May 2007 Archives
When Kurt Vonnegut died last month, I was prompted to buy his collection of short essays, "A Man Without a Country," which turned out to be even more delightful than the flap copy promised it would be. At the risk of a copyright infringement, I'm excerpting, without permission, explicit or otherwise, my favorite passage in its brief entirety below:
"No matter how corrupt, greedy and heartless our gonvernment, our corporations, our media and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.
If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC
Now, during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way. Order couldn't be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out.
That war only made billionaires of millionaires. Today's war is making trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.
And how come the people in countries we invade can't fight like ladies and gentlemen, in uniform and with tanks and helicopters and gunships?
Back to music. It makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she would be without it. Even military bands, although I'm a pacifist, always cheer me up. And I really like Strauss and Mozart and all that, but the priceless gift that African Americans gavee the whole world when they were still in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit. That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues. All pop music today -- jazz, swing, be-bop, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, and on and on -- is derived from the blues.
A gift to the world? One of the best rhythm-and-blues combos I ever heard was three guys and a girl from Finland playing in a club in Krakow, Poland.
The wonderful writer Albert Murray, who is a jazz historian and a friend of mine among other things, told me that during the era of slavery in this country -- an atrocity from which we can never fully recover -- the suicide rate per capita among slave owners was much higher than the suicide rate among slaves.
Murray says he thinks this was because slaves had a way of dealing withh depression, which their white owners did not: They could shoo away Old Man Suicide by playing and singing The Blues. He says something else which also sounds right to me. He says the blues can't drive depression clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room where it's being played. So please remember that.
Foreigners love us for our jazz. And they don't hate us for our purported liberty and justice for all. They hate us now for our arrogance."
Elliott's Small Arms, whose conspicuously aggressive advertising tactics immediately following the storm were successful in making them the busiest gun store in town (anyone remember the bright yellow signs they posted up and down St. Charles Ave circa Oct. 2005??), was raided and subsequently shut down by the ATF last week for, among other things, selling firearms to convicted felons. The ATF called Elliott's "one of the top sources in the United States of firearms that were later recovered in crimes." I wonder what finally tipped them off?
I wonder if the incident will make its way into the story line for "K-Ville", Fox's new post-Katrina NOPD cop drama set to premiere this August.
According to the Times-Picayune story, K-Ville's writer says the genesis of the project was simply that he's been fascinated by what's going on in New Orleans: "It's a little bit of the Wild West down there."
In case you're wondering whether the cops of K-Ville will be of the good or bad variety, I submit the following snippet of dialogue as evidence that they'll most likely be portrayed as the former, albeit somewhat stressed out (an actor friend who has a small part in K-Ville left his lines in my car while in town for the shoot...):
Detective B: NOPD cops are quitters, right? Cause some bolted during the storm? You thought maybe that was me? Well, you sent your message to the wrong guy...
W: Detective, I've been in a lot of wars seen a lot of things your eyes right now they're the eyes of a soldier on the edge of a breakdown a guy who's not gonna last so with respect honestly you might consider a little vacation....
(I don't know if the lack of punctuation is in the original script, but I like the rapid-fire effect.)
I've been surprised by the media's mostly polite reception of the New Yorker's decision to start offering animated versions of their cartoons online, especially given what an unequivocal disaster they are. Of course, it's possible that I've just missed that discussion (it's also possible that there hasn't been one because most people aren't reading the NYer online, despite a recent and vastly improved redesign, and despite great Online Only offerings such as Dan Baum's still great New Orleans Journal, but as far as I can tell, there hasn't been much of one.
The animations are by Jim Cox and Michael Fry (the same guys who did DreamWorks' "Over the Hedge"), and they lend actor's voices to cartoons that never needed them in the first place -- presumably in order to 'leverage' old content into new formats, in this case as downloadable podcasts. (You can subscribe to them for free on iTunes.)
I'm looking at my New Yorker Cat Calendar right now --May has a cat in a suit sitting at a desk in an office, and he's asked someone on the phone in that inimitable italicized, disembodied one-line: "Can I call you back? I'm with a piece of string." The only way that line is funny is if you don't have to hear a human voice delivering it. I hope they leave this one alone.
So, Jazzfest is over, leaving behind a citywide sunburn and a deep, but satisfied, fatigue. This year was weird for a few reasons, one of them being that a larger proportion of out of town visitors was comprised of people who lived here pre-Katrina, so it was a bittersweet reminder of the days when you could still take population density for granted.
The other major weirdness factor came thanks to a flash flood last Friday that tied up traffic on both banks of the Mississippi River, ruined several hundred cars and reminded me and everyone else (how many of these reminders will we need??) of the inevitability of evacuation this summer. We got a pass last year, and I will admit that I have since embraced the denial required for living below sea level. But every time I see a seagull fly overhead, I am reminded that even if I can't see the shore or swim in it, I live on it and I'd better get ready for when it tries to up and swallow us whole again.
I'd better buy lots of bottled water.
A few of the finer moments of THE Jazzfest (no one around here says just 'jazzfest' - it's earned the article):
*Seeing Ludacris and Lucinda Williams on the same day (where else could that happen?).
*Meeting the father of one of the Pine Leaf Boys from Lafayette while we were both in line for the port-a-john, and as we were standing in the middle of the Fairgrounds on a sunny day with music blaring and 60,000 people happily milling around, he asked me in a voice filled with doubt, "Do you think New Orleans is ever going to recover?"
"I don't know," I told him, "but things sure feel pretty promising today."
*Not finding a friend in the Gospel Tent but knowing she was there for Irma Thomas' unbelievable tribute to Mahalia Jackson. Seeing someone like Thomas, whose utter fabulousness is matched by so much genuine humility, moved just about everyone under that tent to tears.
*Recognizing that at each stage at least 10-15 percent of the crowd bears an eerie likeness to the people performing, so when you scan the crowd you immediately know who came to Jazzfest for this show. I found this phenomenon to be most entertaining at Ludacris, most annoying at Joss Stone, and most disturbing at Dr. John.
Of course, when my friend Charlotte and I went to see Lucinda Williams at the House of Blues -- she wearing a trucker hat and me in my cowboy boots -- I had to crack up, as clearly Lucinda was "our" show.
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Rebuilding Gulf Culture after Katrina
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Elizabeth Zimmer on time-based art forms
Public Art, Public Space
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog