I have only driven through New Orleans, but what struck me was the long causeway that stretched over miles and miles of water before we got to the city and then the cemeteries with the graves above ground. It is a city, like Las Vegas or Phoenix, that logically shouldn’t exist. And in 2005 Hurricane Katrina almost drowned the city; its neglected infrastructure proved woefully inadequate. And the federal government’s almost criminally lame response, along with the inept city leadership, doomed thousands of New Orleanians to refugee status. It was almost as if the Bush administration deemed all but the poshest sections of the city and the historic amusment park that is Bourbon Street expendable. And after the horrific images from the Super Dome had faded, and the media’s attention had been attracted to another new’s bauble, New Orleans became an afterthought. From a distance, even before Katrina, New Orleans seemed a messy city, sort of scary, rife with corruption and cool, cool music. There seemed to be a strange magical spirit to New Orleans that one could not find anywhere else in the country. Dan Baum spent two years in New Orleans after Katrina posting dispatches in the New Yorker. In his last dispatch he wrote,
“It’s the American way to focus on the future—we are dreamers and schemers, always chasing the horizon. Looking forward has made us great, but it comes at a price…New Orleanians, on the other hand, are excellent at the lost art of living in the moment…New Orleans endures as the national repository of the loose-jointed Huck Finn spirit we Americans claim to cherish. While the rest of us pare down our humanity in service to the dollar, New Orleans is a corner of America where efficiency and maximized profit are not the civic religion…In the speedy, future-oriented, hyper-productive, and globalized twenty-first century, New Orleans’s refusal to sacrifice the pleasures of the moment amounts to a life style of civil disobedience.
The HBO series Treme seems to embody that spirit. Carol and I just finished the first season, and it grew on us slowly. The Wire (David Simon’s first creation) had me in a choke hold from the first episode, Treme meandered into the the story line. I pretty much divorced myself from the family to watch all five seasons of The Wire, but Carol and I wandered lacadaisically into Treme. The characters seemed to reveal themselves naturally, nothing seemed to forced or created for dramatic effect. And the main character of Treme is really the music. I have heard David Simon inteviewed and he has stated that his goal is to get every major musical figure in New Orleans on the show at some point. What is wonderful is that so many of the major players are musicians the world has never heard of. And it seems that every musical stream has emptied into the Mississippi, drifted down to the delta where it eddies around the city in an exotic, spicy sonic soup. No city can claim a musical heritage as rich or odd as New Orleans. There isn’t one character in Treme who isn’t tied to the music in some way. And it is through music that New Orleanians reconnect after Katrina, it is music that lifts them up when everything around them seems to sinking. Come for the music and you will stay for the story.
Treme Theme Music
Shame Shame Shame
A Treme Musical sampler
For a list of the music that appeared on the first season episodes go to: http://www.musicoftreme.com/
If you want to read more of Dan Baum’s New Orlean’s journal go the The New Yorker online: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/neworleansjournal