Among the shops, the bars, the cigarette resellers and the parking lot of Arnaud Bernard area, there is man walking here and there, telling stories to anyone willing to listen.
You have maybe heard of him, wandering in the streets of Arnaud Bernard’s neighbourhood. He calls himself JP Yeah Man, and everybody knows him by that name. « Bob Marley named me that way » says JP: « It was after one of his gigs in France ».
I meet him in this cold November afternoon, just in front of one of the numerous kebab restaurants of the plaza. After a short moment, I ask him if he agrees to answer my questions. He says “yes” with a fierce nodding. He gives me a summary of his life, and not only his, the story of his family also. His grandfather was part of the communist resistance, he started working in Toulouse in 1938 in Sud Aviation, which then became the Aerospatial. He was born on the 20th of March, 1961, in his grandmother’s grocery store, in Arnaud Bernard area, a place he has never left since. And according to him, he is now part of the city hall district commission of the neighbourhood.And furthermore, he is one of the founder of the associative radio Canal Sud, the first pirate radio that started in France in 1976. He brags about it from time to time, with a smirk on his face and a malicious glance. He is the storyteller of Arnaud Bernard, nobody knows when the truth starts and the fable ends, or the other way around. At the end of the interview, he had a solemn look on his face: “I attempted suicide twice, I’ve been a schizophrenic, but I feel fine now, I take my medication.” He repeated this sentence twice, in a robotic voice, like if he were used to say it. A sentence he should have kept harping on, again and again.
“It is hard to distinguish right from wrong…”
During our interview, many people stopped on the street, waving hello from a distance, shouting his name. He is kind of the old mascot everybody knows here. He asked me for a cigarette, and told me he had to leave, to go work for the radio. I wanted to know more about him, so I went to Allô Bernard, the district conciergerie, to know about the veracity of his discourse. “Half of what he says is true. Most of the time, it is hard to distinguish right from wrong” says Guillaume from the conciergerie. “I’ve known him for quite a long time now, and I really like the character. […] I interviewed him once, and I put the video on Facebook, but I had to take it off later on because even though he agreed, his guardian didn’t”. I asked him about Bob Marley, about the radio and his job at the city hall district commission.
He then told me something very interesting: “For example, I know for sure he really went to the Bob Marley’s concert in Toulouse Halle aux grains in 1976, but I don’t know if the Jamaican singer gave him that name, “Yeah Man”, and I think we will never know. This is part of his legend”. So if you ever meet him lurking around Arnaud Bernard area, he will surely bargain a cigarette or a coffee for one of his stories. And while you listen to him, try not to discern the tale from the reality, but enjoy a nice conversation with a man who has been a bit damaged by life.