WRITTEN BY Zachary Richard, Tommy Shreve
PERFORMED BY Zachary Richard
APPEARS ON Women In The Room (1990)
NOTE On Women In The Room, Richard sings "No French, No More" in English and French. The version below is in French only.
Destroy a culture's language and you destroy a culture. The English knew that when they attempted to outlaw the Irish language, and the Irish just as surely knew it as they strove to keep their language alive. In "No French, No More," Zachary Richard laments the impact of the disappearance of French on his native Cajun culture ("But nowadays it's getting so you can't/Tell the Cajun from Americains"). At the same time, he speaks to a larger sense of loss, warning that once something is gone, "it ain't never coming back," and closing with a lament consisting of "jamais," the French word for "never."
"No French, No More" tells of the lasting shame imparted to French speakers for doing nothing more than speaking what was to them a native tongue, and of how the simple desire of a better life for their children became a vehicle for that shame. Although the character in the song attains success, he does so at the expense of his father's pride and his own identity. In the end, he's left wondering whether his achievements are worth their cost, and suspects that they are not. After all, his father -- "calloused hands" and all -- had an identity while the character simply "wears a suit" like anyone else and has hands that "dirt never touched".
Richard sings with an almost organic, environmental sensibility, as if he knows that the decline of the French language goes hand-in-hand with the disappearance of the bayous and wetlands of Southern Louisiana. In this regard, "No French, No More" is not only a lament, it's a warning, and a prescient one at that: Fifteen years after Richard recorded this song, Hurricane Katrina swept through the depleted bayous south of New Orleans, up the manmade intracoastal waterways that bisect New Orleans, and into history as the most destructive force to ever strike American soil. As we now know, it needn't have happened, that a healthy system of wetlands would have done much to retard the force of Katrina. Richard couldn't have known this when he wrote "No French, No More," but the song nonetheless finds an especially haunting resonance in Katrina's wake.
My papa was a hard working manHeld a plow inside a calloused handUp before the sun came out on the landTry to give us everything he canHe sent us off to school when a teacher cameHe said "My boy try hard, do the best you can."But the teacher we could not understandBecause she only talked AmericainPapa couldn't tell us and it didn't make no senseWhen the teacher told us we couldn't talk no FrenchNo moreThings were changing fast in LouisianeCajun can't talk English feel ashamedBut nowadays it's getting so you can'tTell the Cajuns from AmericainsPapa couldn't tell us and it didn't make no senseWhen the teacher told us we couldn't talk no FrenchNo moreDo you hear me calling, do you understand?Once it is gone, it ain't never coming backNo moreI got me a job just like my papa plannedI wear a suit and dirt never touch my handBut I still see the look in my papa's eyesThe pain and the shame that he just could not hidePapa couldn't tell us and it didn't make no senseWhen the teacher told us we couldn't talk no FrenchNo moreDo you hear me calling, do you understand?Once it is gone, it ain't never coming backNo moreHe, mon cher garconEst-ce que tu mes comprends?Jamais...Jamais...Jamais...Jamais...