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