Friday, August 28, 2009

My Friend, Paul Sanchez

My intentions for today were simple. To commemorate the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I would create a "Weekend Mix" of some rare live music from the artists and clubs of New Orleans, I would share some thoughts about my favorite city, and with a little luck, singer-songwriter, author, poet, friend and mensch Paul Sanchez would honor my request with a short paragraph sharing his thoughts on the whole mess. At 8:48 A.M., yesterday morning, the music mix was created and while giving it a test run, Paul Sanchez e-mailed and agreed to write something up. At 9:13, the music stopped, my computer went blank and after 2 reboots had realized my entire hard drive had been wiped out. Every photo, every song (about 70,000 of them,) all my writing, GONE! (oh, the irony) We will save that story for another day.

There will be no "Weekend Mix" today. But thank God, there is Paul Sanchez.

It's the fourth anniversary of the flooding of New Orleans, Katrina to the rest of the country, but I remember that she missed us and think of it, as do most of my friends, as the flooding of New Orleans. Anniversary, such a happy sounding word for such a wretched time.

I was in Atlanta, what seems a lifetime ago, making a record with the band I was in at the time, a band I had spent fifteen years in but would quit within a year and a half of the flood. I remember watching the news and finally going to sleep late at night because Katrina had taken a northern turn and went inland before New Orleans. We had been spared the worst.

I remember the next morning, my wife waking me to say that is was bad and me saying no it missed us and her shoving me awake saying over and over, "no, it's bad, wake up, it's bad, it's really bad." Coming awake I saw a sight which, though I've seen it countless times since, shocked me to silence and tears. The memory of it still does. I saw New Orleans, the city I was born and raised in, only I didn't recognize it. I struggled to focus on this underwater nightmare of loss and desperation as my home town.

We lost our home, our possessions, our jobs, friends, sense of community, futures we'd planned and pasts we'd made ritual.

Ultimately what we lost is the same thing many around the world had lost before us and many more have lost since. We lost our illusions, the illusion that we had control over levees, politics, human nature, our careers, our futures, our past.

What we have is the present, which is all any of us really have, and what I have learned to do is to find the richness in what is and to lend the best of myself to that richness. Music, friends, writing and, hopefully, listening.

I lost all that I had but have created so much since, and stripped of my illusions, my songs ring more true to me then ever before, one more step on the road to redemption.

I found out that being a "mid-level rock star struggling with the limitations of my own career", (like the guys in Almost Famous), was not what I had aspired to when I picked up the guitar. I wanted to play and write the best songs I could while I was still on the planet- rock, jazz, country, folk, theatrical, pop, whatever the muse delivers. I found out that I am New Orleans, I love New Orleans and even if I lived elsewhere they would allow for my eccentricities because you know, "he's from New Orleans."

I wish we could have an anniversary for the week before Katrina, to celebrate and remember what "normal" life was like. To remember that had the storm not hit I was about to come home from three weeks of recording. I would have bitched about how high my lawn was and then I would have cut it in the August heat, in the evening because the grass is too soaked with dew in the morning. Shelly and I would have been going to our friend's Rick and Rob's house for a swim, we'd be at the gym twice a day because it would have been late August, hot, the gym was air conditioned and better then being outdoors. I would have gone down to St. Bernard Parish to finish my record Between Friends at Mikey's studio, going through his files for phone numbers and calling whatever musicians were in town who would give us a smile and there were so many.

I would have been going home to our house. Shelly has just finished six months and thirty thousand dollars of renovations. she did the demolition by herself when I was in the studio, she dealt with the contractors, (manly men who didn't know what to make of being told what to do by a woman), she made the choices while I was in the studio making music. After the flood in an interview she was asked what she was most proud of in her life and she answered, "renovating my own home". What the interviewer didn't know but I did was that she finished the renovations the day we left for Atlanta and we never got to live in our finished house.

The stories of what I lost and found are many and are a part of my life for the rest of my life and I accept that now. Last night I watched a television show on the public station in New Orleans. It was a very old documentary on the worst hurricane to ever hit Louisiana, in 1893. I watched an old man being interviewed, perhaps eighty-five or ninety. He told of being a boy, seeing the waters rise, hearing the children crying out to their parents as they were swept away by the flood waters, hearing the cries of the parents as they held on to each other knowing they had lost a son or daughter, the cries of wives losing husbands and husbands losing everything they loved and worked to protect. This beautiful old cajun man wept and stopped a few times to compose himself. He apologized and said "you got to forgive me, talking about it's still hard". It had been seventy years and he still wept at the memory.

"Good morning America how are you. don't you know me? I'm your native son"

Red beans and ricely yours,


Paul's book, "Pieces Of Me" can be bought HERE.

Please do it.

The music will return soon.

Remember New Orleans


Anonymous said...

Sorry about your harddrive but it sure seems a small problem next to the destruction to property and to the souls of the people of NOLA, left in the wake of Katrina.


Sal Nunziato said...

I am well aware that ROTP. See my "Oh, the irony" comment)

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many (or few) cities would bounce back as New Orleans is doing. Is there spirit because of the musical heritage or does the musical heritage reflect the spirit of the people of New Orleans?


charlie c. said...

Great piece.
Thanks Paul . . .
Speechless (almost) about the technical problems. Icing on the cake for a good pal and a kind soul. One big diffence between NOLA and Sal's hard drive: a busload of Presbyterian volunteers ain't gonna make a shred of difference. Maybe you are supposed to make like Moondog and hang out on the streets selling blank verse.
Praying to Saint Expedite for a happy solution.

halfpear said...

Thanks for this. I always appreciate Paul's take on things, and I know that it's been a weird and difficult ride for Paul and his wife post-K. But I'm also glad he's got some peace of mind now and that his music has blossomed even further than it had before the storm.

Michael in New York said...

Nice piece by Sanchmo (I even love the nickname he uses). I barely knew New Orleans (having been there all of twice) and I still miss.