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Keeping The Music Alive

May 6, 2010

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“Price was twelve, bro.”

The first minute of the first episode of Treme shows Rebirth’s Keith Frazier haggling with the Black Men of Labor over how much the music is going to cost them. Right from the start, even viewers outside New Orleans know that the music is the life-blood-soul of this joint and that, as far away from the here and now that set of notes takes the musician and the listener, it’s a job. It puts food on the table, keeps a roof over heads and barely pays the goddamned bills. Welcome to New Orleans.

We’ve argued over the show’s adherence to reality, probably unavoidably so. I assure you that everything Treme shows you about life after The Storm – fighting the insurance companies, (not or slowly) rebuilding homes and businesses and, most importantly, the lack of accessible and affordable services for people who were already living paycheck to paycheck – is absolutely true. The battle continues to this day, especially for the city’s musicians. Imagine having to provide for your own family and another musical family in the best of times. Suddenly, the responsibility to all of these people in the face of so much ongoing personal loss. It’s too much to take.

What the hell has this world come to when living legend Fats Domino had to be rescued off the roof of his house, for god’s sake? This is what’s really sacrilegious to me, though: after bearing deaths, broken families, bands and gangs separated, flooded instruments and suits, regular and irregular gigs gone, homes and graves washed away, so many musicians and bearers of tradition came back and are now dying all over again from not being able to afford healthcare.

Things get worse: Just this morning, I received a note from a musician friend’s wife that said, “As of August 1, 2010, the New Orleans Musicians Clinic is facing a 90% shortfall in its funding. This will mean dramatic cuts in the health services that hundreds of New Orleans musicians and their families depend on.” The clinic is how many of them receive their medications and tests, without which they would not come close to affording health care.

Back Of Town is a blog about a television show about a city rebuilding, not really for activism or political debate. The lives of almost all of those musicians and New Orleans cultural stars we worship, gleefully identify during and after each episode and call our own, however, are at risk. And I would like to keep them away from the Ain’t Dere No More list, if I can help it. There are so many of you who want to be a part of New Orleans through the show. Here’s your chance: Please watch Dr. John, Deacon John and other musicians speak on behalf of the clinic, donate what you can and please, please spread the word whether you can chip in or not.

“For over a hundred years, the musicians of New Orleans have been healing the world with sounds of joy and freedom. Now they need your help.”

Thank you.

  1. May 6, 2010 5:23 pm

    Thank you.

    It’s so hard, even for people like Bonnie Raitt, to divvy up what one can possibly spare among all the places that need it.

    We have been putting ours into Haiti this year.

    Before that it went to New Orleans musicians.

    Now it’s that bad again.

    And things are bad here too with the ever-increasing numbers of homeless families … you cannot walk past them every time, ignore them every time on the subway. And one has only so many dollar bills in a day to divvy out.

    Love, C .

  2. doctorj2u permalink
    May 6, 2010 7:18 pm

    As an aside, thank you for identifying Keith Frazier for me. I adore that man’s face. I was wondering if that was an actor or a New Orleanian. He is really wonderful. A natural.

  3. jjazznola permalink
    May 9, 2010 10:25 pm

    I have lived in NOLA, I love and support the music scene and The Musician’s Clinic. The musicians there have a lot of the same problems as the rest of our society. Besides giving them healthcare, they must also be taught how to budget their money and not spend it on alcohol and drugs which many of them do. Sure it’s nice to play music for a living but the fact is you need to have a plan to live a health, successful life. BTW, does anyone know who does that version of Lil Liza Jane at the end of the video?

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