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A Thousand Miles Away from Home

June 5, 2010

Back during Season 5 of The Wire, HBO had a really good feature up about music supervisor Blake Leyh, who is filling the same role on Treme.  Seems like the piece got swallowed up by the re-fuctoring of, but here’s a little post about it at New Package.

More recently, David Simom has a few similar words along those lines in a recent Spinner interview:

“Sometimes you’re shaping the music to fit the story and other times, the music is incidental in a way that music in a jukebox can often be incidental.”

I’ve been feeling the music in Treme like it’s a second dialogue, a harmony riding underneath the melody of the main script.  You can go back over each episode on the second watching and listen just to the music, and find stuff that complements, reinforces, embellishes, or foreshadows what is happening in the story, and it’s a lot of fun trying to sort out what the music is trying to say.

Take for example the time Annie comes home to find Sonny doing coke with his friends.  In the background you can hear Jon Cleary’s “Got To Be More Careful”:

Can’t believe a word they say
Don’t believe the things they do
And I can’t believe they’re getting away
With what they do, they do
Messing over me and you

Which could easily be Annie talking about the drugs and the bad influence of Sonny’s friends.  Or could just as easily be Sonny talking, about all those other (better) musicians who keep trying to mess up this good thing that he and Annie have going, which eats at his pride and confidence and causes him to seek refuge with his old buddy addiction.

We see Big Chief Lambreaux sewing his suit one night, Nat King Cole’s “I Was A Little Too Lonely” on the radio behind him:

You never did write, you never did call.
When I had the blues, you were havin’ a ball.
You thought that I’d be here to run to,
Now I’m gonna do to you what I’ve been done to.

Too bad about you, my friend,
It could’ve been great.
But I got a little too lonely,
And you were a little too late!

If he was really listening, maybe the song would remind him of Delmond, who’s been out travelling the world with his “serious” musician friends and missing out on his birthright in the Indian gang.  Or maybe he’s thinking of the city council and HANO, who will show up too little too late with a single FEMA trailer while the Chief really needs the projects re-opened to cure the loneliness that casts a shadow over his city.

And speaking of Delmond, he gets talked into playing “Iko Iko” for an encore while on tour, “Iko Iko” with all of those smack-talk verses about how my spy boy is better than your spy boy.  And when he gets home to Sunday night practice, he finds that the boy from down the street has taken what could have been his place in the crew, may even be taking what’s left of his father’s love, and you can see the regret in his eyes.  “My spy boy eats de pork chop,” Delmond  gets to eat liver.

We’ve seen foreshadowing that has been resolved, when Antoine brings the new trombone to give to his old teacher Danny.  Danny picks up the horn and blows a little bit of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, the classic jazz funeral dirge, and by the following week Antoine is playing trombone at Danny’s funeral.

And foreshadowing that has not been resolved (maybe…funny thing about foreshadowing, you’re never really sure it’s there until you get the payoff), when Creighton picks up his agent from the airport.  The brass band in the baggage claim is playing “Just Over In The Glory Land”, an instrumental version of a gospel hymn with words that go like this:

I’ve a home prepared, where the saints abide,
Just over in the glory land,
And I long to be by my Savior’s side,
Just over in the glory land,

Just over in the glory land,
I’ll join the happy angel band…

About a man going to meet his maker.  Where the Saints abide, no less.

You can dig and dig and dig through the music and probably find a lot more, but at least in the episodes we’ve seen, you cannot top the one-two knock-out after the sucker-punch to the gut at the morgue in Carville.

When LaDonna pops back into the bar to change her clothes, the jukebox is playing Lee Dorsey’s “Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further”:

What happen to the Liberty Bell
I heard so much about?
Did it really ding-dong?
It must have dinged wrong
It didn’t ding long

Pray tell, what’s gonna happen to brother?
Who’s gonna help him get further?

A pretty happy-sounding song, actually, if we didn’t already know that the Liberty Bell tolled for Daymo, and nobody’s gonna help him now.

And if that wasn’t enough, we get an old-school musical train reference to close out the show (and as we know, Simon loves him that whole train == death metaphor), Snooks Eaglin doing a variation of Jimmy Rodgers’ “A Thousand Miles From Home”, a variation that is heartbreakingly perfect as we fade to black and say goodbye to Daymo:

A thousand miles away from home
Sleeping in the rain
A thousand miles away from home
Waiting for a train

Nobody seems to want me
Or lend me a helping hand
I never more will roam again
If I ever get home again

  1. June 5, 2010 7:45 am

    “stuff that complements, reinforces, embellishes, or foreshadows what is happening in the story”
    Well put, Ray.

  2. doctorj2u permalink
    June 5, 2010 9:11 am

    Wow. Ray. It is posts like this that make this website a must read. It opens levels of the show that I completely missed. Thank you for helping the blind like me see how truly wonderful “Treme” really is. Beautiful essay, sir.

  3. June 5, 2010 9:15 am

    Trains? Did somebody say trains? The only actual train-on-the-tracks sounds I have noticed so far were in Episode 3 while Sonny drank Annie’s bottle of birthday wine.

    In a not-so-subtle music moment, Davis and Janette are having their awesome teamwork moment at Bacchanal while the band plays “Real Best Friend”. I could swear Davis has a look of fear on his face hearing the lyrics and consciously noticing the zeitgeist/synchronicity of the moment. Desautel makes him reaffirm his commitment asking “you’re not gonna ditch me and sit in with the band?” and then starts blowing some huge flame on the stove. Like maybe Davis is scared of what this “real best friend” stuff is gonna get him into. (And I have had fun listening to the Washboard Chaz Trio since looking them up).

    A quirkier music connection moment… We had just finished watching the scene with the Pine Leaf Boys on stage at Tipitina’s and then there is one of those “pine tree” air fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror of Toni’s car as they drive into the trailer-truck morgue. I cracked a half-smile noticing that on my third viewing of the episode. I’ll throw down with anyone who wants to say there’s no connection.

  4. June 5, 2010 9:43 am

    Great post, Ray, gave me chills.

  5. liprap permalink
    June 5, 2010 11:08 am

    Speaking of sound effects, I certainly noticed the helicopter sounds in the first episode as LaDonna and Antoine were chatting over red beans and rice in Gigi’s. Those helicopters were still flying over even six months after.

    Having chatted with someone about all the layers of meaning in Treme, it’s such a kick to see the music adding even more to it…and, of course, it’s great to read Ray pulling on all those threads, Well done, dude.

  6. June 5, 2010 11:46 am

    Very poignant – a perfectly crafted post. I haven’t had a minute to watch since ep 3 but I think I’ll make the time now.

  7. virgotex permalink*
    June 5, 2010 1:43 pm

    love this from the interview (oy, kangol tag) This is it:

    I hope it calls more attention to the culture of New Orleans because it’s culture that saved the city. The city was not saved by political leadership — there was none. It wasn’t saved by any kind of coherent urban policy — there was none. It wasn’t saved by economic fiat. If you look at how far New Orleans has come back in the last five years, it’s because the people refuse to give up their culture. They couldn’t imagine living anywhere else or being any other way. It’s extraordinary because American culture has not endured in the same way anywhere else.

  8. samjasper permalink
    June 6, 2010 3:25 pm

    A friend is visiting on an internship from California. She wanted to see the show so we started at Episode one and got through the first three. Ray, you’re on to something. Every week I watch the show first just to see what’s gonna happen, then I watch it again to write about it. While I know what happened in previous episodes, I hadn’t watched the first three in a row, sort of as a piece. Your use of the word foreshadowing is absolutely dead on. It’s not just in the music. Watching those three episodes all at once, I heard lines that I hadn’t noticed before, lines that directed anticipation of a story line in really subtle ways. It was all little things like Toni’s frustration, throwing things around the room after coming home from a day of run around, then back to her controlled efficient self until her barely contained rage inside the morgue truck. It’s like you knew she was gonna have to blow at some point, and she hasn’t completely yet. I wish I had written down all the little things I noticed watching the first episodes again. I might have to do a marathon and keep notes next time.

    This post was fabulous, Ray. Thanks.

  9. Dexter Johnson permalink
    June 15, 2010 2:03 pm

    I watch each episode a few times and then a couple more times the show is on for background music during the day. I understand how sensitive the musicians are to “Iko Iko” and “”…Saints…”, but I am glad that Annie was playing the Alter, Louis, Delange, Eddie tune “Do You Know What it Means…” when Creigh passed by and dropped in a double sawbuck. I love that tune in its place, and that was great timing by Simon.

  10. brueso permalink
    June 15, 2010 2:58 pm

    I agree. There have been alot of places they could’ve used it in the series, and that was a perfect place.


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