Culture Gulf: February 2007 Archives
OK, I've changed my mind: The original version of "Long Way From Home" is actually way better than the "bounce back" remix. And I should add a consumer advisory here as well: like a lot of contemporary R&B, this song is cheesy as hell, albeit in the most likable way.
[Correction to previous post]: The St. Thomas is not mentioned here. But the Melpomene is.
It really does take a full week to recover from Mardi Gras, one full week to remember what your routines are -- or were -- pre MG. It was harder than usual this year, too, since I'd only recently put some routines back into place: Laundry on Saturdays. Movies on Sundays. Mona's on Wednesdays. The one I'm most looking forward to during Lent is fish on Fridays. Not that I really even observe Lent -- I just love that the whole city smells good on Fridays.
I was giving a couple of kids I tutor a ride home the other day (said one to his friend: "I'm going with the Caucasian lady"), and when a new song came on the local rap station, Q93, they asked me to turn up. It was an R&B song, not the kind that ordinarily appeals to 17-year-old boys, so I was kind of surprised, but when I heard the name-checking of different neighborhoods, many of them projects in New Orleans -- Calliope, St. Thomas, Desire -- I realized this was a local guy singing. And then I heard him call out areas that don't usually get mentioned on rap records -- Gert Town, Marrero (Marrero?), CBD (Central Business District), Pigeon Town - and I realized that, unlike so many of the more successful rappers like Juvenile and Master P who no longer live here, this guy is apparently *still* local.
He's Roi "Chips" Anthony, and the song is "Long Way From Home" -- you can check out his MySpace page here. The remix bounce version of "Long Way" is the best. I'm not sure I buy the final line -- "New Orleans, we're gonna be back stronger than ever" -- but I do really like the song.
There's an interesting story in today's New York Times about the latest wave of New Orleans residents who are giving up on the city. The piece touches on the collective cognitive distortion that has become almost a prerequisite for staying here, quoting local novelist Poppy Z. Brite as saying, "If a place takes you in and you take it into yourself, you don't desert it just because it can kill you. There are some things more valuable than life."
I think I get what she meant by that -- I know that for some people, this city *is* their life. There's no boundary separating them. And of course I believe New Orleans must be saved, but I don't believe it's going to happen at the hands of people who think their lives are worth less than their city. We've seen the results of that already -- a sort of perverse pride in the city's regressive tendencies (remember when, before Ray Nagin became mayor, we used to measure the success of Mardi Gras by tons of trash produced? Remember when we used to love Ray Nagin?) Talk to just about any African-American male in Central City, and they will speak proudly of 'tha N.O.' just as surely as they'll tell you they're not afraid to die here at 17, 21, 25.
(Reading that reminded of a line from the young doctor to Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland": "If you're afraid of death... it just shows you have a life worth keeping.")
New Orleans City Business deserves kudos for being one of the few publications to interview at length some the kids closest to the city's worst crime problems. The only other place I've seen this population given similar voice was in the documentary "Left Behind: The Story of the New Orleans Public Schools." More on that soon...)
So after a violent two-day encounter with the stomach flu, I tried to make it out last night to see the Muses parade (note to the uninitiated -- Muses is the best of Mardi Gras parades, and not only because it comprises all-female krewes), but I fear I tried to mainstream myself a bit prematurely. Talking about your own private trip to Planet Sick (heavy emphasis on the "ick") to people who are not unwell and who are trying to watch a parade going past is a little like...well, a little like the Louisiana and Mississippi trying to get the rest of the country interested in their insurance problems with the Oscars coming up. As kind and compassionate as your listeners may try to be, NO one -- with the possible exception of your mother -- wants to focus on the minutae of bad plumbing while the bright lights and sequins are flashing past. (Some people will, however, bring you soup and saltines on their way to the parade, for which you will feel a depth of gratitude that takes you by surprise.)
It's a real pickle trying to figure out how to talk to people about how this thing really flattened you out there for a while, but that it's better now -- really, no need to stand back!
So far it doesn't seem to be working.
Etsy "enabler" Erin Haldrup is coming to New Orleans to continue the work that the Etsy community started with craftrevolution.etsy.com, and she'll be recruiting artists who don't yet know about Etsy and helping them set up shop. From Erin:
"I'll be bringing a video camera, conducting interviews and putting together a documentary about people who make things (costumes, art, house renovation etc.)...I used to live there so the story won't be just an out of towner's perspective :) It'll have the inside scoop."
Erin will be hosting a meeting for New Orleans Etsy sellers and all interested artists at Mimi's (2601 Royal St.) at 2pm on Valentines day. (Thanks once again to RW for the heads-up.)
(A version of this piece originally appeared as a "Scatire" in the now defunct local 'zine, Scat.)
To: New Orleans residents
From: New Orleans Travel and Visitor's Bureau
We here at the Visitor's Bureau are aware that each spring, as hordes of non-residents descend on our fair city to get their dose of whatever it is the rest of America doesn't offer them, there are those of you who take on more than your fair share of housing some of these visitors. As a sign of our appreciation for the boost these unofficial hosts give to our tourism business, and to provide them with further incentive to continue to interrupt their daily routine for weeks at a time and turn their homes over to these travelers, we are now offering the Frequent Hoster's Award program.
Award values below:
1. The New Yorker
A major benefit of hosting the New Yorker is she will continually express shock at how cheap everything is and then offer to pay for it all. Downside is she'll show up having already bought your ticket to the 2 a.m. Meters concert without first checking to see if you like the Meters, no matter their current incarnation. The New Yorker will spend hours on the cell phone coordinating with other visiting New Yorkers, and has the tendency to overdo it her first night in town. Later, she'll blame any indiscretions on the cheap liquor.
The New Yorker must have: cell phone charger on her person at all times.
Award for hosting The New Yorker: 500 free anytime cell phone minutes. And not New York minutes, either.
. The Conventioneer
A self-described middle manager who does nothing of value or interest to even the other 3,000 middle managers he has come here to "network" with, The Conventioneer mostl likely will be drunk even before he gets off his Southwest flight, begging to be taken to Bourbon St. The Conventioneer will, without fail, wear only standard-issue khaki shorts, a loud, floral-patterned vacation shirt, and the practical running shoes his wife bought him that he's worn only once before, to a convention last year in Cancun. His travel tastes are distinguished from his regular tastes not by direction, but degree: He wants more alcohol, more T&A than his home cable subscription offers, and more shirts like the one he has been wearing for two days straight. And while he's here, he plans to do even less work than he normally does. Conventioneers must have: a Hurricane; at least one altercation with a law enforcement officer
Award for Hosting the Conventioneer: Free parking in the French Quarter for one weekend.
3. The Drifter
Usually a friend of a friend's friend, The Drifter generally turns up only during Jazzfest and rarely has a firm return date. Often of ambiguous European descent, The Drifter will display an alarming interest in your CD collection and will promise to send you the live bootleg version of all your favorites just as soon as he gets back home, however vague he may be about where, exactly, that is. Hosting advisory: The Drifter may be found on your couch reading the want ads several days after his originally intended departure date.
Drifters must have: A round-trip ticket.
Award for hosting The Drifter: Free coffee for a week at any of the Rue locations, where the Drifter most likely will be when he's not at a club or sleeping on your couch.
4. The Agenda Setters (see also: New Yorker)
The agenda setters will instruct you to pick them up at Louis Armstrong Airport upstairs at Departures, because they won't have checked bags, and they won't tolerate the lines downstairs. Determined to see every last site listed in their dog-eared guidebook, the Agenda Setters will insist you join them for a four-hour D-Day Museum tour -- a mere hour after you've left the Aquarium. Note: Agenda Setters are often related to the host. This does not disqualify the host from Award Program eligibility. Agenda Setters must have: Beignets at Café Du Monde, Kermit, and Jacques-Imo's Alligator Cheesecake.
Award for hosting the Agenda Setter: Guaranteed reservations at Jacques-Imo's and 1 voucher for a free po-boy at Crabby Jacks -- for after you've dropped your guests off at the airport. Upgrade Awards Available if host takes St. Charles instead of the much faster Claiborne Ave. every time he/she drives the Agenda Setter Uptown.
5. The Impinger
The Impinger will feign fierce independence in an e-mail asking whether you might like to "meet up" sometime while she's in town. By the time she reaches you by phone, The Impinger's supposedly spontaneous invitation invariably will have expanded into a supposedly unexpected need for "a place to crash for a night or two." Despite her free-wheeling, devil-may-care charisma, you are likely to find her standing by your bed each morning as you wake, saying plaintively "I'm hungry." She is absolutely clueless that she drives you crazy, and will notice that you have all but abandoned your home during her visit only when she needs to be fed or a ride somewhere. Must have: lost her mind if she thinks you'll ever let her stay here again.
Award for hosting The Impinger: Free room at the Windsor Court for as long as The Impinger overstays her welcome.
6. The Perfect Guest
The Perfect Guest gives you months of advance notice, and once they're here, expresses equal affection for West Bank Vietnamese food as for famed French Quarter favorites. Has no agenda other than to eat well, hear good music, and enjoy the city. Understands New Orleans' charms are best not taken, but received. Also known as Your Friend. Must have: Lots of good things to say about the city to anyone who will listen
Award for hosting The Perfect Guest: The satisfaction of knowing that your guest left with a firm understanding of why you still like calling New Orleans "home."
Lolis Elie has a great piece in today's Washington Post*, lamenting how grossly misunderstood New Orleans still is -- despite 18 months or more of waning scrutiny -- especially during Mardi Gras:
"Even as I write this, thousands of Americans are packing away their inhibitions and preparing to come to my city and go native. They will arrive in the French Quarter uninhibited, as they imagine we are. They will remove their clothes. They will empty their beer-filled guts onto each other's shoes. They will clown for hungry cameras and for journalists eager to capture New Orleans as some distant editor has imagined it."
*Free registry required
*Average crowd density along St. Charles Ave. Neutral Ground during parades: 2.5 people
*Police officer to civilian ratio (eyeball estimate): 1.5 to 1
*Number of times I heard the word "gunshot" or "killings" or "shooting" spoken: Once per block.
*Number of times a crowd startled and screamed because a balloon or firecracker popped: once per parade.
*Number of meter maids sneaking around the backstreets to issue parking tickets on cars parked in illegal-but-never-before-this-year-enforced parking spaces: 5
*Number of bands per parade (on average): 3
*Percentage of them wearing apparently brand new uniforms: 100
*Number of times I said I wasn't going to see the parades and then did: Every single time, just like always...
How much more like The Wire will it get? If you watched the last season, centered around a group of middle school boys, you'll probably remember how De'Londa forced her son Namond to "step up" and sell drugs because his father was in prison -- at one point even chastising him for being afraid to go to "baby booking."
I couldn't help but be reminded of it when I read the latest headline about a mother giving her son a gun to exact revenge on a kid he'd fought with earlier. Both the kids were 17.
(You might recognize Julito McCullum, the actor who plays Namond on "The Wire," in the Ludacris/Mary J. Blige video for "Runaway Love" -- he plays the boyfriend of 11-year-old Erica. I have yet to watch that video without tearing up...it's a good one.)
Adam Nossiter wrote an excellent piece in Monday's New York Times detailing the "dark star of dysfunction" that accounts for the city's absurdly high murder rate: 161 last year, and 18 already this year. He also points to a drug trade that is largely blamed for fueling the violence.
It may be difficult for folks elsewhere to fathom what those numbers feel like. But just try to imagine those murder rates coming out of cities of comparable sizes (New Orleans now has an estimated population of around 200,000) -- say, Orlando, or Scotsdale, or Rochester, NY, or Lincoln, Nebraska. If this kind of carnage occurred in any one of those communities, I suspect the National Guard would have stepped in a long time ago. What's more staggering is not the numbers, but the acceptance of this state of affairs as being quite normal for New Orleans. As Nossiter eerily wrote, "When the body was brought out, the two little boys did not stop chewing their sticky blue candy or swigging from their pop bottles."
In New Orleans, there are pockets of wealth, not pockets of poverty, so you invariably pass through "bad" neighborhoods on your way to just about anywhere. The other night I was driving home from Walgreen's and about six blocks from my house was forced to stop behind the car in front of me while the passenger inside bought drugs from a man hanging out on his front stoop. Apparently Stoop Guy didn't have the correct change, so it took some time and the involvement of several other people up and down the block before they settled the exchange and I was finally allowed to pass. It was about 6:00 at night, barely dark -- there were two cop cars in a well-lit gas station not two blocks further up the road. Stoop Guy was clearly not worried about being hassled by anyone. The whole scene seemed so disturbingly normal -- I've sensed more urgency and menace while waiting in the Burger King drive-thru.
Later that night over dinner I tried talking about the incident to friends. No one was shocked. I'm not even sure anyone was capable of feeling horrified about it anymore. We were like those desensitized kids living in the projects - still chewing our candy and trying to take it all in.
(Rob Walker makes an interesting point about the NYT piece on his N.O. Notes.)
[Clarification to the above comment about the National Guard: They *have* been here, since Summer 2006.]
Given all the trouble people on the Gulf Coast continue to have with insurance companies, I was recently inspired to re-read "Blessed Assurance" by Allan Gurganus, from his awesome short story collection, "White People." The narrator, Jerry, is a former funeral insurance salesman who put himself through college exploiting poor black people. When he starts to actually worry about the fate of his clients, he suffers a crisis of conscience that haunts him for decades. (The story -- named after the traditional hymn --also appeared in Granta.)
An insurance salesman with a conscience? Needless to say, this was a work of great imagination, and I think it ought to be required reading for every crash-course-licensed insurance adjuster who came down here after the storm to arbitrarily decide the fate of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims. (I know, I know, they didn't actually sell the policies. And some of those policies actually held. But still). It's a great read for anyone else, too.
Apparently the story was adapted to film by Peter Bogdanovich and retitled "The Price of Heaven." It starred Cicely Tyson and George Wendt, among others, and although I haven't seen the film, I'm guessing Wendt played the part of Jerry's boss, the one who, in the print version, offers him the following advice:
"Now, times, you might get to feeling - nice boy like you, college material - like maybe you're stealing from them. You take that attitude, you'll wind up like...like me. No, you've got to accept how another type of person believes. Especially when there's such a profit in it...Plus, for all we know, they could be right, Jerry. Is there is the so-called next world, they'll turn up in it, brass bands to announce them. And us poor white guys who sold them the tickets, we'll be deep-fat frying underneath forever."
Gurganus, probably best known for his novel "The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All", is apparently working on a novel based on the post-Floyd flooding of his home state of North Carolina. Shortly after that event, he wrote an editorial about it for the New York Times, which concluded with a prayer as sad and sweet as his insurance salesman story:
If you're scared the world is ending in fire, reconsider. May we, the waders of North Carolina, (all these snakes!) half-reassure you? It'll probably be water. But, even in this catastrophe's toxic wake, we're inching toward the high ground of a glum communal hope. Some 19th-centurywillingness to act is yet there, if called upon. People are still imagining each other so they can rescue each other. A strange, radical thing, kindness. May we continually pray for a citizenry that, epic as the horrors visited on it, still finds itself able to row right off, to guess a quiet neighbor's whereabouts, to save that neighbor. Heaven keep us afloat and worthy of saving each other. And, as a nation, kindly keep us worth saving. Amen.
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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
David Jays on theatre and dance
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