"Le Déserteur" (The Deserter) is a famous anti-war song written by the French poet and musician Boris Vian. It was first performed on the day of the decisive French defeat in the First Indochina War on May 7, 1954.
It was sung by Marcel Mouloudji on that day in concert, and he recorded it a week later. Its sale and broadcast were however forbidden by the French national radio committee until 1962. It was later translated into English, German (1959 by Gerd Semmer), Italian (by Luigi Tenco, Ornella Vanoni and Ivano Fossati), Spanish, Swedish ("Jag står här på ett torg", Lars Forssell), Dutch ("De deserteur" by Peter Blanker), Polish ("Dezerter" by Wojciech Młynarski), Welsh ("Y FFoadur" by Huw Jones), Catalan, Danish, and many other languages. The song was recorded in French by Peter, Paul & Mary in 1966 and by Esther & Abi Ofarim for their album 2 In 3 in 1967. In the United States, Joan Baez sang it during the Vietnam War.
The song is in the form of a letter to the French president from a man explaining his reasons for refusing the call to arms and becoming a deserter.
Several parts of the song were altered by Boris Vian at the request of and in collaboration with Michel Mouloudji, who was the only singer willing to record it. The biggest change is in the last stanza. In the original version, the deserter has a weapon and intends to defend himself against the forces of law if they pursue him. In the version of Mouloudji (used by many subsequent artists) he promises to be unarmed and be ready to die if pursued. The following is the altered French stanza and its English translation:
Si vous me poursuivez,
Prévenez vos gendarmes
Que je n'aurai pas d'armes
Et qu'ils pourront tirer.
If you pursue me,
Warn your policemen,
That I won't be carrying a weapon,
and that they can shoot me.
The resulting version, in spite of its pacifist leaning, was banned from 1954 to 1962 from public broadcast.
- Maude Williams: Das Protestlied „Le déserteur“ von Boris Vian: Wahrnehmung und Aneignung in Frankreich und in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland der 1960er Jahre Archiv für Textmusikforschung, innsbruck university press 2020
- Delrue, Dries. "Boris Vian, Le déserteur". Newfolksounds.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved 27 October 2014.
- "Esther Ofarim - Esther and Abi Ofarim - Esther & Abi Ofarim - Ofraim אסתר עופרים". Esther-ofarim.de. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
- Pynchon, Thomas (1963). V. J. B. Lippincott Company. pp. 18–19.
- Philippe Boggio, Boris Vian, Paris, Le Livre de poche, 1995, p. 405 (ISBN 978-2-253-13871-6).
- Le Déserteur in 45 languages, with the complete history of the song in French, Italian and English, from website Chansons Contre la Guerre (CCG/AWS)
- "Le Deserteur (Monsieur le President)" performed by Esther & Abi Ofarim