This week’s Free Ride* muses on the lyrics of the larger-than-life musical theatre production of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, with music and lyrics written by Alan Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg. The French novelist, who was born 209 years ago today, lived and worked and wrote during a period marked by an intense revolutionary spirit. In the 1830s, Hugo wrote that he could hear the dull sound of revolution, still deep down in the earth, pushing out under every kingdom in Europe. That sound surfaced in 1848 in Paris and spread across all of the continent. Over 150 years later, as we hear some contemporary subterranean sounds of revolution pushing up through the kingdoms of North Africa and the Middle East, it is a good time to read or re-read Victor Hugo’s description of the yearning for freedom and how it manifested itself in the uprisings. It would be fascinating to learn what similarities might exist between the respective historical tipping points that catalyzed people to take to the streets and defy the powers in their demands for liberty and equality.
Kim first introduced me to the musical adaptation of Les Mis in London back in 1993, and I remember how profoundly it affected me, from the first strains of Look Down to the Finale chorus swelling as it sang out the hope – when the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes. It turned my facial faucets on for sure. And it set my mind on the ideal of freedom, which is the key theme throughout the music. You hear freedom explicitly referenced in 13 of the numbers. Click on any of the links below to hear the various songs, and reflect on what insights the genius of Victor Hugo and his musical adapters might give us today as we witness our own remarkable period of world history. Who knows what great novels and works of art will be moving people to tears 150 years from now, based on what we’re seeing every day.
Your parole’s begun; you know what that means. Yes, it means I’m free. No! It means you get your yellow ticket-of-leave, you are a thief . . . And now I know how freedom feels, the jailer always at your heels (from Look Down)
One word from him and I’d be back beneath the lash, upon the rack, instead he offers me my freedom. (from What Have I Done?)
We live on crumbs of humble piety, tough on the teeth, but what the hell! Think you’re poor? Think you’re free? Follow me! Follow me! (from Look Down – the Beggars’ version)
Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see? Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free! (from Do You Hear the People Sing?)
One more day before the storm! At the barricades of freedom. When our ranks begin to form, will you take your place with me? . . . One day to a new beginning, raise the flag of freedom high! Every man will be a king. There’s a new world for the winning; there’s a new world to be won! (from One Day More)
You are free, and there are no conditions, no bargains or petitions. (from The First Attack)
She was never mine to keep. She is youthful, she is free. (from Everyday)
For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord. They will walk behind the plough-share, they will put away the sword. The chain will be broken and all then will have their reward. (from the Finale)
*Free Ride is a Saturday blog from Stan Dotson that takes a different artist or song each week and muses on lyrics of freedom. You can click on the live links in the post to hear the music referenced in the blog. If you have a favorite “freedom” song (it could be any song that has the word free or freedom in it), feel free to suggest it in the comment box below. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.