While in Paris we play the Nashville Club, a seedy velveteen music hall in St. Germain, and are staying for a few nights in a flophouse behind the Gare St. Lazare. The entrance of our hotel is in a narrow and fetid alleyway off the main boulevard. In early evening it is flanked by the garish lights of a sex shop and dimly lit secondhand bookstore. The alley is a pitch for about twenty women leaning in doorways, chain-smoking. In their shiny open raincoats, short skirts, cheap boots, and high-heeled shoes they watch the street with hooded eyes, like spies in a B movie. Some are young and pretty, and some are older, and some of them are very old, with facial expressions ranging from sullen to wry. Most of the commerce is centered on the slightly older women, as if the majority of the clients prefer experience and worldliness. The younger, prettier girls seem to do the least business, apparent innocence being only a minority preference, much as it is for the aging crones in the alley who seem as if they’ve been standing there for a thousand years.
In the dingy foyer of the hotel is an old poster from La Comédie Française, sadly peeling from the wall behind the desk. Cyrano de Bergerac, it proclaims, a play by Edmond Rostand. I will stand for a few moments to take in its fading gaiety. It is a laughing portrait of a man with an enormous nose and a plumed hat. He is a tragic clown whose misfortune is his honor. He is a man entrusted with a secret; an eloquent and dazzling wit who, having successfully wooed a beautiful woman on behalf of a friend cannot reveal himself as the true author when his friend dies. He is a man who loves but is not loved, and the woman he loves but cannot reach is called Roxanne.
That night I will go to my room and write a song about a girl. I will call her Roxanne. I will conjure her unpaid from the street below the hotel and cloak her in the romance and the sadness of Rostand’s play, and her creation will change my life.
—Sting, Broken Music