Wednesday, August 30, 2006

42 Reasons Why!

That's Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth (and the rest of the band as well) over there on the left... He's got a song that you have hopefully played off this blog before, but if you haven't well, then you should right now. He/they get the award for best band/artist in Gambit Weekly's Best of New Orleans issue. Printing the pages off the website will cost you 42 pages of recycled paper, but damnit... trust me... It's a great freaking list!

I was going to start listing my favorites (including two, count them two, listings for Bruce Springsteen's mind boggling jazzfest performance... in NEW ORLEANS, where they almost never give an out of towner a music or a food award).

So... here's the plan... go to the website, print out the list, then go to JetBlue, or Southwest and book yourself a cheap flight, and head on down.

Then write back and let me know what YOU LIKE!

If you're already there, then you already know... so what are YOUR favorites?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nothing To See Here... Please Move Along

Okay... enough of that. It strikes me that it's time to start getting things done around here (wherever "here" might actually be).

Here's a piece from the stellar NPR series "This I Believe". It says a lot about why people are drawn back to New Orleans even after, and perhaps even a little bit because of, what's happened.

I feel very much the same way.

Use Me While You Can

It was a year ago this morning that I sat next to M on her bed in Hattiesburg as we watched Katrina pass over, around, and through us, and I put my hand on her leg. It was a non-verbal way of trying to say, "thanks for taking us in," an expression of tenderness and connection, of despairing fear coupled with a modicum of hope leftover from our 17 years of loving each other. That really was the point where we were finally over. It was a moment that will remain indelibly carved into the granite spaces at the deep center of my memory.

It's taken an entire year for me to get that, to figure out how complete and permanent it was; I've flopped backward and forward in my lack of understanding, my hurt frustration, and my desperate need to be loved still, and more. But we were done that morning just as surely as the folks in New Orleans, who didn't know how hopeless the situation really was, were doomed to be left and lost and forgotten.

What I didn't know at the time was that I was one of those people too.

I did not suffer in any way like they suffered for I had the resources and the opportunity to escape the worst of that storm's fury. I had only lived in New Orleans for a month and my roots were only just beginning to grow down into that bayou dirt. Nonetheless, in that moment, with my reality divided between two, even three places, with no home and with all that I had collected over 51 years of living given away, lost, or about to be; life as I had known it, was ending.

I wake up this morning in the place where this journey started 390 days ago (the day before I moved to NOLA) and it almost feels like nothing has happened, like this morning's awakening was simply a normal rise from sleep and the close of a strangely disconcerting dream. As if the last year – the last 18 years, in fact – has been a sort of Wizard of Oz experience where everything that happened was simply an unconscious drama played out on the cinema screen of my nocturnal perambulations.

Even now, as I write this, tap tap tapping on my laptop keyboard, I look up through the kitchen window to the view of fog shrouded trees and brown dried grass, Bruce Cockburn's music wafts passed my ears, and I feel an odd disconnection of body and mind; I struggle, literally, to grasp for the straws of maya that pass for the previous 365 days of living. They are vanishing before me, even as I reach to snatch them and pull them in, placing them in a shoe box, securing it with tape and tucking it in underneath all of the other junk in the back of the car that currently passes for the closest thing to permanence I possess. Maybe… if I'm lucky, or wise… some day I can open the box and sort through all the scraps and figure out what the hell happened.

For now, what I have to help me make it through is the anger I feel at the callousness, incompetence and veniality of those who could have prevented that other disaster and who could have, in the ensuing year provided the kind of help necessary for a true new beginning for people I know there who have nothing, or nearly nothing, still. Could have, that is, if they were not otherwise distracted by their grasping, greedy, misguided quests for fortune and fame.

I am also sustained by my connections, new and old connections, to people who love me, root for me, and support me just as Dorothy's friends took care of her as they meandered through Oz. Without each of those (you) folks, without the prayers, generosity, thoughtfulness, hopefulness, humor and encouragement I have received, I really don't think I would have made it this far. In fact, I am CERTAIN that I wouldn't have. Honestly.

I really have very little idea where I am going from here. I feel nearly as lost this morning as I did surrounded by the snapping trees and pounding rain of Katrina's fury and this day feels like starting again, again. On the other hand, maybe that's the point of every day.

As it has done for all of my adult life, Bruce Cockburn's music reaches across time and experience to describe this moment perfectly; it sets me, at least temporarily, back on the path.

"I've had breakfast in New Orleans, dinner in Timbuktu
I've lived as a stranger in my own house too
Dark hand waves in lamp light
Cowrie shell patterns change
And NOTHING will be the same again…"

Monday, August 28, 2006


My birthday (I promise this is the last post on this subject) started with a song on my car stereo - one of those perfect song moments that make it feel like someone is composing a soundtrack for your life – just as I started the car the song came blasting from the speakers… Melissa Etheridge starting the whole weekend's theme with "I wanna see how lucky, lucky can be… Ride with me." On those notes, I headed out of my little side street and into the rest of my life.

For some strange reason the song kept finding it's way into my consciousness over and over again throughout the weekend. Another significant moment being when I got in the car after going to Glide Memorial yesterday and being treated to a Katrina weep fest (half an hour of choir music and Katrina photos) that was purging and aching and powerful all at once, combined with a pep rally sermon from Pastor Douglas Finch that majored on the idea that you must take your own power into your life and neither give it away nor expect others to do the work of living for you. It was a strong message and absolutely perfect for the day. Returning down Ellis Street (thoguh the crowds of hookers and homeless) to my car, I got in, turned the engine, and got walloped right between the eyes with Melissa's Lucky Song (it wasn't until this point that I noticed that when programming the album sequence she had the perverted sense of humor to make the song cut #13).

Now… heading into a new week and a new year, on the anniversary of my escape from Katrina (at this very moment one year ago I was filling up Pat Jolly's van and looking for a way out of town, a 100 mile journey up to Hattiesburg that would wind up taking eleven hours), I am ready to put a new shine on this journey. If last year was the "year of leaving dangersously" this next year must be the year of returning to life.

There's another line, from another song on the same album, in which Melissa sings that "I am still learning the lesson, to awake when I hear the call…" I think that's my new image for this new year. It's that sense that the central image of Buddhism is "Wake Up!

So… here we go. I'm ready… I hope…

What's Next?


And while we're on the subject of LUCK... it's looking like Eduardo is going to be nice to New Orleans and go blast the poor folks in Florida this time. I hope those Okeechobee levees hold!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's My Party and I'll Blog If I Want To

I had an absolutely great day yesterday!

It was probably, on an emotional level, the best birthday that I have had in years. I heard from all kinds of friends, I completed a series of work plans that I had been working on for the past week (really much of the past four months, but it all came to a head in the past week). I spoke with one "old" friend, who has his birthday just a month before mine and heard stories of how he is in very much the same place as me; starting new work, moving forward in ways that he never imagined... It was a true reaffirmation of new life right at the anniversary of the events of a year ago that turned so much of my life into chaos.

Some of my big plans (dinner and the theater with my kid for example... a big party for all the local late August birthday boys) got put aside, but I ended the day with a load of friends hanging out drinking, laughing, and talking. I even had creme brulee with a candle on top!

Now that's the way to close out a birthday.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Leaving the Waters of Babylon...

There is really no reason for this flag at the left, it just happens to have come in my email from the New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilding Plan and I like it... I like it a lot.

So there... I realized earlier this week that not only is tomorrow my birthday, this whole week has been sort of a symbolic closure to not just one year of unmitigated disaster, but ten years of turmoil, frustration and creative enervation. Ten years ago this week, I had a seizure on the freeway that should have killed me, but I got away with a seriously smashed up hand, and a new neurologist. The point in and of itself was the culmination of a long process that included a major personal depression and a full year of the roller coaster nightmare that was my partner's cancer diagnosis, treatment, surgery, and further treatment. I have always attributed the particular timing of the event to my body - with Marsha safe and also out of town - finally declaring, "OKAY... my turn for a breakdown!"

These thoughts came to me during my attempt (relatively unsuccessful, but valiant nonetheless) to force myself into a sort of year end reflective retreat. As I urged myself to look back on decades of achievement (and un-achievement) I became keenly aware of how fallow my creative ground has been over the last ten years, as compared to times before. I could go on and on, and some of you who read this know exactly what I mean... but I won't. The exile is over.

I decided to take that as a signpost... a new direction... a way out and a way home.

I hereby plant my flag... August 2005 - August 2006 has been a transition year of chaos in the same way that the year of August 1995 - August 1996 was a transition year of chaos. The decade in between I have decided to give over to the gods and goddesses as time sacrificed for love, learning, growth, heart, hope and new direction.

It's time to start again... It's time to retrieve the harps from the trees, to recall the songs forgotten and look to the journey ahead.

As Fast Eddie (played by Paul Newman) says at the end of The Color Of Money...

I'm back!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Time Travel... There and Back Again

I've had the picture at left on my desktop for the past couple of weeks and it always brings a smile to my face. It's a picture of my daughter on a trip through Ireland that she and her sweetie made last spring.

What I see on the top of it all is the delight on her face and in her life in the midst of that beautiful country at a happy time in life.

What I see below the surface is four generations - well, really five - from my grandmother (and her parents even) who began in Ireland before making it across the ocean, through Canada, and New York City, and Philadelphia, and New York City again,and Miami... and on and on through my mom's life, my dad's life, my life, and now Jen's life lying out ahead of her.

It's all there in that one picture of Jen on the side of a lake in the Irish springtime.

After all the weird places I've been in the last year and the strange, sometimes very hard experiences I've had, I find a really great joy in looking back through time as I gaze at this picture... It reminds me of how everything moves forward... and how all of us move on.

That's something worth remembering a week away from my birthday and just 12 days away from the anniversary of The Thing.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Some Cats DON'T Know...

A few months ago I wrote a piece on the wisdom and life of William Sloane Coffin and how it affected me. I used a title from a song by Leiber & Stoller that I first heard done by Liza Minelli but which has also been done by many others, including Peggy Lee... It's a great song with all the right innuendo and I can't ever listen to it without taking a sort of self-delusional pride in the sense that I am myself one of those "cats."

But that's another story and NOT what this column is about.

[For another tidbit of something that this column is NOT about (namely the flag patch on the Lieutenant General's right arm) go to George Washington's Cousin... Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.]

What THIS column IS about is a guy - one of a never ending governmental list - who is definitely NOT one of those cats who know. He's one of those cats, like Mike Brown, or Michael Chertoff, or Fearless Leader... oops I mean THAT Fearless Leader who have so much to say at the beginning but are foiled in the end by their very own material.

The facts are... as they were, continue to be, and will probably be in the future... that the work on the New Orleans levees by the Army Corps of Engineers was, is, and will most likely continue to be, substandard, dangerous, and downright immoral in its inadequacy, incompleteness, and ineptitude. Therefore... Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, head of the Corps, is doing what every good soldier throughout history has done; he's falling on his sword... Oh wait... no he's not! My mistake... he's taking early retirement and will no doubt find a way to parlay his post-Katrina experience into consulting and speaking engagements at astronomical rates. Of course it also means that he removes himself from the scene of the crime before another storm takes it out on his latest handiwork.

The only people even more clueless than this bunch would have to be these folks buying ads through Google that point to this blog.

Some cats... are dogs (and not in a good way).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I Might Static Out At Any Moment

And I might reassemble in Tibet...

There's a song on the new T Bone Burnett album (it's actually an outake that made it onto the iTunes version), and that line wins my nomination for the best lyric of 2006.

Staticing out feels like the perfect description of the reality I experience on a regular basis.

There's an article from AP this morning about the mental health problems being faced by folks trying to bring back their lives in New Orleans. It's a story about a Times-Picayune photographer who just flat out lost it the other night and wound up in a major altercation with cops, begging them to kill him.

The article provides an interesting juxtaposition to the conversation I had two nights ago in which someone, safely ensconced in his northern california sanctimonious cluelessness, expended a great deal of effort explaining to me why my experiences post-Katrina have been somehow less significant than those of others who lost more than I did.

Like there's a competition and someone's going to be declared the winner of the most to suffer award.

I really might just static out at any moment...

At times like this I really find great comfort in the strange, sometimes painful, regularly profound and always mind altering lyrics of T Bone (and a few others who definitely show up on my desert island disc list).

This album closes with a live version of an old T Bone song, "River of Love" that is so packed with brilliant lyrics that it's not even possible to isolate one as singularly special. It's just one of those songs that hits you on every chord change.

For example:

The first step was hard
but I've had trouble with them all

Or how about... Oh forget it.... Just listen to the damn song.

As for me... I've never been closer... and I've never been farther away.

Friday, August 04, 2006

What's wrong with this picture?

Could it be that while these lovely gates look wonderfully dramatic, they don't actually have anything to do with accomplishing anything? That's just one of many stories coming out of New Orleans this week as folks had a little trial by fire with the (still) possible incursion of Hurricane Chris into the New Orleans bathtub.

WWL had a whole slew of stories about how the much talked about bus evacuation was really a pipe dream. C. Willy had a lot to say about whether or not he thought that they could require RTA bus drivers to actually stick around and help evacuate folks without transportation. This being a central part of the BIG PLAN that Reverend Wonka rolled out just in time to win the election back in April, everyone was oh so careful to point out that National Guard Troops would be available to help out.

In other news, the Army Corpse of Engineers started back to work on several items that were on the agenda, but hadn't been quite fully addressed yet (after eleven months) and Michael Chertoff, using the old state's rights excuse (wasn't there a war fought over this once?) made it very clear that, when it comes to help from FEMA, New Orleanians are as SOL as they were last year.

So... the BIG question that everyone out here in the hinterlands has been asking is finally answered... "Is New Orleans ready for another hurricane?"

In a word... HELLNO!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Blow Satch Blow!

Satchmo Summerfest started today and, as usual, I'm jonesing big time to be back in my Crescent City where they're servin' up red beans and rice while Kermit and Irvin are wailin' on they horns.

Last summer on Friday night, I met Pat Jolly and hit the Satchmo Club Strut on Frenchman Street. I found Tom Morgan who told me "welcome home" and I met Chuck Siler for the first time.

I didn't know what the hell I was gonna do, and I sure as hell didn't have any idea that the year was going to turn out the way it did, but I was indeed home and now I feel oh so far away.

Have a good weekend Big Easy... I miss y'all so much!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Here we go...

The third tropical storm of the season, Chris (is that a male Chris or a female Chris... or is this storm transgendered?), is poised off in the eastern Carribean preparing to become the season's first hurricane.

Right now it's looking like he/she could head almost anywhere and if the people I know in Florida and Louisiana are holding their breaths like I am here in California we could all die of asphyxiation before we find out. I've already pulled out the little paper hurricane map I picked up when I was last in New Orleans, taped it to the desk where I sit and have begun tracking this storm like I used to do when I was a kid in Florida.