The Saints ended their regular season with a Superdome victory over Tampa sending our boys to the playoffs. It’s been a rougher ride than many of us hoped for but we’re going to the show again and that’s all that matters. Bless you boys!
Then HBO’s Treme finished their season strong as well. Sadly, it’s also the end of the road for the series. I got misty when the opening credits rolled as John Boutte sang the Treme Song one last time. I remember the first time we all saw those get-up-and-dance-inspiring credits. I was watching with friends in the Treme on a sheet draped over a backyard fence while eating boiled crawfish – living the show we were watching. It was a week before the 2010 BP oil spill catastrophe would push the area back into crisis mode.
Theresa Andersson opened the show singing Birds Fly Away and Na Na Na. While I was still back in Los Angeles, I came to New Orleans a few times in 2009 scouting for a movie I was trying to produce (which eventually fell through). I wanted to hire as many local musicians as possible for the project so when I returned to L.A.between the trips, I asked the incredibly knowledgeable staff at Amoeba Records who I should buy and was sent home with some compilations and Andersson’s CD, Hummingbird, Go! I ended up falling in love with her one-man-band videos shot in her NOLA kitchen.
Watching her sing those songs again, I was transported back to meeting with Theresa about composing the score for my movie. Though raised in Sweden, she was pure New Orleans, a reminder that this city adds new spices to its gumbo all the time. Now, she’s a reminder that, though making movies is amazing, everything’s better live.
Dr. John played a couple numbers at the Howlin’ Wolf and I love that Treme shared so many of this city’s treasures. It was gratifying to see Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band’s Derrick Tabb save the day for Wendell Pierce’s students by allowing them to join The Roots of Music. One of my favorite non-profits, Roots provides music training, tutoring, a hot meal and a ride home to NOLA youth then shows off their amazing band in parades.
As the “Bernette” family headed out for Mardi Gras with Professor Longhair blaring Go to the Mardi Gras, I got misty again remembering how the series started and the great character John Goodman played. As it does every year, Mardi Gras Day brought costumes, beads and music in the streets. I got excited just thinking we get to do it all again soon.
Lucia Micarelli’s “Annie” was stuck in the middle of an opportunity of a lifetime in Nashville as the parades rolled and you could see that it pained her. I remembered being at meeting in L.A. during a recent Mardi Gras and wishing I could get back to NOLA. It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of money or that I don’t know what it means to be an adult with obligations and opportunities, but I do hope the show has helped others to see the importance of parades, festivals and parties. These moments create community and the traditions give us continuity in an ever-changing world. Work matters but so does celebration.
As the truck parade rolled, I remembered my first Fat Tuesday after moving here. I had a friend on one of the trucks too and received the requisite armload of goodies for catching her eye. But 2009’s Mardi Gras, the one featured in the episode, was marred by a shooting on the route near the Garden District in which 7 people were injured. This city, like many major cities, can break your heart with the senselessness and relentlessness of the violence.
Then the show followed the St. Anne’s parade down to the river to dump loved ones’ ashes into the mighty, mighty Mississippi. There’s something calming about that to me. The truth is this is a hard, hard city with its crime and hurricanes, oil spills and corruption. But we also play hard, drink hard and love hard. We are like all people – marrying, graduating, dying, having babies, cheering our football team and living our lives, but we do it all while eating the best food I’ve ever tasted, dancing to live music, parading and wearing silly costumes. Katrina was a bigger burden than most cities will ever have to bear but what did not kill this place has made it stronger and the celebrating was just as important to its revival as the hard work was.
HBO’s Treme was not a perfect show and it never gained a gigantic audience. What it did do was put New Orleans in living rooms throughout the country and draw its fans to visit our city and experience more than just the perpetual party on Bourbon Street. Frenchman Street’s secret is now out and many locals have moved on to another scene. When the Mardi Gras Indians parade now, there are more people with cameras than men in beads and feathers. Beyond the many local people Treme employed here since 2009, I think it’s inarguable that the show encouraged more diverse tourism and stimulated our economy. As one of those people the show occasionally employed, I am truly grateful.
The episode and the series ended after the festivities of Mardi Gras had passed. Beads were shown hanging from every parade route tree and telephone wire and from signs, fences and statues as Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? played. I love it when the city is dripping in beads, festooned with memories of another great Mardi Gras season. Many of the beads in trees and on telephone wires will hang there all year fading in the sun until the next parades roll and add to their number. It’s hard to stay sad too long in a city that’s always wearing jewelry.
All of my life, I’ve thought I knew what it meant to “miss New Orleans.” Since I can remember, I’ve cried every time I flew away from here. When Katrina hit and the levees failed, it felt like watching my mother die slowly on national TV. After doing some relief work in Texas, I returned to L.A. for the premiere of the Tarantino-produced Daltry Calhoun. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a dress I’d wear once after what I’d just experienced so I wore things from my closet and wrote, “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” on my shirt with a Sharpie. I knew it probably wouldn’t change anything but it made me feel right with myself about celebrating our movie.
But the truth is I had no idea what it means to miss New Orleans. Not truly. I’ve only lived here 4 years but this city is my soul and now I’m another tiny part of its soul. My family owned property here in the 1700’s but New Orleans was not our heritage’s home. I can’t even imagine how deep this city runs in the souls of those who grew up here and those whose families stretch back for generations.
This city’s not for everyone and it’s definitely not for the feint of heart, the weak of will or people who think “new = better.” As Steve Zahn’s “Davis” led us into the last frames of the show, he pulled up to the bucket-headed-scarecrow that he’d built to mark the pothole that ate his car. He found it covered in Mardi Gras festooning looking like it had a hell of a time at the party. I laughed with misty eyes as Zahn smiled and pulled past the scarecrow and into another pothole. Treme lovingly showed the world why author Chris Rose said, “You can live in any city in America, but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you.”