Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Soft Memories are Evergreen

When I was little, every year Mama would get out the ornaments as Dad fought the tree stand to make the tree balance perfectly straight as nothing else would do. Nearby would be aerosol cans of spray-on snow and several boxes of silver tinsel. The tree would be decorated, colored bulbs replaced, tinsel strewn carefully then finally tossed willy nilly at the branches. Then my Mama would take out the little church.

This little church seemed to me to be a cathedral. Tall steeple, rosette stained glass over the unopenable doors illuminated from within by a single little bulb. I would kneel next to the table it was placed on and turn the key to the music box that played Silent Night and be overcome not really knowing why. To my five or six year old self this was a thing of beauty and it was probably the first time I shed tears over something beautiful. For many many years that church was the big memory of Christmases past.

I left home and I guess the little church was retired at some point, replaced by the innumerable Snowmen that Mama loved, and as a result, became inundated with as my sisters and I scoured malls and catalogues for the perfect new snowman for her each year. I think she's probably retired many of those by now too. She finally asked us to please not send her anymore. By then they were practically taking over her house.

When my daughter was born, I cried again over beauty. She was and remains the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Over the next few years the soft memories are of her two year old self choosing ornaments for our own tree and particularly delighting in a fake hard candy garland held together with weak monofilament. The fake candy had to be restrung periodically over the years, but she loved it. We didn't have much money then, so we made a star for the top of the tree out of cardboard and tinfoil. Even when we could afford to replace it we didn't for a long time. Each year she chose two or three ornaments and they would get added to our collection along with those sent by family and friends. Eventually they became more sophisticated with porcelain doll angels added to the ones she had chosen at two and the clay/cookie bell she made in kindergarten. Each year they would be carefully unwrapped and delighted in, one by one, and hung very deliberately on our tree. If she didn't like the placement, she'd change it.

One year I labored over a tree skirt, having decided that I would make this thing entirely by hand. Plaid taffeta pieces for the top, crocheted lace for the edges and the softest red corduroy I could find for the bottom. I've always maintained that I put too much polyfil in it, but it made a nice cushion for wrapped presents. Sometime around my daughter's 7th or 8th Christmas I tied it around her waist like a skirt and plopped a Santa hat on her head. For the next nearly ten years, that was the expected tree trimming outfit and she was wearing it still when at about 14 she insisted that I'd been putting the lights on all wrong for years so she would now take charge of the branch fluffing and lighting. She'd force her dad up to put the fish ornament she'd chosen for him up high and she'd dance in the tree skirt as he pretended to be Frank Sinatra or Elvis depending on what holiday music we were listening to. Not big on tree trimming, he'd provide entertainment with his finger snapping Vegas lounge act, also done in a Santa hat usually worn a la the Coneheads. Even after she married she wore that tree skirt to trim the tree one snowy Christmas on the mountain.

My grandson was born and I cried at beauty again: the beauty of him and the courage and determination of his mother who didn't have an easy time of it. As difficult as it was, her damn mascara and eyeliner never smudged. She swears by Maybelline, or is it Cover Girl, to this day.

When the boy child was not quite two, the three of us went to buy some new ornaments and other sundry things at a Hobby Lobby nearby. It might have been the year of her own tree skirt. I'm pretty sure I made it for her, but she might have done it herself as she had decided to learn to sew. Funny. I remember her buying the fabric but can't remember if I made it. I think I'll say I did. As I pushed the cart down the aisle I noticed my grandson grabbing a Father Christmas that was half the size he was and was unfortunately sitting on the bottom shelf just within his reach. I had not planned nor budgeted for that fabric covered cardboard cone with glorious curls and a perfect smile. I tried the age old distraction technique, some bells in one hand, the Father Christmas in the other trying to put him back on the shelf. My grandson was not having it. He wanted that damn Santa and that's all he knew. He kept handing it to me to put in the cart and I was sure he'd drop it and break the porcelain face, so I figured I'd put it in the cart and then plop it up somewhere later where he wouldn't notice. But instead, after I put the boy in the seat on the cart (facing away from the cart's contents was my reasoning), he turned around and laser beamed onto that face. He was in love. I most assuredly wasn't going to rid myself of the big jolly guy, so I put something else back and Santa came home with us.

Soft memories, all. Bathed in light, music box sounds, fingers snapping and laughter. They all look like Marilyn in the Misfits: shot through a heavily vasolined lens so the harshness and wrinkles won't show.

When Katrina came all the ornaments and that Father Christmas were in storage at Tulane and Broad. We weren't allowed in to the UHaul place for months. The stuff in there had been tossed around and dropped and stewed and mold had grown in places that the hydraulic fluid from the elevator hadn't bathed with its oil. With no lights in there as the power hadn't been restored, we signed the "not your problem if we die in there" waiver and entered it like miners from Germinal. I still don't know how my Christmas Sinatra opened that door, just sheer stubborn foolishness probably. When our flashlights saw the interior there were no words. But right on top of everything, wrapped tight in a plastic bag we saw our grandson's Father Christmas, seemingly unscathed.

It would take weeks to get through all the boxes of books and other treasures in that storage unit, but that Santa came home with us that day, a trophy, a gift, our crown jewel. We finally found the giant can of ornaments and most of them were trashed, but those that did survive I passed on to my daughter to put on her tree. A continuity from one set of memories to another.

Since then I think I put up a tree one year, but mostly I find it too difficult. I know the tree skirt survived and I think it's in the shed. Some folks don't understand my reluctance to put up a tree, but for me it triggers too many sweet memories mixed up with some very difficult ones, like when you put too much salt in a soup--Martha Stewart and her "drop a potato in and it'll absorb the salt" be damned.

But before you think me a total humbug, consider this. That Father Christmas is never in a box, never out of sight. He lives year around on a table in my living room. Some of the stryrofoam birds and eggs were pretty damaged, but removing them from his nest didn't hurt him any, and now he wears a special kind of Mardi Gras bead, the ones my grandson called World Record Beads. They are the old plastic cheapos with the push clasp that you can connect to one another. He once tried to make the Guinness Book of World Records by connecting one continuous string around Jackson Square in order to raise money for his school library. He actually made it all the way around the Square but Guinness wasn't interested to his great disappointment. I think his Father Christmas likes his new decorations.

And two years ago my Mama sent me the little church, a real surprise. My Mama is really good at getting rid of stuff, so I thought it had probably gone the way of my Beatle cards and 45's. It's so much smaller than I remembered it, and not nearly so grand, made of a now-yellowed plastic with a decal instead of leaded stained glass. The music box still worked, but the little church was pretty brittle with age. I found that my Dad had evidently put a bulb in it that was too hot, so the bottom of it is a little bit melted. Okay. A lot melted. Last year my Christmas Sinatra rigged a small maglite in there so I could see the stained glass decal lit up again from the inside. It was the best gift ever and yes, there I was crying again as I looked at it and heard the music box's sappy Silent Night pinging. The little church sits right in front of the Father Christmas, also never boxed.

I keep those soft memories in sight now as I stupidly never filmed the great tree skirted elf in her determined glory nor did I record the Sinatra songs as interpreted by a Conehead. I regret that. But I can still see them, and hear them, and remember the laser beam gaze of a tiny boy staring at a curly haired Santa. I still well up at the beauty of those memories: my father cussing at the tree stand, my mother trying to keep the tinsel off the rug, a totally futile exercise, my sisters handing out stockings with our names on them, Sinatra hanging a fish just below a tin foil star, the years that I was lucky enough to watch a little girl choose giant plastic lollipop ornaments growing up to deck her own house with lights, and a little boy whose belief in a magical being keeps me believing even when it's hard to. Incredible gifts all. Such luck I've had.

And the music box still works.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Orbiting Coco Robicheaux

Coco Robicheaux passed away Friday evening. Much has been written about the man, his music, his artistry, his character and his seemingly mythical background. Much more will be written. Many of us spent yesterday between tears and laughter, blaring his music through our homes to let him know we're here thinking about him. I double checked my files to be sure that I hadn't lost the 40 minute live set I recorded on my phone at Mimi's a couple months ago. I regretted never having given him the eagle feather I had told him I'd bring when I saw him next. I remembered that the ancients believed there is a four day window between the time the soul leaves the body and its transition to the higher realms. I'll have to light a candle for him today so he sees it along the way.

I saw some great remembrances yesterday and gathered them together in a little mental basket hoping to amass more and maybe put together the ultimate collection of “Memories of Coco.” Lord David spoke of learning about kindness through Coco's admonishments. Louis Maistros told a great story of breaking his elbow after a bike fall near the French Market and Coco laying hands on him telling him he'd be okay. Mark Folse spoke of Coco's authenticity. My friend Pam, who knew him for twenty years, told a story of taking a seriously drunk Coco home decades ago and carrying him up the stairs (once they finally found the house that he had forgotten the location of) only to be stunned the next day when he remembered her name even though he had been toast the night before.

There were many, many people who knew him longer than I. Many who knew him better than I. But once you entered Coco's orbit, he knew YOU. If he knew you, he never forgot your name or passed by without acknowledging you. In the end, I decided to stick to my own memories, adding them to the collection that someone else will put together.

I first became aware of Coco Robicheaux as a member of an audience. Many audiences actually. I'd seen him lots of times and loved his music, my closest contact being the dropping of a couple bucks into the tip jar. Then one day I happened to be on Frenchmen Street. I walked into the Apple Barrel to grab a beer and found myself sitting next to the man. He looked over and said hello. After introductions, him introducing himself as though I wouldn't possibly have known who he was, we spent some time in regular bar stool small talk. It was not long after the storm. The next time I saw him we were across the street from each other on Frenchmen. I shouted hello, he responded with, “Hey, you're the girl with the guy's name! How ya doing?” After that there were many bar stool conversations.

One afternoon we spent a long time discussing the time I spent on Reservations in the Southwest and what I'd learned, comparing and finding similarities to his Native American Swamp knowledge. I actually wish I'd taped the conversation. We wound up deep in our cups and deep into a sort of theology of earth religion discussion. We delighted in each other's understanding and knowledge. I learned a lot that day.

Another day I was locking my bike to the tree just down from the Barrel. My lock, notoriously rusty and difficult, was giving me fits so I was concentrating hard on that lock, bent over it and probably cussing. He came quietly up behind me and gruffed hello. He had startled me and found that hilarious. He laughed and laughed, then started down the street. I asked him where he was headed. He growled, “Goin' to make trouble wherever I can,” laughed some more and said he'd be back later. I watched him saunter down the street still laughing at me. I was laughing too.

Months later, I had an appointment at Electric Ladyland. I walked into the Barrel for a beer before my appointment and found the usual afternoon small group at the bar. The wraithlike woman behind the bar was terribly upset. The bathroom door wouldn't open. Now, in order to understand this, one has to know the Apple Barrel bathroom. The door is closed and a little hook and eye lock is ready for use, but the door has to be pushed just a wee bit back open in order to actually place the hook into the eye. This is something that couldn't easily be accomplished by a slight slam of the door from the outside. The odds of that hook landing in that eye exactly without human hands placing it there are astronomical. After much discussion it was decided that we should pound on the door as there might be someone in there who was in distress. Each of us took a turn, with one of us attempting to look under the door, a fruitless but beer fueled suggestion. Finally it occurred to us that we'd been there an hour and hadn't seen anyone enter that bathroom. We were all accounted for.

At that moment, the bartender said, “Goddammit, it was Coco! We had an argument and he left in a snit, but he walked back and forth out there for a while. He did this. He slapped a hoodoo whammy on it.” No one in the place thought this far fetched, although all of us, except the bartender, found it hilarious. One of the other denizens explained that an argument had taken place and told me what it was about, some petty thing I can't remember now, then nodded solemnly saying, “Yeah, it had to be Coco.” The bartender then determined that Coco Robicheaux would never be allowed in that place again. The bathroom door was eventually taken off at the hinges and the hook was indeed in the eye and the assumption that Coco's hoodoo had caused it became an Apple Barrel truth, remaining so to this day.

The last time I saw him to talk to him was a couple months ago upstairs at Mimi's. He was playing a great set and I asked him if he'd mind if I recorded it. When he said no he wouldn't mind, I put my phone on the couch three feet from his mic and hit record. I just left it there and took a few pictures. I had a huge yellow bag with me that had been signed by many of the cast members of Treme as well as Mos' Def and Lloyd Price. Coco said he wanted to sign it and did. On a break I asked if I could buy him a drink. Dumb question. Of course the answer would be yes. He squinted his eyes into a slit, knowing me for a sucker, and asked for either a Remy Martin or a Courvoisier, I can't remember which. Then he grinned at me waiting to see if I'd spring for it. I said okay and he looked a little surprised when I came back with that instead of his usual tequila.

His CD, Revelator, had come out and as he sipped his drink he showed me how it was packaged. He was so proud that it wasn't in the standard jewel case. The CD itself clipped onto a hard grey material entirely made of potatoes and the cover was entirely recycled/recyclable paper. He told me he was thrilled that his music wasn't going to damage the earth with its packaging.

As he got ready for the next set I teased him about his shoes. He was wearing these pointy square toed white loafers with fleur de lis on them. I asked him if he'd just raided his 70's disco storage. He laughed that laugh of his and said, “Hey, these shoes still walk good!”

I have no doubt that the spirits he spoke of as being constant companions are his companions now. While he'll leave a big hole in our world, I am glad he didn't have a lengthy illness. I'm glad he left us in one of his favorite places, wherein he'll no doubt reside in spirit forever, perhaps locking the bathroom door randomly to amuse himself. His current companions already know of his kindness, his artistry, his metaphysical prowess and his laughter. I just wonder if they told him to leave those shoes behind as he'll no doubt “walk good” to the other side just fine without them.

Cross-posted at B2L2

Friday, November 18, 2011

Greg Bright's Landed Shark

Fringe Fest is this week, which you no doubt know unless your head has been under a rock. As usual, I scoured the list of shows, then culled them, then arranged them by time and location. It's a difficult process given so many interesting offerings. Several pieces really stood out and one I was determined not to miss started off last night at NOCCA with Never Fight a Shark in Water.

To say it was moving is to understate things. To say it was strong is still weak. What I saw was nothing short of the personification of sheer will, faith and optimism walking around in front of me in the person of Greg Bright.

To give you some background, in 1975 Greg Bright, then 20 years old, and Earl Truvia, 17, went to bed one night in the Calliope Projects. Later that night with the requisite banging on the door and shouted threats to open up, Greg was arrested for the murder of a 15 year old boy. After a Kafka-esque trial including an incompetent court appointed attorney, withheld evidence, testimony against him by a paid schizophrenic heroin addict testifying under a false name due to her own criminal record he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Did I mention that he and his co-defendent, Earl Truvia, didn't even know each other?

It is after Bright's poignant detailing of the conditions under which his ride down the "Snake Road" to Angola took place that we learn that Mr. Bright arrived there terrified, innocent of the crime of which he was convicted, and illiterate. We are exposed to the conditions of the prison, startled intermittently by a piercing prison whistle insisting on immediate stoppage of whatever the inmate is doing (and Bright's movement from one scene to another upon hearing that whistle hurts as the audience realizes that it is probably instinctive at this point), and we meet some of his fellow convicts as seen through his eyes. During rare free time from digging ditches, pulling Johnson grass, clearing land in all kinds of weather, Bright taught himself to read. His telling of the revelation that the word "the" was always going to be "the" no matter the context has the audience stunned and inwardly cheering for him.

Greg Bright was in Angola for 27 1/2 years as an innocent man. Upon learning to read he became his own legal advocate, pouring over law books and filing motions. In watching Mr. Bright explain all this with sadness, anger, humor and faith, we see a tall, thin, intelligent man who clearly has a six foot plus piece of rebar somewhere in his soul. It would have been easier for him to fold into himself, nurturing hate and self-pity. There were clearly plenty of less productive ways to survive physically and emotionally during his nearly three decades of unjust incarceration. Instead Bright chose to channel his outrage into the quest for justice, and as denial after denial of his motions arrived, there must have been times when the discouragement was nearly unbearable. Finally in 2003 he prevailed, the conviction was vacated and he was a free man.

The audience wanted to get up and holler in support and joy, but Bright wasn't finished. He starkly explained how ill prepared he was for freedom, how because he was not a parolee he didn't qualify for many of the re-entry programs, he tells of being handed a check for ten dollars upon his release.

Greg Bright is only a year younger than I. To put all this in perspective, while he was burning grass in a ditch in Angola, I was marrying, raising a child, reinventing myself multiple times, paying mortgages, traveling. In short, living my life and learning the lessons "free people" as he calls them, learn as they go along. While he certainly learned lessons, there were few that could have prepared him for life as a free person. He is still on his feet, his faith strong, as he learns these lessons so late in life, and clearly it's a continuing process.

Never Fight a Shark in Water is a one man show using Greg Bright's words written unflinchingly by Lara Naughton. It had been performed by a professional actor previously, and the actor no doubt did a great job portraying the man. It's the kind of part just about any actor would like to attempt. That said, watching Greg Bright perform this piece himself, portraying his darkest times, showing the brightness of his faith in God and himself, talking about his mother who becomes an unseen guardian angel in his references to her, and watching the man daring to lay himself bare under harsh lights on a floor stage with only four music stands, a bench and a butt can is a stunning experience and a great gift. He spares himself nothing and generously goes along emotionally naked in his prison denim peering over his reading glasses to reveal the eyes that have seen much and cried often.

Last night was opening night. Never Fight a Shark in Water will be shown again tonight and tomorrow. It's a staggering piece and ultimately one of the most positive, uplifting and life affirming pieces I've seen in a long time.

Below is information for the next showings. It's worth your time. More than worth it. Your Thanksgiving prayer will be more heartfelt after seeing this show.

Dates: November 17, 18, 19 at 7 p.m.
Venue: Lupin Theatre, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, 2800 Chartres Street NOLA 70117
Tickets: $8 (with a $3 Fringe button), available at the door or in advance at www.nofringe.org or at Mardi Gras Zone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

William (Willy) Watkin: Day 23

On September 26, 2011, William Watkin was sentenced to 45 days in jail as a result of the Eris Parade arrests and subsequent charges. Lord David wrote a piece on his blog that day including all the information necessary to help Willy out. Given short attention spans, and the fact that this didn't even make it into the news cycle, I decided that half way through his sentence I would remind us all that while we're out here he's still in there, with about half his sentence left to do.

I felt it important that we not forget that he's there and that we not forget that he needs some support in whatever way we can give it. So with that in mind, I'm going to re-post the information sent regarding ways to help Willy get through this. I know everyone is watching the Occupy news and I know there's always someone asking for money for this cause or that. But this is one guy. A guy who came to New Orleans from out of state, marched in a parade and wound up with NOPD's version of hospitality instead of ours, so please, don't let him remember only that. Dig a little deeper. Write a letter. Put some money in his commissary. Go visit him. Whatever you can do. Let him know that our brand of hospitality doesn't include abandoning him to the predations of the Fifth District, one of our least reasonable judges, or the environs of OPP.

Below from email:

> This would be lovely. Wouldn't you want a letter from the outside world,
> some personal note to let you know you're not as isolated as you feel?
> Something inane and friendly, cheerful and encouraging, something from a
> friend or from a stranger taking the time to let you know that you're missed
> and valued... think what that would mean to you.
> You may send Willy mail at this address:
> William R Watkin
> Folder 2303771
> 3000 Perdido Street,
> New Orleans, Louisiana, 70119
> There is a big list of what you CANNOT send Willy here:
> http://www.opcso.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=58&Itemid=182Basically,
> nothing but letters, money orders, and photographs (!) . No
> books, magazines, or 'zines, no toiletries, food, or tobacco, no clothing,
> no envelopes, no stationary, stamps or writing utensils... any of those
> things Willy wants, he must purchase, if he can, at exorbitant profiteering
> prices from the prison Commissary.
> Willy, an avid and ambitious leisure reader, can't be sent reading material
> besides personal letters. He will not have the means to write letters to his
> loving sweetheart back in Missouri or his frantically worrying parents, nor
> will he have access to remotely wholesome or even pleasurable, good-tasting
> food, unless money is put in his commissary account.
> You can put money in his commissary by mailing Willy a signed money order
> with his name (William Watkins) and his folder number (2303771) on it, or
> more easily by visiting the Sherriff's office (that same "temporary" trailer
> behind the jail where you go to bail people out) and using one of their
> anti-ATM devices there on-site, or most easily of all by visiting
> http://www.tigerdeposits.com/ and following the fairly straight-forward
> steps. "Watkins, William R." is of course in Louisiana >> Orleans Parish >>
> Orleans Parish Prison.  Note that in accordance with the standard predatory
> capitalism of our privatized prison system, the helpful folks at "Tiger
> Correctional Services" will charge you a 7.0 percent fee.
> If your experience with Tiger Correctional Services really turns you on,
> you'll no doubt be gratified upon the conclusion of your transaction at the
> opportunity to follow them on twitter or "like" them on facebook. They just
> posted a picture album of their staff enjoying fresh-caught trout at a
> fishing tournament. I bet that trout was delicious! Delicious, and yet not
> half as delicious as the roaring blackout nihilism viewing the photo gallery
> engenders.
> Judge Pittman assigned Willy a grand or so in fines and fees, but
> additionally, at the request of NOPD, she has sentenced him to pay
> reparations. Apparently Willy shoving the officer didn't merely send the
> officer to the hospital and require the officer to take several days off,
> but the same single shove destroyed the officer's new and (apparently very
> expensive!) eyeglasses and police radio. So, Willy has to pay for
> replacements, which are hundreds of dollars.
> Willy ain't got that kind of cash. Please make a donation via paypal or
> credit card at http://eris12.org, or if that link doesn't work for whatever
> reason, or you don't want to use plastic or paypal, e-mail me and we'll
> figure it out. In the blessed but unlikely event that the amount thusly
> donated exceeds Willy's fines, it will be applied to the thousands of
> dollars of lawyer fees the other equally nice Eris arrestees have paid &
> still owe.
> After fruitless hours on the phone and web, I have been unable to nail down
> exactly how to visit Willy, because he's not in the state system yet the way
> he needs to be for me to get the ball rolling on visitations. This may be
> because he has not yet been assigned a DOC number, and may still be down in
> holding rather than up in the 96 tiers of the prison itself.
> Rest assured, I will figure this fucking shit out (or the lawyers will, and
> will let me know). In the meantime, if you'd like to visit Willy, drop me an
> e-mail and I'll keep you in the loop on that. One proactive step you could
> take is writing to Willy and giving him your full name so that he knows to
> put you on his visitor's list. Willy gets along with just about everyone, so
> don't be shy! I am sure he would love to see you, whoever you are, just for
> the chance at being reassured in person that people here in New Orleans know
> and care about his situation.
> That concludes this very long e-mail. Thanks for your time, and perhaps your
> money. Willy may be a stranger to most of us, but he is the first of the
> arrestees to get actual prison time. I hope he is the last. I hope the whole
> rotten prison cracks open like an egg, RIGHT NOW, and that all the unjustly
> imprisoned human beings inside can return to their families and loved ones.
> Willy doesn't deserve to be in there.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Ghost of Mary Surratt

Cross posted at B2L2

Side Note: Mrs. Surratt requested that I spell her name correctly as opposed to the French-ified way I spelled it in this piece originally. I think I've corrected all mentions of her, if not, tell her I'm sorry.
When I was 11 years old we lived in Chicago. Upstairs in our house, my father had turned one room into what he called his bar. The liquor was kept there on shelves behind a rectangular bar, a chair for reading, an easel usually with an in-progress painting on it, and a noose hanging from the light fixture in the middle of the room. The room sat at the end of a large upstairs area that was the TV room. My brave sister's bedroom was also up there to the left if facing the “bar.” That noose, tied perfectly, a joke to my dad, scared me to death. During that period Life Magazine had done a photo spread of the Lincoln assassination conspirators' hanging. A photo of Mary Surratt in her black bonnet was followed by a photo of her hooded head and tied skirt dangling from the gallows. Every time my dad asked me to go upstairs to get the bottle of Cutty Sark, I saw Mary dangling there and scurried with shaking hands up then quickly down the staircase. I was the fastest bar back in the country in my terror.

Although I'd certainly heard of hangings, electric chairs and gas chambers by the age of 11 having seen lots of TV and movies, I think it was Mary Surratt that really cemented my understanding of the death penalty. I also remember that the article said that there had been uncertainty about her guilt and that she was the first woman executed by the Federal Government. This hadn't been some movie with a righteous Sheriff and a bad ass outlaw drawing down on each other at High Noon. This hadn't been some romanticized good guy/bad guy Elliot Ness vs. Al Capone scene in which a director would soon shout “Cut.” Someone had made a decision to execute this woman in the name of the government, and thus the citizens of that government, questions about her guilt or innocence notwithstanding. Abe was dead, the Civil War over, the Yankees were pissed, someone had to pay. The ghost of Mary Surratt hanging from my father's noose over the Cutty Sark led directly to my initial thoughts about the death penalty. At 11 years old I thought it was wrong. Forty six years later I haven't changed my mind.

Before you start in on me about laws, justice, and remind me of the victims and their families, please know that I believe in laws and justice and have great empathy for the victims and their families. I was told as a child that two wrongs don't make a right, and regardless of the fact that that's a trite statement to us now, I believed it then and believe it now. You can thank my probably pro-death penalty mother's training for that. (Funny that I can't definitively answer whether she is or isn't in favor of it.) I am not a person who feels that murderers should go free. My problem with the death penalty is a moral issue, and from my point of view, a justice issue. Justice. As currently practiced it seems to be societal revenge not justice, like the Yankees stringing up a possibly innocent Surratt and calling it good.

Two nights ago we executed two men: Troy Davis, black man, convicted cop killer, white victim, much doubt about his guilt; and Lawrence Russell Brewer, white man, convicted of racist hate crime murder, victim black, no doubt about his guilt. Davis maintained his innocence in the last moments of his life. Brewer said he had no regrets and would “do it all over again.”

There were no crowds in the streets clamoring for clemency or commutation of sentence for Brewer. Forensics in his trial showed that James Byrd, Jr.'s body parts were found in 75 places ripped off of him as he was dragged. There is no sympathy for Mr. Brewer and his White Supremacist views. An unrepentant sociopath, he and his friends went to a barbecue after dumping what was left of Mr. Byrd in front of an African American cemetery. There was no doubt that Brewer had committed that heinous crime. Mr. Byrd's son, Ross Byrd, issued a statement against Brewer's execution, saying, “You can't fight murder with murder. Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want.” Of course the state of Texas did not consider his wishes.

Meanwhile, in Jackson, Georgia and across the globe, people stood up and shouted their opposition to the execution of Troy Davis. Convicted of having shot one man, pistol whipping another, then killing Mark Macphail, an off duty police officer who tried to intervene in the pistol whipping, Davis' trial had no forensic evidence, the murder weapon disappeared, and multiple witnesses recanted their testimony, leaving a great deal of doubt as to Mr. Davis' guilt. The Reverend who had driven Davis from Atlanta to turn himself in was never interviewed about what was said during that long ride to Savannah. A woman came forward claiming that another man had confessed to the murder at a party and had threatened her if she said anything about it. She was so terrified she subsequently moved her entire family out of Savannah. Where is that gun? Why wasn't the Reverend questioned at the time and why was the woman who came forward disregarded so completely? A lot of unanswered questions that raise too much doubt. Thousands of people called, emailed, signed petitions to various officials asking for a stop to his execution to no avail. Officer Macphail's family said that with Davis' death healing could begin and in response to Davis' proclamation of innocence, Joan MacPhail-Harris, the slain officer's wife said, “I will grieve for the Davis family because now they're going to understand our pain and our hurt. He's (Davis) been telling himself that for 22 years. You know how it is, he can talk himself into anything.”

So now you'll ask me if I think Brewer should have been executed. Or maybe you'll ask me if Davis should have been set free. The answer is no to both questions. I saw very few “Free Troy Davis” signs. Most said “Save Troy Davis” which is a very different thing. I cannot fathom killing someone in retribution. I absolutely cannot fathom killing someone who's conviction is so fraught with doubt. I am intrigued by the differences in the victim families' views. I am baffled by the concept that healing from one killing begins with the killing of yet another person. I can't make sense of that.

I have tons of links to articles and research done in the last few days. I'm not putting them in this piece. I figure if you want the info you'll ask me or you'll look it up, besides if I put them all in here it will look like an aggregator piece. I will, however, tell you some of what I've found, and some of these by themselves should give us pause. Frontier justice. Southern justice. Institutionalized justice. We've got lots of words for killing, and we're pretty good at it, we're just not all that great at being sure, absolutely sure that the person we're killing isn't innocent. Until and unless we can be absolutely sure, we need to stop it. (Of course, even then I'd be against it, but then you probably knew that if you've read this far.)

~George Stinney, black male, 14 years old, executed by electrocution in South Carolina 1944. No transcript of his trial was found. At 5'1”, 90 lbs, he was too small for the electric chair, they had to try to position him properly for the electrodes to do their job. Evidence of his guilt nil.

~Willie Francis, black male, 18 years old, executed by electrocution in Louisiana 1947. Evidence confusing and not ironclad. Electrocuted twice. The electric chair malfunctioned the first time, May 3, 1947. An appeal was heard in which it was argued that executing someone twice was cruel and unusual. Appeal denied. Executed May 9, 1947.

~A letter signed by Dr. Allen Ault, retired warden at the Jackson prison in which the execution of Troy Davis took place along with five other retired wardens and directors (Ohio and San Quentin) published at the Southern Center for Human Rights website, cited the toll executions take on the corrections officers and wardens charged with fulfillment of the death penalty. A moving letter, it was followed by a statement of solidarity with the retired wardens signed by Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort exhorting the prison staff to strike and refuse to carry out the execution.

~September 22, 2011, the day after Davis' execution, Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commutes the sentence of Samuel David Crowe, 47, convicted of murdering his former boss. Crowe plead guilty at trial. No doubt there at all. His sentence was commuted to life without parole. ~CORRECTION: THIS STORY'S DATELINE IS ACTUALLY 9/22/2008, NOT 2011. STILL IT SHOWS THAT GA'S BOARD OF PARDONS CAN AND HAS COMMUTED SENTENCES OF ADMITTED CONVICTED KILLERS. FORGIVE THE WRONG DATE INFO.

~Take a look at a world map that delineates which countries still use capital punishment. Then ask yourself if you really want to keep such company.

I could go on. I won't. We've executed kids, we've executed adults, men, women, black and white (and the facts actually show that more whites are executed than blacks although if a crime is committed by a black man against a white victim the death penalty is more likely). We've executed many who were convicted on the basis of dubious facts, inadequate or downright negligent defense attorney behavior, missing or non-existent evidence. We've executed people whose IQ's were so low that there was no chance they could take part in their own defense or even understand what was happening to them, like Ricky Ray Rector in Arkansas who decided to save his pecan pie to eat after his execution.

If these arguments don't matter to you, then think about your pocketbook. It's cheaper to give a convicted murderer life without parole than it is to execute him, and it saves the victim's families from having to endure the lengthy appeals process. To my mind, that's a better way to start healing from a trauma like the loss of a loved one to murder. I think Ross Byrd is right about it not being possible to fix murder with murder. I can't find justice in that equation, only revenge.

But that's me. I cannot find the morality in the death penalty no matter how hard I try, and I've tried to find common ground on this issue. For me it's impossible. Maybe it's the ghost of Mary Surratt tapping on my shoulder, her skirts still tied around her ankles.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Ghosts of the St. Roch Market

Cross posted at B2L2

I have always had vivid dreams. My mom remembers me regaling her with them over breakfast. Her usual response was a smile, a shake of the head and the comment, “You have some real weirdies, honey.” I still do.

I woke up this morning after having had a dream about the St. Roch Market. First I need to tell you that I have never been there, not seen it as a seafood and Chinese food place prior to the storm. I have stood staring at it many times since and the building itself has a presence, a personality, one that reaches out wanting to be useful and vibrant. It misses people and voices and laughter. At least that's what it seems to tell me.

In my dream I was driven to the market by an elderly man, a man who said he'd once owned it. He drove an old Cadillac and was a happy, talkative sort. He said we were to meet a news reporter when we got there but then he'd show me around. He drove around the building and parked. Upon getting out we were greeted by a reporter, David Brinkley. Yeah. That David Brinkley partner of Chet Huntley. Brinkley followed us in, asking questions in that laconic way he had.

Once inside the door I was assailed by a flurry of activity and wonderful aromas. Men and women stirred steaming pots, pulled things out of ovens, filled baskets with fruits and vegetables, dumped ice in gigantic mounds to be covered shortly by piles of shrimp and fish of endless variety. On one counter my host pointed out trays of thick slices of still warm bread topped with thick, melting butter, another tray next to it was bread with honey slathered on it. He told me to grab one and I did. We kept walking and there was a table with outsized pitchers of lemonade, iced tea and three pots of coffee. Glasses were lined up neatly on the white table cloth next to rows of white porcelain cups.

I could smell something wonderful cooking and was led to a man who sold perfectly cooked pork or veal cutlets. I was handed one. It seemed I was handed one of everything for as I juggled my buttered bread, my iced tea and my cutlet, still being given the walking tour, a woman insisted that I sit down at a little table and try some of her soup. It was a hearty cream based soup filled with vegetables and bits of beef. As I raised my spoon, a tiny man brought a plate with a pyramid of huge boiled shrimp. The tiny man and the soup making woman bickered with each other over which I should try first. The owner/tour guide just looked on smiling and David Brinkley took notes between bites of buttered bread. Finally a young boy placed an oval plate of asparagus on the already crowded table. The owner refilled my iced tea and I wondered how I would possibly be able to eat all of it, and it was clear that I was supposed to. Looks were cast sideways by the creators of each dish to see if I was eating their offering. I decided to do what my mom taught me and try everything, and I did so, in a kind of sequence. It was all wonderful and the smells emanating throughout the building only made it taste the better.

When I had eaten all I possibly could, I was escorted down the building to see all the counters and booths and tables and baskets, each filled with something different: onions tumbled out of baskets, tomatoes stacked up high, some in little balsa wood baskets like I remember from childhood. Sometimes berries would come in those too and they were everywhere in the market, not a green plastic basket in sight. Fruits and meats, vegetables and fish, wax paper packets of lard and butter, brown paper bags filled with nuts. There was food everywhere and people laughing and shouting to each other, men wheeling carts of yet more food from somewhere in the back of the building.

The owner/tour guide was introducing me to people, pointing out the best produce, saying that his family had run this market for decades, but I never caught his name. He then took me to a back room that was filled with blue and white checked cotton dresses, all puffed sleeved and gathered dirndl skirted. I was asked to fold them as he continued to tell me that he couldn't leave the place. “Where would I go? This is what I know and I know all the people here. They've chosen to stay with me here. You were lucky to get a ticket for the tour, ya know!” He shuffled some papers on his desk, complained that old man Jones was raising his catfish prices again, then abruptly said it was time to get back in the old Caddy.

I thanked him profusely for the opportunity and asked that he thank the others for feeding me in such a fine fashion, opened the door to the Cadillac and. . .

woke up. Hungry. Something that never happens. I can see the ghosts of the St. Roch Market still piling their fish onto ice and stirring pots. I can still hear them laughing and bickering. I have absolutely no idea what the blue checked dresses were all about. And I can hear my mom saying, “Honey, you DO have some weirdies.”

I've clearly been reading way too much Zola lately. And now I need to spend some time looking into the history of the St. Roch Market. I've always figured it was a good rule of thumb to do that if the ghosts come to invite you to visit them.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Six Years Out--Some Facts

Katrina Pain Index 2011: Race, Gender, Poverty

By Bill Quigley and Davida Finger
August 22, 2011 "

Information Clearing House" -- Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast. The impact of Katrina and government bungling continue to inflict major pain on the people left behind. It is impossible to understand what happened and what still remains without considering race, gender, and poverty. The following offer some hints of what remains.

$62 million. Amount of money HUD and the State of Louisiana agreed to pay thousands of homeowners because of racial discrimination in Louisiana’s program to disburse federal rebuilding funds following Katrina and Rita. African American homeowners were more likely than whites to have their rebuilding grants based on much lower pre-storm value of their homes rather than the higher estimated cost to rebuild them. Source: Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

343,829. The current population of the city of New Orleans, about 110,000 less than when Katrina hit. New Orleans is now whiter, more male and more prosperous. Source: Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

154,000. FEMA is now reviewing the grants it gave to 154,000 people following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. It is now demanding that some return the long ago spent funds! FEMA admits that many of the cases under review stem from mistakes made by its own agency employees. FEMA’s error rate following Katrina was 14.5 per cent. Michael Kunzelman and Ryan Foley, Associated Press.

65,423. In the New Orleans metropolitan area, there are now 65,423 fewer African American women and girls than when Katrina hit. Overall, the number of women and girls decreased since Katrina by 108,116. Source: Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

47,738. Number of vacant houses in New Orleans as of 2010. Source: GNOCDC.

3000. Over three thousand public housing apartments occupied before Katrina plus another thousand under renovation were bulldozed after Katrina. Less than ten percent, 238 families, have made it back into the apartments built on the renovated sites. Only half of the 3000+ families have even made it back to New Orleans at all. All were African American. Source: Katy Reckdahl, Times-Picayune.

75. Nearly seventy five percent of the public schools in New Orleans have become charters since Katrina. Over fifty percent of public school students in New Orleans attend public charter schools. There are now more than thirty different charter school operators in New Orleans alone. The reorganization of the public schools has created a separate but unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including virtually all of the city’s white students, into a set of selective, higher-performing schools and most of the city’s students of color into a set of lower-performing schools.

Sources: Andrew Vanacore, Times-Picayune; Valerie Strauss, Washington Post; Institute on Race & Poverty of University of Minnesota Law School.

70. Seventy percent more people are homeless in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. People living with HIV are estimated to be homeless at 10 times the rate of the general population, a condition amplified after Hurricane Katrina. Source: Unity for the Homeless and Times-Picayune.

59. Less than 60 percent of Louisiana’s public school students graduate from high school with their class. Among public school children with disabilities in New Orleans, the high school graduation rate is 6.8%.

Source: Education Week and Southern Poverty Law Center.

34. Thirty four percent of the children in New Orleans live in poverty; the national average is 20%. Source: Annie Casey Foundation Kids Count 2011.

11. Eleven New Orleans police officers convicted or plead guilty to federal crimes involving shootings of civilians during Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Source: Brendan McCarthy, Times-Picayune.

10. At least ten people were killed by police under questionable circumstances during days after Katrina. Source: Times-Picayune

3. A three-fold increase in heart attacks was documented in the two years after Katrina. Source: Tulane University Health Study.

Number unknown. The true impact of the BP oil spill in terms of adverse health effects is vast but unknown. Delays by the federal government in studying the spill’s physical and mental health effects hinder any ability to understand these issues with accuracy. A year after the spill, more people are reporting medical and mental health problems. Source: Campell Robertson, New York Times and National Geographic.

Bill Quigley and Davida Finger are professors at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Bill is also Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com and Davida atdavida.finger@gmail.com

Saturday, August 20, 2011

As Promised, The Answer

Cross posted at B2L2

For those of you who read my last experimental post, and apparently many of you did despite its length if SiteMeter is right (I rarely check it but did for this one), I applaud your patience and curiousity.

I had posted a rather long, albeit edited speech and challenged readers to tell me who they thought had written those words. Interestingly, there were only two actual guesses in the comments section. Most guesses came via email or text message. Not sure why that was the case.

The guesses were good, with one really great joke guess thrown in: Kennedy (both John and Robert were represented), Jimmy Carter, FDR (evidently someone missed a reference to 1947 which would put old Franklin out of the running), Lyndon Johnson (a really good guess actually) and Martin Luther King. Good guesses all. The great joke guess was Ann Coulter which came in as I was writing this.

The answer: Dwight Eisenhower, from a speech called the Peace Speech delivered in the Spring of 1953 before I was born. Eisenhower: President, Republican and Five Star General. (For those who didn't read the post, it's not the military industrial complex speech, although that's a good read as well.)

All the empty brackets had originally been predominantly filled with the word Soviet. The paragraphs removed were about the post-War Soviet threat and the impending Cold War. What struck me was how many of those brackets could now have been filled with The United States. (Not to worry, I have a large piece of plexiglass to keep any rotten vegetables thrown my way from getting in my hair.)

A Republican Military President wrote those words. So for those who may not have had the patience to read them, try them over coffee this morning. You might be surprised by what you read. I have no doubt that ALL the current GOP candidates would be.

BTW, thanks for the guesses. I knew it was a long piece when I wrote it but am grateful that some of you actually took the time to read it and respond. Many thanks for that.

Oh yeah, forgot. One friend got it right within an hour of my posting it. Amazing. But only that one.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

If you found this in today's NYTimes Op-Ed section. . .

Cross posted at B2L2

. . .What would you think? Who would you expect to have written it?

Without resorting to Google, Yahoo, or your search engine of choice, read the following, then please post in the comments section who you think said this.

In the interest of transparency, anything you see in <. . .> has either been changed or removed. In some instances entire paragraphs have been removed. If you see <. . .> in a sentence, fill in that blank with your choice of what makes sense to you within that sentence. If you see the same bracket/dot/bracket between paragraphs it means some paragraphs have been removed. (I will explain in two days why I did that, although some of you will probably figure it out. In some cases the bracket will look different i.e.{ or } since I just figured out that the other interferes with the html cuz I'm an html idiot.)

I'm curious what response this this will get. Please read it in its entirety before resorting to compliments or insults in the comments section, either here or on Facebook. Thank you for your indulgence of me in this matter.

{This year} the free world weighs one question above all others: the chance for a just peace for all peoples.

To weigh this chance is to summon instantly to mind another recent moment of great decision. . . . . The hope of all just men in that moment too was a just and lasting peace.

The 8 years that have passed have seen that hope waver, grow dim, and almost die. And the shadow of fear again has darkly lengthened across the world.

Today the hope of free men remains stubborn and brave, but it is sternly disciplined by experience. It shuns not only all crude counsel of despair but also the self-deceit of easy illusion.
It weighs the chance for peace with sure, clear knowledge of what happened to the vain hope of <2003>.

. . . .{Our} people<> shared the joyous prospect of building, in honor of their dead, the only fitting monument-an age of just peace. All these war weary peoples shared too this concrete, decent purpose: to guard vigilantly against the domination ever again of any part of the world by a single, unbridled aggressive power.

This common purpose lasted an instant and perished. The nations of the world divided to follow two distinct roads.

<. . . . . . . .>

The way chosen by the United States was plainly marked by a few clear precepts, which govern its conduct in world affairs.

First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be an enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.

Second: No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations.

Third: Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

Fourth: Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

And fifth: A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.

In the light of these principles the citizens of the United States defined the way they proposed to follow, <. . .> toward true peace.

This way was faithful to the spirit that inspired the United Nations: to prohibit strife, to relieve tensions, to banish fears. This way was to control and to reduce armaments. This way was to
allow all nations to devote their energies and resources to the great and good tasks of healing <. . .> war’s wounds, of clothing and feeding and housing the needy, of perfecting a just political life, of enjoying the fruits of their own free toil.

The <. . .> government held a vastly different vision of the future.

In the world of its design, security was to be found, not in mutual trust and mutual aid but in force: huge armies, subversion, rule of neighbor nations. The goal was power superiority at all cost. Security was to be sought by denying it to all others.

The result has been tragic for the world and, for the <. . . .>, it has also been ironic.

The amassing of <. . . .> power alerted free nations to a new danger of aggression. It compelled them in self-defense to spend unprecedented money and energy for armaments. It forced them to develop weapons of war now capable of inflicting instant and terrible punishment upon any aggressor.

It instilled in the free nations--and let none doubt this--the unshakable conviction that, as long as there persists a threat to freedom, they must, at any cost, remain armed, strong, and ready for the risk of war.

It inspired them--and let none doubt this--to attain a unity of purpose and will beyond the power of propaganda or pressure to break, now or ever.

<. . . .>

The free nations, most solemnly and repeatedly, have assured the <. . . .> that their firm association has never had any aggressive purpose whatsoever. <. . . .> leaders, however, have seemed to persuade themselves, or tried to persuade their people, otherwise.

And so it has come to pass that the <. . . .> itself has shared and suffered the very fears it has fostered in the rest of the world.

This has been the way of life forged by 8 years of fear and force.

What can the world, or any nation in it, hope for if no turning is found on this dread road?

The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can be simply stated.

The worst is atomic war.

The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system <. . . .> or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth. Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point the hope that comes with this .

This is one of those times in the affairs of nations when the gravest choices must be made, if there is to be a turning toward a just and lasting peace.

It is a moment that calls upon the governments of the world to speak their intentions with simplicity and with honesty.

It calls upon them to answer the question that stirs the hearts of all sane men: is there no other way the world may live?

<. . . .>

We welcome every honest act of peace.

We care nothing for mere rhetoric.

We are only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested by deeds. The opportunities for such deeds are many. The performance of a great number of them waits upon no complex protocol but upon the simple will to do them. Even a few such clear and specific acts, such as <. . . .>, would be impressive signs of sincere intent. They would carry a power of persuasion not to be matched by any amount of oratory.

This we do know: a world that begins to witness the rebirth of trust among nations can find its way to a peace that is neither partial nor punitive.

With all who will work in good faith toward such a peace, we are ready, with renewed resolve, to strive to redeem the near-lost hopes of our day.

<. . . .>

None of these issues, great or small, is insoluble--given only the will to respect the rights of all nations.

Again we say: the United States is ready to assume its just part.

We have already done all within our power to speed conclusion of <. . . .>, which will free that country from economic exploitation and from occupation by foreign troops.

<. . . .>

As progress in all these areas strengthens world trust, we could proceed concurrently with the next great work--the reduction of the burden of armaments now weighing upon the world. To this end we would welcome and enter into the most solemn agreements. These could properly include:

1. The limitation, by absolute numbers or by an agreed international ratio, of the sizes of the military and security forces of all nations.

2. A commitment by all nations to set an agreed limit upon that proportion of total production of certain strategic materials to be devoted to military purposes.

3. International control of atomic energy to promote its use for peaceful purposes only and to insure the prohibition of atomic weapons.

4. A limitation or prohibition of other categories of weapons of great destructiveness.

5. The enforcement of all these agreed limitations and prohibitions by adequate safeguards, including a practical system of inspection under the United Nations.

The details of such disarmament programs are manifestly critical and complex. Neither the United States nor any other nation can properly claim to possess a perfect, immutable formula.

But the formula matters less than the faith--the good faith without which no formula can work justly and effectively.

The fruit of success in all these tasks would present the world with the greatest task, and the greatest opportunity, of all. It is this: the dedication of the energies, the resources, and the imaginations of all peaceful nations to a new kind of war. This would be a declared total war, not upon any human enemy but upon the brute forces of poverty and need. The peace we seek, rounded upon decent trust and cooperative effort among nations, can be fortified, not by weapons of war but by wheat and by cotton, by milk and by wool, by meat and by timber and by rice. These are words that translate into every language on earth. These are needs that challenge this world in arms.

This idea of a just and peaceful world is not new or strange to us. It inspired the people of the United States to initiate the European Recovery Program in 1947. That program was prepared to treat, with like and equal concern, the needs of Eastern and Western Europe.

<. . . .>

The monuments to this new kind of war would be these: roads and schools, hospitals and homes, food and health.

We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving the needs, rather than the fears, of the world.

<. . . .>

There is, before all peoples, a precious chance to turn the black tide of events. If we failed to strive to seize this chance, the judgment of future ages would be harsh and just.

If we strive but fail and the world remains armed against itself, it at least need be divided no longer in its clear knowledge of who has condemned humankind to this fate.

<. . . .>

Monday, August 15, 2011

Somewhere an Ad Man is Giggling over the Pogues

Okay, so we all love the Pogues. Tunes that get stuck in our heads and have us bopping around all day wanting to drink with friends and sing loudly. But somewhere an Ad Man is laughing.

I've been told that I "tivo" out commercials when watching TV and in a way I do. I know I don't want a new car, nor do I care what the latest battery powered hand soap dispenser is (nevermind I think that's absurd), so in general I do my to do list til the show I'm watching comes back on. However this week I noticed a car commercial. It was the music. Then I saw it again, and laughed, laughed hard and now laugh every time I see it.

It's a Suburu commercial showing a hockey mom with four adorable red headed hockey playing boys in the back all in Kelly Green. Mom does a great job cheering from the stands, the boys give it all they got, fall asleep on the way home as she smiles indulgently into the rearview mirror. Good job, Suburu. Really. It's a good commercial.

Here's the rub:
The Pogues song playing in the background that everyone loves is If I Should Fall from Grace with God. It's a high energy song about death and burial. Yeah. Really. The death and burial preferences, along with a lovely verse about leaving noble warrior dead ancestors in their places of burial. I know. But really, it's a great song.

So why is the Ad Man and your humble writer laughing? Because the commercial is all about the vehicle's safety. I don't think Suburu knows how funny it is to have a "top rated safety" plug tacked on to the end of that song.

For your edification here is the video, followed by the lyrics, followed by the really cute car safety commercial. Now seriously, "No doctor can relieve me" and "The angels won't receive me" is truly funny in this context. Forget about the murderous ghost and the corpse laying on top of ya! Someone slipped something over the folks at the ad agency. Enjoy!

If I should fall from grace with god
Where no doctor can relieve me
If Im buried neath the sod
But the angels wont receive me

Let me go, boys
Let me go, boys
Let me go down in the mud
Where the rivers all run dry

This land was always ours
Was the proud land of our fathers
It belongs to us and them
Not to any of the others

Let them go, boys
Let them go, boys
Let them go down in the mud
Where the rivers all run dry

Bury me at sea
Where no murdered ghost can haunt me
If I rock upon the waves
Then no corpse can lie upon me

Its coming up three, boys
Keeps coming up three, boys
Let them go down in the mud
Where the rivers all run dry

If I should fall from grace with god
Where no doctor can relieve me
If Im buried neath the sod
But the angels wont receive me

Let me go, boys
Let me go, boys
Let me go down in the mud
Where the rivers all run dry

Now, sing it all day long! I know you will.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Why We're Silent in the Carrot Patch

Cross posted at Bark Bugs Leaves and Lizards

"This sends a powerful, powerful message, and that is that public officials, especially law enforcement officers will be held accountable for their acts. The citizens of this country should not have to fear the people called upon to protect them."
~US Attorney Jim Letten, 8.5.11 addressing the verdicts in the Danziger Bridge trial

On March 6, 2011 this happened:

Ten or so minutes later and one block down, this happened:

One night a while back, I sat talking with two friends. We had some beers, we talked about everything under the sun. Somehow we wound up discussing police. POH-leece. I explained that as a child I was told that if ever something happened, if I got lost, if someone weird approached me, even if I was just plain scared for no apparent reason, that I should look for a policeman and he'd save me. St. Michael in a blue uniform and peaked cap. I knew my address, parents' names, phone numbers. Get hold of that guy in blue and you're gonna be okay.

I went on for some time about this, in my reverie not noticing that my friends remained silent. I lit a cigarette and looked at them. They were looking at each other askance. I was bewildered, replaying my conversation in my head, wondering what I'd said. Was I not clear? Had I said something off the wall, hell I am prone to that. Had I said something to offend them?

Finally both of them looked at me and said in unison, “WE were NEVER taught that!” Both of these people are native New Orleanians. Both of these people are black. They explained clearly that they were certainly not taught that, and that in fact, avoidance of police was the best approach as police could not necessarily be trusted. They were stunned by what I'd said.

My statement had made very clear the divide in our realities in America during those decades just past the Civil Rights era. Police were never a safe haven for these friends. I have to wonder if they saw cops walking a beat, some guy with a Polish or Irish last name. “Officer Krupke. . . .. .” Probably not, but if they did they certainly didn't see him as someone to turn to in time of need, someone on the side of the angels. Not happening for these friends, and they are much younger than I. As Bunny Colvin says in a conversation with Carver in the Wire (Season 3 I think, late episode), once it became a war on drugs, a war, their jobs were no longer POH-leece, their jobs were to be warriors and they acted as such. The neighborhoods no longer were places to be protected and served, they became occupied territories. My experience and my friends' were very different. I had a different skin color and a different zip code.

Spring forward a few decades. Nixon's war on drugs has lasted all these years. No actual dent has been made in terms of stemming the flow of drugs in this expensive "war", nor in my opinion will it ever be an effective program for anything other than bogging down the court system, filling the jails, making people with drug charges unemployable and draining the tax coffers. The only people making out are the cartels, big time dealers and the prison system (especially the privatized institutions—don't get me started on that). We now have generations of steroid enhanced cops who come out of the Academy with their shiny new badges and a “them vs. us” mentality. Knock some heads. Put on kevlar. Riot shields look awesome. Helmets and pepper spray and commando attire are the stuff of heroic macho dreams. We're heading for the front, boys, and if we make it we'll get a pension, but we gotta get “them.” We gotta be the cowboys. Christ, they all think they're Wyatt Earp, who was not a hero really in any measure. He was a vigilante, with rigid ideas and a million get rich quick schemes in his head. Really. We don't need Wyatt in our streets.

Last March I wrote about what happened during the Eris parade. I saw it with my own eyes. I had not seen violence like it since the sixties' anti-war protests. Clubs swinging. Cuss word slinging. Heads being bashed. Pepper spray being dispersed in clouds. Arrests that looked like they were made out of spite not probable cause. Cops that looked like they were enjoying the power. Cops waiting til the parade was almost at its end point, where it would have dispersed naturally in a quiet end of the Marigny/Bywater, to do all this. Cops who seemed to have a major chip on their shoulders. I pulled four kids out of the street that night. Two of them had been bashed badly. Meanwhile, two blocks down, the police, yeah those guys I was told were a safe haven in a storm, were saying, “Don't look back, all I want to see is backs, keep going” as they walked in a line pepper spraying the paraders. They were the storm.

What was the big crime? No permit. Okay. I'll give ya that. No permit. Oh yeah and that brick that was allegedly tossed at and hit a cop, who has yet to be named. (If anything they blew a prime PR moment by not trotting out the alleged injured cop, with bandages on his/her head in a wheelchair looking pitiful. If they'd done that, the public would have instantly gone to their corner in this. But they didn't. Which just makes ya flat out wonder if. . . . )

So where's all this leading?

When I saw what was happening I hit Facebook, Twitter (which I abhor) and started writing here about what I'd seen. I actively solicited photos, videos, first hand accounts. I published whatever I was sent including censurious comments about property and car damage alleged to have happened. If that happened, and I'm not doubting the veracity of the commenters, then the ones responsible should have been surgically removed and arrested. I am not an anarchist, nor am I interested in protecting vandals. Arrest those folks. For real. For sure. Fo' tru. But don't start indiscriminately bashing heads of folks that had nothing to do with all that. Okay, wait. They were out there in fairy wings with a brass band without a permit. Ticket worthy maybe. Billy club warranted? Not on your life.

I was upset by what I'd seen. I was angry. So I wrote about it. here and here. Then I kept writing about it. (I think there are two more pieces after the two linked above.)

A couple weeks later I heard through the artist grapevine that is very accurate and fast, that police were looking for me at the local store. I got worried. I was told to be worried by some folks who know what the score is better than I. I was told they hadn't liked what I'd written and the speed with which I'd gotten the information out. I mentioned going up to the cop shop to tell them they were looking for me and answer their questions. After all, I wasn't involved, had done nothing wrong, what did I have to be worried about by answering their questions? Three lawyers who know their way around said, NO WAY. So I didn't. Did I mention I live in the Fifth District? One very dear friend said, “Write it up, write it up NOW.” A lawyer I talked to said, “No way. Don't say a word for a bit. Just sit tight.” So I did that. I trust both of them but the lawyer's word meant more at that moment.

So for months I went the right way down one way streets on my bicycle worried that I didn't have a light. I was careful not to weave if I'd had a few at the local bar. I checked outside my house to see if anything hinky was going on. I looked down the alley when retrieving my mail. I double checked if the dog barked. I felt like I was under siege. Nothing happened. I got my story out to the people who could protect me, made sure that everyone knew who to call should I be hauled in for no apparent reason. Had friends checking on my having made it home. I was invited to parties and barbecues. I didn't go. I was afraid that perhaps I'd draw the police to that place. I looked in the mirror and realized that I was not John Dillinger and drank myself into the courage to show up for a fundraiser for the legal fees of those arrested that night. The entire night I was paranoid. Probably stupid. Narcissistic? Perhaps. A leftover of the sixties when we were all certain everyone knew we were tripping? Possibly. Nevertheless, the stress level was beyond what a citizen reporting what was seen, and in fact documented, should feel.

I lived in an Occupied Territory. Yup. That was how I felt for months living in the Fifth District of New Orleans.

Shortly the commander was replaced. Promoted I heard. A couple weeks ago she was added to the list of commanders being investigated. I see a POH-leece and know by virtue of my color and age that if I walk up to them reasonably sober and tell them I have a problem with a prowler and I'm afraid to go home alone that they'll accompany me—unless they're having a bad night and decide to haul me in for public intoxication. Therein lies the problem. I'm not sure which guy I'll be talking to, the guy who will help me or the guy with a chip on his shoulder. Most of the rank and file are okay guys who actually give a shit. But then there are the others. The Occupiers. The ones who don't care if the street lights are out, who hold grudges against vocal neighbors, who point air finger guns (think air guitar) at citizens who dare to ask them to turn down the volume on their partying. The ones who see themselves as the good guys and the rest of us, white or black, young or old, as the “other,” the enemy.

This is not an occupied sector. It's a neighborhood. A neighborhood with people who own, rent, pay their taxes, get their brake tags re-upped, cut their grass. Who lock their bikes, sit on their stoops and want to see their police in the streets knowing who they are. The kind of cops that as a five year old I was told to look up to, to go find if I needed help, who know that Miss Janie is alone and is ninety and might need to be checked on sometimes. Who don't view every black person (Male, 6 ft, white tshirt, jeans) as a gun carrying drug dealer when he might be Miss Ellie's boy, and she's a “bonified colored lady of the old school” so you know that young 'un was brought up right, nevermind he's carrying a brass instrument next to his stellar report card rather than a Glock. If you walked that beat, Officer Krupke, you'd know the people and the kids in the neighborhood and you could make a difference.

And the difference wouldn't be how much paranoia and fear you could engender. That is the attitude of an occupier, not a police.

I learned, as I always do from my friends, what it's like to feel like the “other.” I can never possibly know their experience. I wouldn't presume to say I could. But a few months of that kind of fear, fear of the very people I was told to turn to in times of trouble, made me wonder what it's like to live an entire life in that mode.

I wonder too what toll it takes on the Occupiers. You officers are supposed to be here for us. We're not all your enemies.

Some of you are decent, caring people who chose this career in order to serve your city and your fellow citizens. You're out there every day, dealing with stuff the rest of us don't have to carry into our dreams at night. We understand that and are grateful that you stepped up so we don't have to have those nightmares. Seeing what you've seen, you probably have some constructive ideas that the rest of us haven't thought of in terms of keeping young black men from filling the jails or worse, filling the streets with their blood. An idea that doesn't necessarily involve handcuffs and billy clubs. You are the guys that see the day to day problems of poverty and unemployment. You must have some insights that can help us get a start on fixing the problems, instead of your adding to them with fear and divisiveness. That's gotta be more important than a bunch of folks parading through the streets during Mardi Gras with babies on their hips and fairy wings on their backs and no permit in their pocket?

What made that warrant such a violent response from the officers out there who continue to view all of us as the enemy? Why would you officers want people like me to be afraid of you? Afraid to call you in an emergency, afraid you might haul me in rather than go after the guy who just tried to get in my front door? Is that really your goal? Fear? Most of those arrested were charged and are awaiting court dates right now. No doubt if fear is your goal, you've reached it.

Let's lock up the guys spilling young people's blood in the streets. I am not saying let criminals go. I am saying that by tempering your responses and treating us like fellow citizens you can put an old one like me into a position where I can again make my case for calling you in times of need. Let's do that. It's what we must do to have civilization.

This shouldn't be a war, it should be a cooperative venture. And from where I'm sitting, decades of “us vs. them” has turned the urban landscape into the occupier's patch of carrots and you view us as the annoying rabbits in that patch. And some of us are afraid you might have set a trap or loaded your rabbit gun. Wouldn't you rather we called you over to our stoop to have a cup of coffee and admire our geraniums?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse and the 27 Club

We somehow knew it was only matter of time, even as we held our collective breaths and hoped that she'd pull up like an old time aviator in the movies. Some peoples' talent overwhelms them. This death does not come as a shock but still upsets our idealism and hope quotient.

I worked for many years on a "Mad Women Artists" series of paintings. (Ask me someday and I'll tell you what my vision of it was.) Portraits that would incorporate the work, the talent and the remarkable but doomed person in the scope of that long range rifle with crosshairs. We wanted. We waited. We ate them up. Judy Garland, Marilyn,--and of course the gold standard, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who in her mink coat headed for the garage pissed off that Sylvia beat her to it. Janis (interesting that Amy's mother's name is spelled the same), Cobain, Morrison, Hendrix. Unfortunately most of the paintings from my imagined series were eaten by Katrina and I haven't had the ambition, space or supplies to re-create them. My list morphed by the year: Dorothy Parker didn't make it, she wasn't suicidal enough while Virginia Woolf made it in spades. I had decided I'd do a piece that incorporated Dorothy Dandridge and Marilyn Monroe: the black and white manifestations of sex appeal in the land of Jim Crow, used for their commercial value and their sex appeal, unremittingly dismissive of their talent and the sensitivity that didn't allow them to go on, even if they didn't decide at 5PM tonight's a good night to die. Of course, no one noticed that part until much later when they had an advance on a book deal then it made good copy. Piaf. Oh yeah. Read her life story some day while you're listening to La Vie en Rose. The talent within their bodies was so extreme that it took over their psyches and they dealt with that in ways that were less than healthy, forgive my understatement. And of course Janis, a charter member of the 27 Club. Okay. A couple of them lived past that weirdly repetitive year. Nevermind Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon, Lowell George. Geez, a long list but I'm too tired to go keep typing it.

We must learn to separate the art from the character of the artist, otherwise we have to eliminate Beaudelaire, Poe, even Picasso in his cruelty to the brilliant Dora Maar or Francoise, both amazing artists in ther own right. If we decide that character makes the contribution to art we're totally screwed. We have to eliminate them from our Pantheon of great artists. Rimbaud, Van Gogh, hell even Arthur Conan Doyle was an addict. The list of psychological issues and substance abuse in our list of respected artists and scholars is a very long one.

Amy was a woman who sang R&B songs with a jazz singer's flair and style. She stretched notes out, her voice was throaty, her hair out to lunch, her eyeliner completely from 1960. Her clothes were non-era specific but clearly some kind of retro. She poured herself out into her lyrics in an extremely honest way, probably expressing herself in a way that shrouded her inability to be honest with herself, although every addict is honest with themselves every night that they say tomorrow I'll stop. "I died a hundred times." No doubt she did. This time was no big surprise to her and maybe even a relief. "My tears dry on their own." Yeah, well no more tears, my Amy. "I go back to black, to black" no more. Head for that light, my friend, and thank you for the times you kept me on my game with that precious voice of yours.

Cuz ya know, we're all sitting on that cusp of death and life. A truck could hit us tomorrow or we have a "natural death" at age 95. Bless her heart, she gave us a great deal: songs that matter to us, a voice that was strong as she wasn't, and alas, someone we could compare ourselves to and always come out ahead of the game.

That's no small feat. RIP Amy Winehouse. I think I'll queue up Back to Black because some days it resonates and god love ya, your honesty and nakedness were courageous. I'm so sorry I won't be gifted with the follow-up album to your masterwork. And that is totally selfish. But I'll always have what you left, which means you haven't actually left the building like Elvis, who sticks around and can still make me cry when he sings Fools Rush In.

Thanks, Amy. And my prayers go out to your family, who gave a shit about you unlike most of Janis'.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Drinking with the Real Davis

For the record: Davis McAlary is a character, a fiction, a role played superbly by Steve Zahn. Davis Rogan is a real guy. A musician who lives in New Orleans, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, is physically huge and very, very funny. He is by another standard, a character.

Last Sunday night after the latest episode of Treme aired to a packed sitting-on-the-floor-silently-during-the-show crowd (seriously, if you'd had to go to the bathroom you'd have been out of luck during the show as the HiHo was wall to wall), Davis Rogan and his band took to the stage. Eventually. Although often the HiHo will empty out almost completely after the Treme viewing, lots of folks stayed to hear Davis. Some appeared to be his friends, others, as he quipped between songs, stayed out of curiousity.

As he and his band, comprised of Jimbo Walsh, Charlie Kohlmeyer and accompanied by Efrem Towns on trumpet, started playing I watched the crowd not sure if they would stay but they did. It wasn't wall to wall anymore, but the people who were there were clearly loving it, and loving him. They played a set, Davis was tossing his new CD to people in the audience, and one woman walked up on the stage to get one from his very hands.

Now, here's where I might be spilling the beans. This guy is a sweetheart, a truly sensitive sweetheart, although I think he covers it well with bluster and manic self-deprecating humor so no one knows. His kindness to the woman who walked up on stage was just the first glimpse of that side of him. He seemed genuinely stunned that it mattered to her that she get straight from him. "Really?" he said as he handed it to her.

After that set, a few left and the rest of us retired to the bar. Davis sat down next to me and I learned a lot. He and Efrem hung out drinking with us and between them I had to listen fast, I know that's a strange term for listening, but the speed with which these two blasted musical information and brass band lore was astonishing. When Efrem ordered a Hennessy, Davis said, "Don't know how that guy drinks that stuff! It's only good for cooking." I asked him if he cooked, and very seriously he said, "Oh yeah. I cook. Kermit barbecues, but I COOK." Efrem backed him up and we tried to talk him into cooking for us.

We talked about his school, his college ("By the way," says he, "do you know who else went to Reed College on the Treme staff? Eric Overmyer.") and I tried to imagine him in Portland as a very young man. He's just so totally OF New Orleans. I asked him what his long term goal was, and although we were already perilously close to being seriously drunk, he very seriously answered, "To make a living playing and writing music." That answer, by the way, was interrupted by the replaying of the Treme episode and the scene where Antoine (Wendell Pierce) walks up to the closed Gigi's. There is music in the background of that scene. Davis interrupted his answer to point at the screen and say, "That's me making money. That's MY music you're hearing."

To talk with Davis Rogan is to get on a roller coaster and you better not be afraid of the apex. Just close your eyes and hang on. Try to follow along, you'll be the better for it. He can switch subjects, answer someone's question, then come back to the original subject all in the blink of an eye.

We started talking about his new CD. I told him the the Louisiana Music Factory had had it prominently displayed the day the Treme cast was there. He looked steadily at me and asked if I'd bought it. No, I hadn't. There was no way to get to it as the store was so crowded, which was true. There was very little possibility of shopping at the Factory that day. His eyes narrowed and he asked if I'd bought his first CD. No. I hadn't. Truth be told I didn't know there was one. Hell, it could have been a construct of the Treme writers. See, that's the part he's having trouble with, some of those constructs. I could see it on his face. I asked if he had a girlfriend. No. He doesn't. Does he really write lyrics on the wall? Yes, he did once but mostly that's a Simon creation. He laughed when I said I had a crush on the Messrs. Pierce and Peters, saying, "Not Michael Huisman?" I told him if I was 25 he'd probably be in the running. Yes, it really is Huisman, Zahn and young India Ennenga we hear playing on the show. I thought it was Davis, but he said no, it's really the actors and that he taught them all. He was proud of that. "Huisman is the best player of the three and a really, really nice guy."

After a couple more drinks (and I dare you to keep up with him--game girl that I am I gave it my best shot) he decided to play another set. There were only a few of us there, but he and the guys played their heart out and we all enjoyed it. I think those of us there felt like they were playing only for us. At one point he talked about tipping the band, so I grabbed the tip bucket and harassed the patrons out of another forty bucks or so. As I put the tip jar down, someone tossed a hundred dollar bill over my shoulder into the bucket. I never saw who did it. While he's asking for tips, he's still giving away CD's. Giving them away. Later he asked me to split the hundred (which he now had changed) into three piles. I failed miserably and it was left to Miss Clawdy to fix the error.

When that set was done, the HiHo crew and the band sat down and, yup, drank some more. Efrem had another only-good-for-cooking cognac and the two of them talked to me about the Dirty Dozen, Uncle Lionel's son (known around town apparently as Stinky), Milton Batiste. Finally they decide to pack it in. Davis had all the CD's in a Treme tote bag, which I frankly coveted. While we were sitting at the bar, he asked Efrem to go get two CD's which he tried to give me. I told him that I'd happily take one, but I wanted to buy it and handed him ten dollars. When I explained that I'm a broke writer and he's a broke musician and we had to help each other out as artists he seemed truly surprised. Then, eyes narrowed again, he said, "You really want that bag though, don't you." I had, in fact, been trying to get that bag, offering to buy it at one point. He got up from the bar and started breaking things down on stage. Suddenly I hear him say, "If you want the bag, help me find my keyboard case." I couldn't find it. Someone on stage asked for a light. That I could provide.

Then I saw Efrem standing next to me with a tiny, jewel-like trumpet. I asked him what on earth that was. "My pocket trumpet," came the reply. He then played a song right in my ear, asked me what I wanted to hear, and I said I'll Fly Away. With the bell of the pocket trumpet five inches from my left ear, he launched into it. I thought that if I became deaf from that tiny trumpet bell but the deafness came after he finished playing that song, it would be okay with me. It was beautiful. Then Davis says, "Here's the bag. Help me load out." I grabbed his piano stool and took it out to his car which looked remarkably like McAlary's only with all its windows intact. "Come on. Get in the car. We're going to Mimi's." I had my bicycle there so I told him I'd meet him, and did. Somewhere through the liquor haze I got home about 4AM.

The next day I listened to his CD. Admittedly I wasn't sure what to expect. I listened, then listened again, then listened again. Once again I was struck by the bluster covering up the sensitivity. The lyrics for The New Ninth Ward are a sardonic look at the sociological changes in New Orleans since the storm. The guy can certainly write, and he's a tremendous observer. His rant on Back in the United States asking for a go-cup in Europe--"Get me a plastic cup and put some ice in it, some ice in it!"--struck a chord with me because when I to into the United States I'm still disconcerted by the no go-cup rule. He does two versions of Rivers of Babylon, with John Boutte and others singing harmony, that are gorgeous. (I particularly liked the Mississippi Dub Mix he tacked on to the end of the CD. He likes experimenting and that experiment was very successful.) In Bones in the Bouillabaise, one of my favorites, it was clear that the man does indeed cook. His humor shines throughout, and while you can absolutely see how Steve Zahn got some of Rogan's speaking cadences down pat, it's somehow different listening to the real Davis on a tangent.

And for anyone, anyone, who wants to interview the Real Davis, I'd suggest you come armed with some questions he's not been asked before or your interview will be merely a re-write of two of his songs. In funny, poignant and sometimes faux arrogant lyrics he answers just about every question that he's no doubt been asked a zillion times. In Fame he calls Jimbo on the phone, saying the "mega-check has arrived" and asking him to have brunch with him consisting of whiskey and sushi. Jimbo's recorded response is, "You've got some maturity issues." Davis says in the song that now "all the girls are returning my phone calls and no one has the guts to tell me I'm lame." (Great guitar solo by Mark Paradis.) In My Every Day he says that yes his house is a little bit messy, asks people to stop asking him, explains that he never sacrificed a chicken on the radio and regarding the Garden District upbringing of McAlary, says he's a Carrollton boy but "it allows the producers a window into a certain facet of New Orleans society" to make McAlary come from money. While clearly ambivalent about his being confused with the McAlary character, he's sometimes amused, sometimes angry, sometimes seemingly amazed by his good fortune, and he puts it all out there. These are intelligent, brave, naked lyrics. The guy has balls, that's for sure.

I didn't go there to interview him. I didn't go there intending to write anything about him. I just went to watch the Treme episode with friends. He didn't ask me to write this and might even be upset that I did, but he was just too interesting not to.

Now, I guess I better find a way to drop that bottle of Makers off to him. I promised I would at the point that he was told "well drinks only for the band." I should be singing Damn You, Sweet Bourbon as I hand it off to him. I think he thinks no one is listening, but I was. And yeah, shhhhh, the guy really is a sweetheart.

NOTE: The Real Davis CD is available at www.davisrogan.com