Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy 2006!

Watch Your Back...
Flash Your Tail...
Love's the only thing I've ever known.
One things for sure sweet baby... I always take the long way home.

The Straw That Broke Me Open

It's twelve hours to a new year here on the west coast of North America. In some parts of the world the time has already passed. I'm sitting at my desk trying to figure out what I want to say about this past year for a final Blues Routes program and there's really only one thing that colors absolutely everything... mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, geographically, and spiritually... Katrina.

I just found a video online for "Last Night of the World." The song is from an incredible album by Bruce Cockburn entitled "Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu," and I'd be hard pressed to come up with a better illustration for the way my life as gone this year than that very feeling of being tossed about and around the world on a wind and a whim.

In the song, Cockburn describes seeing "the flame of hope among the hopeless," and declares "that was the straw that broke me open." And THERE it is... The straw that broke ME open was the hurricane that blew through my life and took everything apart. So... four months later, here I am back where it all started 25 years ago when I finished seminary and moved into San Francisco seeking to change the world.

The song begins with the line "I'm sipping Flor de Cana and lime juice..." It took me a while to catch the line, but when I caught it, I cracked up. Flor de Cana is a fabulous rum made in Nicaragua that I first got a taste of (and a hankering for)in 1983 when I traveled there with the very first Witness for Peace team, on a mission to fight the Reagan Administration's incursions into the lives of the people there. Here we are, 23 years later and I've got a hankering for Flor de Cana, while the son of Reagan's V.P. is carrying on the best traditions of his elders. The more things change... the more they stay the same. I think I'll go out and find me some Flor de Cana to help me bring in the New Year.

If this were the last night of the world... what would I do that was different?

Unless it was champagne with YOU?

If I had the chance I'd ask the world to dance

It's 1:00 am on the last day of the year and I am sitting in front of the computer with Billy Idol (who is in fact MY age, I might point out) screaming in my ears and my wet clothes tossed all about my empty office (Damn I wish I had a camera with me).

After being gladfully indulged by a stray group of New Orleans musicians (and friends) holding court at Carol Doda's former haunt on Columbus, now a New Orleans refugee restaurant, I stepped out into the elements...

And got POUNDED by the rain!

But that's just fine with me. I just walked back from North Beach to SOMA in an absolutely torrential rain that feels like the exactly appropriate conclusion to this soggy, frustrating, confusing and lost year. I made not only the best of it... I made it a party! My very own get rid of 2005 personal party.

It began with circling (not once but twice) the giant Christmas tree in Union Square while singing the lyrics and performing the dance steps (to the best of my completely limited ability) of Singing in the Rain. I kept expecting a cop to come and stop me, but I was deliriously happy in my midnight solitude. When I closed my umbrella and splashed through the puddles in front of the taxicab I thought I might be pushing things, but nobody seemed to mind (or perhaps even notice)... so I skipped down Powell Street passed the cable car, across Market and down 4th. Once I tried to reopen my umbrella, but the elements were not having any of it.

Why worry...why fret? I just took three jumps into the puddle at Mission Street and spun my way home, drenched to the bone and singing at the top of my lungs.

So... for the last time in 2005...

When there's no one else in sight
In the crowded lonely night
Well there's nothin' to lose
and nothin' to prove...
I'll be dancin'with myself.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Big Kiss Off

I'll have more... probably A LOT more... to say about the year we are about to leave as midnight approaches tomorrow. Right now, it's growing dark outside as I look out of the windows in my new studio/office South of Market in San Francisco (my home away from home). I've been getting things finished up and prepared for a new year and frankly... it's time for a drink!

So, I'm just gonna leave you with a song and a thought to bring this mostly horrible year to a near close.

Good Riddance!!!!!

I am just ever so happy to KISS this one goodbye.

Monday, December 26, 2005

St. Stephen's Day Murders

Just a quick note here to say Merry Second Day of Christmas... We made it... I made it... we're heading for the light. I spent Christmas Eve with my daughter and her sweety and then she and I went to church for midnight mass at Grace Cathedral. Christmas morning was pretty much like any other day for me. I woke up, ate something and sat meditation before going down the street from my hotel to Glide Memorial for the big blow out Celebration for Christmas morning. It was great!!!

Then I spent the afternoon creating a new Blues Routes podcast, just for Christmas, which you can hear here (it's show #7). All I have to say about this is one is, my apologies to Cajun friends for the way I mangled the accent. I hope you can enjoy it anyway.

Finally... it's Boxing Day... or more specifically St. Stephen's Day! St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It's a day for visiting and feasting and perhaps (as Elvis Costello so wonderfully tells it) for poisoning all the relatives you are SO sick of. I think it's the perfect psychological yang to the yin of Christmas, all murder and horror to counter the way too much joy and prosperity of the day before.

FYI... the theory on why it's called Boxing Day can be found here... It is NOT because it's the day for putting up the boxes from the day before.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's About Time

Okay... Nothing new on this side this morning, but I just finished a new posting at Washington's Cousin, so go have a look.

And one more thing... Tomorrow's the Winter Solstice... days will start getting longer and the light will begin to return. Sunday is Christmas and 12 days later we start the march toward Mardi Gras.

Happy Merry Y'all!!!!!

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Single Greatest Invention...

I've been in California for less than a week and I have thought of the world's greatest contemporary idea at least a dozen times. Right now, with a goodly amount of work finished on my computer and NO WiFi to load it up to the web, I'm ready to head out in search of another place to lock in and get my work done.

The single thing standing in my way is my beer that is more than half full and which I neither want to guzzle, throw out or leave behind. What I need at this moment is… say it with me… A GO CUP!

On second thought, I think that we may have a tie here… Go Cups AND Free WiFi… these are the two single most wonderful inventions of the last fifty years. Forget all the other things, because they don't matter without Go Cups and Free WiFi… believe me… I know. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've actually seen a man walk on the moon (so what actually came out of that besides a great video and Tang!?) and the end of many deadly diseases (we've also seen the creation of some even deadlier diseases, but, again, that's another story), but what can any of this possibly mean when held up against the incredible reality of freely taking your drink out the door and freely accessing the communication nexus of the modern world.

It's been a rough day for me in The City... Free Wifi spots that are supposed to be prevelant and helpful have been largely nonexistent or too weak to trust. The only solutions, like those in Newe Orleans, are the ones put in place by businesses looking to gain clientele. Frankly, I think this is a more trustworthy solution than the grand plans of both SF and NOLA to make WiFi a government supplied service. Nice try guys, but I have my doubts. In BOTH of my favorite cities, my best connections to the internet have been provided by the "market sector" and almost always come with either coffee or beer.

But then, MOST things of value come with either coffee or beer.


Of course... we might add potable drinking water to the list, especially water, like San Francisco's, that runs from a reservoir high in the Sierra Mountains. After the chlorine infused, always dubious post-Katrina water in New Orleans it's kind of nice to be in a town where you can get good tasting, relatively safe, clean H2O right out of the tap.

Of course, it meant damning and flooding one of the most beautiful places on earth to get that water. Things always seem to have two sides now, don't they?

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Light Is Coming

Sitting with coffee and still the best pan chocolate I've ever tasted at Della Fattoria in Petaluma, a place I wrote about in this blog two months ago.

I will be doing photo shoots of Santa Claus at Dempsey's on Sunday and Tuesday and I will be working with the folks at Outpost Studios to see if we can still work out the office arrangement we started back before I left for New Orleans in October.

Unlike the last time, when I really had no place else to go, I am happy to be in Northern California again and I am even happy to be in Petaluma for the time being (though that enjoyment has a lot to do with the fact that I will be leaving here for San Francisco in a few days and to return to New Orlleans in a few weeks).

It's good to be back and it's even better to be back under far less questionable circumstances. In five days we will see the Winter Solstice and can know for sure that the light is indeed returning.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On the Road Again

Well... this time tomorrow I'll be winging my way out of Nashville toward Oakland. I've never flown through Nashville before, and whenever I fly from NOLA to the West Coast in winter I always try to stay to the south, but flights out of New Orleans are limited these days, so, like with everything else, we make due with what's available. My lesson in total trust and complete patience continues, but frankly it's feeling pretty good.

I leave this place with a real sense of melancholy. I want to be back in San Francisco for Christmas because I want to be with my kid (she was in London last Christmas) but I am very much aware that in leaving, I really am leaving home. The up side of this is that I know I will be back, and soon.

And, unlike the last time I was in California, I know where I belong and, to a certain extent, what I need to do. There's still a very good chance that I may wind up being a tri-coastal person, perpetually bouncing between three coasts (west, east and gulf), but the anchor that I have needed... the grounding, the vision, and the base; that is clearly established. My home - at least for now - is in The Crescent City.

I leave with an uplifted heart and lot's of hope. Tonight I will go with my friend Mary to St. Louis Cathedral where some of my favorite musicians will be celebrating Christmas "Peace Stories." One of those songs will most certainly be the Anders Osborne tune (here sung by Jesse Moore) that has become a theme song for Katrina tossed New Orleans in general and for me in particular... "It's Gonna Be Okay." If you generally skip the songs I post here, make an exception this time... This is my nomination for Best Song of the YEAR.

That's the good news today... It really IS gonna be okay.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Charmaine's Good Song

I was reading Anne Lamott's Blue Shoethis morning while listening to random Christmas Music on iTunes.

Somewhere in the book (I think I read it this morning, but it might have been a few days ago) Anne writes, "expectations are premeditated resentments." That's a great line; too true for total comfort, but pleasingly close to comforting reality (which is a lot of what is special about Anne Lamott's writing). Despite this fact, I find myself holding grand expectations this morning as I sip coffee and think about the world. That's really what Advent is about anyway. Waiting… expectantly, despite the fact that we know from too much personal experience that shit happens. It is knowing, with no small portion of hope and faith, that however dim it is right now, the LIGHT is returning, and soon.

I have this tendency to put songs into my Christmas mix that don't generally fit into the Christmas song mixes of more grounded people… this morning, Johnny Cash's version of "Your Own Personal Jesus" played earlier. Right now Patti Scialfa's (Mrs. Boss) "Stumbling to Bethlehem" is on. Just before I started writing this, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" came on and I stopped reading to lend that one my full attention.

THAT decision is what brought this whole disjointed topic to mind. Louis singing about all the glorious things he sees is kind of an unofficial theme song of New Orleans and there are a lot of people who sing it. Some of the best renditions are more like impersonations of Satchmo, but around here, that's a good thing. One of the best Satchmo impersonators in the world is Charmaine Neville. I saw her do What a Wonderful World two years ago in Jackson Square at the conclusion of French Quarter Fest at a point in my life when everything (in the city, and in my life) was in much better order than it is now. Well, following this train of thought is like an old Springsteen song from Lucky Town (an incredibly wonderful and generally under valued album) where he sings, "I had a coat of fine leather and snake skin boots, but that coat always had a thread hangin' loose. I pulled it one night and to my surprise it led me right past your house and over the rise." Thinking of Charmaine in Jackson Square singing Satchmo reminded me of the fact that she is singing in town tonight, just three blocks from my house at Trinity Episcopal church. It's one of those typical, somewhat out of place musical experiences that happens at Christmas, a "sing it yourself Messiah." Charmaine will be a featured soloist tonight and will even be singing a special composition written by Trinity's organist and music director, Albinas Prizgintas.

The last time you heard about Charmaine in this weblog, I was in North Carolina and Charmaine was in Baton Rouge following the absolutely horrible experiences of her first few days in the Katrina flood. The day I heard her story was probably one of the lowest days of my life. The familiar threads of my existence had unraveled completely and I was lost in the mountains, covered in chigger bites, unable to make phone calls, and living on a full time diet of Anderson Cooper, Brian Williams and pictures of people dying in The Land of Dreams.

Well… here we are three months later. Life is in no way back to normal and the threads of my life have not found their way back to any kind of recognizable cloth. Things are likely to remain disjointed and confused for years. We need help to make New Orleans whole and that help (as I mentioned yesterday) is not particularly evident right now. But my city is coming, ever so slowly, back to life, and my life is feeling a little bit more whole every day. There's less trash on the street than there was a month ago and there are more homes with lights and water and gas and… people in them. Friends have come home, and more are on their way. People will actually be caroling in Washington Square this evening.

And Charmaine Neville is singing at Trinity Church tonight!

Joyous Advent y'all!

Despite everything that's gone wrong… It's Christmastime in New Orelans.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Back Into The Sunset

I got an email from a friend yesterday that made the comment, "I can't even imagine what you are up to but whatever it is I bet you have a smile on your face." It's a nice sentiment and not entirely wrong. I appreciate the thought (and the evident reputation of being a basically cheerful person)... BUT... While I tend to have a smile on my face much of the time, it comes from the effort of living with an openess and a hopefulness in the midst of what is a truly terrible situation.

Harry Shearer, in his fabulous Le Show, this week discusses the fact that news dealing with New Orleans as a hurricane disaster is really not true. The hurricane damage is here and there's plenty of it... But the fact is, the flooding that actually destroyed the city and the continuing ineffectual response to the disaster (now nearly 4 months ago) is NOT a hurricane story it's a GOVERNMENT story. It's a story about the failings of the Army Corp of Engineers and the completely inadequate level of preparedness on the part of FEMA as reconstituted by Bush.

It's also a story about people - poor, rich, middle class, employed and unemployed, exiled and trying to make it back home - who are being forgotten as the weeks and months roll on and little to nothing actually happens.

The streets are still covered in trash. The houses, from the lower 9th to the fancy lakeside houses out by the lake, are still broken, trashed and unlivable. Even in areas of town that are back to habitability, the power, gas and water are inconsistent at best.

On Thursday I head back to California for Christmas and (probably) most of January. As I leave this city, my heart stays here, and I hope that somehow I can communicate the needs of this broken crescent to the people I meet along the way.

New Orleans needs to be remembered. New Orleans needs your help.

The next disaster may be in YOUR city... and we need to all remember that we're theoretically in this together.


You can find links to ways to help New Orleans at the Mercury Public Media website.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Off The Deep End...

Okay... I've been wanting to do this for some time now and I've finally put my ass out on the line.

I've got a new blog, appropriately titled Butting Heads. It's long form only, so all of you folks with limited attention spans are probably going to want to avoid it.

For the rest of you, drop on by... it'll be good for a few laughs (or tears) at least.

Red Beans, Rice and Rotor Blades

Last night, like most Monday nights was Red Beans and Rice night at Tujagues Restaurant. A pint of Bass Ale for $5.00 accompanied by a brimming plate of creamy red beans, bright white rice, and a big baguette all for FREE. It's Monday in New Orleans, the traditional day of red beans cooking all day on stoves all over town while the wash was getting done. Red beans getting creamy, full of flavor and bursting with goodness. Monday Night Red Beans and Rice are probably the best example of New Orleans current need of comfort in any form available. It certainly works for me, but then, I have always had a thing for putting things in my mouth.

On the other side of all that comfort are the still ever present military installations. Yesterday morning I had to meet someone near the Convention Center downtown (yeah, THAT convention center downtown) and what I discovered when I got there was a formerly empty lot filled with military Humvees in their new desert beige camouflage, as well as the old green color (much more appropriate for our swamplike environment). It was a daunting site. Hundreds of machines sitting like giant bugs, waiting to descend on the city like mosquitos in July. Several times a day the helicopters still fly overhead as if searching for mysterious phantoms, or left over people. It's a strange feeling. What this city needs is some kind of take on normalcy, a logistical and governmental version of Red Beans and Rice. What we have instead is a more or less benign, yet mostly pointless and ineffective occupying force (all the National Guard folks are smiling and friendly while they stand around shouldering their M-16s). Despite the fact that I know they mean well, this occupation pisses me off. I mean, for the most part, I LIKE these folks and they, more or less, look like me, and they still bug me everytime they drive by, fly over or show up out of nowhere. I can only imagine what it must be like to be in a place like Iraq, occupied by a similar force of much greater strength and hostility in a land where they truly don't belong.

Come to think of it… They don't belong HERE!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Finding The Holy Grail

A lot has happened since I first wrote about finding Free WiFi at Molly's back in early August, but it's not like the issue has ever gone away from my mind.

Well... the first BIG improvement to New Orleans reality post-Katrina has just been announced and it's pretty damned amazing. New Orleans, and NOT San Francisco (sorry Gavin) is going to be the first city in the U.S. to offer CITY-WIDE FREE WI-FI.

Supposedly, it's already installed in the CBD and in the French Quarter, but I haven't yet had a chance to check it out.

Obviously... it would be nice if the city could move as quickly on the "little" things, like getting all the CRAP off the streets, or fixing the levees, or getting people back in their homes, but maybe a leapfrog kind of thing like this is just hte kind of "action plan" that's needed to get the other stuff moving as well.

Let's hope so.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Down By the Riverside

As I've said before, admittedly with fingers crossed and a hopeful tongue in cheek much of the time, it's pretty much impossible to keep New Orleans down. There was no better way of proving this than last Saturday's big concert by the River. A free show with Kermit Ruffins, John Cleary, Topsy Chapman and John Boute'. There was of course "Uncle" Lionel Batiste of the Treme Brass Band cruising the front rows by the stage and dancing it up with all the lovely ladies.

Despite all the people and all the celebration (Putumayo Records made up a bunch of T-shirts that were sold with proceeds going tot he Musicians Clinic) it still feels a little bit like whistling (or perhaps more appropriately, playing trumpet) in the dark.

But a day of music down by the river is STILL a day of music down by the river and it beats running away from a hurricane any day!