On the previous episode, the people of New Orleans marched on City Hall to take back their city and demand more from their public servants after a crescendo of senseless violence. I felt the show had hit its darkness bottom in the past few weeks and would finally reveal the complexity and beauty of a city renewing, rebuilding and rebirthing itself. This week, HBO’s Treme seemed to do just that and delve more into why this city is so special and wasn’t as doomed as it looked. I like that the series shows how important music, food, parades and traditions are to the city’s strength and spirit and why they make this a place worth fighting for.
I loved seeing the high school marching band practicing to parade Mardi Gras. Having seen so many schools display their considerable talent in about 50 parades now, I can say with authority that they are inspiring and exciting and move the crowds to cheer and dance. Tipitina’s Foundation recipients, O. Perry Walker, played the rehearsing band ready with instruments and uniforms. To see them in one of the 5 parades I watched them march in this year, go to the 4:20 mark in this (very dark and poor quality) video.
If you doubt the importance of Mardi Gras, think if those kids had nothing to look forward to or make ready for after the storm. Mardi Gras gives their marching band, and those of all our participating schools, an opportunity to shine in front of their whole community and the many visitors that come year after year.
In a later scene, the Wendell Pierce character does what so many have attempted in vain – he explains jazz. He tells his bright-yellow t-shirt wearing students (that evoked The Roots of Music for me) that jazz is “Writing as you play.” He teaches them to treasure their heritage and to appreciate the source of everything they play. I think that’s why New Orleans jazz continues to evolve and meld into areas of hip hop, rock and other genres without ever losing it’s core voice. Our youth know and respect the rules they’re breaking when they ask music to bend to their era.
As Annie, the violinist played yet another magical tune, I thought how privileged I am to hear the woman who inspired the character when I walk to the Rouses grocery in the French Quarter. She’s often parked in front of the entrance alongside a guitarist/singer woman with a large crowd spilling onto Royal Street.
The show accurately showed the gay couple in their game-day jerseys, Brees and Bush, and it was good to see John Goodman make an appearance in a dream sequence. The show just kept lifting my spirits.
Then came the Pigeon Steppers’ second line. The show revealed the ritual of “Coming out the Door,” where the snappy-dressed pleasure clubs make a show of exiting the house and spilling onto the streets to join the band and the awaiting crowd. I’ve tried to explain that this city has absolutely no infrastructure for the wheelchair-bound and yet I see wheelchairs at every major event, more than I’ve ever seen. I’ve tried to explain that we don’t have ramps and the streets have potholes so large they need “No Wake” zones when it rains, but everyone just helps people make it through it all. It was great when one of the Pigeon Steppers arrived at the top of the stairs and immediately, people conspired to get him down in a properly cool way. I love that human frailty is accommodated here. In L.A., I always felt that any imperfection was seen as a potential weakness and any weakness was seen as a potential weapon.
As the Saints-jersey wearing crowd followed the Steppers out into their city, I felt pride in all that this city salvaged from its rubble. And I felt privileged that I get to witness the parades firsthand, hear the music live and taste the incredible food. Though I enjoy the show trying to get it all across, there is no substitute for the real thing.
For someone else’s view of this year’s Original Pigeontown Steppers second line: