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A sad farewell December 5, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical 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.


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