As a city that treasures its musical heritage, New Orleans is probably second only to Nashville.
I’ve been listening to WWOZ in recent weeks. WWOZ is a free- form community radio station that’s become a linchpin of the New Orleans music scene.
WWOZ rocks ass. Below are just a few recordings to which I’ve been introduced by ’OZ’s dedicated volunteer deejays. Click the track titles to listen on my Vox blog.
(The track that’s missing is Eddie Bo’s “Stink Bomb.” I’ve turned the Internet upside down trying to find an MP3 of that hard-funkin’ instrumental. Couldn’t even locate it on disc at the Louisiana Music Factory. Can anybody hook me up with a sound file?)
John Boutté is probably the top nightclub singer in New Orleans right now. On certain songs, his voice is reminiscent of Sam Cooke. Paul Sanchez is a popular guitarist and songwriter and was a founding member of the band Cowboy Mouth.
Boutté and Sanchez collaborated on a new CD: “Stew Called New Orleans.”
I was on the set of “Treme” yesterday afternoon, and shortly after 5 p.m. (close to “lunch” that day) I asked David Simon if I could leave early. I’d been the writer on set Thursday night when it rained buckets on us. The crew had to hustle to flee an approaching lightning storm.
Anyway, Simon was cool, and to the hotel I went, expecting to catch up on cable news. (I’ve been out of touch for the past seven weeks. Obama’s still president, right?)
So there I am in my hotel room, surfing the Web, thinking about some room service. Then, around 6:30, the power goes out. In the whole building. Including my Internet connection.
Looked out my window and concluded that some portion of the French Quarter was in the midst of a blackout. (So much for cable news and room service.)
Thought about going outside to see what a Friday evening blackout on Bourbon Street would be like. (Nutty, I bet.) But I wondered whether my electronic key would even work when I got back.
So I figured I’d just go to bed, catch up on sleep, and everything would be normal in the morning.
Here’s something funny, though. Just a few minutes before the power went out, I had a knock on the door. A server was holding a small tray of fresh fruit, candy bars and a bottle of wine... a gift from the hotel to mark the upcoming end of my long stay.
Only thing missing was a damn corkscrew. Server said he’d fetch one and bring it right up. That’s when the power went out (including, of course, the elevators). Couldn’t even drink myself to sleep.
Cut to this morning. After 12 hours of restful, dream-filled sleep, I awoke to discover the power was still out. On top of that, no hot water.
I can go without bathing, and I can go without TV. But lack of Internet access puts a serious crimp in my lifestyle. So I packed my laptop, hit the stairwell, got my car from the hotel garage, and drove to the “Treme” production office where, through the magic of wireless, I now put before you these words.
Power’s expected to be restored in the Quarter later this afternoon.
UPDATE (03/29/09): Turns out the blackout was caused by an underground fire. Supposedly all fixed now. I shall soon find out.
Yesterday was a special day in New Orleans. Every year, on the Sunday before St. Joseph’s Day, tribes of “Mardi Gras Indians” parade through the streets in all their finery.
The occasion is known as “Super Sunday.”
This year, the Sunday before St. Joseph’s Day was rainy. So Super Sunday was postponed till yesterday.
And I was too lazy to get out there and watch it! I heard today from Eric Overmyer (co-creator of “Treme”) that Dr. John marched with the Creole Wild West, the oldest of the Indian gangs. That would’ve been cool to witness.
Someone uploaded the following Super Sunday video to YouTube today:
What say you about this cultural phenomenon? Is it cute ’n’ clever? Or played out already? Is there a whiff of insincerity and disrespect... or is that a case-by-case situation? Which of these tracks do you like? Which not so much? I’m still trying to sort through my feelings...
This one isn’t for everybody... to say the least. If you’re squeamish about blood, or if you don’t think cartoon gore is funny, skip this video.
I can relate. I was always disturbed by Dan Aykroyd’s famous Julia Child sketch as well as Monty Python’s Sam Peckinpah parody, both of them drenched in fake blood. I’m just not amused by appeals to human cruelty. I don’t even dig “Itchy & Scratchy.”
Nevertheless, for those of you who’d like to see the “Itchy & Scratchy” joke taken to its sickest extreme, I present this:
“Quiz Show” is one of those movies which, whenever I stumble across it on cable, I must settle in and watch it for a while. (Other films like that for me: “Pulp Fiction,” “All the President’s Men,” “Bullets Over Broadway”... dang, not many more.)
Gene and Roger thought very highly of “Quiz Show” when it came out 15 years ago.
(“The Negro in American Culture,” first broadcast on WBAI, is part of the Pacifica Radio Archives. You can download a half-hour of the program – which also features James Baldwin and Langston Hughes – from the Internet Archive for free.
No American folktale has spread so thoroughly into so many music traditions as “Stagger Lee.”
Bluesmen, folksingers and rockers have sung about Stagger Lee. Pop stars, country singers and jazz vocalists have sung about Stagger Lee.
So who the hell was Stagger Lee?
According to legend, he was a badass nigger who shot a man to death over a Stetson hat. (How hip-hop is that?) His nickname is rendered in the folklore as Stack-o-Lee, Stagolee, Stackerlee, etc.
According to Wikipedia, the folktale is supposedly based on a real-life St. Louis murder case from 1895. Lee Shelton, a pimp, got into a drunken argument with Billy Lyons. Lyons snatched the hat off Shelton’s head and wouldn’t give it back. So Shelton shot him.
Follow this link and you can download a comic-book rendering of the story from the Riverfront Times, a St. Louis alternative weekly.
I’m streaming various audio versions of “Stagger Lee” on my Vox blog. Click the song titles below to listen. (If you happen to have a favorite version of “Stagger Lee,” let me know in the comments section. I’ll be glad to stream a few more.)
“Oh-Nah-Nay” draws from it also... except Donald Harrison is a bona fide Mardi Gras Indian. His father, Donald Harrison, Sr., was Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame. Donald is the Big Chief of his own tribe, Congo Nation.
In 2007, Harrison wrote on his website: “My father taught me that I had to go through the ranks to earn the right to sing New Orleans cultural chants. I was taught that if you have not paid the dues and earned your respect from masking you should not chant prayers like Oh-Nah-Nay and Tu-Way-Pockey- Way.
“Musicians and others that chant without knowing what they are talking about show the deepest disrespect to our culture.”