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Keeping The Beat On The Street

September 24, 2012

The Season Three’s premiere episode of Treme seems ripped from today’s headlines over a year ago by a guy who’s not even from here.

Confrontations between new, gentrified neighbors and the music culture (and perhaps an amplifier-chasing lawyer or two looking to shake down the club owners) are front and center in New Orleans today, with a new noise ordinance on the table so stringent it would eliminate the jukebox from the city and ban any instrument played any louder than pianissimo behind an open door. Complicating that is a move by the Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who as lieutenant governor was a champion of tourism and music, to shut down music venues all over the city for failure to strictly adhere to licensing requirements unenforced for decades. Find the way to pay up for your licenses through the city’s Byzantine labyrinth of licensing agencies—and don’t forget your “mayroyalty” permit, which is issued solely at the mayor’s discretion–or stop the music. Banker character C.J. Ligouri would be proud of this shakedown. The scandal over the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership scandal is still with us, with a fourth defendant pleading guilty just last July. A grand jury indicted an NOPD officer just last month in the shooting of unarmed and allegedly uninvolved Wendell Allen during a minor marijuana raid.

Once again, many people’s favorite carpetbagger David Simon drops one onto the city desk and stands, arms-folded, the story nailed perfectly. Corruption, rogue police, crooked gentrification schemes, the battle over music: tell me again why you think Treme is irrelevant?

Watching the last episode of Season Two Saturday night with my son, he noticed what all of those who first viewed it last year did: Do Watcha Wanna was written as coda, so many plot lines tied up, so many happily ever afters. The joy that swelled over Kermit’s horn beneath the credits was tempered by the sad moment that closed the show when Davis plays Pops’ Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams, the feeling so many of us had that the ride appeared to be coming to an end. Those of us who lived it, who know David Simon’s career, understood that whatever HBO and Time Warner had in mind the author of The Wire was not about to let the story of New Orleans die in a Production Code re-write fairy tale, everyone off to sweet dreams in their twin beds with one foot planted firmly on the floor. Khandi Alexander’s umpteenth Emmy-worthy moment in the DA’s office and her husband Larry’s tasty-canary smile as he announced that they would not sell the bar but move back to New Orleans returns as the familiar postdiluvian conflict of too many family members in one house, exacerbated by the high-handed treatment of Alexander by her high-Creole in-laws. Wendell Pierce’s surrender to his “job-job”, bar-band leader traded for the trenches of the high school band room where the next generation hone their embouchures, all put to risk when he confronts the police during the second line for Kerwin James of the New Birth Brass Band in 2007. Hidalgo tries to worm his way into the money tree that was the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership racket after Ligouri has dropped him like he’s hot because of his connections to Oliver Thomas. New revelations of police misconduct, Oliver Thomas in his prison threads, the incompetence of the recovery: episode authors Simon and Anthony Bourdain drop us right into the thick of 2007, when the ugly recovery was in full, foul-smelling bloom .

A quiet high point of the show was Terry Colson’s visit to Indianapolis, portraying the painful dissolution of families over the question of whether to stay or to leave. We see this same story playing out in Janette’s toss off line to D.J. Davis (Steve Zahn) as she collects her mail—“I’m in New York now”— and Delmond’s return to New Orleans, the success of the record that former Orleanian Wynton Marsallis says “isn’t really jazz”. (I hope everyone relished the moment when the two men who dissed Delmond in Season two over “Dixieland” and “minstrel show” came fawning over during the record release party). Colson’s is the most poignant and insightful storyline in Episode One. From his first step into the house—“in New Orleans, I live in a trailer”—and into the kitchen where one of his sons wears an Indianapolis Colts’ jersey to the private conversation with his wife over her relocation of his children, the moment when he tells her she never really understood New Orleans. It’s a story everyone who has dragged a spouse or SO over the border has worried over or lived. Colson has shown that he gets New Orleans deeply, more so than the average ranch dweller out by the lake or in Metairie. There is the scene last season when he dresses down the officer for an unnecessary arrest, “Let Bourbon Street be Bourbon Street”. The episode’s end is so perfect, an answer to everyone who ever asked “where are all the real people?” Colson is real people, just a hard-working uniform with a mortgage and a divorce, and the moment when he encounters Nick Slie of the local Mondo Bizarro theater troupe, dressed in a vaguely Renaissance costume on his brightly lit bicycle, and tells him “don’t ever change” is not just a glimpse into the character but into the soul of everyone who came home and stayed.

(A moment of indulgence please, to mention a toss off line between the Deputy Chief and Colson noting Lt. Guidry’s transfer. Colson nemesis Guidry was played by accomplished actor and Chalmette, Louisiana native Micheal Showers, who tragically drowned in 2011).

Lt. Colson and Toni are joined in their respective story lines by a new character, investigative reporter L.P. Everett (Chris Coy), based on real-life investigative reporter A.C. Thompson, and later in the season by another character based on local activist and community journalist Karen Gadbois of The Lens, according to Dave Walker of Nola.com. This promises an escalation of the focus on crime and corruption but don’t expect Season Three to be The Wire Goes to New Orleans. Simon has made clear in the past this was an entirely different story with its own purposes. “The Wire”, BoT contributor Sam Jasper said to me, “was about futility. Treme is about hope.” I wish I had said that. Hell, David Simon probably wishes he’d summed it up so neatly. Treme is so fundamentally different in other, subtle ways. The city itself is a character, its places not just settings but characters that drive the story. The longshoreman’s bar and the restaurants in The Wire where deals are made are just a place to act out a script. Consider the scene from Season Two when Hidalgo is sitting in a booth at the Crescent City Steakhouse cutting a deal. The difference between this scene and any similar moment from The Wire is Hidalgo’s remark that they could just as easily have met in a suburban steakhouse. Conversation pauses and the two other characters look at him as if he has just spilled Heinz 57 down his shirt. Or almost as bad, simply picked up the Heinz 57 bottle. . Hidalgo’s misunderstanding of the city is revealed in a line only possible in one of the claustrophobic booths of the Crescent City, the restaurant serving up the line. The first episode also made clear that this season won’t be all cops and robbers. Expect a full tapestry of characters and their stories, from the most public and ugly moments to Toni’s tendered-eyed glimpse of her blossoming daughter with her Bywater-musician boyfriend. Hope is what buoys us through the bad moments, that glimpse in the trailer of Antoine and Desiree’s (Phyllis Montana LeBlanc) new home falling under the backhoe of the period’s incompetently random demolition of both blighted and sound houses. Hope and music, if it is truly possible to separate the two.

D.J. Davis’ perfectly tragi-comic venture into the walking tour business reminds us how much the city lost before the storm, through neglect and greed—themes I expect to see prominent in this season—and how clearly people realized this when they woke up in an upended landscape, realized how dangerously what remained was at risk. Those battles continue today with the furor over live music and street arts, and a movement to line the industrial strip of Marigny and Bywater along the river with high-rise condos on land bought up after the storm by the very people who were helping to plan the new riverfront park those buildings will overlook. (Mr. Hidalgo, C. J. Ligouri on line two). The art shop headlines of Season Three run into those of last week’s Times-Picayune, and hopefully Back of Town and the rest of the Treme posse’ can help Americans remember through these beautifully drawn stories that so much is still at risk, so much undone, so many not yet perfectly healed. We still have so much to lose. And we are still here.

The Davis scenes remind us that however today’s real life battles turn out, if all that is left standing of the history of music in New Orleans is the Selmer clarinet mural on the side of the downtown Holiday Inn, we will always have Treme.

– Wet Bank Guy

16 Comments
  1. September 24, 2012 1:20 pm

    Thank you so much, Mr. Folse, for this description of the episode!

    Woke up in London Town’s pissing rain, thinking, “It’s too soon over there for anybody to run it down yet.” And now you did seeing it at what is the equivalent of 7 PM here, coming in out of the smell of autumn leaves wind, after galivanting about in the wind.

  2. September 24, 2012 1:32 pm

    If London Town’s Pissing Rain: is not a Pogues song it should have been. “Pissing rain” is now officially one of my favorite lines. And with the August monsoon past, hopefully you won’t get to use that as much when you get to New Orleans. Oh, and Mr. Folse sadly passed away in 1992. Call me that again and I may have to take my cane to you. If the difference is our ages is generational “Mr. Mark” is appropriate if you’re looking for a formal mode.

  3. samjasper permalink
    September 24, 2012 2:24 pm

    I absolutely loved the Colson line. We were never sure if he had evacuated his family and stayed during the storm and they were still stuck in Houston or Atlanta, although it was pretty clear he was divorced. His line to his ex about her never having gotten New Orleans “even before the flood,” was brilliant and explains his integrity in a more “this is my home” way than just being a straight up guy in a corrupt police culture. As she washes dishes and says about Indianapolis, “It’s a place like any other place” I heard a guy behind me say, “Yeah and that’s why WE live here.” More on that later.

  4. September 24, 2012 10:42 pm

    Actually, the Colson line broke my heart Sam. It symbolized everything about just dealing with reality one day at a time that everyone was doing.PTSD for me. I also loved it for that. It was so us.

    the

  5. Tom permalink
    September 25, 2012 9:33 am

    Ugh. I’ve never caught the show in a bar but I bet lame, self-congratulatory remarks like the one samjasper mentions are the order of the day. I understand there are fans of the show who don’t subscribe to HBO who are just looking for a place to watch it. Nothing wrong with that. The crowd that goes to a bar to cheer on David Simon’s truculent boosterism and slap high-fives like it’s a football game sounds pretty obnoxious, though. I’ve heard from friends that some of the show’s silliest moments (Albert appearing in an Indian costume in the debut; Creighton attacking the British reporter) have made the crowd erupt. I have no doubt the Sazerac tossing and LaDonna’s outburst in Sunday night’s episode well also well-received. Am I hearing wrong or do these barroom showings really attract all kinds of lameasses? Full disclosure: I don’t think I really like the show but am a regular viewer because there are some great location shots that make the entire hour worth it.

  6. samjasper permalink
    September 25, 2012 4:24 pm

    Gee, Major Tom, I am not sure where to even start. I suppose I could start with “Ugh” but that just set your tone. “Lame, self congratulatory,” nice too. “Silliest moments,” I disagree with your choices regarding the scenes you have described using that term, but hey, some disagreement among friends is likely when discussing something as subjective as the viewing of a show or film. “Sazerac tossing and LaDonna’s outburst” were indeed “well received.” “Barroom showings” was a really wonderful elitist touch, and that compliment comes from someone who overall doesn’t have a problem with the term as usually applied to thoughtful, educated people, so really, consider it a compliment. “Lameasses.” That one threw me. Your contempt for the show and its viewers is made clear in your last “Full Disclosure” statement, you know, the one in which you tell us you dislike the show but watch regularly for the “great location shots?” Those two lameasses behind me were delighted with their decision to stay here in New Orleans after the storm and were also glad that they could see those “locations” any damn day they felt like it. I know a bit of their post-Flood story because I lowered myself to their “lameass” level to ask them about themselves, and in view of their story I think the “self congratulatory remark” was actually a bit of an understatement. They should have said, “Yeah, goddammit, we did it. Took us five years to rebuild the house but we DID it. We lost our Aunt and she wasn’t found for a long time, but we’re still here.” They could have gone on. They didn’t. They simply knew they wouldn’t fit happily into Houston or Atlanta or St. Louis or Indianapolis, or a “place like any other place.”

    So that leaves us with “obnoxious” which I’m just going to ignore. Nice bait though. I like the hook I bite to have some of those little weird pink floaty things on them. Which leads us to “truculent boosterism.”

    Full Disclosure: I am an unrepentant David Simon fan. I’ve read his books (have you?) and have seen most of his television work. New Orleans could use some “boosterism” and I don’t mean things like the current administration’s music killing ordinances that would have no one but Irvin Mayfield playing in some hotel bar for mostly tourists. I am, however, genuinely curious about your choice of “truculent.” I was wondering why you chose that word in particular since my usual use of it is extremely negative.

    And the dictionary says <—please read that with Richard Dawson's inflection while shooting your right arm up toward the board: fierce, cruel, savagely brutal, harsh, vitriolic, scathing, aggressively hostile, belligerent. If you meant "fierce boosterism" then I'd probably say you were fairly close to describing how Mr. Simon seems to feel about a city he lives in half the year. He does truly love it. If however you chose it with one of the other meanings in mind, then I'd have to say:

    Ugh. We do occasionally get some lameass obnoxious self-congratulatory and truculent commenters here who make silly comments that make me grateful I'm not standing next to them in the barrooms I frequent as it's distinctly possible that while I don't drink Sazerac's some drink throwing might be warranted, unless I had the good sense to turn my back and put my Abita in a paper bag to drink on the corner.

  7. September 25, 2012 4:36 pm

    Yay, Sam!

    I’d say Mr. Jasper but after Mr. Mark’s caning, I guess not. O dear. :)

    Love, C.

  8. September 25, 2012 4:59 pm

    Tom: This is Maitri, BOT publisher here. Thanks for your comment. The first and foremost request that our About section makes of commenters is to “Please keep it civil and do not feed the trolls. BOT reserves the right to ban commenters for trolling, spamming, author abuse and generally acting the fuckmook.”

    I don’t know if you’ve commented here before. This is not a fangirl/boy blog, so you are welcome to dislike the show and leave your constructive (or not) criticisms of episodes, which others then have the right to take apart and discuss with you. While I do not share samjasper’s “unrepentant fandom” of David Simon and his repertoire, I will advise you that if you have nothing to add to the discussion beyond coming in with ad hominems flying (especially about how some people choose to watch the show), please do not to come back.

    Commenters: We are in this to be a community, not a place for occasional drive-bys. Take this as an opportunity to read the rules of participation here at Back Of Town. Also, if two commenters disagree and are arguing, please do not participate if it’s only to egg one or the other along and you have nothing else to contribute. That is bad form, and I will delete your comment (or assign replacement referees, which no one wants). As always, thank you for reading, commenting and keeping flame wars at a pretty good minimum.

  9. Susan Iverson permalink
    September 25, 2012 7:13 pm

    This is so spot on about Sunday nights show, I just wish people who never been to New Orleans, or in a hurricane for that matter, could get this is a story line of several different things that have happened.My own Northern Minnesota husband got upset John Goodman was killed off, until I explained why.
    I have been supporting my home state ever since I left in 1989, it seems like I have been defending it even harder since Katrina. I remember a gentleman(Mr. Mark Folse) blogger in Fargo, ND posting things on the in-forum site and I was right there listening agreeing with him; trying to educate some um.. not so nice people Thank you y’all, for having a blog for people who “get it”

  10. September 25, 2012 7:48 pm

    That was in fact me, back when i started Wet Bank Guide. I remember talking to a Forum reporter trying to get them to imagine all of Fargo and West Fargo under water up to the second story, and that was just Chalmette.

  11. September 26, 2012 4:30 am

    Since then, as you probably know, Mark, Fargo is trying to divert the Red River and build some dams that will supposedly put an end to Fargo and West Fargo — particularly the Country Club – Golf Course neighborhoods flooding every time the Red goes over the banks. This plan is very expensive and will be financed with public, taxpayers’ funds, evidently not even city bonds. The plan will take years to implement and it sould put underwater several communities, small towns below the city. The people who live there feel this is wrong.

    IOW, Fargoans have a whole other ‘tude when it’s them. It’s like ye former stepdad, blowharding from his throne at the head of the table about all those lazy people living at his taxpaying expense. “I never have had a dime from the government in my life!” As his father lives on medicare and medicaid and other subsidies, he gets crop failure disaster crops in droughts and flood times, money for letting the fields lay fallow in rotation, etc.

    They really believe up there that they all do it all all by themselves and nobody ever gives them help (or respect) of any kind.

    Needless to say they had Things to Say about New Orleans after the Failure. I had to quit talking to them for a while. I couldn’t stand it, and rationality, facts, etc. had no effect whatsoever.

    Yet — if someone landed on their doorstep hurt, bleeding and starving, they take care of that person. My family, weird.

    Love, c.

  12. September 26, 2012 7:48 am

    Off topic sort of, Fargo is coming to FX as a series.

  13. September 26, 2012 8:42 am

    Which will be shot entirely in Minnesota just like the film? Fargo was one of those films locals love to hate, the way so many New Orleanians have hated past film portrayals. Actually, the parts that feature rural Minnesota got the locals and locales, accent included, dead on (yeah, you betcha!). We should probably book an exception for Streetcar Named Desire but that never comes up in these discussions. Thankfully, we in New Orleans have Treme to lay that issue to rest.

  14. September 26, 2012 9:27 pm

    Having grown up in a suburb of Indianapolis, I have to agree — that scene was indeed “a quiet high point.”

  15. September 27, 2012 3:19 pm

    This 2007 Salon article by Larry Blumenfeld is good background on the incident that starts the episode.. http://www.salon.com/2007/10/29/treme/

  16. September 29, 2012 2:20 pm

    @Mark As for the spirit of place, I don’t know about the location of the shooting, but “One of the biggest strengths of Fargo — which, despite its title, takes place primarily in Minnesota — is how the film manages to be “so specific to a time and place,” says Germain Lussier at SlashFilm.”

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