Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rising Tide 5 this Saturday

You may not have heard of Mac McClelland, and thus you haven't realized what you were missing. Here is your opportunity to correct that.

Mac is the human rights reporter for Mother Jones, the famously non-mainstream journal of American progressive thought. And lately, she's been the most steadfast voice for the New Orleans region who wasn't born and raised here.

When the national news tried to say the oil spill wasn't all that bad, Mac took them to task. When they tried to say the oil had simply vanished, Mac took them to the woodshed.

And now she's brought out a Louisville Slugger to respond to the vapid scribblings of a Washington Post reporter who wants you to believe that everything's better now, especially in the Lower Ninth Ward. Oh sure, only 1/10th of the Lower Nine's pre-Katrina population is back, but it's all good, right?

Thankfully, we have Mac at bat for us. Her column at Mother Jones is worth regular reading.

Mac just also happens to be the keynote speaker at the Rising Tide Conference this Saturday. Come on out and hear her in person, and join me in thanking her for being a true friend of New Orleans.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life largely defined by a tragedy

NOLA Blogger Michael Homan writes in an op-ed for the local daily that he is "Ready to forgive, but never to forget."

Highly recommended reading as we approach 5 years since Hurricane Katrina.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Benny Maygarden - Gutted

I remember when Benny Maygarden was gigging with a grinding blues combo called the Backsliders. That was back when Stevie Ray Vaughn was still alive, the Fabulous Thunderbirds were on the charts and Ronald Reagan's address was Pennsylvania Avenue.

Benny worked the harp like a happy child knawing on a cob of corn. It was often hard to tell what part was face, or hands, or harmonica. When he broke to sing into the vocal microphone, it was almost as if he was coming up for air from the ocean of blues.

For his 2009 CD "Come On, If You’re Coming," Benny assembles a powerhouse studio band of blues and swamp rock artists, creating a gutsy and fun set of electric blues in the finest tradition of New Orleans music. Tracks range from the cautionary "Too many Tarzans," to the broken-hearted "Don't Knock," to the easy dance beat of "Let me rock you".

The standout track, not surprisingly, speaks to the hollowness that filled so many houses after the flood-soaked interiors had been stripped down to the studs. "Gutted" tells the story too many of us had to live in concise snapshots: tiny FEMA Travel Trailers, difficulties with the Road Home program, fear of formaldehyde, stressed-out personal relationships, and the struggle to rebuild our homes.

It includes the refrain, "Now I'm gutted. I'm just gutted. Well I ain't moved back in, I'm still just hanging on." It was not just our homes that were violated and left hollow.

Blues done properly is a celebration of life--an acknowledgment of the struggle, yes, but also a declaration of undaunted spirit. In the Post-Katrina world of New Orleans, the struggle is real and ongoing. But the spirit continues to climb.

Benny Maygarden gives us the strength to climb.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band - What's Going On?

Ray Nagin never sounded better. Welling up through the opening beats of "What's Going On," the angry plea of the chief executive captures the moment perfectly.

Chaos. Fear. Abandonment.

This was New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina struck. Floodwalls failed. Levees washed away. The city, the state, the Federal government almost totally overwhelmed to the point of uselessness. It was triple a disaster: what happened before, during and after almost killed an American city.

The soulful horns of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band pull it back together. In their 2006 release, "What's Going On," they re-invent the classic Marvin Gaye song, reminding us of the timeless message that "war is not the answer."

It was not then and it is not now.

In stark contrast to impotent Mayor Nagin, Chuck D. powerfully calls out the political and moral failures that allowed this tragedy to happen. Lyrics are not included in the CD and I've also searched online with no success. So the lyrics I post here are my best effort at transcribing Chuck D's rap.

"What's going on
When all them guns is drawn?
Here's a memo--remember?
There's a few wars going on--
A couple overseas and on my front lawn."

"No Child Left Behind, what?
You think we're all blind,
Well even the blind coulda seen her
Aftermath of Katrina."

At first listen the song might appear to struggle with itself, the easy pace and laid-back horn arrangements moving in a steady shuffle while Chuck D of Public Enemy fame raps angrily in sharp staccato. But the two meld and counter each other in rhythmic and harmonic ways that surprised me each time I listened to it.

What was going on--when the levees and walls were first so poorly designed? When Congress failed to properly finance their construction? When politicians allowed citizens to build and live in an unsafe city? When local, state and federal responders almost all failed to respond? These questions flooded our thoughts and actions during the disaster and for months and years afterwards.

Chuch D and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, for their part, suggest that a nation distracted and diverting its resources to wars in far away places might not ever be able to prevent or properly respond when such disasters occur. In this observation, they maintain the anti-war sentiment of the original song. It's a message that needs to be repeated, unfortunately, over and over again.