans les mocassins
Before judging a man You have to walk seven moons in your moccasins.
The teacher would not be a good one, if he did not let a little mystery enter your thoughts.
As-tu déjà songé Au mystère de toute rencontre.
Have you ever thought about the mystery of every encounter.
How do you prepare an “interview” with a teacher, a poet and a composer?
Et dans l’odeur d’un bon café Laisser s’approcher la journée.
Dans mes périples, j’aime flâner, m’attarder Faire des rencontres, discuter dans un café
Et quoi que to deviennes Quand l’aventure s’achève Même si tu ne vole pas aussi haut que tes rêves Non, ne regrette pas tes envols de joie Découvre une autre voie Mais surtout n’oublie pas
Mais tout ça bien sûr tu l’sais déjà
And in the smell of a good coffee Let the day approach
In my travels, I like to stroll, to linger Meeting people, chatting in a café.
And whatever you become When the adventure comes to an end Even if you don’t fly as high as your dreams No, don’t regret your flights of joy Discover another way But don’t forget.