I finally got a chance to sit down and start watching Treme this week. It took me a while, but Natsuki was at her folks for the week and I don't have enough money to pay my gym fees, so I figured it would be a good chance.
I am going ahead and writing this as a half-assed post now since if I wait until I have time to give all of my thoughts I won't come out with anything until the last episode of season 5 in which NOLA Actual takes off into space with Kermit Ruffins sparkin' a J off of the exhaust.
First, let me single out the Times-Picayune's superb "Treme Explained" which is an essential companion to the show, even if you know the city well.
The Wire touched a special place in my heart, not just because it was exceptional television, as almost everyone acknowledges, but also because it was an homage and a eulogy for the great city of Baltimore that had impacted me so much as a kid visiting there and as a proxy for Richmond which I lived in the worst neighborhoods of as a young adult. It seemed to be about people I knew and spoke in a language that I understood.
Treme is a thicker stew as I already find myself loving it and yet have to question whether my affection for New Orleans is just a hackneyed reaction to a real tragedy. An effection maybe. I am definitely on record before the storm of declaring my hate for the city and my lack of a desire to be there. That is true, and looking back, I feel justified. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, New Orleans was like the brother that I didn't want to share the back seat with. However, it turns out, if said brother was torn from your home and unable to be found, you would miss them terribly and want more than anything to hold them close. Let me explain. I have been going to New Orleans since I was a little kid as my Godfather and his family are from Slidell. They live in a house on stilts in the swamp and say thing like "butta" and "watta" and eat cabbage even with worms crawling out of it. They are Cajuns; sturdy and round. We used to drive into the city for Mardi Gras and I can remember rolling through Algiers in the early '80s with a pistol on the front seat. Country paranoia or shameful reality, the city loomed. We would still stand on the parade route and soak in the sights and the sounds most of all. In Northwest Florida the doctors all have Carnival paintings on their office walls and are members of a Crewe that they bought or influenced their ways into. Hippies drive over to get high at Jazz Fest and rednecks to get drunk on Bourbon. Punks? New Orleans had nothing for us except for kids who enjoy playing at being homeless. So I tired of New Orleans. It was a rich fantasy and a drunk's toilet. At 15 they wouldn't let me check into a motel that I had reserved and so I spent all day at the fairgrounds after a downpour in a flooded muddy field with 90,000 other music fans trying to pull pizza boxes out of the garbage to sit on. New Orleans was parking lots and underpasses and interstates and gas stations with bullet proof windows where men with bottles in bags lurked just outside of the brightest lights. It was one wrong turn from being in more trouble than you felt like being in and panhandlers getting it in their head that you weren't poor just because you were white. Or white panhandlers thinking you might give up some change since you were young. It was being stuck all night, tired in Jackson Square while GG Allin played one of his last shows and his fans came out and made fun of us for not looking like them. That New Orleans never did much for me. The one where the police might kill you instead of the criminals.
Of course there were other times like when I went to see Bela Fleck in a park and Pensacola and Rebirth opened up. It was probably the best live music I have ever heard, but it was tennis tanned, khaki-shorted doctor's wives who lined up to dance behind them. There was also the empty, sunny New Orleans on the day after Christmas at Cafe Du Monde. Row after row of buildings making neighborhoods, full of people who knew each other. There was running into Winona Ryder in a used clothes store and finding a Crucial Youth record in a bin on some back street in Iberville.
Let me be specific, I didn't resent New Orleans for being dirty and poor and dangerous. I resented it for being idolized by people who didn't have to endure its dirty and poor and dangerous. Under those circumstances, it is no wonder that New Orleans doesn't love outsiders and tourists. Nowhere on the Gulf Coast does. We don't in Northwest Florida. Just give us your money and get back on the bus heading North. But New Orleans has done better than the rest of us in keeping its soul. It has had to be hard and cold at times. Making outsiders feel like they are on the outside, anyway, good for them.
And then my friends lived there. And then the storm came. And I won't lie and say there wasn't a part of me like Bill Clinton who cried on 911, partly because of the awfulness and partly because it didn't happen when he could have done something about it. Florida, so ready for the hurricane, so prepared will never be remembered for how it handled the big one. New Orleans will be loved and strangled and almost destroyed and certainly vilified for how it lost. So now, like the bother of a stolen child I can only love it while I still hate driving around under the interstate and the neighborhoods that can go from bad to worse and hearing about how drunk somebody got on Bourbon.
Back to the show itself. It makes the point that The Wire couldn't and that is more complicated in New Orleans anyway: The city is fueled by and unique because of the culture of the lower-classes who live there and are unwanted by the power structure except to the extent that they bring tourist dollars to the city which is fueled by and unique because of the culture of the lower-classes who live there and are unwanted by the power structure except to the extent that they bring tourist dollars to the city..... and on and on.
So far, the music has been exceptional and the amount of times that I have said "Hey, there's _______ where I saw_______ play." has been enjoyable. With few exceptions it has felt real to me, but I am only a visitor. There are lots of dynamics that I would like to see discussed but the scope of the show is limited and I think that is to good effect. There has been no game changing character like Omar Little to appear yet, but this is a different kind of show. Khandi Alexander is wonderful and has a real kind of strength. I have also enjoyed the Delmond Lambreaux character showing a very real divide between "serious jazz cats" and their feelings about the city's vernacular canon. Also, mad props for showing Galactic going off at d.b.a.