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cattle car

2005

I Think it's about Freedom

(the song of Jean Claude)

 

Songwriting is as much about following your heart as it is about finding the music that allows you to take the journey. Some years ago, I had found an interesting chord pattern on the guitar and over the next several weeks I added a melody. It seemed romantic... perhaps ‘French’? But I didn't know where to take it. During my solo section of a Peter Paul and Mary concert, I played the chord pattern for the audience and they responded so enthusiastically that I asked them to tell me what they thought the song was about. I received this note backstage after the concert, “I think its about freedom.”



For months,  I puzzled over the direction and details of the song's story: Jean Claude became the name of a young Frenchman walking to school in 1941.  A complicated rhyme scheme (or an inspiration far beyond my knowledge), placed him in Alsace-Lorraine and spoke of his friend Michel on a train bound for Germany. Another year passed and the lyric was still incomplete when my wife Betty and I visited France in the fall of  2003.  When we found ourselves in a bookstore near the Eiffel tower,  I wandered over to a cut-out bin of used books, magazines and discarded pamphlets and there,  with the cover torn off, i found a crudely printed booklet with a single photo on its exposed first page with these words printed underneath:



ALSACE-LORRAINE, 1941.



The picture was that of a large steam locomotive with perhaps twenty or thirty men standing on the tracks in front.  They were wearing striped pajamas...no, not pajamas. I realized that these men would soon be herded like cattle onto this train, separated from their families forever and transported to concentration camps in Poland and Germany.  As I lifted the book, I sensed I was holding the song in my hand.  I knew with certainty one of these men was Michel. 



Jean Claude was his friend.



 

 

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