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Pure Despair for the Savor of It September 30, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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No, he’s not about to jump. He’s just some guy whose roommates preferred he smoke outside, catching some rays on the ledge outside the window of his third floor room in North Stadium at LSU sometime late in 1976. The Odd thing is they snapped this picture while he was likely doing precisely that, stepping out for a smoke, and ran it in the last edition of the Reveille for the year over an excerpt from the found journal of some candidate for taking the final’s week dive off of the high rise dorm (Miller Hall? I don’t remember; it was a long time ago).

I should have lawyered up and paid my way through private school on the proceeds (did they not teach Sullivan v. N.Y. Times at the J-School at LSU?) but instead I just saved the entertaining picture and moved on. Go with the flow, man. And yes I really was once that skinny and had that much hair. Like I said; it was a long time ago.

I don’t know why but when my biorhythms start the long plunge down the luge run into malebolge I don’t dive headfirst into escapist television (wow, a World’s Deadliest Chef marathon!) or read cheerful and uplifting stuff (anyone seen my bio of Helen Keller?) No, I tend to just ride the tide and dive right into some lovely Everette Maddox (he was a mess, by everyone’s assessment including his own) or perhaps some Charles Bukowski, pure despair for the savor of it like a cheap cigar.

Today’s inspirational verse is taken from Everette’s epistles to the Carrolltonians and is absolute poetic proof of the positive power of drinking alone. So as The Byrd’s All The Things plays at unneighborly volumes and the weeping pedal steel guitar sets up harmonic vibrations in the aluminum empties at my elbow, here’s a little something to cheer us all up.

By Everette Maddox

The cream stucco
of my ex-wife’s dentist’s office
across the street

Light green budding liveoaks

A sky-blue Volvo backing up
on this side from

behind the red white and blue
Cinzano umbrellas

Dark figures in the front
of the dark bar
faces edged in TV baseball light
from Busch Stadium

And down at this end me

If I should die now

Oh if this moment
should indeed prove
to be the corner
I’ve spent thirty-five years
painting myself into

think only this of me

That one more cheap camera
has shattered
against the world’s beauty.

I’m Gonna Move You, Baby September 26, 2009

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Eight cylinder adrenaline frustration of no girls on a dull summer night roaming aimless in cars searching for anything (what have you got?) game cock sharp and ready in a rusty Cutlass, blowing smoke inside and out and empties rolling back and forth beneath the seats in time to the AM radio the Mighty KAAY 1090 out of Little Rock and the late night underground radio show Bleeker Street land-locked radio pirates pushing 50,000 clear channel watts of sedition and seduction out across Dixie when suddenly as if in consolation for our failure to fill the car with girls The Legend of the U.S.S. Titanic would come on and and everyone is suddenly drumming on seat backs and singing in bad harmony as the song hammered the cardboard cones of those cheap GM speakers to the limit of their endurance and we would come to the point where all holler as one “You gotta let it out, captain” and collapse into laughter and it was no longer clear who was driving (hear take the wheel for a minute while I…shit I dropped it; where’d it go?) and I’m amazed to this day that we’re still alive because when the Captian comes to and jumps up and grabs the wheel and screams “I’m gonna move you, baby” suddenly we’re hurtling along Uptown’s narrow streets much too fast (look out! look out! look out!) until it’s midnight on the sea the band is playing nearer my god to thee fare thee well Titanic fare thee well and the signal drifts in a hush of static and when it comes back its gone and once again we’re adrift and aimless and a bit empty and broke to boot and no one has a smoke and the baleful dashboard clock says its time and we drift off toward home.

Legend of the U.S.S Titanic – Jamie Brockett

Treme: Life on the Banquette September 17, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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How to tell the story of New Orleans? That is the secret I have tried to unravel for the last several years, primarily through my blogs here and the old Wet Bank Guide. Since I folded Wet Bank Guide into Carry Me Home, I let others bandy about the stories of the day and vent their anger or parade their amusement while I look for those odd bits of life in New Orleans that I hope explain why we choose to live here.

An outsider’s view of New Orleans is sadly colored by the coverage of the aftermath of the Federal Flood, by ongoing corruption trials that refresh the long standing perception of corruption, and by a long string of horrible and exploitative films and television shows. Now one of dramatic television’s most prominent figures is attempting to fit the complex and terribly nuanced story of New Orleans onto film: David Simon, creator of the widely acclaimed television series “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets”.

For those of us who have suffered through the gumbo parties of “K-Ville” and Dennis Quaid’s insufferable Cajun accent in “The Big Easy” (and bog knows I could go on), this is a promising moment. David Simon is a former journalist whose book “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” became “Homicide” the TV series, the spiritual father of the gritty and morally ambiguous cop noir television of today. He pulled no punches in his portrayal of Baltimore in “The Wire,” and one has to hope his talent as writer and producer will result in a compelling, faithful and savory portrayal of this city.

Simon and other members of his writing team for Treme told an SRO audience at Octavia Books in Uptown New Orleans last night it will not be an easy task. “Your nuances have nuances.” Having lived through writing and producing two television series set in his own hometown of Baltimore, he warned it “would not be perfect… We’re going to piss you off no matter how hard we try. It’s coming.”

But as series co-writer Lolis Elie, local newspaper columnist and producer of the acclaimed documentary film “Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans,” told the audience, “You won’t be embarrassed by the way we present the city”.

Part of the difficulty is the nature of dramatic television. Simon said it’s all “about life and death, ninety five percent of dramatic television. It’s cops and robbers because that’s life and death, it’s the emergency room (it’s never the proctologist’s office), its about lawyers and the guy in the dock who may go to prison for the rest of his life, so this sort of dramatic series may be a laughable enterprise. Don’t over hype this. Four years from now we’ll be saying we did a show in New Orleans and the guy behind the bar will say, ‘that’s great, now finish your drink and get out of here. It’s 2 a.m.’.”

The series’ first season will focus on the early months of the recovery, a period from November 2005 when people first became to come home in significant numbers and run through St. Joseph’s Day 2006. The storm and flood are not only an intrinsic part of the story line, but what made the telling of this story possible. ““It’s very hard to explain New Orleans on paper to anyone but Katrina gave a relevance to New Orleans and gave the ability to go in and talk about Mardi Gras Indians and not have their eyes glaze over,” Simon said.

Simon and “Wire” co-writer George Pelecanos (a part-time resident of New Orleans) count themselves among those irreversibly smitten by the city. He recounted how they would sit around “talking about our record collections and our time in New Orleans,” and the time they were given an radio show for an evening to spin their extensive collections of old New Orleans R&B records. Rounding out the writing team is novelist Tom Piazza, who also penned “Why New Orleans Matters” in the immediate aftermath of the flood. This does not look to be the sort of Hollywood effort Orleanians have lamented in the past.

Any film set in a city is going to draw the eyes of the hometown continuity team, ready to pounce on the details they get wrong (and Simon the New Orleans record collector pointed out that the term “gumbo party” appears in a song by Little Queenie and the Percolators). He reminded the audience that this is dramatic fiction based on the city and the events of year one after the event. “First, we get to make stuff up. [In “The Wire”]some of it happened, some of it could have happened or was rumored to have happened, and some of it plausibly could have happened.” He recounted the story of a scene in which they reversed the flow of traffic on a major Baltimore street in the Wire, and locals complained endlessly.

Simon and Elie also made clear the series would not be a clone of The Wire. “Remember the crime didn’t come back” in the time period of the first season, November 2005 through St. Joseph’s Day 2006. And Elie did promise that the important things would not be missed. ‘Remember all the help you got from your city council member, your governor, you congressperson. We’ll make sure they get the credit they deserve.”

One feature that will carry over from Simon and team’s prior efforts: a focus on character. Talking about the team writing process, one of the speakers (I didn’t catch which) spoke of discussions of the “the arc the characters will take” as a key focus. And authentic and interesting characters are what will carry the show, he suggested. In response to an audience question about Katrina fatigue, Simon replied that “people will care about new Orleans because they care about the characters.”

And privately after the Q&A, when a small crowd of New Orleans bloggers gathered to get books signed and thank Simon for giving a commencement speech at DePaul University dedicated in part to our deceased colleague Ashley Morris who was a professor there, he promised that one character would be based partially on Ashley.

The co-writers also spoke about “the writing room” and how team-written television works. Three are novelists, three journalists, but the film writing experience is “about as different from sitting in a room writing a novel as something could be.” According to Simon, “in a writing room bad ideas tend to get challenged. The arguments are what makes it great.”

What struck me was the repeated mention by several of the writers of the criticality of character in compelling film drama, a focus borne out by Simon’s prior work. My own option is that character and setting drive the story. if you get the characters nailed and them put them into an authentic setting then the characters will take you where the story needs to go, through the actions and interactions with each other and with the environment.

The two things we’ve all complained about in prior New Orleans shows was a complete failure to get the characters or the place right. Simon and Pelecanos have a strong track record of getting both right in Baltimore, and Elie and Piazza know this city as well as any living writers.

If Simon and his team can deliver the characters and the place, can through their characters and the nuances of the visual setting deliver what they have done for Baltimore, I hope that our long-standing complaint about the poor portrayal of the city will be laid to rest by “Treme”.

Of Time and the River September 12, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Sweet Jesus, has it been two weeks since I’ve had anything to say or time to say it? Back soon, for it’s not that I’ve had nothing to say. It’s merely that the River has been at flood, pulling and sucking as I try to make my way across and I’m not even sure where or why I’m going, only that I have to cross, that the urge to cross the Mississippi and follow the Missouri was not an aberration of nineteenth century society’s geography but the impulse deep in us all that carried us from the first man’s savannas to the very edges of the world.

I promise dispatches from the far country by the next boat. Until then:

“At that instant he saw, in one blaze of light, an image of unutterable conviction, the reason why the artist works and lives and has his being–the reward he seeks–the only reward he really cares about, without which there is nothing. It is to snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life, the rude and painful substance of his own experience, into the congruence of blazing and enchanted images that are themselves the core of life, the essential pattern whence all other things proceed, the kernel of eternity.”

From: Of Time and the River, by Thomas Wolfe