The Making of Nine Lives – Filling in the Story: School Song/Fight Song

School Song/Fight Song

This song follows Betsy’s Coming.

Dan had written of a young Catholic school boy named John Guidos. In the days after the hurricane John would overhear the nuns and priests at his high school saying how Hurricane Betsy’s damage might have been divine retribution for the sin and squalor of New Orleans. In his own mind he wondered if this were true, why God spared the French Quarter and it’s drunks while flooding the poor people in the 9th Ward.

I had grown up attending Catholic schools in New Orleans about ten years behind John. A lot of what Dan wrote rang true right down to my very core. Not to mention that after the flooding of Katrina forty years later, televangelists and Christians around the country were saying that New Orleans shouldn’t be rebuilt because the destruction was divine retribution for… you get the point.

Dan had left Colman and me extremely fertile ground. A book of words and a scene set for me to get a few things off my chest. If comedy is healing then this song helped me heal immensely. As for Colman, he had tried persistently to inject sex, dirty jokes and cursing into every single song we have ever written together, (I think it may be a rule in the Screenwriters Union), and this song gave him carte blanche to work blue.

I had grown up singing in choir and had marched in drum and bugle corps when I was a boy so I had plenty of musical references to draw on for the melody. I also had countless after school spankings, detentions, extra schoolwork and public and private humiliations stored in my memory banks to come out of the gates guns blazing. I think Colman was a little surprised just how quickly things turned racy, his favorite direction. He was used to me shutting him down in his attempts to add sex jokes and with each one we came up with we inspired the other guy to be more over the top with the next joke. Two guys, in a room, making each other laugh.

It was a timelessly wonderful, belly-achingly juvenile way to spend an afternoon.

Michael Cerveris is featured vocalist as 16 year old John Guidos. He does a wonderful job of altering the timber of his voice to sound young. His halting phrasing and slightly nasally delivery intentionally sounding like the voice of a boy not yet a man, or a woman. Michael is such an amazing singer that you think of him and relate to him as a singer and just when you are comfortable with that he makes you remember he is an equally amazing actor.

Matt Perrine had written a completely legitimate vocal arrangement for the song with as much relish as Colman and I had written the words and music. A solemn rendering of lyrics that are bitingly ironic as the choir, nun and priest sing about the “coloreds in the Lower Nine” or the “drunks and queens” of the French Quarter.

The first section of the song is sung by a boys’ choir as an alma mater with Larry Sieberth on Hammond B3. The “choir” Matt assembled for this was Vatican Lokey, Debbie Davis, Joe Cabral and Ford Dieth. I’m a big fan of The Iguanas and had always wanted to work with Joe Cabral.  Although I didn’t realize it would be asking him to sing the filthiest set of lyrics I had ever had a hand in penning, he was a good sport and sang like an angel.  In fact, they all did. Well, maybe, angels with flasks in their pockets. Everyone laughed at times and, I think, winced at times and they sure did a fine job of making the point.

The song pulls no punches.

Especially when it breaks into the Fight Song section.

This was a scene in Nine Lives where the other boys in the locker room are horsing around after football practice but John is uncomfortable with the dialogue of girls and dirty talk. He has already begun to feel the stirrings within that will lead him to one day become a woman. It was a chance to have some fun with the concept of man vs man… in a few different ways.

The lyrics are past racy and well into raunchy territory as John grapples with his sexuality in the absolute worst company he could be in – teenage boys on a football team. One of the most unfortunately macho and notoriously unforgiving places one could find oneself questioning his own sexuality in 1965.

Matt had arranged this section as a marching band song and, as with all of his arrangements for the record, the arrangement is perfectly suited to the moment.

The seriousness of his arrangements accentuates the comedy and satire in the lyrics. Matt played tuba and trombone with Jana Saslaw on flute and piccolo flute, Ray Moore on clarinet and Kevin Clark on trumpet. They played it straight forward, unaware of the lyrical content, and it sounded like a crisp, sharp marching band.

When Matt was leading a band through one of his arrangements I generally stayed in the control room and let him work. He knows exactly what he wants from a band and an arrangement. He only likes to hire players he knows he can depend on so, consequently, he works with a lot of the same players. The end result is not quite shorthand, but a very direct method of communicating with his band that did not require much more from me as producer than letting him know I had what I wanted. It had worked on so many tracks and it worked on School Song/Fight Song, (I wanted to use the alternate title of Let’s Fuck The Other Team but it didn’t get a lot of support from my family and friends). It doesn’t sound like a fight song, it is a fight song with trombones, flutes and a cause. John Guidos was the only one aware of the cause at that time but we brought to life a fight song with a rousing chorus to rally around in School Song/Fight Song. It was big fun for us all.

John Guidos had to live the actual fight.

~ Paul Sanchez – January 8, 2012

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