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Countdown to Treme Season Three September 21, 2012

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Treme.
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Don’t forget Back of Town for all you need to know about the show. OK, you’ll probably go read Dave Walker first and you probably should but BoT rolling come Sunday night.

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Street Cred for the Wet Bank February 8, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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OK, I can’t resist tooting my own horn. Here’s an interview with David Simon on the relationship between truth, fiction and newspapers in which he references the three local blogs he says gave him inspiration in producing Treme: the Back of Town blog about the show, Ashley Morris: The Blog, on which one of his characters was partially based and some blog called Wet Bank Guide.

It’s not that Simon sees no value in blogging or “the internet.” He says that bloggers can sometimes force traditional media to cover important stories. And, in the course of discovering the real, known-only-to-locals New Orleans he depicts as a co-creator of “Treme”—which is about to finish its first season on the air, and has been picked up by HBO for a second—he cited three locally written blogs as sources of inspiration.

[Insert completely inauthentic “aw, shucks” here, for both Wet Bank and the Back of Town.]

Nothing is wasted June 26, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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“they say that
nothing is wasted:
either that
or
it all is”
— Charles Bukowski

At some point in watching the first and last episodes of Treme last night (my wife wanted to start from the beginning; I wanted to re-watch the last) I had the realization I have hinted at over at Back of Town in the past. In great art, nothing is wasted: not a word, not a brush stroke, not a moment of silence before the next note. In great novels (the closest analogue to a season of episodes running to over eleven hours in length) detail is piled upon detail and in the greatest works every piece is a working part of the great machine. Oh, perhaps an appendix is left in in the manner of an intentional flaw in Asian art but everything else serves the purpose.

I know that as I go back through the series I will find these fine details more and more often, will connect the threads to small to see on first viewing.. It will not be a matter of taking the scenes apart, parsing the dialogue and the soundtrack as if I were decoding an encrypted text. It will be a discovery of that new thing: that word, that song that has to be there and suddenly it’s so obvious, you’re standing transfixed before the canvas and the guard comes by to remind you it’s closing time.

I don’t remember what started this train of thought but I know where I lost it: a moment I missed with a house full of friends for the first episode, the gumbo party that started as a drunken joke in a bar, running to the kitchen for beers at the end of Buona Sera: at the end of the sequence of perfectly apocalyptic shots of the dark and empty city. that one perfect shot of the plastic bags swirling in the wind, at once trapped in the current and rising up to heaven, proxy ghosts for all the lost in quick fading (you will miss it unless you step through the frames) to the unanswered call on a silent telephone.

I think I should perhaps change the epigram at the top to the one Ken Kesey recorded somewhere in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: “go with the flow…you’re in the hands of experts” but that would be wrong, because this is no bad trip.

Before I go any further: a confession. I rarely watch television anymore. If twenty seasons of Law and Order isn’t enough to ruin you for crime drama forever, start watching the Wire if you’re new to Simon’s work then dip into an episode or two of conventional cop shows. If it were not for Treme and my bundled internet connection, I think I could save about $150 dollars a month if my family wouldn’t put me out of the house and change the locks if I disrupted their access to Futurama and The Housewives of Where Ever. (Not dissing Futurama, mind you; just cataloging what gets watched around here by others).

The armchair television critics around the internet can complain all they want that Treme is not good television because they are right. It’s not just the sniveling juveniles at Warming Glow. It’s this superficially thoughtful but ultimately convention bound review on Salon. Television is a medium, but one that blurs with film with the proliferation of wide screen, high definition sets. It is to some extent simply a delivery channel, albeit one with clear expectations. To complain that Treme does not conform to the expected tenets of episodic serial television is like complaining that the milkman also delivers orange juice. These malcontents are tourists walking into McDonalds in Paris and discovering snails on the menu, subjected to a tremendous cognitive dissonance because of the cubbyholes they have constructed to organize their world.

It is an ironic distinction as something much on my mind largely is the opinion many writers hold of bloggers, that blogging is not writing (paging Truman Capote: Mr. Kerouac on line one). Most of the time it isn’t. It’s noodling and air guitar playing and coffee pot chatter and bathroom graffiti and screen magazines and gum comics and trading cards and a hundred other things. It can be all of those things and still host brilliant writing because it truly is a delivery system as much as what Marshall McLuhan would recognize as a medium.

Not everyone has the chops to write something as massively complex and interleaved as Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow, and few have what it takes to navigate the labyrinth of Hollywood to win approval of and then manage the thousands of threads that must be tied together to produce a major television series, to do it on a scope of almost twelve hours and still create something on that scale with the attention to detail of a painter. I think that is an equal part of why I am so deeply drawn into this show and not just because I live in New Orleans. I am about halfway through The Wire (I am not just another fawning fan, knowing Simon before the last few months largely by reputation) and I am just as taken in by that world as well.

We all talked again last night about how universally accessible Treme is or is not but I think that’s a moot point. If my son and I pop The Seven Samurai into the DVD player my wife will find something else to do. Some people need a translation into the familiar language of cowboys and bandits; some don’t. There may be a language where the words loss, betrayal, defeat, and hope don’t translate well but I have a hard time imagining it. You can find all those themes on a hundred channels at the same time but they don’t deliver the depth that something like Treme does. Catharsis depends in part on hubris, upon watching the high brought low and seeing it coming. We don’t live in a land of incestuous kings but by stretching to the limit of his grasp and the limits of the medium (and the audience’s tolerance) and then trying to stretch just a little bit further, Simon substitutes his own ambition for Oedipus and Lear, and achieves the same effect with characters some might find mundane and uninteresting. But like Shakespeare or Sophocles some effort is required of the audience.

In the end Treme will be judged as success or failure by those who job it is to mediate culture. As long as we rely exclusively on the judgments of television critics it will often be judged harshly even as Simon is praised for stretching the envelope. Go read that Salon review. There will be more like it everywhere and for all its pretension to a literate critical distance it is built on the same bad foundation as that of the knuckleheads at Warming Glow.

Or better yet, go into a darkened room where you won’t hear the neighbor’s weed whacker screaming and turn off the cell phone and start to watch again, and savor the moments of auteur brilliance like the trash bag spirits or start to do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle of music and plot. Don’t listen to the whiners. They will move onto the next vampire spin-off soon enough and leave us to enjoy what we have discovered, to spend our time unraveling the weave and putting it back together again and again rather than be forced to choose something less suitable just because it’s what is expected.

The Last Day June 22, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Hurricane Katrina, Toulouse Street.
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I used to read the blog Still Life with Soup Can long ago. At some point she took it private, which is fine. Some people write for themselves or a small circle of friends, and wish to keep it in that circle. I right for myself and the tiny audience of voices in my head, and chose to hang it out like a line of laundry. To each their own.

I have been contributing a bit and commenting a lot at the Back of Town blog on the subject of David Simon and company’s HBO Series Treme, and one of the regular contributors and founders sent me a link this this post on her blog. The email subject was “this is cool” and contained only a link.

I have a problem with the term bloggers, because it carries some horrible connotations. It is also much too generic, like “periodical”, which would encompass The Weekly World News and the Lewis Laphan-era Harper’s. While there may once have been a Harper’s List which referenced Bat Boy or Faces on Mars in some tongue in cheek way, they are about as far apart as possible.

I read another blogger’s take on Treme here, and felt obliged to comment. I think BatBoy is likely one of his devoted readers and may occasionally comment there as well, unless there is a James Bond marathon on Spike, in which case his entire readership disappears into mom’s basement with a box of PBR and a big bag of Doritos and isn’t seen for days.

Then I read the recommended “cool” post, Still Life’s with Soup Can’s The Last Day.

I think to “this is cool” I would add at least a “wow”. And thank you.

Tootie’s New Suit April 12, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Last night America saw a ghost and they don’t even know it.

It spoke a language they did not understand, took a stand, gave a command: Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

When that spectral yellow figure stepped out of the darkness with that downtown sparkle and spoke, the spindly cemetery trees all across this town moved in the windless night and the hairs on the back of a ten thousand necks stood up like the feathers in its headdress.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

The last night Tootie Montana spoke he died at the microphone, defending his culture to tone deaf politicians and against a hostile local police force, demanding respect for a century old tradition with roots in in the bead work Yoruba and a strange and never clearly explained solidarity with the American Indian, something I think similar to the identification of the Black Christian church with the Isrealites in bondage.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

That ghost wasn’t speaking to me, or to any of the people in the room with me on Toulouse Street. It wasn’t even speaking to New Orleans. It spoke to all of America, to the entire planet. It stood amidst a desolation the American continent has not seen in a hundred years, one only those who came home with nothing to nothing, and the few privileged tens of thousands who came to volunteer, can understand. That ghost said all you need to know about the people of New Orleans.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

If that phrase still seems cryptic to you, try this: watch a repeat of Pacific that leads into a repeat of Treme.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

That’ll Work April 12, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Treme.
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First thoughts on the first episode of Treme are up on Back of Town, from myself and the whole crew. While that tab opens and until next week, how about a little Louis Prima?

I have to wonder how well some of the subtlety will play in Peoria. Who in the room under 50 will understand the segue from talking about the Mafia to Louis Prima? How many will know who how big he was, that he was a New Orleans boy and the white Louis Armstrong in the profoundly segregated world of jazz music?

5 – 0 – Forever April 11, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, St. Bernard, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The Tragedy of St. Bernard [excerpt]
Wet Bank Guide
September 01, 2005

….I want to show my children the beauty in a place they don’t understand, growing up in the Midwest. I want them to see people who live with the water the way people in Fargo live with air; people who shrimp and crew towboats and work on rigs in the Gulf and, when the refinery lets out for the day, go fishing; people who chose to live on an island in the middle of a swamp, and not in Kenner or Fargo, ND; people who worked hard and set aside a little and built a place for themselves out of a swamp, a place they would not willingly let go.

I want them to know why I am crying at my keyboard for people who’s views on issues of race I could never understand, and teach my children to abhor; people who took me into their homes and fed me sweet tea and told me stories until the stars and the mosquitoes came out; people who chose to live apart, surrounded by capricious waters, an island; people who would not willingly surrender their island back to the waters.

I want them to understand why some people stayed , and why they would come back and start over again

.

Carry Me Home April 10, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Since I’m getting all this traffic courtesy of David Simon and Ashley Morris, no reason not to remind visitors that some of the essay originally posted on Wet Bank Guide are collected as Carry Me Home, A Journey Back to New Orleans, available direct at Lulu.com, the usual online locations, and the best New Orleans Independent bookstores. It’s a journal of the time that frames the Treme story and one man’s journey back to the town nicknamed Debrisville. In the end it is an odd genre of my own inventing–the geo-memoir–because it is not really a journal. As I did on the original Katrina blog, I serve mostly as narrator. It is ultimately about the city and it’s people and our long journey to make once again a place recognizably New Orleans.

“Mark’s writing is about skill and heart. A blend of reporting, memoir and analysis, [the book] is as immediate as it is reflective. It’s more than a love letter to New Orleans—it’s a survival guide for post-Katrina America. Mark shows how to go through a disaster with your soul intact”
• Michael Tisserand, author of Sugar Cane Academy and The Kingdom of Zydeco.

So if Treme leaves you wanting to crawl into the heart of New Orleans, here’s another chance to get you some.

“It belongs on the bookshelf alongside the other worthy
post-Katrina works”
• Chin Music Press

Treme too authentic for the New York Times April 9, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Debrisville, Federal Flood, fuckmook, FYYFF, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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Cross-posted from Back Of Town.

I am struggling to figure out what precisely offended New York Times TV Reviewer Allessandra Stanley about Treme. The gist of it seems to be that it is not didactic or angry enough, that is “is more an act of love, and, odd as it sounds, that makes it harder to embrace…

“[Treme] is a tribute to the “real” New Orleans by filmmakers who have become connoisseurs of the city, depicting its sound and ravaged looks with rapt reverence and attention to detail…

“The effort to get New Orleans “right,” to do justice to the city’s charm, its jazz tradition, and now its post-Katrina martyrdom, is at times so palpable it is off-putting, a self-consciousness that teeters on the edge of righteousness.”

Let’s start with her use of the phrase “its post-Katrina martyrdom.” I want to know when New York plans to get over it’s post-9/11 martyrdom. If Allessandra gets back to me on that one, you will read it here first.

She is also disappointed that Treme is “an elliptically told tale, and it takes a few episodes for the plot and the characters to pick up steam.” I’m sure you’re quite busy up there in New York, but it is kind of hard to tell a story of this sweep and depth in a way that you can watch episodically on your I Pod while waiting on the platform for your train. MTV is shooting a Real World New Orleans episode. Maybe you should wait for that.

On balance, she manages a good job of retyping the material that came with her review copy, giving a basic idea of the plot outline and characters, sort of a TV Guide snapshot for people who would not be caught dead reading the TV Guide. With some tight editing, bits of it might make for decent jacket copy for the boxed set but I suspect most of it was written up the first time by Simon’s staff.

In the end, she casts the show (I presume she saw the first one or two episodes most reviewers got) as a reflection of the snobishness of some locals toward the outside world (keying in on the scene when the visitors ask to hear The Saints), that the film is taken with that attitude and is too reverential towards its subject.

One wonders what she expected. Perhaps she is a die hard Wire junkie and was just itchily waiting for that new package. As she points out, Treme ain’t that. If I went looking for analogies I wouldn’t think of Simon’s prior oeuvre, or Spike Lee’s move or even Trouble the Water. If I hope for anything, it is precisely achingly reverential treatments Ken Burns gave to subjects like the Civil War and Jazz, mingled with strong and representative characters (because at one level, New Orleans is all about the characters), characters who tell the story of one of the great cataclysms of American history, a story that attempts to convey what Ashley Morris and all the New Orleans bloggers have been talking about since 8-29: it’s not just about saving not just the real estate, but about saving something recognizably New Orleans.

I don’t expect everyone to love Treme, anymore than I expect everyone to love New Orleans. Some people are only happy in their own tightly constrained milieu and are never going to be happy outside of it. If they travel, they go to all inclusive resorts and tell every one they went to Jamaica when they really went to a fucking Marriott and never set foot outside the door. New Orleans is different, and not just in the way Idaho is different from New Jersey, but rather z a place with a unique local culture that has evolved over three centuries, longer than most of America has even been settled by Europeans. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. I’m not too fond of Phoenix, but then I haven’t heard anyone nominating Phoenix a world heritage site.

If Allessandra Stanley doesn’t understand what she calls our chauvinism, if she doesn’t understand why someone of Simon’s talent would want to reverentially recreate New Orleans, she’s entitled to her opinion. She’s a reviewer, that’s what she does, but a reviewer who approaches their subject with a closed mind or one that snaps shut like a trap at the first whiff of something that does not fit some preconceived notion, well that’s a waste of perfectly good trees.

I think most New Orleanians are like the people I met traveling to New York, people who would gladly stop and give us directions or swipe my wife into the subway with their own fare card when my wife couldn’t get her to work, people who were glad we came to share in one of the great cities of the world even as they carried deep inside a profoundly chauvinistic conviction that New York is one of the great cities of the world, and that it was perfectly natural we should want to be there.

— wet bank guy

Treme Is Not OK with PZB March 23, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Novelist, blogger and a champion of New Orleans on a par with Ashmo isn’t to terribly fond of the Treme film crew in her neighborhood, Treme in general or David Simon. In fact, she tears them all a new asshole in a viscous screed worthy of her idol Hunter S. Thompson. Or Ashley, for that matter. However she goes down a path that is disturbing, dismissing Simon’s work while admitting she hasn’t watched film work, suggesting he is just an out-of-towner here to profit from out pain.

Over at the new Back of Town blogWe Are Not Amused. I mean, that William Styron guy wasn’t Black or (to my knowledge) Jewish. Hell, he was 25 when he wrote Lay Down in Darkness. So he should just shut the fuck up. I guess.

I will, however, buy dinner and ammo if I can watch Brite (whose online work and persona I generally like, unlike most of the rest of our circle of NOLA Bloggers) shoot up mock Katrina fridges.

Back Of Town March 19, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Brought to you my Maitri’s new Back of Town blog on David Simon and HOB’s Treme:

“You hate the food. You hate the music. You hate the city. What the fuck are you doin’ down here?”
— John Goodman as Ashley. Near the end. Wait for it.

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
Sanctified
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

And the colored girls say: FFF FYYFingF January 20, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“[The HBO show Treme’, set in immediate post-Federal Flood New Orleans] wasn’t a bummer. It was more looking at (the setting) and having the same feeling that John Goodman’s character had. ‘There’s something wrong here and it needs to be fixed.’ It didn’t bum me out as much as it made me want to jump up and say, ‘We need to do something for New Orleans. Look at all this wonderful flavor. Look at all these great characters. And why are they still having these problems? I don’t want them having these problems.’”
– Susan Young, a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area whose writing appears in People and Variety, following the critics premiere of the first two episodes.

The NOLA.Com summary of critical reactions by Dave Walker, both on his blog and for the Times-Picayune, gives a capsule on Goodman’s character: [he] plays an Uptown New Orleans college professor who struggles to contain his rage at media misconceptions about post-Katrina levee-failure flooding.”

Hmm. That sounds familiar.

One critic quoted by Walker, Joel Keller of the online TVSquad.com, doesn’t like Goodman’s character much. ““I guess it needed someone to defend New Orleans,” Keller said. “He just seemed kind of out-of-phase with the rest of the cast. I’d like to see what happens as he kind of integrates himself into the rest of what’s going on. Right now, he feels like a totally different story, as opposed to the other stories that are going on.” Others were more kind: “Goodman’s wonderful,” said Ellen Gray, critic for the Philadelphia Daily News

Simon told a small group of bloggers privately last year that his team was writing a character into the show based, at least in part, on Ashley Morris. (We have got to get that boy a Wikipedia page so I don’t have to recap it all here). I am very anxious to see Ashley’s Goodman’s character. Having a commenter outside of the main story line may seem a bit weird to someone who reviews cable television on the Internet for a site hosted by AOL, but it seemed to work for writers back in the day.

The question I have: does America really want to see a sympathetic portrait of an alternative to the mainstream American culture, that banal plate of airline food served where everyone sits in their tiny little assigned seat reading the same in-flight magazine or watching the same movie, wishing they were in first class? (You do remember airline food, don’t you?) Treme’ gives us “those people”–you remember, the ones from the Convention Center and the Superdome–living in a world just minutes from America where playing bass drum or tuba is honored career choice because the parade season is 40 weeks long, people who don’t just live for the weekend like most Americans anxious to escape their little cubes for the big boxes but a people who live for the parade and the po-boy and if that by chance happens on a Wednesday afternoon well they might be late back to work without a thought.

I am not so sure, but I admire the hell out of David Simon for trying.

Down In The Hole with David Simon January 10, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I don’t usually write about politics here because I try not to think about it much. That’s a part of my life that’s behind me, my years working the phones and the street in New Orleans, my time on and around Capitol Hill. I don’t even watch the cable news anymore because it makes me absolutely crazy. If I ever got it into my head to buy a gun it would have to be a choice between the gun and cable television, because if I had both it would just be a matter of time before I needed a new set.

On that note, this from David Simon: “I guess what I’m saying is that the overall theme was: We’ve given ourselves over to the Olympian god that is capitalism and now we’re reaping the whirlwind. This is the America that unencumbered capitalism has built. It’s the America that we deserve because we let it happen. We don’t deserve anything better. The Wire was trying to take the scales from people’s eyes and say, ‘This is what you’ve built. Take a look at it.’ It’s an accurate portrayal of the problems inherent in American cities.”

One thing I tried to do in the months after the Federal Flood was turn a hard eye on what this country had become, using New Orleans as case study. That was not a pleasant exercise, and when I started referring to the United States as “the central government” I knew it was time to step back. When the last piece on that blog wrote itself, I knew it was done.* I am anxious to see how Simon and his team turn the hairy eyeball of a thoughtful camera on New Orleans. After watching part of The Wire I was a little scared that the show is going to turn me into Jay Arena, the sectarian communist blowhard we had to toss out of Rising Tide a couple of years ago. Until I read this interview, that is. Simon says: “New Orleans has created such unique cultural art in terms of music and dance, and it’s a very idiosyncratic culture, it shows the value of what the American melting pot is capable of. It does it in a way that is visual and musical and demonstrable, and it does it in the fucking street every day. Somehow this city is trying to find a way to endure while the political essence of the country doesn’t give a fuck. That, to me, is a fascinating dynamic.”

I guess I’ll be keeping cable to get HBO and passing on the handgun, which is probably a good thing. The dead are with us enough in this city, and I don’t think I would ever want to add to that number.

§

* A related thought from Simon: “nobody wants to write endings in television. They want to sustain the franchise. But if you don’t write an ending for a story, you know what you are? You’re a hack. You’re not a storyteller. It may not be that you have the skills of a hack. You might be a hell of a writer, but you’re taking a hack’s road. You’re on the road to hackdom and there’s no stopping you because stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

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”.

David Simon on Ashley Morris June 13, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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From the Chicago Tribune’s TV writer Maureen Ryan:

It’s not terribly unusual for television writers to form bonds with the people who watch their shows. What David Simon is doing for a “Wire” fan this weekend, however, may be a little unusual.

Simon, the creator of “The Wire,” will be in the Chicago area Sunday to receive an honorary degree and to deliver the commencement address for DePaul University. Simon’s appearance at the ceremony, which will take place at Rosemont’s Allstate Arena, sprang from his desire to pay tribute to Ashley Morris, a DePaul assistant professor and “Wire” fan. Morris recently passed away at the age of 44…

[Simon told the newspaper] “the last [e-mail] conversation I had with this gentlemen, he expressed great satisfaction and pride in having worked hard to get me invited to the DePaul commencement,” Simon wrote. “In fact, I was originally scheduled to be in London doing the final sound editing on Generation Kill this coming weekend and so I regretfully declined. He e-mailed me back saying he understand and was very disappointed, but understood the scheduling conflict. Next thing, I learn that Ashley has passed away suddenly.

“So the last thing this fella did was ask me to make a commencement appearance at the school where he taught and I said, sorry, no. And then he departs this vale. Naturally, for karmatic purposes, I had to call DePaul back and say if you still need me I’m there…

“I admired his sense of outrage; petulance and selfish rage are useless, but rightful and righteous anger has an essential place in our times. Ashley was angry on behalf of others, which in my mind makes all the difference. From what he wrote, I am convinced that Ashley loved his city and he loved the people of his city, and he was short and to the point with people who tried to [evade] the real questions using ad hominem and decorum and false civility. He spoke his mind.

“So I never got to know him. And that is my loss. And on some weird level, I owe him a trip to Chicago and a morning spent in a funny hat and gown.”

The rest here…