Two Jazz Fests ago my writing partner in Los Angeles, Colman deKay, was in town as he is every year for Jazz Fest and he insisted I read a new book called Nine Lives by a fellow named Dan Baum. Nine Lives is a true story of people’s lives in New Orleans between Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
I was, like so many in New Orleans at that time, done with reading about the flood, especially from someone not from New Orleans. I wanted to get on with life not go through it all again but Colman sent me a copy and insisted I read it.
I’m so pleased he did because Nine Lives has had an impact on my life and songs for the last year and I hope years to come.
Colman suggested we write a musical. We collaborated on a song called Feels Like A Lady, our friend John Boutté helped on this song, which is about a character in the book who is a man named John that becomes a woman named Joanne. Joanne is one of the heroes in the book during the Hurricane Katrina scenes. Typically New Orleans and absolutely a joy to write a song about, we sent the finished demo to Dan Baum who liked it and he sold the theatrical rights to Colman.
The book takes place in the span of my lifetime. Dan has captured the beat and feel of each neighborhood and each character from the Ninth Ward to the stately mansions on St. Charles. From the denizens of the Quarter to the social elite of the city. He looks at each one with an eye for human comedy, tragedy and the absurdity that only New Orleans can lend to a person’s “world view”, as Ignatius Reilly would say, and it is real, authentic, compelling prose. He captured the heartbeat of my city and the events in my life time in such a way that Colman and I had to merely shape a few words, apply a melody and each song seemed to write itself. The time periods were noted so we researched the music for each character and each time period before writing the songs. What a thrill it felt to be getting inside the lives and minds of so many different hearts in New Orleans, what a place to lose myself and find myself again, what a gift from Dan Baum.
In the end I find there is much more of me in the songs then I’d realized as we wrote them.
We worked mostly in New Orleans though at one point I flew to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks and Colman rented my wife and I a beautiful place to stay in while we kept up a furious writing pace. 38 songs in just over a year of writing. It was exhausting, some times my head hurt and I just wanted Colman to go home but he stayed after me knowing I had more melodies in me and knowing we both had more then enough words in us, (just ask my wife).
The songs are all written now and we are beginning the process of recording an album of the songs, a first step toward eventually getting it to be staged as a musical.
~ Paul Sanchez