Tuesday, October 09, 2012
I voted for you. Twice. I felt then and feel now that you really want to work with the community. I felt then and feel now that having grown up here in New Orleans, you have a deep connection to the City, its people and its culture in all the various forms that culture presents. That said, I am greatly concerned, as are many others, that some of the cultural heritage unique to this City will soon be obliterated by bad laws, pressure from monied property owners (both natives and newcomers), and the pursuit of money for the City coffers which admittedly could use some shoring up.
Unfortunately it often looks as though that shoring up is being done on the backs of the regular working folks via traffic cam tickets that are a hardship on just about everyone trying to make it month to month, crazy new taxicab regulations that are a hardship on many career cab drivers, unwieldy and seemingly serendipitous permitting requirements on club owners who are the small business owner/job creators we hear about every day, more permits on the smallest of entrepreneurial business owners--the vendors at Second Lines, and on the culture bearers themselves—the musicians and artists who create the culture that draws visitors to our City every year from all over the world. Lately we've heard words like noise, crackdown, permit, and ordinance used to intimidate bands off of street corners, to cause clubs to stop live music for fear of total shut downs, and as you know, those words have been a sometimes unspoken threat to parades and Indians for a long time.
There have to be other, better ways to pay for the needs of this City, ways that don't threaten an entire cultural fabric with becoming an historic footnote or an artifact in a museum; ways that don't send our club owners into bankruptcy, our musicians into the unemployment lines or worse, into the clubs of Austin.
I know several men who grew up here who are about your age. They have entertained me with stories of their youth: jumping out of bed early to try to catch the Bone Men just as they start out, waiting on certain street corners to hear the approach of an Indian gang and being thrilled to catch a glimpse of the Spy Boy in his suit looking up and down the block. One friend has a story of being about 14, riding a Mardi Gras float as what he called a “float grunt.” He wrote the story down and it was published. They've told me lots of stories, some of which I am sure their parents still know nothing of today, but they all involved spontaneity, expectation of a remarkable experience, and above all, music. Whether they were walking down the street hearing it from a corner or a backyard or out the door of a club on their first forbidden walk down Bourbon Street, to a man their eyes still get wide in the telling of the story, the awe they felt seeing this or that now long dead musician is still in their voices, the joy of hearing that one long perfect note still resonates in their memories today. I am betting you have some memories like that. Perhaps you even have some still secret ones, the ones you'll wait to tell your kids until they have kids themselves.
That makes you and all the other people who grew up here in New Orleans unique. Your contemporaries in other cities in other states didn't have the wealth of culture, the almost embarrassingly rich culture, that you did. They most certainly didn't have the wide range of music right there, right there in the streets.
On the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau website it says: “It is said that in New Orleans, culture bubbles up from the streets. Nowhere is this more evident than in the music scene. You'll know it when you come across a street performance that rivals any ticketed show you've seen.” It goes on to say that “New Orleans is one big stage.”
I have been attending the discussion meetings that Kermit Ruffins has so kindly opened his doors for regarding clubs, permits, and all the other issues surrounding live music lately. The attendees are club owners, musicians, visual artists, and music lovers, all wanting to find a solution to the various issues involved. I very much want to thank Scott Hutcheson for joining us and speaking with us. I believe that since he is there on your behalf, that you believe the words on the NOCVB website. There is no doubt that it's a true statement: “...in New Orleans, culture bubbles up from the streets.” Someone at the last meeting made a comment that that culture has come from the most marginalized neighborhoods and population in the City by and large. What they didn't mention was the scope and importance of the street culture within those neighborhoods and the rest of the city.
As the discussion wandered off into ordinance technicalities, Big Chief Albert Doucette stood up and took the floor. He gave voice to the issues that most concern those of us in attendance. He said, “Things like Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs are grandfathered in. They are trying to kill the grandfather. If you allow them to kill the grandfather, the walls are going to disintegrate. They can't allow people who have a lot of money to come into our town and buy into OUR neighborhoods and tell us you can't have that live music in your club. We need to make an ordinance where if you move into a neighborhood, you better accept what's IN that neighborhood. This is our culture. This is our City. This is OUR City. We made New Orleans.”
Mr. Mayor, everyone applauded. The folks at this meeting were from various neighborhoods and various economic levels. Those applauding were business owners. They were musicians. They were creators of the culture we all want to protect. They were the locals who pay to see those cultural creators. They were, I believe, people who hold the same beliefs about this remarkable culture that you do. They also are fierce in their determination to let it grow, organically and naturally as it always has.
In 2009 the Louisiana Endowment for Humanities did a series of interviews with local musicians called, “As Told By Themselves.” I attended one that featured the Treme Brass Band. The LEH graciously put these online and I listened to it again earlier this week because there was one particular story that I remembered but couldn't put the musician's name to. As I listened waiting for that particular story, I heard Mr. Benny Jones, Jr. talking about seeing jazz funerals two or three times a week with parades of the Social Aid and Pleasure clubs on Sunday as a kid. That's about four street performances a week that he saw free from his doorstep. He, along with all the musicians, explained that just about everyone in their family played an instrument, and just about everyone in their friend's family did too. They all spoke of the mentoring, from one generation to the next, dropping names like Harold Dejean and Milton Batiste, Olympia Brass Band, Danny Barker. Each of them could recite a litany of “my uncle played trombone, my aunt played clarinet, my cousin played drums.” It was astonishing, and yes, as I said earlier, unique. I can think of no other city in which music is so totally embedded in the culture through family and community ties. They talked about hearing someone play in a backyard down the way, grabbing their instrument, even if it was only a bucket to bang on, and heading down there soon to be joined by others who heard the music and joined in. They talked about going down to the Quarter to play on street corners as kids learning their craft. They learned traditions from their elders and the great band teachers in the schools. If they saw someone walking down the street with a horn they'd ask if they were going to practice today, and join them. One said, “We created music right then and there, anywhere. There'd be a knock on the door and someone else would join in, then there'd be people in the streets dancing.”
Today, the way the ordinances are written, they could get a ticket for playing or rehearsing in their backyard, or on their stoop, or in their house, or on the street. Mr. Mayor, the way the ordinances are written right now you could get a ticket for playing a tambourine on your front porch, and while I don't know for certain, I am pretty sure there is a tambourine somewhere in your house. It seems to be standard equipment in New Orleans' households in every neighborhood.
Finally as I listened, I came across the story I had been looking for. It was told by Kenneth Terry, the trumpet player for Treme Brass Band. He remembered being about 7 years old, standing on his stoop when a parade or second line went by. There was a man playing trumpet with one hand, holding it up in the air like Gabriel himself. Kenneth was mesmerized and told his mom he wanted to do that. Soon she bought him a trumpet from Weirlein's. A few days later there was a knock on the door and when Kenneth opened it, he saw a man standing there. Kenneth said to him, “You're the guy who played with one hand!” The man said, “Yeah, Kenny, your mama said you want to play the trumpet.” That man was Milton Batiste and he took him to his house and taught him and helped him. Mentored him. A legend helping a 7 year old kid just because the young man showed interest. I am pretty sure that nothing like that happens in Dubuque. In that way the culture was handed down to the next generation intact with room for innovation, evolution and growth, but still uniquely New Orleans.
Every note played, every bead sewn, every dance step taken has been handed down by those who came before. It's a living, breathing thing, this culture we are lucky enough to experience, and if we legislate it too much or try to make it too orderly we will lose the spontaneity that lets it breathe. If that happens, if it is allowed to happen, this culture we love will die, but only after becoming a caricature of itself. That, sir, would be the world's loss not just ours.
Mr. Mayor, someday you'll tell your stories to your grandchildren, maybe even some of the secret ones. I hope that you will be able to tell them the story and then show them what you're talking about. You'll sit on a curb with them in the summer sun, laughing to yourself about the blue snoball juice dripping on their clothes as they dance to the rhythms of an Indian practice taking place inside the door. You'll take them into the Quarter where they'll see other kids their age hoping the bigger guys will let them play a few notes on their horn and maybe one of those grandchildren will ask you for a trumpet. You'll grab your tambourine and take them to dance in a second line letting them choose from the list of Sundays held by a magnet to your refrigerator door. You'll play the music you grew up with for them and look forward to the kind of music their generation will create and hear, still bubbling up out of the streets, just like the Visitor's website said back in your day.
You'll do all this with a huge smile on your face, with the quiet knowledge that you played a large part in allowing that culture to live on by nurturing it and not letting it become a parody of itself. Or you'll do it with great sadness, the sadness we feel when we look at an endangered species. Mr. Mayor, this cultural protection can be your most important legacy. Please, sir, take up the fight so that so that this culture, your City's culture, isn't as remote an idea to your grandchildren as a saber toothed tiger.
One of the attendees at the meeting last week said, “Frankly, the best friend you might have might be the Mayor to tell you the truth.” I am writing this letter in the hopes that that attendee was right.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Here at New Orleans Slate, I have several guest posters lined up and will post their perspectives as soon as they are submitted.
Also of immediate importance: THERE IS ANOTHER MEETING AT KERMIT'S SPEAKEASY TOMORROW, OCTOBER 3 AT NOON. We can't let the pressure drop down on this issue and we have to find a way to work together productively, so let's keep it up.
Until my first guest post is ready to publish, why don't you wander over across to LD's and read this latest post. He has a good chronological timeline on all this. (He also mentions the Eris Debacle which I wrote a lot about at the time. For the record, last I heard the Internal Report had still not been a. finished, b. made available, or c. done at all. I talked to someone recently who told me to request it again and I think I will.) His post is a good read so go visit!
NOLA New Orleans Music Permits Culture War Kermit Ruffins New Orleans
Sunday, September 30, 2012
If you have a suggestion for a guest poster, or want to be one yourself, email me at email@example.com. I'd like to have a new post every day. I can't guarantee yours will be posted, but am hoping that there are so many ideas for positive change that all will make it up here. I will also be posting all the links from the articles written last week. Some of the reporters got some things wrong, but the articles need to be in one place for folks to see easily. I hope to have that list ready by Tuesday, but as anyone who knows me knows, it'll probably be Wednesday.
At any rate, I am soliciting guest posts. This one, by David Kern, came to me unsolicited and I want to thank him for sparking the idea of guest posters on this topic, and the passion he felt about this very important issue that overrode his abhorrence of keyboards to put this together.
MusicOn Wednesday, September 26, 2012, a meeting was called by Kermit Ruffins, the man who, in the calling of this meeting, has become the de facto face of new Orleans music.
“I got real pissed and I called a meeting,” said Ruffins. The source of his anger is the sudden arbitrary and aggressive crack-down on musicians and music venues by New Orleans City Hall and the Mayor's office.
Answering the call, about 200 (although I've seen numbers ranging from 100 on up) musicians, club owners, lawyers, and music loving citizens converged on Kermit's Treme Speakeasy on Basin Street.
Before leaving the stage, Ruffins said he would like to hold meetings every Wednesday which would culminate in a march on City Hall on the 24th of October, an idea which was met with instant and unanimous support.
There are three things that can be done immediately to blunt City Hall's attack on our culture.
The first is to completely dismantle the “six month clause” which Councilwoman Stacey Head has cleverly manipulated, making it incumbent upon the club owners to prove there has not ever been a six month lapse in entertainment at their respective establishments. (One club owner said, “If you buy a business it might take MORE than six months to renovate it, so we're behind the 8 ball from the beginning.”) It is unenforceable, unconstitutional, and must go away.
Second, we need to force a moratorium on the capricious enforcement of any ordinances pertaining to any kind of public performance or special event.
And third, we need the city to respect the “grandfathering”of entertainment venues.
This is a single cause with many voices, and it is imperative that those many voices be channeled into one clear and cohesive one. Musicians, by their nature are not herd animals, so how this might be done, or whom this voice might be, remains to be seen. But this movement, this cause must not be allowed to collapse upon itself due to petty political infighting. This is what City Hall would most like to see. A united front is an absolute must.
The old saying “you can't fight city hall” is defeatist bullshit. United, we can fight city hall and we can prevail. City Hall is nothing more than a cabal of lawyers and their minions. Guess what? We have lawyers too. Granted, ours may end up working for free, but they are working on the side of the angels.
And City Hall has ordinance, dating back to 1952. Well, we have culture and tradition, dating back to when that first luckless Frenchman stepped off the boat. And we have the power of Jazz, Blues, Rock-and-Roll and Gospel, all children born of this city, behind us. If we unite, we will prevail, and our song will not be silenced.
NOLA New Orleans
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
From the "Things to Do" section of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors' Bureau website:
It is said that in New Orleans, culture bubbles up from the streets. Nowhere is this more evident than in the music scene. You'll know it when you come across a street performance that rivals any ticketed show you've seen. Or when you find yourself inspired to sway, clap and move like never before.
The city is the birthplace of jazz and a mecca for gospel, R&B and ultimately, the rock and pop we love today. We aren't exaggerating when we say that a wholly original spirit of creativity and musical magic is alive on the streets and in the clubs of New Orleans. Experience unbelievable live musical performances in venues from swank lounges to tiny honky tonks to mega concerts in places like the New Orleans Arena.
New Orleans is one big stage. Come and play your part.
Did you see it? My favorite part? "On the streets and in the clubs of New Orleans."
And yet in the last few weeks there have been tidbits of scuttlebutt, rumors proven to be true, culminating in several articles about clubs and bars being told no more live music. Not just in one part of town, but all over town. Circle Bar Uptown: blammo. Siberia on St. Claude: blammo. A move to kill Frenchmen Street music: blammo. Nevermind the continuing harassment of brass bands on the street. You know. That "On the streets" part the CVB is touting. Wrong permit. No permit. Mayoralty permit. Nagin, no, Landrieu, no, "it's been this way for a long time just now being enforced". . . . .AAAARRRRRRGHHH.
Offbeat Magazine has done a couple of great articles about this as has The Gambit. In fact I think it was the Gambit that first told us about the Frenchmen Street issues.
I decided to look into all this for myself but lucky for me, Geoffrey Douville, a businessman, bar owner, musician and neighbor, already did the homework I was about to embark on. I am forever grateful. What follows is what he wrote today, (I've left the links as originally placed) and it's an important read:
EDIT: Prior to my using this Geoffrey added: "I would just add that it was pointed out to me that my zeroing in on the Real Estate biz was taken narrowly to mean the businesses that broker real estate deals, and that needs to be modified--I mean real estate in the broadest sense meaning all the itinerant businesses and interests relating to property in general, and that can be draftsmen, designers, Architects, preservationists--and thus many of the people involved in the drafting of the Master Plan." Below is his entire piece.
The long-term viability of music venues in New Orleans is in real danger. Something has to be done to reverse this increasing and unacceptable trend. In the last year no less than three music venues have had their entertainment shut down, two of these in the last three weeks alone. In the last year some interested parties attempted to re-open Donna's on Rampart St., long known as the Brass Band hub of the city, and were rejected in their attempts due to an arbitrary and capricious city standard that reverts zoning to some or other designation (almost always one that does not allow live entertainment) if a commercial property has been “vacated” for longer than 6 months. As an owner/partner of the Lost Love Lounge, and a musician myself, our application was rejected last year despite the fact that our location has been in operation as a business, continuously, since at least 1930, probably longer, when it was the V&G Tavern (Viola & George Heck, Dancing Saturdays! Television!! Drink Jax!). Additionally, other clubs that are unlicensed for music are being harassed continuously with threats of having their entertainment shut down. I can think of three well known venues off the top of my head. They are all vulnerable. Add to this the general hostility of some of the more aggressive, indeed out-of-control and drunk on power neighborhood organizations (not all of them, so we're clear) that seem to derive a kind of sadistic pleasure from succeeding in destroying that which others have built, and top it off with a Federal Grant that Bobby Jindal is using to fund a seemingly unending string of cheap stings (conducted when businesses are most vulnerable) on small businesses, and you've got a recipe for disaster. I say these things not from the perspective of a whining business owner crying foul over some minor tax increase or other (I'm no Republican), but as a musician in need of places to play. Because that's one of the basic requirements of maintaining our musical culture: places to play.
The issue faced by music clubs and/or entrepreneurs who would like to start one is that the issuance of live entertainment permits is currently governed by a set of rules that will, over time, lead to the existence of less and less permits. The deleterious effects are happening before our eyes. The rules as they stand are so hostile to music venues that regulations outlined in the new “Master Plan” could be legitimately interpreted to mean that all currently operating venues could have entertainment shut down right now, today. It seems designed, over time, to use attrition as a mechanism to drastically lessen (if not wipe out completely) music venues in New Orleans. This is not hyperbole—it's very real as we've all seen in the past weeks. This is of course good for no one save a few nasty people—people no one wants to hang out with anyway--who happen to have a lot of time on their hands to hang around with the people who cobbled our so-called “Master Plan” together, namely real estate interests. And I mean "real estate" interests in the broadest sense, inclusive of all the associated elements: brokerage, construction, Architecture, etc. Together they make up the Silence Crusaders of New Orleans, guided by self-congratulatory heroification whose justice emanates from a the single misguided (and unsupported by facts) belief that they are, mafia-style, protecting property values from the vagaries of the unstoppable incoming generation, tattoos and all.
I'll try to address each manner in which the city prevents, takes away or allows certain venues to skirt regulations of which I'm aware. As anyone can see, preventing, taking away and allowing under special circumstances are all negative to neutral—there is currently no venue for a progressive, forward-moving licensing process available at City Hall, much less a venue for conversation or debate about your rights in the matter. I suppose the city would counter by saying that any business can apply for an exception with your Councilperson or go before the City Planning Commission (ground zero for the Master Plan so what can one expect from that?) and apply for a zoning variance. But here again you run into the wall of conventional wisdom and/or zoning intractability whereupon you aren't engaged in a two-sided forum about real, legitimate legal issues—you're simply entering the rotunda with your hand out, hoping for a sympathetic ear. Believe me, there's none to be found--only in the rarest of rare cases. So those approaches do not rise to the level of an available process that the city is obligated to provide in service to your rights. In fact it's the opposite: it is a city-sponsored blockade of your right to legitimately contend for a legally available permit—one that your property rights may well grant to you. Legally, you must be extended the courtesy of being accepted or denied on real, legitimate grounds. And if you're not, within a narrow framework, the city must provide an explanation to you, not the other way around. The unavailability of such a process at this time therefore means the only legitimate process available is to file suit against the city challenging the appropriateness of your denial, or to beat the drum so loudly, from a very affectionate position, that it's politically expedient for the Council to grant the license as an “exception”—this is so rare as to render it not a real, viable option and further misses the point entirely.
Here are the common ways in which the City refuses to grant live entertainment permits:
1. The Live Entertainment License Moratorium
For years, beginning at some point in the 1990's that I can't verify (I challenge any intrepid soul out there who can comb through City Council dockets and make hide or hair of when this occurred to please give it a go), a new understanding of rules came to exist in the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits: http://www.nola.gov/RESIDENTS/Safety-and-Permits/ no new music licenses were to be granted, period. There was to be, henceforth, a moratorium on their issuance. This gold standard, which I believe is nothing more than codified conventional wisdom, but under which the city is still erroneously operating, is still a driving force behind denial of permits. However, the rules governing moratoria are outlined in the New Orleans Code of Ordinances, Part 1, Charter, Article III, Section 3-126. http://library.municode.com/HTML/10040/level3/PAI_CH_ARTIIITHCO.html#PAI_CH_ARTIIITHCO_S3-126TEPR
Here is the authority granted: “The Council may by the affirmative vote of a majority of its membership impose a moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or other temporary prohibition on zoning, permitting, and other similar functions where necessary to protect the public health, safety, or welfare for a temporary period.” These are the limitations: “No moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or other temporary prohibition shall remain in effect for more than one year, provided that the Council may by ordinance authorize one extension for an additional period of one hundred eighty days.” It continues to further limit this authority: “Thereafter, no moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or similar prohibition of substantially the same legal effect on substantially the same geographic area may be imposed until at least one year after the expiration of the prior moratorium ordinance, interim zoning district, or other temporary prohibition.” In other words, the City Council may not impose an endless moratorium on new live entertainment permits or anything else for that matter. A moratorium is a temporary prohibition only. They would have to impose it every other year, or year and a half, leaving a required one-year window open whereupon this rationale could not be applied. But there's ample evidence to support that the endless live entertainment moratorium conventional wisdom is still the standard under which the city is operating. Read this article from Nola Defender in regard to Bacchanal's well-publicized struggles and you can plainly see this conventional wisdom is alive and well: http://noladefender.com/content/bacchanal-blues
It appears there is no such city-wide moratorium, despite whether or not those in power want to operate under the false presumption that there is. Challenge it. It's baloney.
2. The “the previous business or businesses that you didn't own in the same location must have had a robust and regular live entertainment history whereupon at no point now or in the distant past can there have been longer than a one-year absence of said entertainment operations. If this is not the case, your ability to showcase live entertainment at that location has expired.”
If you don't believe this bizarre one, here's the final ruling in a case involving Little People's Place in the 90's: “Based on the evidence submitted, we conclude that live entertainment was not a continuous aspect of the club's operation. The conduct of live entertainment at the property was sporadic or intermittent at best. Under these circumstances, we are led to conclude that the use of the property did not establish a nonconforming use for live entertainment.” This is the one, from what I can tell, that is most often used to deny permits. Here is a link to that case: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/la-court-of-appeal/1042270.html
Finally, “I pay a tax and they let me slide. I don't actually have an entertainment license.”
I've heard about this one. I know it's been asserted in at least one instance and that this line of thinking assisted a business in not receiving a violation during a raid, or that's what I was told. I've never been able to ascertain what “tax” it is that gets paid, much less how the fee is calculated. Maybe it's the amusement tax? More than likely this is just a rumor. In any case, it's out there as conventional wisdom that if you pay this so-called tax, and you get raided, that Safety and Permits will let you slide.
So the problem lies not with business owners who desperately want to operate legally under conditional-use live entertainment permits. Nor is the issue the obvious increasing demand for entertainment licenses that economic forces & population growth are making obvious. The problem is with the city in that it will not grant new permits to virtually anyone based on faulty reasoning and prejudicial application. This does nothing to curb the aforementioned demand for live entertainment in many geographic corners of the city, however, and creates an unnecessary black market where operators take the chance on getting busted because there are no other options available. That this is a current reality in New Orleans, of all places in the world, goes beyond the obvious mind-blowing stupidity that it represents and serves as a sad and dull reminder of all-too-familiar patterns of city and state-sponsored behavior that negatively impact economy, progressive development, and cultural continuity and maintenance. You know, the little things.
That being said, right now there are sadly only three available circumstances, that I can see, under which live entertainment is possible: 1. Stay open forever and keep your current live entertainment license until the business fails or you die—this is the only way to maintain a music license—if you die, the license is non-transferable and the business must apply for a new license in the name of whomever takes over, making the business again vulnerable to rejection. 2. Start a new business at a location that previously had definitive, provable live entertainment operations—not just music once a week for brunch, or on the weekends only, but a real, chock-full calendar of live entertainment all the time, AND those live entertainment events must not have ceased for a year or more at any point in the history of whomever operated it and however long it has been open--or you are ineligible, AND the new business must be licensed and operating and booking gigs absolutely, with no exceptions, inside of a 6-month window from the time the last operation shut its doors OR the new zoning variation kicks in, almost always with live entertainment excluded as a result of “Master Plan” zoning. 3. Finally, because of the onerousness of the aforementioned two circumstances, a club can choose to chance it and operate illegally, or somewhat illegally in a weird nook of City Hall winks and nods that, apparently if you pay the right amusement tax, can sometimes allow you to slide when busted, which was covered earlier.
Tragically, as we can see almost every month, our forebears—the keepers of the flame—are leaving us for the Great St. Louis Cathedral in the sky. If we don't, right now, maintain and/or allow businesses that incubate musical talent then half of our cultural economy is done in the next 20 years, guaranteed. The City of New Orleans will have created, all on it's own, a cultural version of our wetlands, vanishing before our eyes and transforming us into the baseline vision of the Master Plan: a giant pensioner's village, filled to the brim with Silence Crusaders who loudly proclaim their devotion to live music while actively seeking to shut it down, in their dotage, because they just can't sleep at night, or are too dumb to figure out that Metairie is available if you want that life (please go there and have it thank you, nothing against Metairie brah) AND you're still just close enough to drive in, hear the racket, and drive your ass home. Cashing in on the geriatric bandwagon has everything to do with the behind-the-scenes motives of the Silence Crusade, and our politicians are nothing if not lovers of some elderly cash. But the aged will not be with us forever, and though they may be ripe for the fleecing right now, those in real estate, who seemed to have penned our lovely “Master Plan” all by themselves, will eventually find out that the Baby-Boomer cash cow will likely yield far less returns than expected given our sad state of economic affairs. Maybe not this year, but in the twenty years coming certainly.
Remove the venues and the musicians will follow. Any numb nut half wit can figure that out. Austin, TX will be glad to have them, and we will be yet again engaging in a rare talent that New Orleans has honed to an almost perfect craft in the last 40 years: giving away the farm, encouraging the best of what we've got to get out, cherry-topped with a swift kick of “No thanks, asshole. Don't let the door hit you..” After all, what do pesky musicians do for the New New Orleans? How do they fit into the “Master Plan,” so exquisitely drafted by the real estate biz? Luckily, as Mr. Courreges asserted: http://uptownmessenger.com/2012/08/owen-courreges-the-latest-weapon-in-the-war-on-live-music/ property rights trump zoning, and every crisis has an attendant opportunity. It's time for small business owners to collectively challenge the constitutionality of the ordinances, zoning, bylaws and any other corner of officialdom that removes your rights by blocking the issuance of these permits. It is NOT your duty to explain to the city why you deserve something, like some bread beggar seeking permission to eat. It's the opposite. It is the duty of the city to provide a legal and legitimate reason why your rights are being denied, and that denial must happen very narrowly. Rights are rights, the top of the food chain, let's assert them forcefully.
And finally, get it together New Orleans politicians, you're embarrassing yourself and the rest of us yet again.
Thank you, Geoffrey. Exactly.
Then there's the article by Owen Courreges for Uptown Messenger. Mr. Courreges cites this:
Theatrical productions, athletic contests, exhibitions, pageants, concerts, recitals, circuses, karaoke, bands, combos, and other live musical performances, audience participation contests, floorshows, literature readings, dancing, fashion shows, comedy or magic acts, mime and the playing of recorded music (disc, records, tapes, etc.) by an employee, guest or other individual, one of whose functions is the playing of recorded music and who is in verbal communication with the clientele of the establishment.
Really? Literature readings are a zoning problem too? Thank goodness they don't stop at my house when a new bottle of rum has been opened and a couple friends might read their latest musings to each other. What if I read it over the phone? Oh wait, we have to all be in the same space, but renumeration isn't required. As for recorded music played by a guest, sometimes live music played by a guest, or some impromptu floor show or circus acts. . . well, it's been known to happen. I need a permit for that?
There is a Facebook page for support of live music HERE. Please head off and hit the like button on that.
As one commenter on Facebook said: "It's a good thing they built that airport years ago so musicians can fly out of this town and build a career." Now that's a terrifying prospect. Didn't we already see what that looked like after Katrina?
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Saturday, June 09, 2012
A text message from a neighbor: “Did you see your mail today?” I hadn't. Intrigued I headed for the mailbox and saw what appeared to be junk mail. I turned it over, a large postcard type item, and saw that it was an announcement for a free one hour class to be held at a local coffee shop. The class topic was how to get a conceal carry permit, and it said the first ten people to show up would get a free encyclopedia of armaments: great full color pictures of pistols, revolvers and sub-machine guns. I was surprised that this particular coffee shop would have this class there. The place is routinely full of artist types, bicycles chained up on one side in the street, nice chats held out front. A regular gathering place for locals, its denizens would probably be labelled at first glance as having a bohemian liberal bias. Definitely not the kind of place I think of when I think of guns. At first I was just surprised and I tossed it into the trash. A few minutes later I was curious and retrieved it. I decided that I wanted to see which of my neighbors would attend, would want this kind of information, would think this was a good idea.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Saturday, May 05, 2012
17 years old. 13 years old. Babies.
8th grade girl's bullet ridden body. Girlfriend of the 8th grade boy shot the day before. Possibly for shooting hoops (not bullets) in the wrong neighborhood.
And a woman is summoned to the morgue. She stands behind a window. The shades are drawn and lifted. On a shiny metal slab is a body. The body of her son. Of her daughter. Her knees give out. She drops to the floor. She keens. She wails. She cries. She tried her best and yet, there is her child. In the morgue. Nothing but a statistic in the ongoing gun battle. When another boy died the day before, in New Orleans East, the gunman shot a dog. A pitbull named Spartacus. A great dog. Protected the family. Wonderful dog. A fund is quickly formed to pay for the surgery needed for the dog. The humans have to figure out the funeral and the grieving themselves. A senseless tragedy.
Across town another woman quakes in the sterile halls of a hospital. The child whose eyes she sheltered as the pediatrician administered the well baby shots now has needles attached to tubes in both arms. The doctor tells her that her son might not walk again as the bullet nicked the spinal cord. The doctor tells her that her daughter might not see as the bullet might have caused some irreversible nerve damage. She cries silently and only outside the room. Her knees can't buckle. She'll have to be strong to help her child through this. She'll have to figure out the hospital bills and the rehabilitation and the permanent changes to her house and life that this injury will cause. She'll have to figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.
In another part of town, a woman watches as the son she held up by both hands as he learned to walk takes his last steps as a free person. He is held on both arms now, by uniformed officers and there are chains around the ankles she delighted in seeing wobble uncertainly 16 years earlier. She may never get a chance to speak to her child except through glass again. He's still so young but his life is over. She doesn't understand why he picked up a gun and pulled the trigger. She tried so hard to keep him from that. She will blame herself. She will cry into her pillow alone in the dark, wishing she could hear his step in her house once more. She'll get little if any support in her loss. She'll keen and she'll wail and she'll notice the averted eyes of her neighbors and hear them clucking behind their drawn shades. She'll obsess over what she did wrong, mentally analyzing every minute of those 17 years. She'll never figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.
A week from now is Mother's Day. We send candy, flowers, fruit with chocolate covering. We send whatever we think Mom would like.
These mom's would like nothing more than to have their kids bitch about the curfew they imposed, or hear their kids complain about the spaghetti they're eating when they wanted something else. They won't get that. They will get silence. They'll be trying to decide where to put the memorial card. They'll be trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage or the rent after ante-ing up the cost of the funeral, or the hospital bill, or the payment to the lawyer or bondsman. They'll be staring into a closet filled with the clothes that their kids cared about. Wow. She loved that red skirt. Wow. He was so proud of that Saint's jersey. And she'll stand at the closet, and she'll stand at the door, and she'll jump at the sound of the phone. Then she'll turn around and realize that he or she isn't coming home. Then she'll stare into a casket, or a hospital bed, or a prison visitor booth looking at her child, the one she carried, the one she taught to walk, the one she taught the alphabet to, in that red skirt or that Saint's jersey, not looking like she remembered as he or she vaulted out the door laughing at her overprotectiveness.
These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.
The blood is running down the streets like water after a rainstorm. The cop shop says isn't it terrible. The DA files a case against the accused. We all jump with glee that the asshole that did the shooting is caught.
And the mothers keen. And the mothers will never recover. And the family is broken beyond repair. And the mothers keen.
Why are we not looking at the societal issues that cause a 17 year old kid to feel that shooting a gun is the only way to settle a debt, or a moment of disrespect, or to make them a man? Why are guns so easily bought? Are we entering an entirely Darwinian age? Those who are the strongest by virtue of the weapons they carry are the winners? Really? Why are we not furious at this situation?
Why are we not raging at the idiots who rail in newspaper comments' sections that we don't need more and better schools, or after school programs, or more teachers, or more mentors. What we need, they say, is more prisons, harsher prison sentences, more locks and keys. More cemeteries perhaps? Certainly more guns, in my purse, in my pocket, strapped to my ankle, hey, come to the coffee shop for a conceal carry class. It's free.
People. THINK. FEEL. LOOK AT THIS MESS.
I frankly don't think the “Framers” had this in mind when they wrote the second amendment. Do ya really think they envisioned “that a Glock is due to all?” I think the NRA and their big bucks lobbying is part of the problem, not the solution. Call me a commie. Call me a socialist. Call me whatever you want. Are you really that cold that you can't imagine for one minute what being in the place of one of those mothers would feel like? Seriously? Without the guns the kids would have a fist fight, you know, like the old days, and the mom would pull out the iodine and the bandaids. Without the guns the mom would have to explain that sometimes leaving the fight is the better choice. Without the guns the mother would be able to make pancakes for their kid on Mother's Day while bitching that they should have made them for her.
Ah. I see. Y'all are reading this thinking to yourselves that these Mom's are all, oh, I dunno, crack whores, welfare queens, certainly baby mama's that didn't think ahead. Certainly some are, and you bet there's some really bad parenting going on, but you'd be overwhelmingly wrong on one count. Statistics show that most welfare moms are white. But hell, why should a fact interfere with your pre-conceived notion of the world? I mean, really? You have your ideas, and thems the facts regardless of proof to the opposite.
Nevermind your latent (or not so latent) racism. Yeah. I know. You're not a racist. You have a black friend. Maybe. Okay, not a friend exactly but a black person you work with. And that let's you skate. In your mind. How is it that you assume that the children mentioned above are black? Why not Hispanic or Asian? Oh yeah. Asians are good at math. Nevermind the Asian gangs. Or the Hispanic gangs. Or the WHITE gangs. Think Aryan Brotherhood. Or Neo Nazi's. What the hell is that about? We have a wife of a North Carolina (I think) senator talking about how some proposition before a vote that is mostly about gay marriage will somehow protect the “Caucasians”. No. I couldn't make that up. All of them have guns, possibly even that Senator's wife. (Hey, Second Amendment sez we can, you stupid liberal bitch. I can have a whole bushel of them, and I can't help it if those project people, or the barrio people, or the trailer park people, or the Chinese alley people have them too. I need MINE to protect myself from them, so stow it.)
You are also probably assuming, along with the fact that all these tragedies are only found within black communities, that the Moms we're talking about are single and unemployed. Nice indictment of an entire segment of our society—easy, bumper sticker thinking: Teen mother, on welfare, lives in project, no husband. While certainly that tidy little stereotype exists, it cannot be applied to everyone. We gotta stop that. Besides, it is really insulting to all those dads out there who are holding up their buckling wives.
In New Mexico the blood is running too. Only there the commenters say: “Yeah well the vatos are shooting each other. Probably illegals anyway.” Every major metropolitan area has the blood of children running in the streets, it's not just us. This is a nationwide problem that more prisons and more cemeteries won't fix.
It comes down to what kind of country do you want.
One where every one is armed and we assume the “other” is dangerous? Those kinds of assumptions get people killed. Ask Trayvon Martin's family.
Or how about one where everyone is scared to death of the police they should be able to turn to when there is a real danger? An over-amped paramilitary crew with itchy trigger fingers and only rare and lengthy (let's get past a couple of news cycles and it'll fade away) accountability?
Or one where we take an entire generation of kids and just consider them lost to the streets? Even that choice would require that some pre-emptive and positive action be taken for the tiny ones. Things like daycare options, education that's meaningful to them, and I dunno, FOOD. Wouldn't be a bad thing to add some healthcare options in there. Mental health care, the red headed step-child, as well.
It's easy to say the P word if it's prison. Not so easy if it's poverty.
By now, if you're still reading this, you are either arguing with me, agreeing (maybe only in part) with me, or tossing your sandwich at the monitor hollering “Apologist!” I never once said that the shooters should go unpunished, I only decried the loss of a young person's life to an irrevocably bad choice in pulling that trigger. What I am saying is that we, as a nation, as a city, as a neighborhood, need to figure out why so many make that choice. We need to decide if we're going to be a reactionary, Darwinian society where the bigger bullet wins, and the blood runs down the streets, and the children are carted away in hearses and ambulances and cop cars and prison vans, and we're okay with that. Or are we going to take a long hard look at this seemingly intractable problem of violence, and a really good look at ourselves in the mirror under the harshest light we can find. In doing that we'll have to face some hard truths: some of us run to the easy fear, the easy stereotype, the easy racism, the easy .38. Our shoulders have to start cramping up from all the fucking shrugging we do at some point. Our necks will seize up if we keep shaking our heads upon hearing the news. Our tears must give way to outrage. Once that happens we have to find a way to listen to each other and not shout each other down as we look for solutions. There are no quick fixes, but we can't just throw up our hands and throw these kids away.
These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.
And the sound you hear next Sunday emanating from houses all over this country won't be back up singers for your favorite band. They'll be mothers. Wailing. Keening. The Stabat Mater Dolorosa rising in sorrow. Inconsolable.
As we should be.
Friday, April 27, 2012
I was at French Quarter Fest and over the speaker came a song I knew all the lyrics to: Who Shot the Lala by Oliver Morgan. I didn't identify the singer at the time just knew all of the lyrics. Like automatic pilot they came spilling out of me onto the grass. There were others of my vintage singing along as well. “I heard it was a .44.”
I was a lucky kid. On top of our fridge was a radio. AM radio. My mama had it on as we ate our cereal, fruit juice, milk and the One a Day vitamin that lay in our spoons as we headed off to school. I heard all the latest and greatest. Not sure to this day if Mama knew how much she was shaping me and my musical tastes. (It was thanks to that fridge radio that I first heard the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.) The poor lady had no sense of rhythm but seemed to like music, although fact is I don't know if she listens to music for fun now. I'll have to ask her. But back then she played the radio and had a few albums. Hell, she turned me onto Harry Belafonte without realizing it. Nevermind it was next to the Mills Brothers and Mario Lanza (Drink, drink drink!). That AM radio and the Ed Sullivan Show planted a lot of songs and artists in my head.
So somewhere in my psyche lay Oliver Morgan and Lawrence “Lala” Nelson and the .44. I heard it that day and I realized that I had no earthly clue who or what the “Lala” was. So I set about investigating (which got bonus points for justifying my procrastination on a bigger project). In the process I uncovered a possible murder mystery embroiled in the entire New Orleans dynastic music scene. It was a joy. Forget that everyone else I know seemed to already know the story. Lawrence “Lala” Nelson was the brother of “Papoose” Nelson, the guitar player for Fats Domino—and the pedigree and totally overlapping business that is New Orleans musical dynasties goes on and on. I now am the proud owner of an Orpheus oversized doubloon with Oliver Morgan on it, and the title of the song as well, along with a pristine .45 (no NOT a gun) record of the song. I can't wait to hear it on a turntable.
But how'd I get there? Why was I so curious about the Lala?
Well, I was listening to the songs on the radio over my pineapple/orange juice. We heard the Four Seasons, the Beach Boys, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, all the Motown stuff, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Otis Redding. That list is actually much longer. But a lot of the songs we heard were about death. Really romantic death—or so it seemed at that age.
Jan and Dean's Dead Man's Curve with the doomed race between a Corvette and a Jaguar. Last Kiss with Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (about 1964, I was in fourth grade) about the car crash, him holding her tight and losing his love, his life, that night. Nevermind Tell Laura I Love Her. They were all sort of mysteries. (I mean they were young and they died! That in itself was the mystery since only old people died.) Romantic mysteries to be sure, but mysteries that didn't send me off to Google to find out who died/cause of death/was it a who or a what: indeed was it real. Most of those were mysterious only in their idiocy, as in “guess I'll enter a race to buy you a wedding ring.” Pfffft! Kids!
I heard Stagger Lee, the Lloyd Price version, back then. I knew completely that Lee shot Billy over a Stetson hat with a .44. The first version of House of the Rising Sun that I heard was the Animals: Eric Burdon plaintively wailing about his sins, not technically a death song. Although certainly at that age I could only imagine what those sins were, they were clearly romantic and probably deadly. (Most certainly deadly in the sinnin' way if I had asked the local priest.)
But at every slumber party, .45's like Last Kiss were played. There we were, with rollers in our hair, boobless chests heaving, tears welling up in our eyes, it was too, too too too romantic to stand. Oh, just so :::sob:::