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Laissez les triste temps roulette - Riffs and Licks
Laissez les triste temps roulette
I'll be leaving New Orleans on the Sunset Limited in a few hours, after a one-night stopover here. I haven't been here since 2005 and I have to say, it's pretty sad. I have always had mixed feelings about this town: As a musician I feel compelled to like it, but the loutish tourism, horrifying poverty and racism, and terrible crime rates aren't exactly attractive. Katrina seems to have destroyed a lot of small businesses that have been replaced by corporate chains and businesses desperate for tourist cash. Kinda like Ghouliani did to Times Square.

Unlike the other times I've been here -- my first trip was in 1988 with some college friends -- I couldn't even find any decent music in the French Quarter. Walter "Wolfman" Washington was playing out at the Maple Leaf, but with no car and not a lot of time (and 35-degree weather) I wasn't in the mood for that trip. I walked up and down Bourbon and Royal Streets and heard almost nothing but disco and club music, or dreadful rock-blues cover bands playing way too loud. There weren't even any street musicians, but perhaps it was too cold for them.

I finally happened on a Bourbon Street bar called Huge Ass Beers (I give them credit for at least not trying to be falsely authentic) with a couple of guys playing blues in the back. Nothing to write home about, and I didn't get their names, but they were having a good time and so were the other folks in the bar, mostly a hardcore band from San Diego and their girlfriends.

This morning I had coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, which is at least still there and intact, and walked around a little more. Even in the heart of the French Quarter there are a lot of boarded-up storefronts and for-rent signs. I'll be glad to get back on the train.

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harrietbrown From: harrietbrown Date: December 23rd, 2008 12:32 am (UTC) (Link)
The photos have an elegiac, ghost-town quality to them, even compared to yesterday's photos.

Did you read "Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein? She talks about how these specialists in disaster capitalism come in and restructure cities at bargain basement prices the way they want the cities to run. That's what's happening to New Orleans, which explains the corporate chains. I haven't read the book yet, but I sneaked a peek at the end, and it's hopeful!

By the way, on your recommendation, I gave my sister "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. She's in the hospital and she'll have a long recuperation, so she'll need stuff to read. I checked it out on LibraryThing and the NY Times and it was recommended there, too.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: December 24th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I haven't read that book yet, but I would like to. I hope your sister likes the Road! It's kind of depressing, fair warning.
harrietbrown From: harrietbrown Date: December 24th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC) (Link)
I told her it was, but that it had redemption at the end. I'm all about the redemption, baby. Some pagan I am.
kizlj From: kizlj Date: December 23rd, 2008 03:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, I know the food scene better than the music scene in New Orleans, but I still saw a lot of the city I loved when I visited last year. There's something about it that always manages to strike me as unique and resilient and amazing. Possibly a big part of that is the place I always stay, the Chimes, whose proprietor Jill is a very welcoming and enthusiastic New Orleans promoter.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: December 24th, 2008 12:14 am (UTC) (Link)
It's probably no fairer to judge New Orleans by a night in the French Quarter than it is to judge New York by a night in Times Square. I didn't eat any special meals, either. So I may well have the wrong impression; all these songs basically snapshots of what I was thinking at the moment.

I did have a very disturbing conversation with a French Quarter business owner on the train (her take was that the storm got rid of all the ______ people who "were just on charity anyway." I'm sure you can fill in the blank. But I've had equally disturbing conversations (or worse) in NYC so that's just an anecdote.
queencallipygos From: queencallipygos Date: January 2nd, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
The one time I've been to New Orleans was ten years ago, back when I was even more of a lightweight than I am now -- so since most of the clubs where you could hear music also had a two-drink minimum, I was out of luck. But the spontaneous street performance by a group of visiting Frenchmen made up for it. I have no idea who they were -- a group of guys in weird mis-matched outfits with a brass and percussion section who just set up in the middle of Lafayette Square for the hell of it and played this bizarre mix of what sounded like ska and Klezmer music. They even did a kick line at one point.

I'm going again this February; Mardi Gras actually falls the day before my birthday this year, and it's one of those things I figure you should just see once to see what it's like (kind of like Times Square on New Year's Eve, or Vegas). I do know of one small business that recovered, that I plan on visiting -- a friend of mine befriended a used bookstore owner there, way back when she was a waitress and he was a reporter on an assignment. He gets sent there a lot and made a point of stopping in at her restaurant, and then when she bought the business he always made a point of stopping in there as well.

He said that she's actually done okay post-Katrina -- her bookstore specializes in used cookbooks, and in the months after Katrina they did fairly brisk business as people returning to the city came in to replace copies of cookbooks they'd had which had been damaged.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: January 2nd, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's good to hear. I think the insanely cold weather kept the musicians off the street, which always was the best place to see music especially in the Quarter. My feelings about the place were probably influenced by the foul woman I sat with at lunch in the dining car just before I started working on the song, a white French Quarter business owner who couldn't stop talking about "the coloreds" who "just lived on charity" and how their troubles were being overblown by "the media" and how they were mostly better off now and ... well, you know. She was utterly immune to sarcasm and completely sure she was right and she's lucky she's not in a Beaumont hospital undergoing a forkectomy.
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