jump to navigation

Blue Lights on a White Tree December 25, 2013

Posted by The Typist in blues, cryptical envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
3 comments

The promised clouds have not appeared, an unexpected Xmas gift. It is brisk but not frigid, and I half-hope someone sees me step out in my snowflake boxers to unplug the lights but the streets are quiet in south Lakeview. No one it seems has gotten a bicycle or a skateboard from Santa, or perhaps the children are too busy commandering the television to connect the new PS/4 just at the moment that somewhere out in the ether the dog attacks the family turkey for the umpteenth time. Probably no BB guns under the tree either but it is neither a 1940s fantasy nor Egret Street 1963. In a few hours I will see my beautiful grown children and among their gifts with be a Razr DeathAdder gaming mouse which is as close to a BB gun as it gets in 2013. My own gifts are few but precious: to see two practically perfect children grown into the grace of cocktails and conversation with the other adults and the love of a woman her friends christened Patrice Navidad for her love of Xmas.

The night I promised to help her haul out her tree she instead rushed her brother to the hospital for a detached retina, and I sat alone in her house while my son hosted movie night for his friends at my house. What the hell, I thought, and set about deconstructing her cluttered front closet in search of the pieces of the tree. Blue Grinch that I think I am I thought I might as well get it done. Miraculously I got the pieces together on the second try and set about untangling the still-attached lights, a fire hazard rat’s nest with the carbon footprint of occupied Bethlehem. Miraculously they all still worked. Cheered by a second beer and success, I set about digging out the three Christmas piggies and some lights salvaged from Toulouse Street. A quick trip to Walgreens for an extension cord and voila. I stood next to the bare crepe myrtles sipping another beer while the loose black cat I call Beezelbub rubbed against my leg. I recalled 20 degrees in the afternoon, a 24-foot extension ladder planted precariously in the lumpy, crusted snow hanging my own vast collection of lights against the December darkness of 45º North and somewhere in my blue heart all the Whos down in Whoville sung around their barren tree.

Not a day has passed since when she hasn’t told me how it made her cry.

Last night we watched The Polar Express and I told her the story of The Christmas Toy, an obscure Muppets film that enchanted my daughter when she was three or four, and spawned an ask to Santa for Rugby Tiger, perhaps the only Jim Henson creation to not make it out of marketing and onto the holiday shelves. The Internet offered nothing, and calls to every toy store in Minneapolis and Chicago were fruitless. The thought that your tiny daughter’s dearest Xmas wish might go unfilled is the bluest of Xmas possibilities. And then one snow grey day I searched the stuffed animal pile at the local drugstore in the small town where we lived and found not just a passable facsimile but a dead ringer for Rugby Tiger. My ticket was punched Believer by the gloves of a contender.

As I sit here listening to the Chieftain’s Bells of Dublin–a beautiful combination of ancient tradition and whiskey-too-early Ceili–contemplating whiskey in the coffee, with the presents here unopened and two stops to make before we are certainly late to my sister’s, I feel compelled like Ebenezer to share these few bits of Xmas joy with anyone out there watching a movie while contemplating a Chinese menu.

Xmas morning spelling errors in the first post courtesy of Google Android and Samsung.

Advertisements

The Edge of Friday Night January 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, art, blues, French Quarter, music, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

The Kerry Irish Pub is the first bar with music pouring out the door the tourists reach as they enter the quarter from the Casino and the downtown hotels nearest the river. The regulars are crowded up toward the door but the tourists gravitate toward the band for a few songs, as obvious and routine in their appearance as the homeless. A couple wearing feather boas; the three men in odd hats, one in a ten gallon wool hat with a Burger King child’s crown over the crown of the hat, another perhaps in a Carnival-colored jester hat or one of those tall Cat In The Hat numbers: it doesn’t matter. I really don’t remember, just their motleynes, announcing to the world that they are in New Orleans and not at home in Alabama or Arkansas or east Texas in a corporate office park or a construction site, not tonight. They are playing dress up with drinks, a combination of the innocence of childishness and the fervor of youth, the way my daughters guy friends might act when they smuggle beer into the backyard and got into my hats.

You sit in front, listening to the band but you ask the transients between songs where they are from, what they plan to do in New Orleans. They never stay long; all our bound for Bourbon Street: Disneyland Sodom where the only thing real is life of the barkers, the bartenders, the musicians playing endless covers of Lynard Skynard when they pack up for the night and and leave it behind. I live next door to a Bourbon Street guitar player in this dismal shack of a shotgun, so pathetic looking from the outside that when the landlord was doing some work and took off back to Mississippi leaving my door ajar for hours no one came in and cleaned me out. No one was looking for a place to light a crack pipe I guess, or perhaps there is still some honor among the poor. I live on the edge of a gentrified neighborhood and the pickings are better a few blocks over. Taking my bargain basement TV and laptop might strike a little too close to home–who might be robbing their own house of their few ill-gotten things–and the shopping is better up the block. That’s reality, where my neighbor the musician and I live, not the roaring noise of Bourbon.

But the tourists coming in, drawn by the first live band they hear, don’t care. The New Orleans of their dreams is calling, the exotic drinks, the beads and boobs and Big Ass Beers, the daily festival of public drunkenness reserved in their hometowns for a season of Saturdays tailgating before The Big Game, reliving the memory of drunken college parties acted out every night on Bourbon for their entertainment and themselves the star of the production.

I remember a quiet night when a couple and their children stopped outside a bar while the band played a song the parents remembered from their youth, the father explaining to the ‘tweens how they loved that song when they were young and all of them–parents and children alike–staring into the bar over the banister railing that closed off the french doors, the parents lost in a reverie of youth and the children imagining their parents as people young and wild, living out what seems to a twelve-year-old the dream of what life might be if they were only free. I stopped and lit a cigarette that night and watched them until they passed on, imagining the thoughts running through their heads.

You sit at the Kerry with just a few companions in front, the regulars of the bar sitting in the back and the band is just juke box to them, the soundtrack recorded music has taught us to expect of life. The band is a pick up gig. One of your companions is the sister of the drummer and band leader and you know that the regular players were unavailable and the two guitarists are just sitting in for the night. One is an older black blues musician you have hoped to see since a friend gave you an old CD to copy, Mem Shannon, the reason why you came. As the band is unfamiliar it takes them a song or two to fall into the practicality of the blues, a form as stylized as the baroque and and well known to them all so the players quickly pull it together. Shannon plays a red lacquered guitar covered with the dials and switches of the days before every player had a row of effect boxes at this feet, plays with the easy facility of long experience, and you think of B.B. King. The other guitarist is a guy named Danny Dugan, and on his jet black guitar with the whammy bar handing loose and broken he plays in the familiar rock-flavored tenor with occasional metal slide of a llife long fan of Dickie Betts.

They are two men of the same age but different in race, experience, the musicians they emulated. And yet as they play in an unfamiliar combo they follow each other from the corner of their eyes. With an occasional eyebrow arched like inverted slurs they support each other’s solos with perfect rhythm work, two practiced disciples of the blues each in their own style. The band leader gives directions between songs, sings with a voice pure and inspired as gospel for the love of the music. The tourists come and go and none leave anything in the tip jar. The regulars chatter in the back but fill the jar with cash when it is passed, understanding the price of their chosen ambiance. No one except the few of us in front is really paying attention. I sit rapt and follow the the way these two musicians settle into an unfamiliar gig and find a way to make incredible music with the grace of toreadors practicing without a crowd.

I mostly watch Mem Shanon, the fast and delicate finger work, the wrist flicking vibrato, as concert house perfect as any violinist but learned over decades playing to disinterested bars for the pure joy of the music, eyes sometimes closed with a slight smile of delight and other times looking up to the sky as if to search for approval from the God his elders told him hated the devil’s blues, the gospel tempos of the church stolen by scoundrels. I watch him eye the other guitarist as they trade licks just for the pure pleasure of it and the hope of enough in the tip jar and the bar cut to buy them dinner after and a cab home, playing not for the disinterested tourists who drift off to Bourbon or even for the regulars who make offerings to the tip jar the way the jaded fill the collection plate but for the pure love of the music, playing for themselves, for each other as the sort of men who play an edge of the quarter club on a Friday night for tips and drinks because they only want to play, would bring their own beer and find a room and play because they can’t imagine another way to live.

This is how art is born and tradition lives, not because of but in spite of the crowd, because these unfamiliar players share just enough of the vocabulary and are long practiced to make a pick up gig into something wonderful, because they can’t imagine a better way to spend the evening. An audience of two or three is almost irrelevant, but I like to think we add something to the moment, the smoke of our cigarettes rising up to heaven like josh stick offerings to the real heart of why New Orleans is, people who play and live and make an art of life because they can’t imagine another way to be.

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.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

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.

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.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

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.

R.I.P Snooks February 18, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, blues, music, New Orelans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags:
add a comment

Another cutout figure at the Fairgrounds come April. Too many already, too many, and every year takes a few more. My wife loves the blues and that I hadn’t taken her to see Fird “Snooks” Eaglin yet and well, I don’t have many regrets but the list just got one longer.