Friday, June 23, 2006

Before Katrina There Was Rite Aid

Late afternoon, January, 1998, I sat on the stoop of a friend's shotgun house on North Bernadotte Street, Mid City New Orleans.

A cool breeze blew blaring horns and a second line rhythm from the parade ground of a high school a few blocks over. The band was warming up for Mardi Gras. Purple and gold flags had replaced Christmas lights. Fat Tuesday would soon roll, but it would have to roll without me.

I had a flight to catch in a day or two back across the Atlantic to London where I'd changed planes and hook a sharp right to Kuwait.

My future ex-wife, C.V. and I both taught at the national university there.

One of our distractions was collaborating on local amateur music nights. We belonged to one of these little theatres that seem to spring up in every Brit-heavy ex-pat community.

This little theatre would occasionally present a music night to raise funds for props and what not. Talented amateur or former professional turned English teacher musicians set the themes, rehearsed the tunes. Ex-pats would come to the theatre, smuggle in and hide under the tables their Rausch grape juice bottles of home made hootch and make believe that they were in a pub in that arid, Islamic, oil rich and alcohol free emirate, Kuwait.

I play about a half dozen different styles on electric and acoustic guitars. C.V. had (and wherever she is today probably still has) a pleasant voice so if there happened to be a country and western music night--we were there with a batch of tunes--I strummed; she warbled. Same went for Irish folk night. Or Jazz night.

That January while sitting on the stoop three houses down from Mick's Irish Pub, in those days when Kuwaiti born but New Orleans transplanted three-legger feline, Ken Shabby, was still hobbling around North Bernadotte and Bienville, a black and white lion king with a bat man mask, I lulled like a lotus eater in the pallid light of the setting sun, voodoo spellbound and buzzed on a beer. The boom shakalaka drums and the saxes and the blare of the trumpets sent a love letter straight to my heart, and I had one of those "It is the power of
Marie Laveau that compels you" urges.

If David couldn't visit the mountain, the mountain would visit David. Yup. Mardi Gras would roll for me--sort of--in Kuwait. I picked up a copy of
Broven's book--the best on the origins of New Orleans rhythm and blues to do my homework. I bought a few cd compilations.

When I got back to Kuwait, I made telephone calls--the band I lined up consisted of a French sax player, a British keyboardist whose strong left hand would handle the bass lines, an Armenian (kick ass) drummer, a British male vocalist who would also emcee the show, plus future ex-wife C.V. singing a whole lotta tunes. I broke out my Telecaster, borrowed an old tube amp, and we were in biness.

The bill of fare for the evening was of course red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo. I remember the set list: We played mostly
Cosimo's studio standards: like "Iko Iko", Professor Longhair's "Mardi Gras in New Orleans" and "Tipitina".

We did two or three songs by Fats Domino, some Lee Dorsey, Roy Byrd, Champion Jack Dupree, Little Joe Gaines, Ernie K. Doe, Dave Bartholomew, Lloyd Price, Jewel King (3 x 7 and I just turned 21. . .great tune), Shirley and Lee (C.V. did a superb job of imitating Shirley's naughty little school girl's voice. . .'feel's so goo-ood') and of course we covered Irma Thomas's "Time Is on My Side". When we closed with a reprise of d'Professor's "Go to the Mardi Gras", I passed out beads from a purple
K and B bag.

This is the city I weep for: New Orleans--big city attitude with a small town heart where locals were drawn together, ignorant of ethnic haggling and racial partitioning, to fill their prescriptions and pick up a loaf of bread at the KB drug stores with the purple logo, drawn together by a rhythm heavy on the back beat called "second line" expressed nowhere on Earth with more finesse than during the Zulu Parade, drawn together in dozens of non-French Quarter out-of-the-way musical dens of blissful indecency, uncharted in travel guides, where the whiskey and beer were served in plastic go-cups.

And in hindsight, I can see from my own screwy and skewed angle that when Rite Aid bought out KB drugs, Zeus and the rest of the gang sent down from the mountain a potent portent to the city that possibly even Cassandra might not have seen coming. Only people who have ever called New Orleans home might agree with me--and only if they're really drunk.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps: the end for New Orleans really began on the day that "they" (as in the conspiratorial "who really killed JFK/Area 51/Freemasons rule the world they") started taking down the KB drugstore signs.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Two Keiths: A Comparative Analysis

I've been skimming through a book by Keith Richards, Director of Language Studies, Aston University, Birmingham England--"Qualitative Inquiry in TESOL" ( 2003, Pelgrave MacMillan, Great Britain). Back jacket notes: "(it) introduces different research traditions and embraces whole research process"

There's nothing on television. It's about 140 F outside. I have to return the book to the school's Professional Development Library on Saturday. Can't think of a better time killer than putting together a short comparison of quotes by Keith Richards (the academic) and Keith Richards (the master of the Telecaster).

Do I really need to cite who is who?

"Knowing what to record comes from experimenting with one's memory."

"Separate your vowel movement from your bowel movement and make sure it fits the music."

"Ultimately there is more at stake than intertextual authority or creative integrity. . ."

“If you're going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use two feet.”

"Given the fallibilty of human memory, the general rule is the fresher the better."

“I never thought I was wasted, but I probably was.”

"Constructivists seek to understand not the essence of the real world, but the richness of the world as socially determined."

“You've got the sun, you've got the moon, and you've got the Rolling Stones”

"By the time you have a good picture of the lie of the land, you will already have encountered some key texts."

"The Kamasutra I've been through a few times, come to think of it. I've done the chandelier, and the revolving table with melon."

"As the life story history is analysed, certain key events, or epiphanies, will emerge that will have particular significance in an unfolding story. . ."

'My life then basically was 'Do I have the dope to start this day off? Can I make it until the next fix? It was an adventurous experiment that went on too long."

"The focus in research is often on marginalised groups."

"I reckon there are 3 reasons why American R&B stars don't click with British teeange fans. One they're old; two they're black; three, they're ugly."

'We live in an interview society where techniques of self presevation are becoming second nature."

"How would you like a smack in the fuckin' mouth? You wanna learn to keep your fucking mouth shut or someone might put their fist in it."

"If we truly seek to understand better the professional world we inhabit, we need to be sensitive to all aspects of the ways in which it presents itself to us, and aware of our place in it."

"It's always a shock when I walk out & realize I'm in Jamaica, Munich, Los Angeles."

"It is possible to work within certain traditions without thinking too hard about its intellectual foundations."

"When I started, all I wanted to do was play like Chuck Berry"


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Not Noise

I was in the bathroom a couple of days ago and thought I heard muzak. When I came out, I didn't hear the muzak. I went back in--heard it. It had to be coming from next door, but in this region one rarely (to never) hears any kind of music seeping through the walls. I thought, "Great. Gone are the last of my marbles."

As I listened more closely, I tried to break down the sounds.There was something there-I was sure of it. Or not. But I was still sure of it. And if there wasn't muzaky music playing, I knew I would need a rest right away in some place where I could spend my semi-conscious hours in a day room weaving a plastic lanyard while waiting for itty bitty paper cups full of meds.

I put my ear against the tiles. It was water running through pipes going from one apartment to the next. I live in a 10 story high rise and I'm on the fifth floor. As the water goes to various apartments on different floors it creates tones at different volumes and pitches--blended together simultaneously--it sounds like muzak. But it was very, very faint.

I suppose there is some sort of music always going on around us if we listen. Right now there is the quiet but steady hum of the central a/c and my computer which reminds me of bows being drawn slowly across violins, violas and cellos. Above this are cars zooming round the round about, beep beeping like occasional Stravinsky horn bursts; way in the background down the hall is the TV on low, chattering like a chorus group warming up. My heartbeat sets the rhythm. It's all there.

Monday, June 05, 2006

We've blinked

Summer has rolled in here-- desert heat mixed with ocean air and lots of humid carbon monoxide blowing in the wind. It's about 100 F at midnight and gets up to 140 F during the day. I see those ubiquitous Pakistani construction workers around town digging ditches, raising high rise apartments and wonder how in the hell they do it. And how do they do it for 200 dollars a month, 6 days a week, 12 hours a day?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Some Times

Ever had a moment that felt like squandered time carry you like driftwood on a rapid river current, against your will into a state of bliss? You give in to the moment of surrender in agony because sentience and instincts tremble on the edge of oblivion. Overcoming the big fear, your body slackens and you decide to enjoy the journey of what very well might be going to hell in a hand basket. But when the rapids calm and the waters still, you find yourself afloat and very much alive.