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United Our Thing Will Stand April 28, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Jazz Fest, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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To follow up on a Jazz Fest related post Forty Years Down the Road from a few days ago, here’s another legend of New Orleans gone from the ranks: James Booker. These days we get Billy Joel on the Acura stage instead.

Fess and Booker and all the rest are more than a set of cutouts in the infield, or a face hanging above a stage. They float over the Fairgrounds like the clouds of May, a subtle presence most Big Chiefs from Kansas City never notice but which subtly touches everything at Jazz Fest worthy of the name.

Tradition is a temple April 28, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.

Still suffering from Most Traumaticalized Jazz Fest disorder, which can only be cured by seeing The Doctor on Saturday. So, lazy quoting from better writers for now.

New Orleans
By Chuck Perkins

If your American dream is painted on a canvas
Neatly folded in the corner of Andy Warhol’s mind
New Orleans is a hurricane beating down your coast

If you close your eyes
And feel the easy ride
Of the St. Charles Street Car
Where a solo tuba
Blows the scent of magnolia
Down narrow streets
and everyone plays possum with the heat
and no one’s too big or too small
to paint their tongue with a snowball

where former slaves pay homage to the first Americans
by masking in suits of rhine stones and bright colored feathers
that transform security guards into Indian Chiefs
doing rain dances on Congo Square
where the drums drum
and the wine drink
and the big chief sing
somebody give me a quarter
cause pretty big chief want some water

if you can envision the souls of yesterday
living in the music
that rises from the cracks in the sidewalks
New Orleans is your dream
With a heart as soft
As the spanish moss
Dripping from centuries old oak tress

She’s a pretty face with dirty feet
The good witch of lake Ponchartrain
The spice god of shrimp and crawfish
Keeping the spirits fed

Communities of windowless monuments
Masquerading as cemeteries
Tower above ground
No earth or worms to cover the flesh
No silver bullets to turn out the spirits
That still dance with her

Spin your umbrella
And wave your bandanna
It’s Mardi Gras time
And everybody’s happy

Armed with a blue print of civilization
The new world stormed in
With enough asphalt and cement
To pave a boulevard back to Paris

the spirit of the swamp still hasn’t submitted
Leaving mildewed kisses of disapproval
On every thing foreign to the wet lands

Catholicism could not turn out the spirit of Marie Laveau
The wrecking ball could not turn out the spirit of Storyville
And death could not turn out the spirit of Louie Armstrong
When yesterday hangs on to forever
Tradition is a temple.

Heritage Forever April 26, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA.
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Today I sat in the patio-like paddock of the Fairgrounds and watched my son and a dozen fellow students mount the New Orleans Jazz Fest and Heritage Festival Lagniappe Stage and play Kidd Jordan’s Second Line, directed by Kidd himself.

Played. At Jazz Fest. Kidd Jourdan. I’m having a hard time getting past that simple set of facts, keep rearranging it in my head to find new ways to combine those words just as an excuse to keep repeating it over and over again. For a New Orleans father, this is even more powerful than seeing your son pull his helmet on and run out onto the field for the first time.

He is part of an after school program called the Heritage School of Music, funded by the Jazz and Heritage Foundation which sponsors the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. His teachers at the Lusher Charter School Heritage School site include Kidd and Kent Jordan, both icons of New Orleans music.

It was a hard slog to get there in time. My wife could not come and I had her drop me at Esplanade Avenue and Mystery Street so she would not get caught up in Fest traffic, and so she (who is not from here) would not have to navigate the bizarre intersection of Gentilly, Paris, St. Bernard and DeSaix without a native guide. I had a comp ticket for my book signing but had to march myself all the way around to the Belfort Avenue entrance, which is way the hell down that street about halfway back down the far side of the track.

I was, however, so pumped at the idea of seeing him up on a Jazz Fest stage that I managed to arrive early (almost 30 minutes after getting dropped), with a crawfish bread in hand and camera ready. As I sat there mopping my brow to try and save my hat from the huge sweat I had worked up getting there, I stared at the stage with the familiar bulbous lettering across the banner at the top, the sign in the familiar hand writing (all of the Jazz Fest artist signs are done by the same person) announcing that the Heritage School of music would be up next. I considered that my son would be in that number, and was in that moment absolutely floored.

For the handful of parents and others who managed to find their way into the paddock so early on a Jazz Fest Sunday, it was a vision of the Heritage I often chide the Festival for downplaying, preserved and handed with care to the next generation.

My son is a beginner at sax but some of the kids in this program are incredibly talented, tackling Chick Corea, John Contrane and Miles Davis compositions with some fantastic solos. He is a bit intimidated by some of the more experienced kids, but I think he could easily have handled the piano part of All Blues they had charted for the junior horn students playing behind the soloists in the Dillard program.

I don’t think he knows just how fortunate he is to have this opportunity (kids rarely are), but I will keep reminded him until it sinks in. Two of the most accomplished musicians in New Orleans are teaching him, and taking him to play as Jazz Fest.

I just want to type those last words over and over again like a scratched record: to play at Jazz Fest, to play at Jazz fest…

If this wasn’t enough to cause my head to just burst with pride and an overwhelming sense of good fortune to live in this city, I also must remember my son will miss his next midweek private saxophone lesson because his teacher, Grace Bennett, will be in rehearsals with Allen Toussaint all this coming week for next weekend’s Jazz Fest performance.

I’m not usually reduced to a monosyllabic response to anything but: wow. Just f—ing wow. I have to remind myself that for every struggle we have faced to come and live here, at every turn in this broken road we have met such good fortune. In the case of his music teacher, it was one of the people I first came to know online after Katrina and before I moved here who has since become a friend, one with connections in the music biz who hooked us up with Grace. Getting Matt into Lusher where he had this chance (and Killian into Ben Franklin and NOCCA) were a stroke of luck almost beyond belief.

My wife frets that the kids don’t appreciate all the culture swirling around them, but I remind her of the Bay City Rollers poster she once confessed to having hung in her own teenage bedroom, remind her that I still have some Uriah Heep LPs from when I was the boy’s age. And I reminder her now much our daughter’s taste in music has moved, that the girl who once listened to bland pop radio and treasured a Now 17 compilation CD has stolen my Hot 8 disk.

There are guys in my son’s program he worries about keeping up with, the ones who grew up among musicians, who took up their horns when they were much younger. Not everyone gets that kind of start but to live here is to offer my children a richness of culture of every kind people in towns and cites in the rest of this country can only get with an upgraded cable TV package. Here it is everywhere, all around us, calling to them as is called to me once, as it calls still.

Why would we live anywhere else? Why would anyone?

Forty years on down the road April 24, 2009

Posted by The Typist in blues, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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This is the 40th anniversary of Jazz Fest, which started as a small festival in what is now Congo Sqaure at Armstrong Park. If you look closely at your cubes, you will notice stars next to the artists who were present at the first event. Many will be there, but many more will not.

I started to make a list of people I have seen over the years who will not be there, but it got too depressing. Time to pull out my Roosevelt Sykes LPs and try to get the turntable hooked up to the PC when I should be working. Better yet, I think I need to drag out the cassette I still have somewhere from the days I used to smuggle a deck into Jazz Fest and digitize one of those shows.

While I get busy with that here is is a bit of the Honeydripper himself playing “Gulfport Boogie”.

This year I will pull out the straw hat he autographed for me long ago one night at the Maple Leaf and wear it to the book signing. If you don’t make a point of stopping by the memorial spot in the center of the Fairgrounds every year, make the effort this year and just stop for a while and whistle a few bars to let them all know they are remembered.

Je me souviens. Remember.

Book Signing at Jazz Fest April 23, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, books, Jazz Fest, New Orleans, NOLA.
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I will be signing Carry Me Home at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Book Tent on Sunday, April 26 at 4 p.m. So if you’re looking to escape the sounds of Earth, Wind and Fire echoing through the Fair Grounds or just to get out of the sun for a bit stop by and say hello. Thanks to Amy of Garden District Books and Winter of deVille Books who organize this for including me.

And thanks to all the local booksellers who have supported the book

Memo to Quint Davis April 19, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, African Music, blues, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Yesterday we pretty much planted ourselves at the Abita Stage at French Quarter Festival, with the idea that Mrs. Toulouse (nee’ Mrs. Wet) would really like to see Little Freddie King. (She was not disappointed).

All I could think of as I watched a parade of fine acts was that this is what Jazz and Heritage looks like. Casa Samba drew an estatic response from the crowd, who discovered a kindred set of booty shakers. And once the girls in the g-strings took the stage Boy suddenly lost interest in his phone’s video game and started paying attention.

We watched the Fatien Ensemble, organized by Dr. Micheal White and Jason Marsalis with superb African drummer Seguenone Kone merging jazz and African rhythms. (I caught Kone doing a show with Sunpie Barns a while back at the Maple Leaf, a magically ecstatic pairing), And of course we caught Little Freddie King. After wards Reynard Poche, New Orleans sideman extraordinaire took the stage with his own funk group. We left before 101 Runners, sadly, as they are a fantastic mix of funk and Indian.

And as I contemplated Jazz Fest next week (while I’ll be signing my book I’ll be missing out of Bon Jovi. Oh dear), I thought: this stage on the batture of the river where this city began, these acts on this stage; this is what the intersection of European and African music a century ago has done for the world.

This is our heritage.

Thank you French Quarter Fest and the artist sponsors for not forgetting why we live here, and why the visitors come. It is not for Bon Jovi.

P.S.–The sponsor for Fatien was Threadheads. Check out their site, activity and fund raising raffle.

The Oppression of Blooming Magnolias April 17, 2009

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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I find myself, at age 51 and on the urging of a close friend, reading William Styron’s Lay Down in Darkness for the first time since I was at U.N.O. 30 years ago. I find it a difficult slog in spite of the beautiful telling of the awful tale. It is not a good book for a middle aged man in a certain frame of mind to read, unless the keys to the liquor and gun cabinets have been handed over to a trusty retainer.

The verse below just sort of came out the other night when I put the book down to go out and smoke a cigarette, and sat thinking about it. It is not meant as an indictment of Southern literature (although that would be a fair reading) but as a part of the thoughts of someone who feels a bit to close to many of the characters, someone living in a city strangled in its southern heritage.

It is oddly in agreement with the sentiments of someone I took off after quite a while ago in another post. The author of the quote in that post sent me an email a while back taking issue with what I said, and I’ve never answered it. I think I will have to go hunt it down and give him his reply.

I have a blog post on the subject of “a city strangled in it’s southern heritage” rumbling around in the back of my head, planned for HumidCity.com, but it’s not ready yet and it’s French Quarter Fest weekend. So, for now, here is a visceral and entirely personal reaction to reading Styron’s novel.

The Oppression of Blooming Magnolias

On Reading Lay Down in Darkness in Middle Age

I am weary of Lear in his linen suit
and his Shantung straw, with his whiskey neat
and his southern drawl, with his lisping women.

Williams, Styron, Faulkner: I have studied, father,
all the chapters in the sacred scripture
of southern damnation, and remain unredeemed.

Let us bury them under the old willows
among the Confederate dead, lay down
their burden by the river and

Rise up, wide-eyed and gasping, born again.
Only then will the oppression
of blooming magnolias be lifted from us all.

Book Signing at French Quarter Fest April 14, 2009

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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coverI will be signing my book Carry Me Home A Journey Back to New Orleans at Faubourg Marigny Art & Books, 600 Frenchman Street, on Friday April 17 from 6-8 pm. Come by after French Quarter Fest and stop by. We’ll be outside trying to tap into the passing French Quarter Fest crowd, so look for us there. I won’t be trying to read into that noisy mob but I will be passing on the usual wine and such in favor of passing out tots of Old New Orleans rum to interested passers by, so stop by and have a drink. Find it at your favorite local bookstore if you can’t make this, and watch the book’s blog for future events. (Next up is the Jazz Fest Book Tent Sunday, April 26).

Monday. Again. April 13, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry.
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Why are holiday Mondays, even after a good night’s sleep, so damned gruesome? Back to the counting of dollars until we have no sense left, making them into the piles of Monday, Tuesday, and so on until we have topped off Friday’s stack and so purchased another bit of freedom.

So, with this bit of good advice below under your belt, just crack open Monday’s paper (not too far, just a peek; it’s awfully early yet) to remind yourself: it could be worse.

The Future

Oh hush up
about the
Future: one
morning it
will appear,
right there on
your breakfast
plate, and you’ll
yell “Take it
back,” pounding
the table.
But there won’t
be any

— Everette Maddox

Why We Live Here, Part 42 April 12, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, food, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.

davecrawfish Photo by Christy Bracken Hackenberg

The perfect restaurant red of Dave’s crawfish hides the real reason. It is because they are Dave’s crawfish poured out in the backyard of our house, because somewhere behind the friend snapping that photo a dozen more friends sit in the folding canvas contraptions we call Jazz Fest chairs: drinking beer and wine, talking and laughing, getting ready to come over to the table and stand talking and laughing and peeling crawfish together, a perfect vernal antidote to the weight of the thought of Jesus and his disciples arrayed around a darker table sharing a last supper.

When I am gone, do this in memory of me.

The Birds April 8, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Here on Toulouse Street we’ve had crows on our mind this past week. It began a week ago after making a remark online about maybe seeing a raven last Wednesday (from Wodin or Odin’s Day), and as I snapped pictures of the Green Man mural in the Marigny from out of the birdless sky came two crows to circle overhead and watch me. Of course Odin was served by two Corvus, Huginn and Muninn, which were his agents in the world of mortals.

Okay then, not that we’re particularly superstitious but heh (knock wood) we thought that a bit Odd. Odin in his earliest (and less bloodthirsty) aspect was associated with poetry (a plus here on Toulouse Street) and madness (including the form of madness the Celts called awen, the possession of the muse), so I have to admit to a certain, well, fondness is not quite the right word, let’s say affinity to old One Eyed Jack as Lord of Poets.

As to Odin’s warrior aspect, I’ve been intermittently re-reading Carlos Castaneda not so much for the wild mushrooming tips as for what struck me the last time I did a post 70s spin through his work: the sage advice from the later books. The concept of a brujo as a fearless warrior, and one who’s conduct is impeccable, has also been on our mind so that’s another chalk mark up on the plus side for Odin.

As to the mad side of “poetry and madness” here on Toulouse we tend toward the simply Odd, but will confess to a certain attraction that draws us occasionally to the brink of madness, to peer over the precipice and admire the twisted vista, tossing the Odd pebble over the edge to listen to it skitter into the abyss.

So for One Eye’d Jack and raven-friends everywhere here is something from the Black Crowes (natch), a song that is itself a postcard from the needle-sharp heroin edge of madness. We like it for the elegant lyric and swinging southern blues-rock sound of the Crowes, and for the birds they represent and other sundry reasonS. And so may it please you and Old One Eye’d Jack: She Talks to Angels.


The why of those we do not understand April 5, 2009

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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We write to say, You are not alone. We write the thing that can’t be said, that no one wants to remember, the thing that will be a bright moment for a stranger, the way another’s writing was a bright moment for us. Ah ha! We tell our part of the story; we recreate the view from our window. We pass what we have to those who are hungry for it because we, ourselves, have been hungry.

New Orleans writer Barb Johnson’s has won the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Gift of Freedom award, a cash prize to allow the winner to spend time working on writing. The essay from her application to the foundation speaks not just to the other writing life, the “real” one of MFA programs, selling stories and filing the rejections, landing the book deal.

The essay also speaks to those of us out here on this humming tightrope, performing this strange street circus gig we call blogging. I don’t think that’s a good name for what I do, for what some others among us do. Blogging is a format. Would we call Johnson’s work “booking”.?

She addresses why we do we do this, the bookers and the bloggers, speaks not just to the MFA students or the prize board or her future editors but to all of us in this nebulous town square, the clowns and the curmudgeon orators, the citizen journalists touting their latest broadside, and the Oddballs like myself who are doing, well, what exactly? Blogging. Against the day I can be booking for a major house, I guess.

We do it for the same reasons Johnson writes stories, driven by the same urge to take the every day experiences of her bus ride to work and transform that world into words, and by doing so transform herself and her world. She does it, we all do it, to understand. In the end, that is why I am still here, typing when I should be doing something productive, or perhaps sleeping. If it gives you some pleasure to read my own exercises, well, there’s always the booking side of the house, over the on the right: $13.95 plus shipping. But that’s not why I’m here, and probably not why you’re here either.

The typing at night. The steady dum-te-dum-te-dum of the words of others sifted through the screen of who we are. In the stillness, in the dreamy stillness, we spin ourselves out into the big night, free of all that weighs us down. Free from the world of difference and sameness. We make what we need out of words… The why of those we do not understand is what we must learn, and we write to learn it…

Without the crackle of the keyboard, the she who, the bus. Without the quiet, the stillness, the place of writing. Without these things the world is the color of dust and all of us are strangers and always will be. Without writing, the dots stay unconnected, the days, unrelated. And all the meaning is lost moment to moment to moment….

“The why of those we do not understand is what we must learn, and we write to learn it…” is brilliant. I need to print that out before I forget and find the tape or a tack, even though the quote alone glosses over the other voyage of discovery in a writing life, the one by which we transform this glowing monitor into a mirror and scry ourselves.

Read the essay. Highly recommended.

Ashley Morris April 1, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, Bloggers, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein.
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For Ashley Morris 1963-2008
All New Orleans mourns for you.

By Dylan Thomas
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.