»  Richard Holmes' Arrangement of "La Route est Dure"


La Route est Dure

arranged by Richard Holmes, sung by Georgia Brown


•  Background

Back in 1970, Britain's BBC TV aired an adaptation, in thirteen parts, of Jean-Paul Sartre's Roads to Freedom trilogy. It was a superb piece of TV drama, whatever you think of Sartre and his philosophizing. (Me: not much.) Each episode was introduced by this song. The singer is Georgia Brown, a British actress and singer. The piece seems to have been written by actor/musician Richard Holmes.

The TV series has sunk without trace, the BBC apparently believing the tapes have no market value, or perhaps just having lost them.

The song lingers on in the memory of those of us who saw the series. I have been able to find it only on an old, rather scratched 45rpm vinyl disk, which a friend kindly digitized for me. Another friend, sound engineer Bob Evans, then removed the clicks and crackles. Many thanks to both!

I have been unable to find any documentation for the song, even a set of lyrics. The only credit on the label of the vinyl disc, other than "Arranged by Richard Holmes," is "(Jones)," placed right below the song title, and so presumably the composer and/or lyricist. I have no idea who Jones was.

[Note, added November 2019 :  A correspondent in the U.K. who also remembers this song with affection has directed me to the 45cat.com website, a search on which turned up this:

Composer: James Cellan Jones, Herbert Kretzmer, Arranger Richard Holmes.

That Jones is obviously the one on the label. He died at age 88 on August 30th 2019, just nine weeks prior to my adding this note. There is an obituary here, from which:

In 1970 he directed all 13 episodes of The Roads to Freedom, based on Jean-Paul Sartre's trilogy of novels, which starred Michael Bryant, Daniel Massey, Rosemary Leach and Georgia Brown, and was particularly memorable for Brown's rendition of its theme song, a haunting French chanson — words and music by Jim.

Herbert Kretzmer is still with us at age 94. He has a Wikipedia page here.

One website refers to La Route est Dure as "a WW2 French Resistance song." If anyone knows any more than that, please get in touch with me through the e-address encrypted on my home page.


•  Listen to the song


•  Lyrics of the song

La route est dure, la vie est morne.
Mon âme est sûre d'aucune borne.
Que dois-je faire avec ma vie
Quand toute la terre s'est endurcie?

Les mains se tendent de tous côtés
Les chaînes sont lourdes, puis-je les ôter?
Un seul pas contre la tyrannie;
Une raison d'être dans toute ma vie.

La route est dure mais je suis forte.
Mon âme est sûre, la peur est morte.
Je sais quoi faire avec la vie
Quand toute la terre sera affranchie.

•  Translation

[Note, added when setting up the page in November 2005 :  I know very little French. I have consulted some native speakers of the language, all of whom tell me the French of the lyrics is not very good. Presumably the lyrics were written by a non-native speaker, perhaps some underpaid lyricist working from incomplete memories of high-school French. "Jones" (see above) doesn't sound very French. The second line in particular makes little sense to anyone, and eighth is also problematic. This translation is the best we can do.]

The road is hard, life is dreary.
My soul knows no boundaries.
What should I do with my life
When all the world is hardened?

Hands are outstretched on all sides;
The chains are heavy, how can I break them?
One lone step against tyranny;
One cause to live for all my life.

The road is hard but I am strong.
My soul is steady, fear is dead.
I'll know what to do with my life
When the whole world is freed.

[Further note, added September 2011 :  I received the following from Vincent Poirier, at an address in Japan. I am much obliged to him for helping clarify these lyrics.

Dear Mr. Derbyshire,

The second line of the theme song to the drama does make sense, but I think the translation of "borne" into "boundaries" is misleading.

"Mon âme est sûre d'aucune borne./My soul knows no boundaries."

A "borne" is a milestone, meaning the stones put every mile to mark how far along the road one has traveled. An alternate translation could be "my soul is unsure of any milestone" meaning "I don't know how far along the road I have traveled."

As for the eighth line, the translation works well enough. One small lone step against tyranny is presumably the first step on the road, with the road being the path/meaning of the protagonist's life. Bernard Woolley would argue that the problem is the imagery of the seventh line: if you take a step against an enemy, you are on a battlefield rather than on a road …