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Gather by the river March 14, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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How am I going to manage to watch the David Simon’s new HBO dramatic series Treme if I can’t sit through the trailer without my eyes welling up in tears? There are some images that haven’t crossed my consciousness in a while: a floor caked in cracked mud, a desert camo Humvee rolling down a street of flood-stained houses, one ruined home’s contents scattered on the curb as the owner stands over it with one thing in his hands transfixed with grief. When a half-million of us sit down in April to watch this I am not sure what will happen. It will be a shared, civic catharsis to rival winning the NFC Championship and the Superbowl, a powerful psychic bomb the shock waves of which will do something profound to this city.

I am just not sure what.

Will it be the car backfire that takes the shell-shocked homeless man back to some long ago battle and sends him careening into a crowd, releases his government issued, muscle memory instinct to kill? Or instead like the blinding light and hallucinatory voice that transforms a minor government functionary into an evangelist revolutionary?

Or something else? One of those things that makes you think: only in New Orleans?

I find myself listening in a loop (party out of a conversation I had last night) to “Gather by the River” by Davell Crawford from the Nonesuch RecordsOur New Orleans recording of 2006. Perhaps Treme will be one of those strangely transcendent moments, the eerie scene from Brother, Where Art Though when the people in their baptism whites come out of the woods and down to the water’s edge, something like the gathering of Daddy Love’s faithful in William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness.

We shall gather
At the river
With each other
Cause you’re my brother
And our souls
put in the water
for the healing
of each other.
Be saved
Freed from sin
Where freedom lines
Fly away
From the land
Because we can
Because we can.

A few months ago my friend the writer Sam Jasper started republishing parts of her Katrina Refrigerator blog documenting the months after. And now Ray in Exile (aka Ray in New Orleans and before that Ray in Austin) has been moving over his Katrina-period writing to his new site. They are both powerful writers and while some blog posts have the telegraphic simplicity of a front-line dispatch (two hundred and fifty six Viet Cong captured) or seem like pieces of a accidentally found private journal, the sort of thing you might find open and waterlogged in the debris pile at the curb, to the people of the Flood, they are like the notes toward a gospel: a narrative fraught with significance to the initiated and attractive enough to the curious outsider that perhaps they are the basis of a conversion to the truths revealed by the waters.

I never finished David Brinkley’s The Great Deluge. A work of history on the most important event of my lifetime shouldn’t begin be transposing two major geographical features (Lake Borgne and Bay St. Louis), then start with a vicious deconstruction of Ray Nagin as if his performance were the most important thing that went down in September 2005. I haven’t picked up Zetouin or Dan Baum’s book either. There is a lot I will have to make the time (and find the strength) to do before the fifth anniversary: watch Treme, read those books and re-read some others, to scan again the fragmentary texts of the blogs of 2005. I will have to figure out how, without the intervention of the distant and indifferent gods, to turn tears and anger into redemption, how to “fly away from the land” not into the sanctified clouds but into the bath-warm and comforting soul of New Orleans, washed clean by the waters.

Fly away
From the land
Because we can
Because we can


1. Susanna Powers - March 14, 2010

I’m not sure that I want to watch it, because the sum total of the fictionalized accounts will create a revisionist history in the future. While we want it never to be forgotten, I cringe to think that it will be remembered incorrectly. As a matter of fact, it would probably only make me angry. I got angry at Tom Brokaw on Christmas Day 2005 because of some assinine comments he made, and he is generally thought of as a reputable source. I am more eager to support the efforts like the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, and Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston (scholarly attempts to gather actual survivor accounts) than what HBO will consider to be profitable entertainment.


2. mf - March 14, 2010

As I work my way through the Wire on DVD, I think that I trust David Simon better than I trust the executives of HBO or just about anyone else in the profitable outlets of the media.

And remember: this is not history, this is fiction set in a realistic setting. The larger narrative and the fine details need not be correct. They only need to be right.


3. Ray - March 14, 2010

I don’t get the objection, myself. By that argument, all historically-based movies and TV shows would be off-limits. Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific, Saving Private Ryan, Michael Collins, When The Levees Broke, Malcolm X….Or even any movie about any subject at all. Am I supposed to boycott Trainspotting because it isn’t really a true-to-life depiction of the life of an addict?

And what makes the memory bank so damn authoritative? Any person can sign up there and write any damn thing they want. Even the site’s FAQ says: “Nevertheless, as with any historical sources (including, for example, newspaper accounts), there are always questions about reliability, and all researchers need to evaluate their sources critically.”

Nobody is absolved of the duty of questioning what they read and watch, even if they choose to go through life with ideological blinders on.

I can’t wait to see this show.


4. Editilla~New Orleans Ladder - March 14, 2010

I don’t know how it will shake either, but not for any problems with the production. For one thing, they involved y’all who know who you are and that takes care of a Lot of apprehensions whether you make it to the screen or not.
This ain’t K’ville. K’ville died for me this past Mardi Gras.
So much else has died that I never want to forget.
It’s just hard,I know. It will always be hard, until it’s not.


5. Editilla~New Orleans Ladder - March 14, 2010

Oh, forgot, I’m getting cable and a new TV just for this show.
It’ll be great, y’all, while we all watch it together.


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