In Defense of Davis McAlary: Epistle in B Flat
There are a lot of folks who absolutely hate the character, Davis McAlary. Others who just don’t like Steve Zahn. The nola.com site was full of commenters applauding poor Davis’ come uppance.
I was not among them.
I love Davis. I know this guy, and lots just like him. Tell the truth. So do you. We all have a friend who’s a bit over the top, a little bit out there, annoys the hell out of us, but still we shake our heads and regale our other friends with stories about him. As he walks out after talking us into something of a dubious nature, we do the same thing one of the guys he talks into playing on his record does: We smile, laugh a little and say, “Asshole.”
Davis is absolutely self involved, no doubt about it, but he’s also absolutely passionate about New Orleans, the people, the music. He’s completely caught up in the sheer joy of living here, even with the sudden drops into despair or anger.
In Episode 4 he made me laugh at myself. We were here right after Katrina and in the first two months we replaced one tire and repaired one with five nails in it. By the first year anniversary we had replaced them all. I even laughed at the “Lagniappe Guy.” One of our tires blew out in, yup, truly, a hole Entergy had dug on Whitney Blvd on the Westbank. I pulled over to the side and voila! Like magic a guy came off his porch with tire changing tools. A buddy of his sidled down to help out. They probably made a hundred a day putting on spares. They just sat there waiting for the next tire to blow, knowing that those of us with no inflatable Santa or Entergy exec to kick would drop a twenty on him for helping and another ten for his helper. My guess is he was very sad when that hole got fixed.
In that same episode, he stood in the Apple Barrel and ranted about FEMA, Bush, Nagin, Entergy, and all the other usual suspects, while raising a glass and eliciting groans and cusswords from the other patrons. It was a scene I’d seen played out over and over again during that time. Hell, all anyone had to do to get the bar patrons to holler something in unison was say “Bush SUCKS!” The entire place would stop, mid-pool shot, mid-conversation or mid-pickup line to raise their drinks hollering, “Yeah, you right. The fucker.” I used to laugh and say that if anyone got out of hand in a bar, the bartender could ignore the baseball bat on the bottom shelf. All she had to do was get up on the bar hollering “FEMA SUCKS!” and the problem would be solved without violence as everyone’s attention, including the out of hand patron’s, would have been riveted to Norma Rae in tats and black torn tshirt standing on the bar decrying in two words the commonality of despair felt by the people with reams of paper in their pockets stamped with the words PENDING.
Lost property (“Hope there was nothing of value in there.”), a stint in jail (“Davis, you don’t motherfuck the National Guard!”), blown out tire, the city he loves in ruins, politicos yammering instead of doing, an ambivalent girlfriend (“For a private life I’ve got YOU!”), lost job–Davis maintains his passion and more importantly, his optimism. It’s clear he’s not stupid, and not oblivious to the problems of post-Katrina New Orleans. He’s just simply trying to get by, live his life as normally as possible and have fun doing it. There were folks like him, still are. We need them. While sitting in a pity pot, miserable and angry, a wild eyed guy like him stands up and says, “Pot for Potholes!” Magically you find yourself laughing, agreeing, enthusiastically supporting the idea and your issues are gone for a little while. Oh how important those people were then and still are now.
Davis is the personification of the people of New Orleans’ ability to use humor to get through a crisis, dark humor often, but humor nonetheless. He’s the personification of their ability to make art out of pain, scrawling lyrics on the wall to turn into music a half a bottle of wine later. He’s the guy with no hot water unabashedly running through the second line dancing like a scarecrow for the joy of it.
In Episode 5 his speech to the musicians he’s trying to recruit is inspired. As they sit eating, he assaults them with reasons to do it: not for the money, for posterity, for New Orleans. And they agree because as bizarre as his idea may be, it CAN be done, and there was so much at that time that could NOT be done. And ya know what? They showed up. The smiles on those musicians’ faces said it all. Laughing out loud as he did his Bush imitation, “Your City’s WET.” His Shame, Shame, Shame rendition was great! (“Should we lay down the bass and drum tracks?” “What band is this? Journey?”) He said in that song what everyone was thinking.
Finally he ends up drunk in a bar with two black friends. He quotes Antoine Batiste, unfortunately using the n-word. Clean cut guy takes issue. His friends try to shut him up. He’s not seeing the problem. Hell, he said in his recording that folks were stuck listening to this white guy because the great black musician was stuck in some town far away with no way to get back home. When the clean cut guy clocks him, one of his friends gives the hitter a shame on you look and his other friend tries to help.
Although he’s clearly chastened by the incident, we all know that Davis’ enthusiasm won’t be dampened for long. And that is his appeal.
As for Steve Zahn, I love that guy too. Before this series started I saw him hanging out at Vaughn’s one night. He talked to us for a while (and no, he did not behave like the Davis character) but was clearly there to hear the music. I saw him darting in and out taking photos at Super Sunday. It seems Mr. Zahn has been “gotten” by New Orleans, somewhere between the solar plexus and the heart.
I am looking forward to watching Davis develop as a character. And if I ever see Mr. Zahn in Vaughn’s again, I want to buy him a drink.
Two great lines from the Davis storyline this week, one was nearly a throwaway.
The gay guys next door saying to an incredulous Davis, “We’re your NEIGHBORS.” One of the musicians at the Shame recording session hollering out when they finished, “That was true shit!”
Yeah. They right. Along with the music, there are the people of New Orleans. Davis’ passion is not misplaced, and he knows that as he lowers his uber speakers down from their perches in the windows.
Oh yeah. I should give a shout out to David Kern for his appearance in the Krewe du Vieux captain’s scene. He had a great time doing it and now feels that his battered signature hat should be placed in the Smithsonian. Not for the money. For posterity. For New Orleans!