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An Odd Fellow’s Memorial Day May 25, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“Now, I have come again
to the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise.
Brothers and sisters of the pale forest,
children of night,
who among you will run with the hunt?
Now night arrives with her purple legion.
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth.
I want to be ready.”
— Jim Morrison

It is two years Memorial Day since I saw the city’s towers and the white arc of the Superdome rising out of the vast, flat waterscape, my car hurtling southbound on the Causeway at 80 after days of towing my boat at 55 or 60 the entire breadth of the country, ‘OZ pouring in from the radio like a beacon and the lake flashing in the late afternoon sun like the runway lights of some great airport as I prepared to touch down–the white lines hurtling past–at the Final Destination.

And then I am rolling down Causeway Boulevard in the perfectly American stripmallandia of Metairie, past the old Lakeside Shopping Center and the corner where Harry Lee’s family Chinese restaurant, the House of Lee, once stood. Thinking I will stop to buy some Abita I opt to go down Veterans Boulevard rather than take the I-10 into town. Instead I am too absorbed by the landscape to remember to stop, too smitten by how little has changed on the mostly dry side of the levees. The familiar landmarks march past–the building once a Shakey’s Pizza but now a sushi place, a convenience store at the Bonnabel Boulevard corner where I bought cigarettes so many years ago that I should not have been allowed. The closer to town the more reassuring it becomes: the Lamplighter lounge, Dorignacs: so little has changed in 20 years. And then I am across the 17th Street Canal and rolling down into the lumpy, camp-pottery bowl that is home.

My wife is sitting on the porch of our new home waiting, the wife I have lived apart from for almost half a year is waiting to show me all she has suffered through to make the shotgun double we bought at Mardi Gras a familiar home, painted in many of the colors we first chose in Fargo and now furnished with our things. And still I go the long way down Polk and pass through Lakeview, crawling down the bad streets past the hollow cottages of old south end. I turn up Canal and point myself toward home, past the drowned sunken gardens on the neutral ground and toward Cemeteries, toward Toulouse Street and the house where the children will join us in another day and make it home in full.

As I passed the assembled Saints and Angels that stand watch over the tombs of Greenwood and St. Patrick–wondering who watches over Odd Fellows behind its high walls–this came to me: like Jesus on his ass I knew I had reached the end of my road, the Golden Gate; I knew that some great fulfillment was at hand. What now, I asked aloud, starting up through the sun roof at a sky wholly blue and empty, and pitilessly hot? What next?

I have come to the appointed place.

WWOZ and Jazz Fest in Exile May 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I left New Orleans New Year’s Eve 1986, clutching the winning ticket of a good job in Washington, D.C. and leaving a hard-riding posse of personal demons and the raft of friends who had kept me afloat here behind a string of burning bridges. Still, I could never shake my connection to home. The mark New Orleans places on those who grow up here is as indelible and as defining as Original Sin. No matter where we might run to, all of our suffering and opportunities for grace arise out of that invisible fleur de lis imprinted on our hearts. We cannot escape it, are reminded of it no matter where we are as surely as a determined sinner disturbed by the bells of morning Mass on his way home from a night’s debauchery.

During my almost 20 years away from the city, WWOZ and programs like it’s Jazz Fest broadcasts were one of the links that offered me an opportunity to experience the grace of New Orleans, that redeemed what seemed at times the mortal sin of leaving. When I lived in the far north, I would spend some of the first decent days of Spring not out clearing my yard but huddled in my cool basement around my computer, the WWOZ stream struggling through the dial-up connection like a short-wave broadcast from another continent. When the entire city went dark in September ’05, one of the first thing I found was the ‘OZ stream out of New Jersey. It was the sound track of all of my early postings to Wet Bank Guide.

WWOZ and Jazz Fest are both prominent ambassadors for New Orleans, and links that tie us all together: the people who are home, the ones still somewhere else by circumstance or choice, and the visitors lured by the glamor of the city. Without either institution the city would somehow survive, even if dearly diminished, even as we survived the steady erosion of some of our cultural landmarks over the last generation. Even with the gaping hole the absence of either would leave behind, it would still be New Orleans. Those of us here would find the music and the food and the spirit of the street parade on our own. Not so the displaced or the visitors who descend on the city every year for the Fest. Without ‘OZ streaming into the world or the Fest to draw it’s listeners here, the numbers of the foreign legion of New Orleans would be fewer and their strength diminished. We would be silently but certainly undermined in our determination to live here and remake New Orleans if either were to stop.

So what are you waiting for? Turn on. Tune In. Be Home.

N.B–Loki, here’s a “paragraph” for the ‘OZ blog on what the Fest and ‘OZ mean to me. You know I can’t just write a paragraph. Now I need to climb down from my fountain and go make some more coffee. My own Day Four at the Test has worn me out.

A Tale of God’s Will May 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Today Terence Blanchard led his quintet, with faces as solemn as morticians’, in a joyful noise together with a backing orchestral group selections of his A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). It was an Odd moment for Jazz Fest (and so perhaps our favorite here on Toulouse Street). I saw two tributes so far, one for Willie “Tee” and Earl Turbington and a show featuring young students of Alvin Batiste. Both were joyful celebrations of the musicians honored, music interspersed with stories and spoken word tributes. They were perfectly in the tradition of a city where, once we have buried the deceased, the parade begins.

Blanchard’s recital this afternoon was of another character altogether. It was more like the full funeral package, with all of the the sadness and solemnity of the service and the recession from the church and march to the cemetery. The Reverend-esque Blanchard spoke of the deceased and offered an excellent homily.There was his tale of boat rescuers, of people being taken out told to be quiet so the people left behind that trip might not hear them, told to cover their children’s eyes as they passed through an area full of dead bodies, introduced the piece “Funeral Dirge”.

His homily was on the importance of Lee’s film, When The Levees Broke. He told the tale of his mother asked by Spike Lee to let him film her first return to her ruined home, of how he warned her what having a full film crew following her might mean at such a difficult and delicate moment, of how proud he was that she insisted. People, his mother told him, need to know what happened down here. This led into the piece “Dear Mom”.

When they were not playing, Blanchard and his group were as serious as their subject, and as the music they composed. It seemed fitting for the piece of music a friend of mine told me before the show was the one he would put on when he felt compelled to escape his home on the sliver by the river to drive around Gentilly, sometimes checking on homes he had gutted to see if any have made progress. When he does this, he said, he will sometimes bawl like a baby.

At the first orchestral passage, Blanchard reached up to his face and wiped with his fingers just beneath his glasses as if to wipe away tears, a motion I last saw on a jazz stage at a Red Cross benefit in Fargo, N.D., after New Orleans trumpeter Marc Braud spoke of recovering his instrument as the rest of that band played “Do You Know What It Means”.

The audience I could see (and I was rapt and could not turn my head away from the stage) were just as transported. The WWOZ DJ who sat in front of me was not the outgoing, crowd-working celebrity I had seen in the tent and up on stage announcing the rest of the day, but sat solemn as a sphinx. The other stage announcer, a man in a red t-shirt and dreadlocks, sat at the foot of the stage looking not at the musicians but stared straight ahead into some private place. A woman came and sat beside him and put her arm around him.

As Blanchard spoke and the musicians played, the rain that had held off all day finally broke in torrents, as if the music had moved not just a few thousands in this tent on this day but had seized the hearts of the heavenly host and moved them to tears as well as they considered the Odd mix of pain and beauty that is God’s Will.

It was also, as I promised Friday, a time of joy. As the band wailed through the beautiful Ashe and the straight ahead jazz numbers that ended the concert, the orchestra musicians who had sat at attention in their best, serious concert poses, began to be transported by the music as well. The first violin began to show a shy smile, and to bob her head in time as members of the audience around me did. An incredulous cello in a John Brown beard divided his attention between an incredible bass solo and watching the drummer. When Blanchard called on the audience to help him by taking of the chant “This is a tale of God’s will” from the album’s opening cut, we were all transported without moving to the Gospel Tent and the moment of redemption many of us had come for arrived at last.

As I had hoped, Blanchard’s quintet had drowned the bitch in beauty and flooded the streets with tears of joy.


Also, don’t miss the podcast interview which Blanchard’s team (he mentioned bringing in his personal sound man and tour manager to run the boards) had put up the very same evening.

N.B. Fixed numerous typos. Must not try to post when dead tired and trying to rush out the door to the Fairgrounds. Thanks G.P.

Last update: here’s another camera video of an excerpt of Ashe’.

Update 5-12-09 Based on a notice from You Tube that the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra objected to these small, low-fidelity excerpts I shot with my $100 Cannon from 100 feet away, I’m removing the video. In fact, I’m going to go back and edit out references crediting the LPO with participation in this performance and will simply refer to them as “the orchestra”.