The parisian publishing company « (Book is) Conspiration » recently released the complete journal collection of the French art brut musician-comic book writer and author Jean-Luc Lecourt, publicly known under the moniker of Jean-Luc Le Ténia. The artist was born in 1975 in Le Mans. He was raised in the city of the « 24 Hours » car race within an upper middle-class catholic family living in the center of a rather working class city. The book « Le meilleur chanteur français du monde (journal) » covers two periods of time 1995 to 2003 and 2010-2011, two different eras that summarize the life of a very unique character, obsessive in his creative process, desperate in his will to fit a certain normality. He cut almost 2000 short songs in more than 15 years and crafted almost 200 videos in about the same amount of time. Passionate about movies, comic books and counter-culture, he also named his favourite mentors in his songs and interviews like the american alternative singers Daniel Johnston and Jonathan Richman, one of the most revered psychoanalysts Jacques Lacan and French provocative artist Jean-Louis Costes among many others. Two of his heroes Didier Wampas from the current punk band Les Wampas and Jérôme « Ignatus » Rousseau got close to the westerner gallic singer to the point of covering Jean-Luc’s songs or producing his own material. Jean-Luc was 35 when he ended his life. He left behind a huge collection of songs, drawings and pictures all available on the website teniadiary.fr.
I got a message on facebook the other day from my old friend Yannick Levaillant, a graphic-designer known for his work with the French music label of Bertrand Burgalat Tricatel. He was going to be part of the organisation of a special tribute concert for Jean-Luc Le Tenia. He asked me if if could join the group to host the special night in Paris this Wednesday June 7, at 8 pm at le Théâtre de Verre in Paris. I decided to join with pleasure to honour the memory of a unique artist. Our common link Yannick, Jean-Luc and I is that we are all from Le Mans and we grew up loving indie-pop bands from the UK and the US, playing that genre ourselves with a dozen of different bands all based in the city of Béatrice Dalle. One band came out as very unique and broke through… and it was a one-man band actually. And behind that band was Jean-Luc «Le Tenia» Lecourt.
At the Lycée Bellevue
I met Jean-Luc Lecourt at the Lycée Bellevue in Le Mans, western France, in the very beginning of the 1990’s. The magnificent premises of the high-school were actually an old monastery situated near the Cathedral of Le Mans. Funny, because Jean-Luc was the perfect catholic school-boy becoming an uneasy teenager, nicely dressed, clean and proper among a bunch of goths or indie kids/Kurt Cobain lookalikes. As a former scout, he was raised in a typical lively « charismatic » environment. In reality, Jean-Luc was struggling against his family roots to assert his original self, somewhere between the punk culture and a high-end knowledgeable local bourgeoisie… for Le Mans, that kind of bourgeoisie is usually a group of people wealthy enough to spend their holidays in nice resorts in Vendée, while probably voting for conservative political parties. In the case of Jean-Luc’s family, it might actually be a more diverse political environment but who cares, politically involved… that was exactly what he was not. Politically incorrect, that is what he was about for sure.
VIDEO: one of Jean-Luc Le Tenia most famous songs « Seul de nouveau »
Though Jean-Luc was faithful to his family roots, voting conservative (as an act of provocation?) while actually working at the local public library for a modest paycheck and going out in working-class or progressive artistic places in Le Mans. His live carreer kicked off in 1991. Jean-Luc Lecourt and his friend Tony Papin were both students in Bellevue. At school, they would end up going to the same artistic section of A3. The two friends are actually brillant comic book and graphic novel authors. A3 gathers a good community of talented teenagers whose skills cover visual arts, acting and music.
Jean-Luc and Tony decided to work on a magazine called «Radis Noir». Jean-Luc being very easy with words and concepts gathered a few contributors to help the duo out, people that are sharing the same cultural field. Among them, an author from the south-west of France Jean-Luc Coudray made Jean-Luc particularly proud. He was worshipped by the young artist for the quality of his writings. The three young men delivered a nicely put fanzine every now and then. To the admiration of a group of «competitors» from the more official high-school fanzine «Lézards-Tristes», a bit more middle of the road, but still made out from the bubbling brains of artists from the A3 section.
Alongside «Radis noir», Jean-Luc starts to make himself known as an alternative singer, using his guitar on a « three chord only » mode, putting out numerous songs (around 40 on each 90 minute long commercial blank tapes’ side). He repackages them himself, drawing his avatar on the cassette foldable sleeve. It is all «do-it-yourself », it is brilliant.
The very first gig
It is the time of the year where the bands are forming in the schoolyard, there is «100 limites» by Frédéric Briche, «Damian» with me (singing) and my childhood friend Samuel (a bass-player that will end up playing for the ska band «The Hot Tongs» who is now in charge of the Barouf bar and music club in Le Mans), «Soul Evidence Character », a rap band created by another friend called Nizard, «Los Cuchillos» by Carlos and David, a band that was actually formed by alumni from the neighbouring high-school of Montesquieu but invited to play for a carnival extravaganza concert at the sports-venue of Bellevue. This is an exciting time for us. But none of us really think outside of the box.
« Radis Noir » is full of bright ideas and has a hard time hiding its love of arty references from Warhol, the american counter-culture, the beat writers and musicians like Dominique A or Les Objets, Oui-Oui or Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Those musicians influenced massively Jean-Luc. There’s this feel that if they can do it, then he can do it. There Jean-Luc goes, writing music constantly. He really improves each time he hands me a cassette tape. To the point that in 1995 (while I’m a student at the Université du Maine and also a part-time writer in charge of music for the regional newspaper Ouest-France), I finally come to the conclusion that it is a perfect time to try to help making Jean-Luc known for his art on a bigger scale. Le Caveau-club was throwing a special night for newcomers. It was also a competition. The former Louise Attaque manager who was programming the venue that night called me a few days before. Since a band cancelled last minute, he actually asked me if I knew a band or an artist that would accept to fill in on the bill last minute. I told him that Jean-Luc would be a perfect fit.
VIDEO: Thomas de Pourquery covering one of Jean-Luc Le Tenia’s classics: « Poutou »
Jean-Luc accepted my proposal, with a bit of fear in his voice though. It was going to be his very first gig. That debut was the most ever intense night on stage. Le Caveau was burning that night with people excited to see their friends playing live. Jean-Luc was usually rehearsing with his friend Tony. That night, he was all alone. Putting a foot on that stage must have been a very intimidating move for the shy and goofy Jean-Luc Lecourt. But after his very first chorus, the audience was already singing along screaming and clapping, cheering and dancing. The reaction was over the top. A real riot. I was moved to the point that I think I was crying. I took many pictures with my Canon T70, it was a black and white roll by Ilford, 400 iso, the kind of rolls that my newspaper was giving us for free. I would use extensively those rolls for bands who were worth the shot. I must have used more that five full rolls. The atmosphere was amazing, the organiser of the « tremplin » qualified for another show the blessed Jean-Luc who could not believe what had just happened. He was in heaven. Girls aand boys were thrilled and touched by «Bouftou» and his song about the library girl who died of a cancer. «Then, I wonder what books are for now» sings Jean-Luc in a rare moment of grace.
Back to reality, as Jean-Luc makes himself known more and more thanks to the support of professional musicians that he actually looks up too, the feelings of not fitting in, on a daily basis, have a repercussion on his way of life, generating a lot of frustration. Success could be a relief but in his case, Jean-Luc is too busy contesting the system, selecting opportunities that are in line with who he is: an independent artist. Thus, he will never really accept opportunities that could lead him to a bigger contract. His signing to the parisian artist Ignatus‘ label Ignatub, the distribution on a national level by Poplane are indeed an achievement. Mathieu Ballet, former pillar of the French band Oui-Oui, by producing his album «Le Meilleur Chanteur du Monde», are putting Jean-Luc under the spotlight but the music business looks like an ugly jungle for a anti-folk musician like Jean-Luc. That’s what Les Wampas, Mathieu Ballet, Miossec, Katerine, Joseph Racaille and a few others would probably like in Jean-Luc’s ethics. He is just not marketable like any other rock musician. He is just not a product. Ignatus would go as far as comparing the singer from Le Mans as an artist performing art brut (a definition of art conceptualized by Jean Dubuffet). And this is what he is indeed.
To read the full story, why don’t you use your French to try to delve into the world of Le Tenia, the diary online is a good tool to understand the craft of the artist. Brilliant as a songwriter but also as a drawer and as a poet, he also penned a few reviews about famous characters that he admired. Among them is Jacques Lacan. And there is a long list of songs about pretty much everything Le Tenia had in mind.
I would always remember the reaction of Ignatus after he listened to one of the numerous tapes that Jean-Luc handed me. I gave Ignatus one of Jean-Luc’s tapes one day that he was playing as a solo artist « L’air est différent » in the radio show of Hervé Riesen in 1997 on Le Mouv’ (Radio France). «I almost had an accident when I started to listen to the tape while driving. » Ignatus said to me later on. « It was striking how funny, witty and unique it was…» It was the first time that Ignatus got to know Jean-Luc and he would sign him as his first record outside of his own discography a few years after. That was outstanding to experience that. For me Ignatus was the most qualified musician to understand Jean-Luc and advise him the best. In 2006, I had the chance to meet again with Jean-Luc. My fellow parisian-expatriated-friend-from-Le Mans Isabelle Rousselet was here with me at Le Zèbre de Belleville to attend a Tenia show. We were very happy to see each other again after all these years. That was gonna be the last time that I met him.
Jean-Luc, with his friend and musician Didier Wampas from the band Les Wampas
In 2011, I got an email from my friend Tony Papin telling me that Jean-Luc Lecourt was dead. He committed suicide. He was alone in his apartment. His solitude was too much for him. It would have fueled his art for so long. His frustrated sex-life, his feeling of being misunderstood, not taken too seriously by a lot of people in the music industry and probably in his direct environment, was it overwhelming to that point? There was a lithany in the lyrics of the artist, an obsession of being accepted by the girls, or at least one of them, of being loved like for anybody else.
Even if he spent 35 years being an original artist, coming from a religious background and taking over a certain restricted environment to become the «best French singer in the world», he will remain this way every day. I could not go to his funeral, it would have been the first burrial of a school friend and I think I was not ready to face the truth. Instead I took my pen to write to his parents to write a nice note about their son. I would never be enough thankful for being part of Jean-Luc and Tony’s highschool years in Bellevue. Jean-Luc’s craft will probably find new lovers in the future, it is not surprising to see that people like the publisher of (Book is) Conspiration continue to get passionate about Le Tenia.
David Glaser, firstname.lastname@example.org
Check the diary online, Jean-Luc Le Tenia is still with us artistically. He spawned around 2000 songs, that you can download for free. Check out his youtube channel. The videos are all made by Jean-Luc himself.
Parisians and visitors who happen to be in Paris this Wednesday, june 7, Jean-Luc Le Tenia will be celebrated all night from 8 to late at the Théâtre de Verre, 12 rue Ribière, 75019 Paris, métro Place des Fêtes.