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Bad Apples December 16, 2012

Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The Apple Barrel is a trip hazard with a liquor license, 500 square feet maybe counting the superfluous jukebox I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard. In front Kenny Claiborne in once-white Western boots sings Indian Red like a Seventh Ward Kaddish over a mournful dobro. Momma Cat passes the tips spittoon while keeping time with a tambourine stick she says she got at church. Marco and Monica who painted the mural behind the band are in from Sarasota and as we talk Claiborne calls “Coldplay. Because we can” and the dobro hollers its own metal voice into the song. Piano Dave says the tattoos at Electric Ladyland are overpriced but I still contemplate Bukowski and Maddox on my forearms and think anyone I have to explain them to is probably not worth working for. The tourists sit mostly in the back, as expressionless and obvious as tinsel Christmas trees in a bail bondsman’s office, nursing incongruous Stella Artois until they give up or get a table at Adolfo’s upstairs. Photos of Coco Robicheaux watch over us with a Bodhisattva’s Cheshire serenity and I write and have to scratch out Kenny Holladay instead of Claiborne when I start to jot these notes but as long as there’s a band I am half right: Coco and Kenny and a host of others whose boots will never pass through these door again are as palpable as the smoke from the musicians’ cigarettes. I contemplate my bottle and think that if I have another Jockamo there’s no telling what’s going to happen but we are prepared to exercise the uncertainly principle until we raise Schrodinger’s cat from the grave. We order Reposado shook over ice and tell J.D. to make one for himself, then pour the first taste onto the floor. Somewhere outside the door is the heart of Saturday night and Apple Maps will never get you there. You have to follow the woman dressed in wrong-holiday rabbit ears through this door and never be afraid to drink what’s in front of you.

A sad farewell December 5, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Memory, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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The crowd was small at first, a few dozen in the bar , half watching the LSU game and seemingly unaware of the memorial to come, less than that milling about outside Marie’s Bar on Burgundy, another favorite haunt of Coco Robicheaux. The promised second line never quite materialized as the crowd built to fill the streets around the bar. One peck horn player, a guy with a set of bongo’s strung over his shoulder and a fellow (familiar, but I don’t know his name) with a hubcap hung from a stick. Someone later told me he was the owner of the old Dream Palace.

A woman stood in the middle of Burgundy and made a shouted announcement that there would be a parade around the block, a few more odd musicians having arrived by this time, but no one made a move to start. There was no snare in site to call us all to attention, no trumpet to issue a call to post. Since we seemed to be going no where fast I slipped back inside to try and get us another couple of beers. I understand they managed a parade around the block while I was inside, the sort of impromptu collection of amateur musicians you are liable to encounter wandering the Quarter on Mardi Gras. From the size of the crowd when I came outside, it seemed most people had stayed put, drinking and talking about Coco or LSU.

The crowd outside had started small, with knots of people talking in quiet voices, but had grown by this time into the sort of crowd you will find outside any crowded club on a Saturday night with the band on break, out to escape the steerage conditions inside, laughing and drinking and having a cigarette. There were a handful of familiar faces I couldn’t quite place with names, my friend Dave and over across the street novelist and photographer Louis Maistros, poet and playwright Moose Jackson. Dave introduced me to a few people he knew and I went over to talk to Louis and his son Booker, who was roaming with a camera.

Inside Don “Blue Max” Ryan set up and played a weak species of blues on Coco’s own guitar, reminding the crowd to toss some money in a bin in front of the state for Coco’s widow Danielle. Ryan announced himself as “Coco’s brother” but I have to assume he meant that metaphorically as he is not listed in the obituary. I understand he was Coco and his wife Danielle’s landlord, and one of the notice’s “host of cousins,” a few of whom dropped by the Apple Barrel after the family’s private memorial service last week and regaled us with stories of young Curtis. Ryan wore a feather bedecked gambler hat that might well have come out of Coco’s own wardrobe but even with Coco’s guitar in hand and his best attempt at Coco’s look he was a poor substitute

I tossed a five in the bucket and took my beers back outside, and so thankfully missed this, Ryan dropping one of Coco’s guitars in front of Coco’s wife Danielle while she “watch[ed] in horror.” according to Dylan James Stansbury, an amateur videographer who can be found at just about any music event worth catching, posting up performance on YouTube. The video is dark (almost thankfully), and the ending truly sad as he balances the guitar on one hand and it crashes to the ground. It’s hard to make out the cacophony of voices after he drops it. There is a clear “oh, God” right after it falls, another voice saying “Coco didn’t want it played any more” and toward the very end, very clearly: “asshole.”

I missed the moment on video, Dylan told me later. because it happened later in the night, probably after I had already left for another obligation, a Krewe du Vieux event up on Architect street. The memory I took away was a happier one, of a street full of people drinking and laughing, just another bar overflow street party, as if Coco himself had just finished a set inside. The failure of the promised second line was of no consequence on this Saturday night in New Orleans. Coco was sent off by the neighborhood with drinking, conversation and laughter, which in his case is probably better than a second line.

Friends at the Apple Barrel remember Coco Robicheaux November 30, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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My first paying journalism gig in more years than I care to think about.

Friends at the Apple Barrel remember Coco Robicheaux

This photo is the exclusive property of Gambit for the next seven days, so if you crib it please be sure to credit both Gambit and the photographer and link the photo back to the article. This is also my 99th post. Do we have Pick 3 in Louisiana?

A Sign November 29, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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Someone the bartenders and regulars didn’t recognize popped into the Apple Barrel and left this on the bar yesterday, and it’s now hanging behind the bar. Coco touched an awful lot of people.

Drinking with the Spirits November 27, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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I toyed with the idea of going to the Apple Barrel last night, then reconsidered what such a small bar would be like on the day of the announcement of Coco Robicheaux’s passing. And I can’t even begin to imagine what the crowds at the second line and party that will follow will be like. Better to wait I think until tonight or tomorrow, when the crowds will have passed, will be best; to ask Sara or J.D. for two glasses of the tequila Coco favored. I don’t remember the brand, but bought him one or two over the years. Why not appropriate a bit of the tradition (we’re very good at that down here) of having a drink with Max at Molly’s, spilling a bit of tequila on the stage while shooting the other. I imagine there is a shrine and I can stop by the Herb (which is probably open on Sunday as the Broad Street Botanica is not) and pick up a candle; probably a purple, the favored color of mourning in Día de Muertos iconography, and leave the votive and his shot (minus the small propitious spill) there.

Revelator November 26, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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“Come killy killy killy quick as you can/Come take a look at a natural man/Waste my time like a Simple Sam/Come take a look at what a fool I am/Oh, Revelator. Oh, Revelator, Revelator, right now.’

– Coco Robicheaux, “Revelator

There is something Odd about getting up this early on Saturday morning to listen to Coco Robicheaux. Like early Dr. John much of it sounds like a music of the night, the place I came closest to knowing him, as a regular at the Apple Barrel bar. (No, Mark, it is not a good idea to put whiskey in your coffee this time of day) We would speak for a while, he always had time and a word for everyone, and that was about it. I think I was always a bit in awe of him, the genuine natural man of his song.

Coco walked a strange path, drawn into a world where his Indian heritage blended with his Cajun-rooted joie de vivre, into the syncretic religion of New Orleans, a blend of Spiritualist church and after midnight barroom, a spirit candle and a bottle of whiskey. A natural man, walking with the spirit. “I am a pilgrim” he sang to close his last album over a joyous banjo. “I’ve got a home in that yonder city…it is not been made by hand. I got a mother, a sister and a brother, who are gone to that sweet home. And I am determined to go and see them…over on that distant shore….cause I am a pilgrim, and a stranger, traveling through this wearisome land.”

I have walked a strange path of my own in the years since the Flood, a road that takes a high toll of great cost, forking from the path I took when I left New Orleans in my rear view mirror New Year’s Eve 1986, traveling into the life I thought expected of me, drawn by another kind of power that resides in buildings of cold marble, filled with self-appointed archangels in rich Italian clothes. I forgot in my youthful blindness that here by the river marble is the stone of the houses of the dead.

I don’t regret the choice I made then, or those that followed. It was a good life. I have beautiful children their mother and I would not know and love if I had not taken that other path, but all that time something gnawed at me inside with nutria sharp teeth trying to get out. It finally got loose, that late Monday afternoon in August I sat in my driveway in Fargo, N.D. waiting for my son to come out to be driven to football practice. It was then that string of mojo beads I had carried back from New Orleans, which hung from the rear view mirror of my otherwise respectable Ford Taurus station wagon, suddenly and spontaneously burst. In that moment I knew the radio was wrong, that something terrible was happening far away, that a great and terrible wave had crashed and the power of it had carried all the way to North Dakota from New Orleans, from home.

And I won’t regret the choices I make now. There are only so many hours and days remaining to me, Coco’s death reminds me, and I can either spend my every waking moment trying to get back to that path that ran through Washington and Fargo, or I can spend it developing the natural talent I mostly suppressed on that other road, give all my waking hours to studying the arcane magic releasing the spirit that lives in words. Somewhere on that path stands Coco, a natural man, and behind the large hat and shades I see him smile. And I know I am on the right road.

Coco in the Spiritland November 25, 2011

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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New Orleans musical and spiritual icon Coco Robicheaux is walking with the ancestors. One candle goes out and a thousand new are lighted in mourning and memory. Go with sage and sweet grass, go with a song and a bottle, go with a guitar in hand and bring New Orleans to the spirit land.

“I had to use my voice and hands/To make the music of the spirit land.”
— Coco Robicheaux

Play Spiritland

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