Friday, February 12, 2010

NOLA Art House a.k.a. Tree House

I heard about the intended eviction of the folks at the Tree House yesterday and couldn't understand why it hit me so personally, so viscerally. An email exchange started on a list I'm on, and out came this:

I have missing outlet covers. Guess I better fix them.

I am clearly getting too old. This whole thing reminds me of, no I'm not kidding, 1969. I was 16. A bunch of us found a fabulous huge old house and the oldest of us (21) rented it, signed the lease and paid the deposits with the money we had pooled. There were ten of us, and believe me it was a house big enough for all of us. We lived there for a year and a half, gorgeous leaded bevelled windows, sweeping staircase. We all had jobs. We even had a milkman. Yes we partied, yes our music was loud. I think there were a couple cars among us, but they mostly fit into the driveway. We did our own repairs (one of us was a carpenter), we mowed the lawn, and yeah we did have some rowdy parties happening now and then, certainly not every night. We were mostly artists and musicians with day jobs. Oh yeah, and we were kids.

One day a knock came on the door. Thinking it was the milkman, we opened it. It was a building code guy telling us we had to leave. That according to codes, you couldn't have more than two unrelated or unmarried people in a dwelling. We tried to fight it, but were told "community standards" were being outraged by unmarried couples living together, etc. The community was trying to enforce its moral standards through use of codes.

We managed to get all of our stuff out in the seven days they gave us, and found new places to live, although pooling our money for food and rent had been a lifesaver and the new separateness was very hard for us to manage. What always baffled me was that while we were young, and a couple of us, me included were indeed minors, we weren't on the street, we weren't in homeless shelters, we weren't hooking on a corner and not a one of us was on welfare, food stamps or any other kind of assistance. Wait, I take that back. One guy was on unemployment after Pier One let him go.

This heavy handedness sticks in my craw on a visceral level. Go after crack houses not artist coops or squats full of kids. I'm also really sick of the word hipster. With each use it's sounding more and more like hippie being spat out of the old folks' love it or leave it mouths.

BTW, that gorgeous house was demolished a few years later after the lovely old fella who rented it to us passed on and his son sold it to a developer. Where it was is now a giant grey stone building full of very expensive co-op apartments and condos.

I don't expect a response. Just venting. I'm wondering at what age and/or property ownership level we get to that we suddenly start muttering "Damn kids!" under our breath. I'd rather go after the purveyors of death in our streets, gun dealers selling guns to 14 yr olds, etc. than some wacky artist kids who got a little too loud and drunk a few nights. But that's me.

Well, that explained my reaction.

It just has this "what's next" quality about it. Cops threatening vocal neighbors. Kids dying in the streets thanks to guys with houses and trunks full of guns selling them to junior high school kids. Crack houses. This stuff gets tossed into the "not enough manpower" column, but ousting a bunch of artist kids who throw parties can be done. Not only done, but with lots of NOPD presence, Fire Department, Building Code folks and possibly Entergy to turn off the power.

The latest news I heard was that the eviction had been postponed but that the power was still off.

There just seems to be a group of people in any given time, any given place, who are determined to homogenize the world. They want it to be a perfect place according to their standards. "Nice" art that has nothing to say but matches their couch. "Nice" literature that floats lovely images but no challenges to their psyches. "Nice" kids with no imaginations, heading off for the MBA that will give them a leg up into their homogenized world (that one's little brother, with his piercings, weird music, strange clothing choices, well, we hope that's just a phase. Christ, he wants to be an ARTIST, no money in that!) "Nice" music, all old. "Nice" theatre, hopefully yet another comfie feel-good musical, Oklahoma maybe. There always seems to be some bunch who thinks the only good artist is a dead artist, then they can mourn his passing with a great show of respect for his work, nevermind he died with an empty bottle of rye in his hand and a some dope stashed in his closet full of sex toys. He was a GENIUS. He was OUR genius. "Our community has lost a great artist today, we are the greater for his having been among us and the lesser for his passing." Oh puh-leeeeeeeze. No way you would have had him over for dinner with your friends, bucko. Well, maybe, as a curiousity or to position yourself as a patron of the arts after you shuffled him into a cab that would take him back to his bohemian hovel. Which probably wasn't up to code and didn't have the proper permits.

I'm just sick of it. Simple as that. Sick to death of the well heeled museum patrons who go home feeling good about themselves, wearing clothes and driving cars that are expensive enough to support an artist for a year. Don't get me wrong. I love museums. They're important. I just don't get why the living artist, particularly the young artist, is so dismissed, not supported, sometimes reviled.

Ah well, enough ranting. Noel Rockmore, a New Orleans artist now revered, said: "Art is not decoration. Art is war." It's sure looking that way for the folks at the Tree House.

Here are some links about all this (they also have a Facebook Page). Please read them. Please keep an open mind. Please, buy that black clad pierced tattooed vegan pitbull owning artist a cup of coffee today. Or better yet, ask them about their work.

NOLA Art House Blog
Gambit NOLA Art House Article
Gambit NOLA Art House Article: Neighborhood Assn Side
Gambit NOLA Art House Article: Fire Department Side

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

For my out of town friends

I have, in the past couple of days, been asked to define a few things. Things like Who Dat and Crunk. I've also been asked why all this matters so much.

David Letterman said last night, while waiting for Drew Brees to get through the Lincoln Tunnel, that unless you're from New Orleans, you probably don't understand the significance of this game. He's right.

I grew up a football fan, watching Lombardi's Packers with my dad. I then spent a great deal of time in my twenties hanging out with a group of guys who were rabid fans. At the time I was on the East Coast but was a Raiders fan, so much so that I couldn't ever manage to get LA Raiders out of my mouth when they moved. Hey, for that matter, I still call the Colts the Baltimore Colts. I was standing on Mission Street in San Francisco, with fireworks in my hand, when the 49ers won, screaming along with the rest of the hometown fans. And hey, Joe Montana was easy to like.

Then for many years I didn't watch football at all, or only when the playoff teams were really really good. Then I moved to New Orleans before Katrina. I learned that the fans here were unlike any I'd ever seen. Being a Saints fan is NOT like being a generic football fan. It seems somehow to float infectiously through the air, be coded in native's DNA, or grabbed at like Cinderella's invitation to the ball. Say YES, you silly bitch, and count your blessings they asked ya to join 'em.

Then along came Katrina. Nearly five years ago now, but present every day on some street where the foundation is all that's left of a house. Yeah. Still. Yeah. Really. We've spent five years defending our right to exist, heard endless stupid and wrong comments like "natural disaster" and "below sea level." We've eaten it, mostly. We've seen comments sections in national newspapers full of comments about how stupid we are to live here, how sinful we are cuz we know how to have fun, how idiotic it is to rebuild.

Seeing the Dome battered from the outside and filled with pain on the inside was hard for us. That goofy looking building (just my opinion!) became a symbol of enormous proportions. A symbol of a city in ruins, of a people displaced, of a status that was outside what most people take for granted as Americans.

One day the Dome was gleaming again. Sounds silly, but it was hopeful. Some people were upset that the Dome had been repaired and homes weren't. I got that. Nevertheless, that Dome's white top gleaming in the sun seemed to be a first step toward clearing the tears out of that place.

Then the Saints came home to play. We all cried. In 2006 Payton and Brees came to town. And they GOT it. Or got GOT by New Orleans. It happens. They knew they were playing football but that they were doing something else as well, and they gave a shit about that something else. Yeah, I know, I know. Sounds absurd. We even said that as we were sobbing, "Hey, this is really ridiculous, but they're HOME." Someone was home. Always a reason to cry while celebrating.

This year we could feel it. Brees said in the Couric interview that it was destiny. That word was bandied about in bars all over town, in living rooms across the city, said out loud with that tiny doubt unspoken and buried in our shoe. It was tangible hope, and hope hasn't always been in great supply in post-Katrina New Orleans.

So to answer my out of town friends' questions, with enough time to brave the cold and go to the parade <---which is what we do---I am including some videos as definition.

Who Dat: The entire state of Louisiana decided to forego the use of the "th" sound for the last couple of months. Where ya goin'? Dere. Whatcha doin'? Dat. We did keep the "th" sound for the word "they," spat out of mouths screaming under second line parasols as the chant is often tagged onto the end of The Saints Go Marching In. After the NFC championship and now the Superbowl, the chant of the Who Dat Nation can be heard spontaneously on any street corner, in any bar, coming out of car windows, or hollered in a store, at which point anyone within earshot will join in. Here's what it sounds like:

The Dome as Home and Who Dat:

As for Crunk. Well that's a bit harder. The song by the Ying Yang Twins was played everytime the Saints scored. It was played loud, louder than the 100+ decibel fans could scream. It is also blasting through the city as we speak and will be heard another 200 times this evening during the parade. Hell, it's what I've woken up to in the jukebox in my head for the last two days. Crunk is celebrating, posturing, drinking, hugging, crying, screaming, dancing with a little threat thrown in:

Okay, okay, okay, okay. My guess is that the next time someone asks us to defend our right to be here, someone will say, "Tell them that they oughta run."

This is about so much more than a game. It's about determination. It's about hope realized. It's about grinning, real real wide!

Now, where the hell did I put my parasol the other night?