By John Swenson
I had the great thrill over the week to perform as part of the Paul Sanchez Rolling Road Show at the Voodoo Experience in New Orleans. The three day music extravaganza takes place under the live oaks in beautiful City Park. Sanchez asked me to read from New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans at the beginning of his set on the Preservation Hall stage. I read about my return to New Orleans after hurricane Katrina as the band played the melodic swells of “At the Foot of Canal Street” behind me. It was a wonderful moment, but the greatest reward came when I walked out in front of the stage and a firefighter from St. Bernard Parish came up to me and thanked me for writing the book. “We were downriver from the lower ninth ward and the same things happened to us, we were flooded to the rooftops,” he said emotionally. “You expressed exactly how it felt to be back in those days after it was over.”
Sanchez continued on to perform an abbreviated version of his musical adaption of Dan Baum’s Nine Lives. The themes of New Atlantis and Nine Lives overlap at the climax of the Sanchez piece when his troupe sings the inspirational song about bringing the city back. “Rebuild, renew… that’s what people do!”
John Swenson is the author of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, which won the 2011 JazzTimes Critics Poll “Book of the Year” Award. He has been writing about popular music since 1967. He edited the website jazze.com for Knit Media and has worked as an editor at Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Circus, Saturday Review, Rock World, and OffBeat magazine, while publishing articles in virtually every American popular-music magazine of note. Among his previous books are biographies of Bill Haley, John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkel, and Stevie Wonder, as well as reference works such as The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. In addition, his writing has won two awards from the Press Club of New Orleans: Best Entertainment Feature in 2007 and Best Critical Review in 2008.