December 27, 2007

The Ballad of Elton Phillips

Something is definitely up here.
I said this when things first exploded on Eddie Jordan two months ago, and I'll say it again--we don't have the whole story on Elton Phillips, Eddie Jordan, Thelonious Dukes, or the criminal justice system as a whole.

Let's focus on the travels of Elton Phillips as we know them. After a day spent in Baton Rouge with Jordan's girlfriend, he returns to the city and robs a man in Algiers. When the victim rams the getaway car, Phillips dashes to Jordan's place, and eventually escapes. Days later, NOPD officer Dukes is killed in his home after exchanging gunfire with three assailants. Phillips is soon identified as one of these men, and the Jordan fiasco blows up and leads to Eddie's resignation. Phillips is AWOL for a month, the explanation being that 1. his family once suffered at the hands of corrupt police, with a relative murdered to silence her confessions, and 2. he didn't have anything to do with the Dukes murder.

So finally, Elton Phillips surrenders on Nov. 10th, and is held on $150,000 bond, but never formally charged in the Dukes murder, as two other men are. Then, on Dec. 21st, without posting any bail, Phillips walks out of jail on what looks to be a "clerical error." With at least 300 years of New Orleans history taken into consideration, we ought to ask some questions.

First, what is going on inside either the (interim) DA's office or the Orleans Parish Sheriff's office that leads no one to raise a red flag when Phillips is set free by a comment on a sheet of paper? If you and I and Eddie and half the citizens know about the most high profile violent offender in New Orleans, how does the clerk at the jail or on Poydras Street somehow miss that name? How does the bail payment get wiped clean so easy? Waking up to this kind of news sends another ripple of doubt to those of us who continue to invest lives into Naginville. If even this infamous guy walks without any fanfare or notice, why would a witness testify against ANYONE?

Second, REALLY? Really, the kid for whom Eddie Jordan provided a safehouse, unknowingly of course; the kid who's name popped up immediately in what was supposedly a random act of violence against a cop in a plagued neighborhood; the kid whose family has a dark history with the police; that extremely unique kid walked out without paying bail, and no one but a mistaken clerk had anything to do with it? REALLY?

Something is not right here.

And this morning, after reading this news in print, we walked out to get in the van and drive to work. A police car blocked the street, keeping traffic from the construction crew hard at work on the soon-to-be condos down the way from us. Supposedly intended for "artists," these news units will likely be inhabited by, as my neighbor said, "young girls from the northeast." Fortunately, the cops are there to escalate that progress by sitting in cars.

I wonder, though--how many of those artists and young girls from the northeast are going to want to live with Elton Phillips?

December 25, 2007

December 23rd Set List - Ike Turner X-Mas

In memory of Ike Turner, who won't be around this Christmas. Also, in recognition of the return of the streetcar to the S. Carrollton tracks.

James Booker - Send Me Some Loving
Heavenly Gospel Singers - When Jesus Was Born
Ike Turner - You've Got To Lose
Bessie Smith - The Christmas Ball
Robert Jr. Lockwood & Johnny Hines - Lonesome Whistle
Johnny Adams - I'll Never Fall In Love Again
Ike & Tina Turner - A Fool In Love
Blind Boy Fuller - Erie Train Blues
Leadbelly - Rock Island Line
Ike Turner - Walking Down The Aisle
Ike & Tina Turner - Baby What You Want Me To Do
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - People Get Ready
Big Bill Broonzy - Ridin' On Down
Snooks Eaglin - Locomotive Train
Ike & Tina Turner - Early One Morning
Shirley & Lee - Why Did I?
Reverend Blind Gary Davis - I Am The Light Of The World
Ike Turner - You Keep On Worrying Me
Big Joe Williams - She Left Me A Mule To Ride
Roosevelt Sykes - Jubilee Time
Lowell Fulson - I Wanna Spend Christmas With You
Ike & Tina Turner - Born Free
Baby Washington - Silent Night
Snooks Eaglin - This Train
Sunny Land Slim - Lonesome Ride
Marvin & Johnny - It's Christmas
Ike Turner - Box Top
Brother Claude Ely - There Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down
Maxwell Street Jimmy - Two Trains Running
Little Brother Montgomery - Ain't Nobody Here But Me
Lightnin' Hopkins - Happy New Year
Charles Brown - Merry Christmas Baby
Fred McDowell - When The Lord Will Make A Way
The Orioles - (It's Gonna Be A) Lonely Christmas
Sam Cooke - Jesus, I'll Never Forget
Ike Turner - (I know) You Don't Love Me
Ike & Tina Turner - Ooh Poo Pah Doo

December 23, 2007

There Is Always the Weather

Three days prior to X-mas,front porch set-up, new mixer/CD players, about 72 degrees =


December 21, 2007


The vote was unanimous for demolition and now what? Some thoughts...

-According to the TP, the NOPD had 150 officers report for the meeting. They faced around 100 protesters (numbers are always disputed in this type of thing) and a chamber of 250, about 50 of whom could be called protestors, maybe 20 of them only there to disrupt and shout.

So for every 1.25-1.6 possible trouble maker (200-350 if you want to include the calm and sane), there was 1 cop. Aside from my (admittedly sketchy) stats, that's a cop who's been trained for Mardi Gras, and moreover who's supposed to be charged with protecting citizens in the most violent city in America. If most police in New Orleans haven't had much experience in crowd control of protesters, shouldn't Riley have foreseen a need for at least some preparation for this kind of thing? We all seem to agree that this was a predictable furor, that outside organizers had a hand in it, and that this was done as an exhibition rather than a debate tactic. Why, then, weren't 150 cops ready to wait this out and not, under any but the most dire circumstances, pull out the tasers and pepper spray?

Protest organizers in other cities BEG for that kind of treatment, because it gets them on the news. And police know this, and do things like setting up barriers 10 feet from the entrance to a chamber, rather than, say, hold the gate together with a set of handcuffs. Police also make an effort to control the media's eye, and as I said yesterday, all they had to ask the cameramen to gather to the side for their footage, rather than stand in the aisle and let the fools rattle on.

None of this is to lay all the blame on the NOPD for what happened and the resultant bad new, nor to endorse vaguely unconstitutional tactics. My point is that this was a pretty half-assed protest effort on the part of amateurish organizers, who's only success was making their "residents" look worse, and what was the NOPD's response? Overreaction and ultimately the taser and pepper spray, which national media and simpletons in search of victims will latch onto and elevate.

Stupidity and lack of preparation all around, yet again. I don't think this was the last of this kind of protest. The police need to know how to plan and handle such crowds in politic, safe ways, before something very bad happens.

-One reason I can't get behind housing as THE issue in the recovery (in a way it's the simplest issue for a lot of people) is this: What were the residents going to do when they moved back in?

This isn't to say, "oh, it was just drugs and loitering in there anyway." No. What I'm asking is, how does the resident who used to have a job, who used to have some economic prospects, how does he/she survive in this atrophied economy? We get a lot of Blakely-speak about development and Nagin-bullshit about high hopes, but we never get a job program. Companies aren't moving here and no one talks about how this city will survive after the recovery.

I ask the same question about the imagined residents of the Trump Tower or the million other hypothetical luxury lofts: where do they work? If they're either jobless (the prospect for the returned public housing resident) or vacationing jet-setters (Trumps), what are we fighting for? What kind of city would that be?

Again, we're faced with a lack of imagination and planning from the top, so that the most superficial and immediate problems take on outsized hopes and dreams, while no one protests the lack of jobs, no one stands up in the Council in front of camcorders and asks to be the people who build the next projects and gut the ruined houses, thus closing the circle and making money and a working class from the redevelopment. We could use a real WPA program; instead, the caracasses of the Great Society are fought over and well-intentioned pink houses are fawned over and no one asks, "What do they do when they get there?"

Because that is some heavy lifting. There isn't the sex appeal of confrontation, nor the easy solution of destroy/don't destroy. This would mean planning and leadership and persistent courting of business and entrepreneurship. This would mean going outside the box of American post-climax capitalism and taking a risk as a city that faces no comfort in the new economy.

There is no risk in going backwards, only in ignoring the biggest challenge in front of us--how to make this city last, and how to make it better than it was before.

December 20, 2007

City Hall Riot

Standing in line to get into the City Council chamber, you could feel that things were going to go wrong. I was in conversation from a cameraman from 2-cent when voices rose behind us. An older black woman and a younger black man shouted at a well-dressed, middle-aged white woman.

"Get off my back!"
"What are you doing here!"

The addressed feigned calm, saying that her adversaries had tried to cut in line. This didn't calm things. The cameraman and I passed through the metal detector, agreeing that today would be crazy.

I take a seat in the last row, and that well dressed woman and her three friends sit down in front of me, the friends offering congratulations on the woman's cool response. To my right and left are empty seats, with two black ladies on the left after that. This quickly becomes important as a group of self-proclaimed "residents" begins to shout that there are seats available, and "let them in!" When a cop asks one woman to sit down, she tells him, "I'm not a slave," and continues that line for a few minutes.

Things don't improve, the tension aided in large part by the cluster of cameras stuck in the face of these residents, who stand and begin to shout into the lenses as the media's face remains unimpressed, recording.

"What about the people?! What about the people!?" demands the young guy from the argument outside. He goes into a loud rant as the spotlights hit him, and another young man does the same, as do several others, each of them the focus of one or more cameras.
"This is a YouTube riot," I tell the woman next to me, and we both keep asking why the cops don't get those "media" people out of the aisles, as they're obviously the ones keeping this thing hot.

Here, I think, is how history gets played out today, how the record is made of anger--through the shouts of the dispossessed as captured by the ambivalent handheld camera. I remember in the 2000 RNC riots in Philadelphia, there was a protest crew that called itself "Camcorder Jihad." This afternoon's digital crew is more limp, but perhaps more malignant.

Some tall kid waves a red-black-green bandana, and the chant of "What About The People?" rises up again. The cops and some senior organizers get things to briefly calm down, though the young guy from outside warns everyone that things are "gonna go down" if more people aren't let in by 10:35. Again, I concur with the woman next to me that there should've been some kind of plan on the part of the council for this thing; everyone knew this would be hot. We note the time, and she tells me that the council had a reception upstairs for Jackie Clarkson's swearing in. Great timing, that.

Finally, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell emerges. The boos start, and one of the "residents" shouts, "Let the record show that the sell-out came out first." Cries of "house Negro" can be heard. Hedge-Morrell gets up and walks off. After another 5 minutes, she and the rest of the members begin to file onto the platform and the boos and slurs build. Stacey Head is called a "devil," and she does something extremely stupid in response.

Stacey Head turns to the loud section, smiles, and blows a kiss. Offensive when it happened, this becomes more disgusting in light of what follows.

As Fielkow tries to call for "security, security," the crowd gets louder. Cops amass in front of the audience in the middle section, and all of a sudden, pushing and screaming breaks out. People from the "residents" group in front of us on the left join the scrum, the spotlights spin and bob, and the video screen shows groups of hands on the backs of cops, that is until someone asks for the video to be cut. The four women in front of us get down on the ground like they're in a war zone, and the woman next to me and I laugh at their weird training. This goes on for at least 3 or 4 minutes, during which the entire council save for one disappears into the rear.

James Carter remains on the platform, calling over and over into the microphone, "Calm down, calm down." He looks alone, sad, stuck.

Protesters are escorted out by cops, but the woman who called out Hedge-Morell, the same one who wouldn't be treated like "a slave," won't settle down. The cops surround her as she yells from her seat. Finally, they make a move to arrest her. She begins to squeal and curse them, but they succeed in lifting her by her ankles and wrists. Still, she fights. Finally they lay her down and I can see the taser in the hand of one cop.

"Don't do me like that! Don't me do me like that!" the woman hisses. They don't, but get her upright and pull her out on her feet. She spits on the floor, calls them all cowards, and disappears out the door.

Things do calm down, and Fielkow calls order. We pray for the city's safety, do the pledge of allegiance, then listen to the National Anthem while a montage of American and New Orleans images plays on the video screen.

As the clerk reads the rules, I get up and leave. Outside in the lobby, an elderly woman in a wheel chair is attended to by EMS. A crowd on the other side of a fence cries, "Let Us In!" I walk out through a back gate manned by a cop. The rain is warm, falling on the reserved buildings of the CBD, where business goes on in silent earnest.

And now I have to go to a holiday lunch for work, where I plan on getting good and drunk.

That is what we Irish do after a funeral.

Because something died in there today, and something ugly came to pass.

December 17, 2007

December 16th Set List - Booker Birthday Tribute

December 17th would have been James Booker's 68th birthday. This list comes from several recordings, including boardtapes given to me by Dan Phillips of Home of the Groove. They are: Rozy's, 1976; a BBC Session from 1978; Dream Palace, 1978; Jazzfest, 1978; Tipitina's, 1977; and the Toulouse Theater, 1977.

James Booker - Papa Was A Rascal
James Booker - United Our Thing Will Stand
James Booker - Black Night is Falling
James Booker - True
James Booker - Let Them Talk
James Booker - People Get Ready
James Booker - Classified
Professor Longhair - (They Call Me) Dr. Professor Longhair
Fats Domino - Valley Of Tears
Harry Connick, Jr - Booker
John Mayall & Allen Toussaint - Hale To The Man Who Lives Alone
James Booker - Smacksie
Tuts Washington - Frankie and Johnny
Maria Muldaur - Brickyard Blues
James Booker - Rainy Day
Huey Piano Smith - High Blood Pressure
James Booker - Long Last Laugh
James Booker - One Hell Of A Nerve
James Booker - Medley/Blues Minuet/Until The Real Thing Comes Along/Baby Won't You Please Come Home

December 13, 2007

Waiting for Godot

(Note: this should be up on the Tribes site sometime soon, but it took me way too long to write, is in a lot of ways incomplete, and I wanted to get it up and away)

Under a tent in a darkened, overgrown neighborhood, I scoop bowlfuls of rice and hand the bowls to the British kid next to me, who tops the rice with gumbo and hands a bowl to person after person in a line of hundreds passing by our table. Mosquitoes hover outside the tent, but the candles and bug spray keep them away from us. I cannot see the end of the line, nor where the people go after they leave the circle of light. There is a barrier about 40 yards away which they cannot yet pass, though anticipation builds and a brass band prepares to march.

This is no refugee camp, but the prelude to theater. We stand in the Lower Ninth Ward, but do not huddle on rooftops, nor hammer at new frames, nor tear out the innards of wasted homes. Instead, the mood is celebratory, the event so extreme in its simultaneous defiance and embrace of the present situation that all are emboldened, infected with a feeling that we should march and applaud. The crowd is huge, with between 700 and 1,000 waiting to get in, and only space for 200-300. More than likely, tonight marks the highest population in this neighborhood at any one time in two years. As I pass them their bowls—the bouncy children and the infirm, the hip spectator and the exiled resident, the wary and the eager—I wonder how they all got here, from where, and why.

Conceived and steered by the artist Paul Chan, the production of Waiting for Godot over 2 weekends here was not simply the artistic event of 2007 in New Orleans, but a litmus test and perhaps even a portent. What it forecasts is dependent on the people of the city. However, the results of the test show the inverted nature of life here, the way so much of the pre-storm world is now flipped upside down, or rather spun like a compass so wobbly that we reject the coordinates and find an identity in that loss. Because of that unsettled condition, the realization of a site-specific work of existentialist theater is as powerful and troubling a performance spectacle as any we’ve witnessed here in the last two years.

In the tent, I scoop and pass, scoop and pass, greeting every other person with a “how y’all doing?” followed by the thanks, followed by the British kid’s “you’re welcome,” which we agree can be alternated with “No sweat,” “You bet,” or the stage-Brit-speak of “cheer!.” When the line ends, a lone NOPD officer walks up and accepts the final bowl. As the stage crew begins a relieved discussion, another volunteer and I sneak off to join Kim at the end of a second line.

The Rebirth Brass Band leads the crowd through the space between two sets of bleachers, where ushers move everyone up to the seats. The band continues to play as the audience settles in, then marches down the makeshift aisle, in front of the crowd. The song ends, people howl, and then the band disappears into the night. A voice through loudspeakers introduces a man from the community and he gives his blessing to the production and remembers those that died.

And then Waiting for Godot begins.


Briefly: To do Waiting for Godot is not to do uplift, romance, history, tangential, local, or chance. Waiting for Godot involves lack of control, the indistinguishable character of life’s moments, enslavement, pointlessness, the better option of bullshitting with your friend and waiting. Not doing, but waiting. Not to be saved, for there is nothing to be saved from. Not by another, either, since his only promise is to show up, not to deliver the message or a solution. This play offers no prescription, and that is fine. It offers damnation. It offers futility. It offers yet another night. On the way to the bleachers at the tail end of the second line, I think, “Well, get ready, y’all, ‘cause now here comes Beckett and Beckett is a real punch in the face.”

DIDI: Where else do you think? Do you not recognize the place?

The second layer of difficulty: The very specificity of the site seems to work against the text. We do not ask, “Where are we?” because we know. We know now that we’ve come here to the Lower 9th Ward, know that we’ve shown our intent. We know it as a place of history, where consequences have laid flat all of previous life. Over there is the canal; there, the silhouette of a bridge, the pink sky familiar and ever-vanishing. At no time would we ask, “Is this the place?”
But do we recognize it? Oh, yes - the name The Lower 9th Ward is large print and world famous at this point. Doomed to haunt history books in the chapter, “Late Evening of the American Experiment,” this neighborhood could not be more specific. Against the play’s spatial waiting—a limbo in which the characters don’t know their way and grasp for the distinguishing features—the weight of this site’s unique condition is unyielding.

Yet to say we recognize this Lower 9th Ward is invalid, unless we work or live here today. Physically, but also in our society’s life, in the places not-open, in the unsure-ness of house and home, in the missing and the unfamiliar, the entire city is utterly changed. Yes, this is 2007 in our home after the great storm, but what place it is, what it will be, and what became of its past, we have no idea. No one is as lost, more lost in America than we are in today’s New Orleans. The once rich, overburdened slate is swept clean. We are adrift in the distinctive, peculiar insecurity of this present.

One slice of ingenuity of this Godot was the decision to hold the first weekend in the Lower 9th Ward, and the second in Gentilly, the slightly suburban, more recently constructed neighborhood that suffered just as terribly, if not as visibly in the national/historical/cause célèbre eye. The two sites cover both the desolation at the play’s center and the half-forms of its speech and events. Where are we? We know…no we don’t know…no, well, we KNEW…who knows?

In the Lower 9th Ward, the sky feels larger, like we’re out in the plains. Where homes once stood, foundation slabs lie half-hidden in the tall weeds. The wind picks up and the night is hard on the underdressed. At some points during the play, the long grass waves gently, and in others you hear a train whistle. The mosquitoes are massive.

“Upstage” means down the street, and the actors appear out of the darkness from a distance of perhaps thirty yards. The overgrowth is up to the men’s waists, and in spots, they almost disappear into it. (I keep thinking of the scale of this set, of how nuts it must’ve been for the director to have this much space to work with. For some reason, Godot is always on the most compact of stages in my mind.) The remains of what looks to be a roof sit back on the former city block to the right, nearly obscured by the high grass. At one point, Didi stands on that roof and breaks down, and the actor Wendell Pierce wrestles free from theater’s imagination and into history’s curse. His voice breaks and for a few breaths, we shudder in the void with him.

In Gentilly, the set is a two-story house in the midst of renovation, its exterior battered, the interior partially visible. Set on a neighborhood side street, in a row of similar houses in different states of repair and neglect and habitation, the house is stripped bare inside, worse off than some, in better shape than others. The actors go in, ascend an unfinished staircase and emerge from the windows, and are nearly in the audience’s lap. They seem trapped, pinned down. The light is quite harsh against the building’s white siding, and a fever of claustrophobia seeps in. The characters might be inmates or the left-behinds of a family, but they are certainly under our microscope. They move among us, vertically as well as horizontally. Instead of the grand, endless view of the set in the Lower 9th Ward, the Gentilly set is abrasive and intimate and a bit chaotic.

“Off-stage” means broken construction materials, shards of glass, the legs of the audience, and a sidewalk, down which Pozzo rides in a Lucky-driven pickup truck. Kim and I sit in the basket of a sleeping hydraulic lift. Behind us, a group of Latino laborers blows off steam in an adjacent driveway, their pop-tops and whistles oblivious to the opening of the play.
Yet, past the set-up, setting, and set, what about the play? If the play doesn’t stand up, does any of it matter? Was this simply an exercise in location? What would Beckett think? How did any meaning of the play reach the people?

As an audience we must be humble enough to recognize the myopia of our outlook, the way the storm and the aftermath shape our critical faculties and judgments. Yet, we must ask how much of that myopia we want to discard, especially in the face of a play thrown into the context of our disaster. We are too far along in this thing to pretend a removal, but one of the joys of the play was its alien quality, the fact we couldn’t compare it to “pre-Katrina.” At the same time, we received this play because and through the lens of Katrina, and we should understand the scratches and clear spots of that lens if we are to trust our vision in the continuing fog.


“Abandoned unfinished!”

So ends the “thinking” speech of Lucky the slave, as the blows rain down until his arms are restrained and his hat reattached. Though this is not his last line in the original text, “Abandoned unfinished!” is repeated in the current rendition, and to strong effect. The use and effect of the line serve as a good place to consider what this Godot is about.

Here are Lucky’s last words:
the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labors abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard (mêlée, final vociferations)

In this New Orleans version, however, the last words, shouted twice amidst the melee, are “Abandoned unfinished!” The other three characters silence Lucky at this repeated apex of his crazy talk.

A slave with guilty eyes who can dance on command until the rope he holds horrifies him with memory, Lucky is the lowest soul in the play. He serves in a defeated slump, moving to the brutal whimsy of Pozzo. Their relationship stands in contrast to the worn-in warmth of Didi and Gogo, who look on in horror at the brutal subjugation of one man by another. Of course, Didi and Gogo are not above joining in on the mistreatment to pass the time, and since Lucky lives like a broken mule, to hear him “think” aloud may provide some entertainment.

And, at first it does, the high-falutin’, non-sequitors and sudden airiness in his speech, the erratic, unexpected steps in his dance. But it quickly gets dull and then hard to stand, then unbearably embarrassing. Why? Because it’s circular nonsense and the poor chap is clearly mad. Didi and Gogo and the audience recognize him as another case of there-but-by-the-grace-of-God…. His insanity, we might assume, is a consequence of the whip, of the strange orders—and most importantly, the representation of order—handed down by Pozzo. With his clock and numbers, his concerns about age and years, and his sham nobility, Pozzo represents the belief in a rigid, rational order, one in which one man rules another, owns land. A victim of the absurdity of order, Lucky marks the very failure of order we are living through today.

The landscape where we sit tonight, and in which we reside every day, is not the result of some diabolical master plan by an Aryan-in-Chief, another stab in his methodical assault on American life. No, we are ruled by idiots, who barely know the words to their own lies, yet bear witness to the truth from safe inside a helicopter. This is what happens when the combination of gross inequity, absent care, and government neglect meet up with Mother Nature carelessly raped. The storm continues, one bumbling non-response after another.

“Abandoned unfinished!” Like the levee before us and the ground around us, New Orleans was abandoned before the storm to its own devices, and the solution after the storm remains unfinished and torturous and no one is riding in to save us. The State recedes, tripping over its laces and humming the anthem, Pozzo-like in its bloodied garments and blinded eyes.


Artist Paul Chan is a good dude. Along with New York’s Creative Time, he put this thing together and he treated people straight and he made it all seem welcome and possible. He lived in New Orleans for about 9 months, met with citizens, listened, brought his crew here and set them in motion, and handed us a gift we so badly needed. He didn’t charge us a cent and publicized widely, and that went a very long way, especially in this city of exclusion and secrecy. It’s hard to imagine an artist doing more to help a place with one piece. We owe him. But what he leaves is an example for the artists working here today, and not simply those who can spend some time here, but those who understand the crossroads we face.
The art historian at Chan’s seminar on the Tuesday after the Lower 9th Ward production mentioned the great closeness in the crowd, the way people talked to strangers, and the diversity she witnessed. She found it similar to the way New York City felt post-9/11--the care for one another, the slowed-down sharing, the graceful pause.

That night and now, I say New Orleans before the storm, not after, was much more like that month or two after 9/11. The scene around Godot was nothing like the legendary “rude” New Yorkers embracing each other for the first time; rather, it was a reminder of past embraces and gatherings in New Orleans. This is a tactile, conversational town that will use any chance it gets to exercise those qualities. I say this city already had participatory culture and the Creoles and mixture and crowds that hung around, shuffle-stepped, talked with one another, celebrated. We know how to gather and check shit out, how to stand on the corner and dig the light. We didn’t need theory or advice on doing that, and life here will not resettle into commercialism or war fodder.

The difference is that we never before made structures for that participation, never made big productions out of it, nor took these kinds of measures (at least, not for free and for us, at least not for long—I see you, Jazzfest). Instead, New Orleanians enjoyed a live, performative culture that loved the last-minute event, the slowly unfolding and slurry afternoons, a loose parade.

We all know that is changed forever. We know how to get together. We didn’t have to learn that. What’s great about this show is that it provides an example—for good or bad, an externally-formulated example—of making art happen in burned out buildings or academic halls, but most of all, of creating structures.

(Note: I realize a broken house is not a structure. I’m speaking of production companies, orderly lines, preparatory measures, organization.)

The problem is that structures may be lethal to what is left of our performative culture, which is predicated on improvisation, social relevance, and the delicacy of the moment.

That culture was shaken mightily by the storm and its aftermath. Instead of rituals and street-based expressions, and whimsical second lines, we have scheduled events and choreographed parades. Instead of word of mouth, we have half the population and twice the list serves. More festivals in a month than there were in a whole year, we say to each other. Street culture gives way to approved festival. This is a seismic shift.

Because of the need to protect and track down, we gather in more focused fashion. (Money is also a part of this equation, no shit.) Whereas before it just happened, now we must create and use tools to exercise that instinct to gather and perform. For what kind of future in what kind of city and for whom? We don’t know. That this is an end or a beginning, we also don’t know. Incubators or tombs? Embers or sparks? Given the conflicting signs and emotions, we can obsess ourselves into paralysis. This is the purgatory to which Didi and Gogo are doomed. Structures may be what save us from a similar fate.


Today’s New Orleans has twice as many homeless people than it did before the storm. Parking lots beneath overpasses swell with their numbers; they set up a tent city around City Hall and sleep on the patios of a federal building. They shuffle around with no shelter, while boarded up hotels remain empty. The displaced, working poor who cannot pay the skyrocketing rent now face the elements along with the drifters and migrants, the weak and the insane, the naïve Southern teens with their scraped cheeks. Unwanted supplicants to an empty throne, these Katrina sufferers continue to live through the storm that never ended for them. No one knows what to do with them. This evening we heard that the State will chase them away from City Hall, but that doesn’t solve a thing. The new homeless are only growing in number, and the old remain abandoned.

On the second Friday of Godot, Kim and I stood next to the admission line in Gentilly, as ushers. A man passed by us and we said hello and I said to Kim, “Isn’t that Lucky?” meaning the actor. Indeed, here stood a graying, unshaven man with bleary eyes, as handsomely wounded as an extra in a Western.

“They’re not letting you up there tonight?” I asked him.
When he opened his mouth to speak to us, his local accent was thick.

“Nah, they don’t want me in this production.”

I could smell liquor on his breath. After he passed, Kim and I wondered why he was going in the direction of the food, only ten minutes before show time. Like the sets, maybe there was one actor for the first weekend, and another for the second?
Later, as we watched the play, I saw Lucky come onstage. It was the same actor as in the first weekend, and definitely not the man we’d seen waiting for gumbo. So who was the man I’d spoken with?

He is another staggering observer, plopped down onto a new crossroads, looking for free gumbo, saying hello to the people he meets. He is a part of this city and he seemed as satisfied and adrift as one can be, here in the center of “this bitch of an earth,” this most specific site, this
New Orleans, 2007.

December 10, 2007

December 9th Set List

Big Bill Broonzy

James Booker - Make A Better World
Champion Jack Dupree - Doomed
Keb' Mo' - Victims Of Comfort
Bessie Smith - Nobody's Blues But Mine
Otis Spann - Brand New House
Muddy Waters - Hurtin' Soul
Blind Willie McTell - I Got To Cross The River Of Jordan
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - Bring It On Home To Me
Johnnie Lewis - You Gonna Miss Me
James "Stump"Johnson - The Snitcher's Blues
Big Maybelle - Blues Early Early
Big Joe Williams - President Roosevelt
Joseph Jones - Blues de la prison
Taj Mahal - Candy Man
Pinetop Perkins - Sunny Road Blues
Mean Gene Kelton - My Guitar
Blind Robert Ward - The Voyage Of Apollo 8
Fred McDowell - Frisco Lines
Bobo Jenkins - Democrat Blues
Guitar Slim and Jelly Belly - Snowing And Raining Blues
Big Bill Broonzy - WPA Rag
Memphis Slim - The Comeback
Louis Jordan - It's A Low Down Dirty Shame
John Fahey - America
Pops Staples - Jesus Is Going To Make Up (My Dying Bed)
Mahalia Jackson - Amazing Grace
Reverend Blind Gary Davis - Lord, I Wish I Could See
Jimmie Rodgers - The Land Of My Boyhood Dreams
Roosevelt Sykes - All Days Are Good Days
Ernie K-Doe - Lonelyology

December 9, 2007

DJ on the Balcony, No. 2

I really dug the kids on the dirtbike doing laps around the park.

December 3, 2007

December 2nd Set List

James Booker - Stormy Monday
Big Joe Turner - Money First
John Fahey - Hawaiin Two-Step
Toussaint McCall - Nothing Takes The Place Of You
Sunnyland Slim - Nervous Breakdown
Carolina Slim - Pour Me One More Drink
Skip James - Jesus Is A Mighty Good Leader
James Thunderbird Davis - Blues Monday Blues
Corey Harris & Henry Butler - What Man Have Done
The Woes - Why Don't You
John Lee Hooker - King Of The World
Furry Lewis - Judge Harsh Blues
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - Going Down Slow
Peter Chapman & His Washboard Band (Memphis Slim) - Miss Ora Lee Blues
Tuts Washington - Tee Nah Nah
Champion Jack Dupre - Weed Head Woman
Leadbelly - Old Ship Of Zion/I Will Be So Glad When I Get Home
Josh White - Trouble
Little Walter - Old Mean World
Muddy Waters - Bottom Of The Sea
H.H. Oliver - Distress Holler Song/Getting Up Holler/How Dry I Am/Amazing Grace
George & Ethel McCoy - Early In The Morning
Ephram Carter, J.W. Jones, James Jones, Floyd Bussey, Waverly Hall - Old Hen Cackled, Laid A Double Egg
Son House - Country Farm Blues
Ali Farka Toure - Amandrai
Henry Brown - Webster's Blues
James Booker - Too Much Blues
Roosevelt Sykes - Too Smart Too Soon
Blind Willie McTell - Broke Down Engine Blues
Buster Benton - Money is the Name of the Game
Genghis Blues - Eshten Charlyyry Berge

November 27, 2007

The Inspector General Makes a Joke

"That's a joke."

With that, at least for now, the new Inspector General won my support.

Mr. Cerasoli had followed the mayor's intergovernmental office, represented by Kenya Smith, who included in his budget $2 million for a 311 system. The system will be run by a consultant and manned by 14 operators, and Fielkow and then Midura tried to pry more info re: the consultants take. Essentially, they were asking how much the operators would make and where the left over cash goes.

Smith asked Fielkow, "Do you think I'm hiding people?" and then bullied Midura (par for the greasy course), who fumbled with the math, trying to divide 2 mill by 14 and questioning if...operators...huh? Smith said it was all in the proposal. The cliff hanger and testimony ended.

So when Cerasoli took his seat, he mentioned that he wouldn't have any "$140,000 a year operators." People laughed, and he said it was a joke.

He meant his line, but there was something else there: the prior testimony and phantom consultant fees: those ARE a joke. A bad, old joke, where you try to figure out what's true, what's a punchline, and if you're the target.

Because time's up on the whole "just trust us" thing. If this IG sticks to his word, he'll report on where the money goes and which corner it sits in and how people like Smith dick around with it and bluff their way through wasting it. And maybe, just maybe, we'll stop with the joking.


Also in the house and next on the schedule after Cerasoli was Ed Blakely, who apparently got an earful after I left. It was weird seeing him stand on the side as Cerasoli and the Council exchanged compliments and coos (Cerasoli just about recited a poem for Cynthia Hedge-Morrell). The contrast was stark between Cerasoli's dry wit, his statement that he wanted to be here "as a citizen of this country," and his understated, Boston accountant tone, and the self-lionization from Blakely upon his arrival.

I was in the UNOP meeting in January when Blakey did his first big football coach talk, and have watched his misfires and half-starts with more than a little sadness because of that speech, because of the way it gave me hope. Now I hope that Blakely benefits from Cerasoli and that Cerasoli keeps the low profile and provides honest reporting.


As the Council members admitted, embarrasingly I thought, no one really knows how this whole Political System thing works. Or at least they don't want to shine too much light on it. It might turn out that their pockets are too full or they aren't even wearing any pants, much less slick suits with cool pocket kerchiefs.

Then who's joking?

November 26, 2007

November 25th Set List

James Booker - Life
The Spiders - 21 (3 X 7 = 21)
Joe Henderson - Snap Your Fingers
Johnny Otis - Misery
Earl King - The Things That I Used To Do
James The Sleeping Giant Winfield - Now You Know
The Staples Singers - Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas
Ray Charles - One Man's Mad
T-Bone Walker - Long Distance Blues
Skip James - Look Down The Road
L.C. Green - Going Down To The River
Furry Lewis - I Will Turn Your Money Green
Fred McDowell - Big Stars Falling
Tampa Red - Don't You Lie To Me
Fred McMullen - De Kalb Chain Gang
Bukka White - I Am The Heavenly Way
Napolean Strickland, Othar Turner, RL Boyd - My Babe
J. Monque 'D - Indian Princess
Tad Benoit - Rainy Day Blues
Anders Osborne - Home Coming
Big Joe Williams - Don't Your House Look Lonesome
Shirley & Lee - I Feel Good
Huey "Piano" Smith - You Made Me Cry
Wynonie Harris - Sittin' On It All The Time
Lazy Lester - Bloodstains
John Mayall - Gotta Be This Way
Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry - If You Lose Your Money
Memphis Minnie - Strut My Stuff
Albert King - Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'
Ike Turner - You've Got To Lose
Little Buster and The Soul Brothers - My Darling
Little Freddie King - Tough Frog To Swallow
Junior Kimbrough - Pull Your Clothes Off
Roosevelt Sykes - Don't Bat Your Eye
Cephas & Wiggins -I Won't Be Down

November 20, 2007

Magic 95, Hornets 88

Could've used the guy in the smoking jacket

Monday night was the first Hornets game in the ridiculously cheap ticket package we purchased for the season--10 games (9 of 10 against the cream of the league) for $100 a seat. Combine that with the free parking you can find on the downtown side of Poydras and the (hypothetical!) ease of slipping into the lower bowl seats, and these games are one of the best deals in town.

We arrived a few minutes late and, as expected, learned that Chris Paul would be in streetclothes with a sprained ankle. And, although the Magic are one of the top teams in the East this year, fresh off a victory against the Celtics, the crowd was as light as I expected.

This didn't dampen the energy, though. In the 6 games I've attended over the last year, there's a strong sense that the fans that do show up have the potential to become something special, much like the team we support. On Monday night, both parties did the city proud.

The Hornets came out flat and the Magic jumped on them, feeding young Dwight Howard in the post and hitting open shots. The Rashard Lewis signing and the decision to let Jameer Nelson run the point looked good from where I was sitting. Where I was sitting, of course, improved markedly after the first quarter. And let me tell you, professional basketball at close range is as dramatic and vivid a spectacle as you'll find in sports. The form of shooters, the fight for a rebound, the way coaches either connect or alienate players, all of that is so much clearer up close. I recommend an innocent looking woman, a full cup of beer, wearing a jacket like you're just late, and a confident stride for this type of viewing.

When Tyson Chandler went down early, clutching his knee at midcourt, I flashed back to last season's injury plague and the pain of watching an undermanned team battle all year in the toughest division in the league, only to barely miss the playoffs. Chandler should be OK, but his removal seemed to spark the team. They cut the deficit to 10 at the half, then pulled ahead briefly in the 3rd. Peja shot well, the ill styles of Melvin Ely were oddly too much for Howard, and our defense tightened up.

And the crowd went nuts. Let's be clear: while the Hornets continue to improve their community outreach and keep the ticket prices low, the experience at the arena isn't much different than at any in the league. You get free t-shirts, cheerleaders, and an "urban" type of emcee. Being New Orleans, you unfortunately get hardly any assistance in the pro shop (Hey! I'm actually here to buy some of this crap! Stop messing around until I have to ask the slightly seedy manager for help! It's a store!) and a reallllly bored kid unable to make the debit machine work when you try to buy a $28 hat on the upper level.

There's definitely room for improvement. First, get that customer service up to par. In ordering my ticket package, the staff was great, extremely helpful, and did a lot of follow-up when I thought the tix were lost in the mail (which was in fact my fault, they were delivered to my office). The people at the arena should mirror that.

Second, go overboard on the New Orleans part. Really, the people in this region will definitely drink beer and get up and dance when you play generic shit like "Shout!" Now, imagine if you played "Hey Pocky Way." Imagine if, at halftime, you gave only half the time to the Slidell jump rope team, and the rest to, I dunno, the Soul Rebels. People would go for that, because right now, even po'boy festivals draw a crowd intent on praising our culture. If the team really wants to spend the next 5 years with a big crowd, make the entire experience a New Orleans thing.

Because from what I can tell, we have a shot at a great, great NBA crowd. All through the 4th quarter, the half-full arena was rocking, with people going all out in dance contests and D-Fence chants. A lot of this was the tight game, but there was also a sense of celebration, of unembarassed foolishness, that was a familiar sensation.

Many critics cite the size of the NO metro area as the inherent proof that this team can't work here. I think that's uninformed. Strong franchises in places like Sacramento and San Antonio fill arenas despite the size of the cities. If this team keeps progressing, why not New Orleans? Why not a place that likes to cheer and dance and get together? Why not us?

On Monday night, victory was not to be. In the hands of back-up point guard Jannero Pargo (Kim's special favorite), the team played too erratically in the last 2 minutes, with neither Peja nor Mo Peterson getting the ball at a point when shooters are most valuable. All the same, with our two best players out, we stuck it to one of the best young teams in the East (in some ways a good parallel talent-wise with the healthy Hornets) and almost pulled it off. We looked well-prepared and deeper, and, yet again, we hustled our ass off against the odds. I've said this for a year now: this team comes to play, and people want to see that.

And the crowd was something to see, too.

November 19, 2007

Rough Drafts and Parallel Paralysis

In the continuing, ironic litany of parallels between the city government's handling of its crisis condition and the federal government's own methods of deadly mismanagement, we find this story in the Sunday Times-Pic.

After admirably opening it's doors and officers to an outside review, the NOPD put out a severely edited, positivist version of the review for the public to, I don't know, blindfold ourselves with or something. Worse, it's not apparent what steps the NOPD will take as a result of the report, short of denial and sticking to plan. Seems familiar to me.
The draft detailed in the newspaper includes these observations:
-According to NOPD officials, "Police technicians in Records are minimum wage employees and are leaving for better-paying jobs and working conditions in the fast-food industry."
-'"The Department is devoting time and resources to recruits who are grossly inadequate in sentence structure, grammar and spelling," the officers wrote. Training officers reported that they worried about the motivation of many recruits and felt that some applicants are signing up to join the NOPD "simply because of the need for a job or benefits."'
-'"Zero tolerance practices leads to multiple arrests, causing citizens to further distrust the police," officers wrote. They recommended a focus on quality of arrests over quantity.'
-'Trailers double as offices. The crime lab lacks key equipment and certification. Evidence storage is in peril, crowded among trailers. The records division, whose employees share desks, splits minuscule office space with the city's taxicab personnel and some city computer programmers.'

Most of this is fodder for the NOPD's request for more money. With the current crime situation, who can argue with them? Even better, in making the request, Reilly details some of the problems listed in the draft report as reasons for the add'l funding.

Word. I'm for getting them more money, I'm very much for a new crime lab, and more staffing in social services-type support. What I don't see as helpful or farsighted is the need to deny all criticism, to squash a report that in fact assists your cause, and the refusal for imaginative solutions and self-inspection (Yes, I know they're cops). Zero tolerance makes some homeowners and business people feel better, and it sure did great in Manhattan and even in the old N.O., but isn't it possibly outdated in the wake of a disaster? Isn't it heavy-handed in a time of deep distrust? Does it help to solve the whole stop-snitchin plague?

As far as the phenomenon of parallels I mentioned, I think we all understand a disaster that leads to an ongoing, ugly problem (the decision for war in Iraq-the occupation/Katrina-murderous crime wave), the need for a solution (war funding/cop funding), and the persistent feeling that we're throwing good money after bad when those who administer it (the feds/the city) are proven fuck-ups who snub their noses at outside ideas (the Iraq Study Group/the BGI Draft) and continue to offer us spit-shined bullshit (take your pick/take your pick).

Let's be honest, let's talk as citizens, as sufferers, as passengers in the same boat. Don't lie to us and give us candy while we stand atop landmines. And don't pretend you know better when we all know each other way too well for that kind of bluff.

"If you use drugs, buy drugs, you are going to die in this city," he said to a wide-eyed group of middle-age men and women. "You are going to get your butts shot off," he added with dramatic pause. "But otherwise, you have nothing to worry about."

I see you John Bryson. I see you, post-apocalypse PT Barnum of law-enforcement and tourist caressing. Get your mind right, man!)

November 18th Set List

Little Brother Montgomery

Here it be. We were locked out of the vinyl stacks, and took the opportunity to stretch things out a bit, using some selections from the family collection...

James Booker - Junco Partner
Turner Parrish - Ain't Gonna Be Your Dog No More
Aretha Franklin - So Swell What You're Well
Fats Domino - Walk You Home
Corey Harris & Henry Butler - If You Let A Man Kick You Once
Charles Mingus - Freedom Part II AKA Clark In The Dark
Randy Newman - Every Man A King
Huey "Piano" Smith- High Blood Pressure
Bob Dylan And The Band - Lo And Behold!
Joe Tex - I Want To (Do Everything For You)
Ola Dura - Neighborhoods
Danny Barker And His Riverboat Ramblers - Chinatown, My Chinatown
Curtis Eller - Coney Island Blue
Minny Riperton - Come To My Garden
Earl King - Don't Cry My Friend
Teddy Moss - Sympathizin' Blues
Carl Dawkins and the Wailers - Cloud Nine (Take 3)
Preacher Boy - Waiting to Be Next
Furry Lewis - Judge Harsh Blues
Fife and Drum Band Music From the Deep South - Sitting On Top Of The World
Royal Trux - Junkie Nurse
Memphis Minnie - This Is My Strange Man
Johnnie Johnson - Key To The Highway
Tuts Washington - Arkansas Blues
Don Vappie And The Creole Jazz Serenaders - Salee Dames, Bon Jour
The Abyssinians - Declaration Of Rights
Eddie Bo - I'll Keep On Trying
Herve Duerson - Naptown Special
Lonnie Johnson - Death Valley Is Just Halfway To My Home
Little Brother Montgomery - Deep Fried

Every Sunday, 12-2pm, WTUL 91.5FM New Orleans

November 13, 2007

Willie Birch in the Brooklyn Rail

Really fresh interview with Willie Birch in the Brooklyn Rail.

"Birch: The religion we call voodoun has a nature of embracing everything. It pulls it in and when it shoots it back, it’s disguised but it’s still Yoruba. I see New Orleans’ culture the same way. New Orleans culture is a culture that allows everything to come in but when it tweaks it and pushes it back out, you still hear those drum beats coming out of Congo Square. That is the root. This place is so powerful. It’s not like New York. It’s not like L.A. It’s not like Paris. It’s not like London. I’ve never been to Moscow although I’ve studied Pushkin–it’s not like Moscow. It’s not like Africa. It’s not like Nairobi. It’s not like Cairo. It’s like New Orleans. And its culture comes from the bottom. And the bottom begins, as far as Willie Birch is concerned, at Congo Square. And the nature of what came out of that was able to take all of the human condition and put it in its pot and when it shoots it back out it shoots out a whole different idea of what it means to live in this place in this time of our existence. So I don’t worry about the idea of what’s going to happen."

November 12, 2007

November 11th Set List & James Booker

Still haven't solved the technical puzzle that would allow us to archive and post our Sunday Blues shows on 91.5 WTUL (12-2pm), but I'm going to start putting up the set lists on Monday.

James Booker - Let Them Talk
Corey Harris & Henry Butler - L'espri De James
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry - Best of Friends
John Bentley & His Buddies - Trouble In Mind
The Delta Boys - Black Gal Swing
Johnny Young & Big Walter Horton - Stockyard Blues
Robert Jr. Lockwood &Johnny Shines - Blues On The Hour
Joe Turner - Cocktails For Two
The Schoolboys - Ding-a-Ling Coo Coo Mop
Cephas & Wiggins - Dirt Road
Mississippi Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods - Going Down To The River
The Holmes Brothers - Something Is Wrong With My Baby
Bobby Bland & Junior Parker - Love My Baby
Shelton Dunaway/Cookie and the Cupcakes - Betty and Dupree
Alvin Smith - On My Way
Sid Hemphill Band - The Sidewalks of New York
Roosevelt Sykes - All Days Are Good Days
Ike Turner - Matchbox
Big Mama Thorton & The Harlem Stars - All Right Baby
Ike & Tina Turner - Crazy About You Baby
Eddie Clean Head Vinson - Wait A Minute Baby
Magic Slim & The Teardrops - 1823 South Michigan Avenue
John Lee Hooker - My Best Friend
Nappy Brown - It's Really You
Prince La La - She Put The Hurt On Me
Gene & Al's Spacemen - Mercy
Arthur Weston & George Roberson - Uncle Sam Called Me
Lightnin' Hopkins - Bad Boogie
Shy Guy Douglas - She's My Kinda Girl
Ali Farka Toure - Erdi
Johnny Young - Train Fare Out Of Town
Justin Wilson - Signers Of The Declaration

We went with our Godot hangover (a good thing) and focused the 1st half on friends and duets

Also, my James Booker project has begun. If you know anything, get at me.

November 8, 2007

New Essay on Tribes

So an essay I wrote for Tribes if finally up on their site. I admire Steve Cannon more than almost anyone in the world, but whoever put up the post cleverly titled it "Untitled Essay About New Orleans," which, when you think about it, is really what I'm usually doing anyway.


I'm trying to get some things done/started, hopefully posted, but in the meantime, check out this bit of history from Paul Stekler. Back soon.

October 25, 2007

Eddie Jordan, Multi-taskin'

Once again, words fail. Personally, I don't possess the gifts to make up such things as this and this.

Eddie Jordan: sign of the times, symbolic vestibule of all wrongs, befuddled participant in many sides of a sad, cruel cycle. A busy man with no time to check his messages, he dodders on, malfunction, bloodshed, acrimony, and short circuits fizzling in his wake.

"I don't know if you've been reading the papers lately, but I got some things going on," he said. "I got one or two things going on. I'm getting it from all sides."


October 23, 2007

Election Day 2007: Walk It By Yourself

On the morning of the election, we walked across the street to the International School, the polling place for our district—First Ward, District 2. Just as we reached the steps on Terpsichore, who should enter the school before us but the two hoarders from down Magazine. Check it out, I remarked to Kim.

The only other time I’d been to the school--I believe it was one evening in the first few weeks after my arrival in town-- we’d wandered by and noticed a public event taking place in the ground floor cafeteria. Chris Rose sat on a dais with an interviewer next to him and a nice crowd of 50 or 60 people. Newly returned, I knew only a little about him, though Kim filled me in as we listened. That night he was charming, self-deprecating, funny, all the things that make up his known persona. Yet, there was a palpable commonality between his mindset, the vulnerabilities he expressed, and the mindset of those listening. Survival-ism, the ridiculousness of loving New Orleans, doubt—these were in the air and in Rose’s jokes.

It’s weird now to read articles about publishing deals, Oprah, K-Ville, and Lord & Taylor. Just sayin’.

Anyway, the cafeteria. The hoarder walked up to the registration table and immediately began a conversation with an older black lady who may have had her teeth out. I believe she told him that her mother had passed, and he said he was sorry to hear that. Then he moved on to a white, TV anchor-looking gentleman who asked him for his name and ID. After the hoarder gave his name (an Italian sounding name, which he punctuated by saying, “Italian”), the anchor spelled it out again so that the man next to him could write it down.

Huh, I thought. The hoarder’s actually a pretty normal-sounding dude. The anchor, though, was less than normal, his manner cloudy, like perhaps he wasn’t all there, just smiling and slow. He waved the hoarder over to the booth closest to us, where an older black gentleman closed the curtain behind the hoarder, leaving only the dirty blue pants visible to the rest of us. It was then that I noticed that the lady hoarder had abstained from voting, and that she was about the same age as the man, and thus not his mother.

Kim and I went through the same steps as the hoarder, although when we first approached the registration table, the black ladies said, “Ooh, look at y’all, got your voter cards,” which we held in our hands, eager beaver lil' democrats that we are. We laughed.

The anchor found my name and started to spell it out, and I became sure that he was slow, only dressed up for the part and put at this table to give him something to do. He did fine at reading out my name and told me, and then Kim, to wait outside the booth in which the hoarder now voted.

“You ok in there, sir?” the black gentleman called through the curtain to the hoarder. “Three minute time limit.”

“Be right out,” the hoarder said. A few moments later, we heard the tinkle of electronic bells and out he came. I stepped into his place.

The ballot was laid out on a large square of what felt like vinyl. Each of the names on each of the lists had squares next to them, and when you touched a square, it lit up green. The point was to go through each list of candidates for the various offices, along with the 4 amendment referendums, then to hit a final button to cast your votes.

Once I perused the different lists, I scolded myself for not knowing more about the offices and candidates. Further harsh thoughts shot forth at the realization that no write-in was possible, dashing my hope to vote for Kim for governor. I voted for women, for men with funny nicknames, against known incumbents, and ‘yes’ to the referendums, with the exception of the last one, something about consigned jewelry being tax exempt. Fuck that, I thought.

And I voted for Boasso for governor. I thought maybe he could get to a run-off, though there was no way he could win. Here I am, I thought, ambivalent like so many Louisianans in this time of great challenge and a leadership drought, shrugging my shoulders at the ballot. My choices: a big ol’ Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat who seemed like a nice guy who no one in the nation would take seriously but who hailed from the devastated St. Bernard Parish; and an extremist Catholic with a dazzling education, an odd and unique position on race, and barely a word in his programs about the recovery of New Orleans, a grotesque suburb of which he represents with strong conservatism in the US House.

I ended up taking the big ol’ guy just to stretch things out, in the hope that Jindal would have to say something in a run-off. Yes, 2007 in Louisiana: the previous sentence was my mindset at the ballot box.

After I hit the final button and exited the booth, Kim entered and I walked back past the registration table. One of the ladies was directing someone, saying, “To the right, to the right.” I smiled and said, “To the left, to the left,” and then everyone laughed and another woman mentioned the Cupid Shuffle. A conversation on the Cupid Shuffle continued as I sat in an office chair near the door and waited for Kim to exit the polls.

October 17, 2007

Documentaries @ the LEH - Oct. 19th, 6pm

For those of you in New Orleans, please come by the LEH on Friday evening to view 2 documentaries from our vault, "Uncle Earl," and "Louisiana Boys." Saturday is the primary, so this trip down memory lane oughta gear us all up to pull the lever. Directors of both films will be on hand, we have more than enough wine, and this is the first event I've put on in our new space. I hope to see you there.

October 14, 2007

Tubas and some thoughts from the Sunday Times-Pic

Fourteen tubas grunt together under the Saturday morning sun, surrounded by a crowd and a cannon, bouncing the light off one bell to the next.

This was a tribute to Tuba Fats and a call to keep the thump-thump, the wave of brass elephant heads, the center of the beat, the street's pulse.

Big up to Kirk Joseph for putting it together, and to all those tuba players for showing up and carrying their horns up the ramp and back down and through the French Market. It was simple and airy, and much easier than the norm-of-late, a small sign that summer is finally done with us.


Early the following morning, an NOPD officer was shot in his New Orleans East home. At 3am, two men confronted him in his driveway, then forced him back inside his home, where they demanded money. The cop pulled a gun, shots were fired, and he and his wife were both hit. Their assailants escaped.

New Orleans East is living the nightmare right now, with 12 people killed since the beginning of August. Thought it is the largest patrol area, the 7th district has the 2nd lowest staff level.

Which is tragic.

What's odd: that two men would attack a cop at 3am. After all, if you have a cop in the neighborhood, you usually know.

So perhaps these guys weren't from that neighborhood.

Which is weird since, though they escaped and are currently on the run, their names were known almost immediately, released by the NOPD as "persons of interest." How did the cops know the names of these apparently random invaders?

Sorta makes you wonder about the police officer. Guess we'll stay tuned.

Memories of Sheriff Harry Lee


One new feature for trials expected to involve classified evidence is a Plexiglas window separating the small news media and spectator gallery from the floor of the courtroom. At the touch of a button, the military judge will be able to cut off the sound in the spectator section.
-NYT, 10/14/07

This cost $12 million dollars. Apparently, the government can set up it's fantasy justice camp (complete with horny bull logo) any ol' place it will, and jurisdiction will emanate from the peaks of its tents. Apparently the repeated legal blows to the Guantanamo gulag will not stop this instant system.

"With the legal landscape clear at the moment for the prosections to begin,
the military officials said the new courthouse would ease a potential logjam
of trials. Now, there is only one cramped courtroom, in an old airport building
at the top of the sloping hillside that overlooks the new tent city."

Couldn't we get one of these? I mean, doesn't this sound a lot better than the conditions in the Hat's office since the storm? $12 million dollars, that's like an hour in Iraq-occupation time. Give us one of these "M*A*S*H-like set for the age of terror." Won't ya hep me?


Some friends of ours are leaving town. It's hard watching them go, though certainly they need to do it. They put their time in. I keep thinking lately of those original estimates of the 10 years of recovery, or 20, or whatever an expert may have puffed on cable, and how we're 2 years in. Hard does not begin to describe the time these people have lived through, with what to show for it? Now we're left to work through the next 2 years, and the 2 years after that, running on the faith that we can run that far.

I felt good in the Quarter after that tuba concert. I felt the lines of the rooftops were more vivid and the sidewalk calmer, and that it was a familiar feeling, and that the indescribable sensation was nearly enough to keep me going. I know that borders on naive, and builds nothing material. But the feeling was there, will come again, and I will be here for it.

That's about all I know. That, and that ol' Harry Lee is dead and gone.

October 9, 2007

2007-08 New Orleans Hornets Preview

My 2007-2008 New Orleans Hornets preview is up on the SLAM site. Peep it here...

And in case you don't believe me about Chris Paul...

October 3, 2007

Some officers grabbed at mouthpieces, others tried to seize drumsticks out of hands

Some bright morning when this life is over
I'll fly away
To that home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away

I'll fly away oh glory
I'll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I'll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I'll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I'll fly
I'll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I'll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I'll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I'll fly away

...But not from the world in which you were born, in which you belonged. Without the grace afforded those who departed before you, the eventual silence after the parade died out. Not from the arms of a neighborhood full of the old and the young and your peers, all of whom knEw before they knew how to talk that this is the way one leaves the earth, with loud tears and horns and dance steps and grandmothers waving from their stoops. Not from a city which lets your brothers and cousins curl through the blocks well-worn with bygone mourners' feet, allows them to make the decision to blow you on home in their own, unofficial, spontaneous, self-sustained tradition.

No, your passing will be marked with police cars, with the kind of shit that killed the Big Chief, with new homeowners whispering into phones that people like you are out in the street at the ungodly hour of 8pm, making a damned racket. Your people in the parade will leave in handcuffs, as the police believe that smell of the sweat of those like you attracts stray bullets. They who don't understand the very blocks they invest in, with sanitized dreams of getting over, they'll go to bed satisfied, dream of the future when noise will be contained in a well-run, supa-Quarter, with no overflow and no marching, except for the daily staged parade for the tourists, timed for an hour when the threat of sunburn is least. The police will have less to worry about, won't have to consider what is gray, what is beyond the law, what just IS in this city, but can rest on laws and permit fees and some fantasy that order can be had in a city where hope is quarantined and snatched from unruly lips.

All that will be left behind will be shackles and the joyless, empty streets, and the sound of the uptight and greedy, counting their properties and dialing their cops, unafraid, now that even death has been put in its proper place.

September 23, 2007

The Loss of Willie Tee

"You suck!"

"Overtime, baby!"

A cluster of frat-types curls around my back, shouts at the flat screen, says there's no way they're leaving here for the $40 entrees next door until this one is over. Georgia's heavy-browed kicker just missed the game-winner wide left, and fuck yeah.

Me, I'm trying to keep patient, keep perspective, keep from thinking too much about things that don't matter, benign change and all that.

Then "Like A Rolling Stone" comes on the Maple Leaf's jukebox and the boys start singing in unison, and I'm like, really, how does it feel?


Willie Tee's was a classic New Orleans musical career, complete with teenage success, work in the jazz avant garde, production and songwriting of the highest quality, and family bonds. Whatever you want to call that genius of breadth that marks the city's great artists, Willie Tee had it.

The pain of his recent passing was doubled by the timing: his brother, saxophonist Earl Tubington, died just last month. Willie was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his brother's death, and went on home in a matter of weeks. We've lost way too many giants in the last year, and we can only hope that their replacements are growing up among us still.


On a long Saturday morning bike ride with Kim, I passed the church on St. Roch where Willie was laid out. A few dudes with horns stood around, and some older cats in suits smoked reefer on one corner. We didn't feel like waiting for the second line, and decided to ride around the neighborhood awhile.

The area is in bad shape. Some people are back, some aren't, but we said good morning to someone on just about every block. Living where we do (for only a little longer), you don't realize what a depressed situation many people are in, with hardly any neighbors, isolated, with few corner stores or signs of city life. It's in areas like the St. Roch neighborhood where you wonder how long people can stand this mess, and how the hell anyone can move back and remain strong in living conditions like these. Downtown, people are holding on.


Uptown at the Maple Leaf Saturday night, I sit at the bar and laugh as the 'Bama boys take a loss and slink off to their duck and okra. I'm early to the Willie Tee benefit, feeling a little pensive in the old haunt, thinking about ol' John Ringo and what Kim must've looked like working behind that bar, and how I'm not going to be Mr. Nostalgia here.

What's changed? Probably nothing. Probably just me. I'm by myself, Kim's chilling at home, I'm not meeting up with anyone, I'm not drunk, I'm 30. Things feel cleaner, but then, too, I'm cleaner. I get the sense that we have some first-time shoppers, but, again, whadda I know?

For the Hot 8 opening set, I stand on the side bench to get a bird's eye view. I'm not so young anymore, but I guess I'm wiser, learned a trick or something here a decade ago. People do that honky dance and the Hot 8 is a really good brass band, with a more evolved vocal thing than others, and the right mix of horns.

So what is different? I ask myself. Well, in the previous lifetime, the Rebirth Brass Band would be selling dope to my friends, claiming it came from exotic locations. In the current lifetime, the Hot 8 Brass Band's original leader was shot dead in his car at the beginning of the year. Point being, I don't know the difference, but there is a bittersweetness in the ritual, at least there is to me. Is this all borrowed time, or is it my one foot in a time warp that shadows the listening? Either way, I'm able to loosen up enough to really dig the Hot 8 by the time they're done. Me and the middle-aged tourist and the college girls.

When they end, I move to the rear bar and get into a conversation about R&B with a very know-ity chick who wants to tell me this and that, but does give me a new James Andrews CD for the show. It's an OK talk, but the whole "Oh-I'm-from-here-gonna-let-you-know-not-really-listening" schtick is the wrong one to wow me with tonight. You want to be a territorialist in a wasteland, best of luck to you.

"Gonna be a great show," we do agree, though.


I take my position on the bench again as the house band for the night (I think this is 101 something? I forget) begins. The painter Frenchy stands directly in front of me on his platform, a miner's light around his bald skull, a photo of Willie Tee pinned onto the left side of his canvas.

It's good to see Frenchy, but that photo is as much Willie Tee as either of us will get tonight. The band is on the Wild Magnolias tip, seems to include some alumni, and that makes sense, as Willie famously produced and arranged their seminal first and second albums. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux takes the stage, and I love that dude, always get into that sound of Indian funk, like a balloon tightening, with magic beads rattling inside it, ready to pour out when the whole thing bursts.

But this represents a small (if vital) part of Willie Tee's career, the rest of which contributed serious cuts of funk and soul to the city's lexicon. This is a cat who had a long playing relationship with Joe Zwainul (who chillingly died in the same hour as his old friend), who was a dope pianist, a prolific songwriter who powered the Gaturs. When we get just the one side of him, well, I'm disappointed...again.
Because my basic problem is running up against this one, simplified side of the culture--easy funk that people like to boogie and booze to--under the guise of another tribute to the past. My problem is I still hope for reverance, for appreciation of ALL the parts of New Orleans music that were important ACROSS THE WORLD for decades, not just the last 10 years of jamming. My problem is I think there's a full honest answer out there, a clear retelling of N.O. contributions to music, all the while living in a present and a market that is muddied and narrowed down and starving. My problem is I continue to believe the label, only to find the ingredients within bland and pricey; I refuse to believe that getting the story sideways, for the sake of a party, is going to help us remember (much less rebuild) a damn thing.

And maybe my problem is I'm looking for something that's not there, and am slow to admit that. Maybe this is how it was the last time around, but I was new to the set-up, able to stumble along on the gloss-over. Maybe I missed these problems as Ringo and Flavius and I and the rest rolled through our hijinx. Maybe I was mad at a whole other set of wrongs then.

I'm not mad at anyone, I don't deserve to hear what I like just because I know what that is. I'm just sad and ornery and probably oughta get in the van and listen to some Booker. Instead I stare at the cut-out painting of Booker that hangs behind the stage, and wonder what he looks out on, and what he'd say, and what it means that he's up there in the first place.

What does Booker mean now? What does Willie Tee mean now? Are they to be defined through the dim, dull lens of nights like this, crushed into a New Orleans sound packaged for the casual, numbed-up listener?
I don't know if I can stand around and watch that.


Afterwards I sit in the side alley and watch cliques pass glass pipes. I'm not in a conversation mood, and not really in the eavesdropping on stoned bluttos mood, either. I'm kinda awkward, really.

Just then I see some people I know, a woman I worked with in New York and her husband, a radio documentarian, both of them Louisiana born and raised. They're in town for a wedding, didn't hear the first set. It's great to talk to them, and they're glad I've moved back.
As am I. But at some point, I guess I need to lighten up and accept the disappearances, the shifts in old territory that have nothing to do with me, and understand the ones that do. My city is out there, but no lazy search will re-erect its flagposts.

I separate from my friends, sit down at the bar. Two college girls are wasted, and another dances with an old brother in a nice suit. Once in awhile I catch myself in the mirror, when I'm not peeking at the door or the stage. John Ringo and I circa 1997 aren't walking in anytime soon, and for me, tonight, that's a hard swallow.

So I walk on out.