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December 29, 2008

Clarification, Please?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 1:23 pm

 

And by “family-style neighborhood event,” do they mean the bonfire is one where families can bond by letting the children do a semi-risky act like set off fireworks while their parents supervise? Or, do they mean an event that has been infantilized until it’s safe for the youngest person in attendance? 

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The New Rules

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 9:45 am

 

These rules for the Mid-City New Year’s Eve Bonfire came to me via Pat Jolly’s list, not from a direct source, so I can’t verify their origin, but the writing makes me think they came from the Mid-City neighbors who negotiated with the NOPD and NOFD:

Bonfire Guidelines

Here are the guidelines for this year’s bonfire. These rules are what we had to agree to with the NOFD, NOPD, and Parks and Parkways. If you want to see this tradition continue, please adhere to the guidelines. If people fail to do so, it will be grounds for revoking our permits.

No Fireworks
In or around bonfire
City Ordinance No. 123-45.a
The N.O.F.D. will extinguish the fire immediately if fireworks are tossed into the fire. If you want to see this tradition continued, do not throw fireworks.

Do Not Throw Items in Fire
Designated marshals & fire personnel only can place items in fire

No glass containers

Respect
Respect the barricades, volunteer marshals & the NOPD & NOFD

Be Nice or Leave
This is a family-style neighborhood event. Please behave accordingly.

Do Not Litter
Please take your trash with you when leaving

At the risk of beating a dead horse, things we one did without incident are now forms of misbehavior. Not only that, but disrespect for the authorities and unkind, un-family friendly activities are now potentially actionable. Also notice that no glass containers are allowed, which means no champagne for New Year’s Eve. 

I look at this list and keep thinking we’ve saved the corpse but lost the life that was once inside it. 

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Weasel Words

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 9:25 am

 

On Sunday, The Times-Picayune reported on City Council’s rejection of two proposed art installations in the French Quarter. The council backed the decisions of the Vieux Carre Commission and turned down Dawn DeDeaux’s efforts to install three, lit-up plexiglas stairsteps on the perimeter of Jackson Square, and Tony Campbell and Matt Vis’ proposed Bourbon Street manhole covers with the slogan, “You got them shoes on Bourbon Street,” answering the age-old Quarter hustler’s question.

Bruce Eggler’s story is a study in weasel words as commission and council members found reason after reason to reject the art while expressing their love of art. He writes:

Lary Hesdorffer, director of the commission, said it has no desire to create a Williamsburg and maintains there is a place for contemporary as well as historic buildings and other elements in the district.

In this case, the “contemporary” elements are two of the fiberglas, painted streetcars sponsored by the Young Leadership Council, which were approved for the Jackson Square pedestrian mall. You get the impression that these gaudy pieces are all the art they can handle because they’re banal, decorative-at-best presences.

Eggler writes:

Acting on the motion of Councilman James Carter, whose district includes the Quarter, the council voted 5-1 to uphold the commission and reject DeDeaux’s sculpture, though almost all the members praised the work and said their only objection was to its proposed location.

Some noted that Public Works Director Robert Mendoza, whose department has jurisdiction over public walkways as well as streets, had said he was concerned that “Steps Home” could pose a safety hazard in the mall because unwary pedestrians might trip over it.

Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis said, “I take to heart Mr. Mendoza’s comments about safety.”

Safety. Cynthia Willard-Lewis can claim to love art but oppose these because of the hazard to the shins of drunks so blind and visitors so citystruck that they’re gawking instead of watching where they’re walking.

Carter, Eggler writes:

called the sculpture “brilliant in its simplicity” and “very captivating to me personally,” but he said the city, especially since Katrina, has other “equally sacred places” where it could appropriately be placed.

Translation: It’s great, but not in my backyard. And the “Streetcar Named Inspire” pieces have “sacred” written all over them.

Carter, the lover of art, opposed Campbell and Vis’ manhole covers because:

he saw no reason “to celebrate that particular custom,” and the council voted 6-0 to uphold the Vieux Carre Commission’s rejection of the proposal.

Translation: the art speaks to a tradition he and the Vieux Carre Commission wish didn’t exist, and if you don’t acknowledge it, it isn’t there.

Read between the lines and its fairly clear neither group liked either piece, regardless of their protests to the contrary. Rather than fess us and say, “I don’t get it” or “I don’t like it,” they cling to age-old dodges. The story behind the story, though, is the ongoing effort to make the Quarter a place it never was – an artist-friendly, wealthy neighborhood. It’s a different sort of Disneyland, but it’s a Disneyland nonetheless. They want art, but they don’t want anything as provocative as Faulkner wrote in his day (it’s worth remembering he was entirely out of print until Malcolm Cowley edited The Portable Faulkner in 1946). When property values and quality of life issues drive commission and council decisions, the French Quarter moves another step farther into a history that doesn’t exist.

 

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December 24, 2008

Bonfire is On

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 7:19 am

 

The Mid-City New Year’s Eve Bonfire is on again. After a meeting between the fire department and Mid-City representatives, efforts to make it safer were agreed on. According to the Times-Picayune:

The arrangement reached Tuesday calls for a controlled fire in a 12-by-12-foot area , surrounded by a 2-foot-high metal retaining wall, Woodridge said. Barricades surrounding the retaining wall will be set back a few additional feet from the fire. A welder’s cloth will cover the ground in the designated bullpen area, designed to catch any falling embers or ash.

Since fireworks aren’t permitted in Orleans Parish, fireworks will be prohibited.

The depressing thing about all of this is that the city found a way to insert itself in a meaningful way into an event that didn’t need it. For as long as anyone can remember, the bonfire has been going on without incident, but the city has decided that its supervision is required in a way that it never was before.

Equally depressing is how quickly and easily people agree with authority:

Virginia Blanque, vice president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, said she and officials agreed a scaled-down bonfire is much better than no event at all.

“We worried we would have a bigger problem if people took matters into their own hands and tried to do it anyway, ” Blanque said. “People were angry and felt their tradition was being taken away.”

Blanque said the group needs only to secure a liability bond, which she said is a minor matter.

“Everything is a go, ” she said. But, she warned, this is not going to be like last year.

“We are at risk of losing this tradition if people don’t behave, ” she said.

According to Blanque, the things we used to do – shoot off fireworks, play near the fire – are now forms of misbehavior because the fire chief said so. Oh, and making a big fire is also now a form of misbehavior:

Discarded Christmas trees will keep the fire burning, but it will not be anywhere near as high as the infernos in previous years, Woodridge said.

“They had trees stacked up real high before, ” he said. “That won’t happen because we’ll be monitoring the situation.”

Moderate Christmas, everybody, and have a Tepid New Year!

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December 23, 2008

Get Stuffed

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 8:10 am

 

This year, garage rock heroes the Fleshtones released a Christmas album, Stocking Stuffer, which was part of our Christmas wrap-up in OffBeat. For the piece, I interviewed singer Peter Zaremba about making the album. Here’s an excerpt:

What inspired you to do a Christmas CD?

We’ve always had the inspiration. We’re all fans of the classic Christmas songs. What went beyond the inspiration was Glenn Dicker of Yep Roc [their label] sent me an email asking if we thought we could do a version of “Hooray for Santa Claus” from the movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I gave it one listen – it was pretty terrible, actually – and I immediately said “Of course, we’ve always wanted to do a Christmas album.” We went down with Ivan Julian who we’ve worked with on the last few records, and knocked it out on a steamy early July on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side.

 

I’ve always been fascinated that, how people have to cut Christmas songs in summer to get them out in time for Christmas.

Definitely. Maybe that’s a good lesson, like planning ahead. “White Christmas” was recorded July 13, someone told me – don’t quote me on the date. We got in the mood right away. I was singing all these Christmas songs, driving everyone crazy for a couple of weeks. I got right into it. Then people sent us tapes of various songs, but we didn’t really find anything in all of that. We knew what we wanted to do. We wrote about half of the songs, maybe more, and the rest are covers.

 

What’s the story on “Six White Boomers”?

That’s by Rolf Harris. He had a hit here with “Tie Me Kangaroo, Down,” but he’s a national icon in Australia. Dave Faulkner [from the Hoodoo Gurus] sent us that one, though we totally changed it and did an AC/DC attack on it.

 

“Mr. Santa Claus”?

That was a hit for Nathaniel Mayer, a Detroit rockin’ soul kinda guy [and a Ponderosa Stomp veteran who sadly passed away with little fanfare November 1], and we can’t find out who wrote that. “You’re All I Want for Christmas” – the last version I know is Brook Benton. I figured not that many people know it.

With all of these things, we wanted to do something with the songs. We were inspired by the [Phil] Spector Christmas album [A Christmas Gift for You], not in the sense of his big, overblown productions, but in transforming the songs a bit, trying to do something with them.

 

That seems like the challenge of cutting classic songs – how to put your own fingerprints on them.

We didn’t want to do a straight ahead version of any of these. We do “Run, Rudolph, Run,” and we don’t transform it very much. We do play it the way we play that type of music, kind of Yardbirds-y, garage-y, raved up. A little difference from what Keith Richards and Chuck Berry did with it.

 

Is that the great rock ’n’ roll Christmas song?

That is the great rock ’n’ roll Christmas song [laughs]. Simply put, it is. It’s the one that rocks out on its own and isn’t arch. It’s operating totally within the framework of accepting the reality of Santa Claus and the reindeer. It’s not like “I Don’t Believe in Christmas” by the Wailers.

 

One of the things I like about Stocking Stuffer is that it doesn’t fall into that trap. I’m rarely satisfied by rock ’n’ roll Christmas songs because they’re often too self-consciously cool or ironic, looking down their noses at Christmas.

Why do that? People get older and get disillusioned as it is. Some people wanted us to do “Father Christmas,” the Kinks’ song, and we said no. [The song deals with class tensions as a Salvation Army Santa recalls being robbed. The chorus: “Father Christmas, give us some money / We got no time for your silly toys / Well beat you up if you don’t hand it over / Give all the toys to the little rich boys”] We’re not going anywhere near that direction at all. This is a Christmas album celebrating Christmas music, and the fact is that we enjoy that time of year.

 

 

 

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December 22, 2008

Not for the Fragile

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 10:43 am

 

The indie compilation I’ll Stay ‘Til After Christmas is a CD benefitting Amnesty International, and it’s not for those prone to the Christmas blues … or maybe it is. The comp is often beautiful – Au Revoir Simone’s swirling “Christmas Time is Here,” for example – but the bells don’t jingle here. The lights on the tree are shorting out, but that doesn’t matter because the tree was really just a coat rack. Nothing prepares you for Turk Dietrich of Belong’s radical take on “Blue Christmas”. Dietrich and Belong are from the West Bank, and he lets you enjoy Elvis’ holiday classic as you’d experience it from the bottom of the pool.

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A Little Late, but with a Decent Excuse

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , — Alex Rawls @ 8:25 am

 

When I evacuated for Hurricane Gustav, I had a number of CDs with me that I figured I’d write reviews for when I had a chance. The CDs ended up in the trunk of my wife’s car at the end of a country road outside of Ponchatoula (to keep it from getting trapped by falling branches or trees. The car survived the storm, but not the bored chowderheads that slashed its tires, keyed a door and smashed a window. In the effort to get insurance to take care of that (with limited cell service) and get a rental car to get back to New Orleans, the CDs were forgotten until a week ago when my wife cleaned out her trunk and found the bag. Here are belated reviews since all merit attention:

Charlie Pickett: Bar Band Americanus: The Best of Charlie Pickett And (Bloodshot): Pickett’s souped up take on Hank Williams, the Rolling Stones, the Faces and the Flamin’ Groovies from the early 1980s predated alt.country by a decade, and to really hear this compilation and get it, you have to have slightly historical ears and realize that sounds and tropes that have become cliches weren’t when Pickett sweated them out first. But you don’t need a time machine to hear the songs themselves, which assemble familiar parts into something fresh, and only “If This is Love, Can I Get My Money Back” is dated. The brutally imprecise live version of “Shake Some Action” is what a lot of bar bands really sounded like then (and now), but the version of “Slow Death” is what they felt like.

Mott the Hoople/Ian Hunter: Old Records Never Die (Shout! Factory): Some day, the world’s efforts to keep Mott and Ian Hunter in print will pay off and people will get some of the most perfectly shaped rock ‘n’ roll. In a sense, the band was doomed in America by its name and it’s awkward relationship with glam (the look of the day, but not of their Stones-meets-Dylan sound). “All the Young Dudes” was a belated hit, but its Bowie associations added a tint of fruitiness to Mott, further hampering their efforts. But Mick Ralphs’ scientifically precise power chording and a sturdy rhythm section meant everything moved with powerful assurance, and Hunter’s melodies are memorable, even when they have to lug around the word “Honaloochie.” There are a host of Mott collections, none of which are identical and all are worth it. The selling point here is the second disc of Hunter’s post-Mott output, starting with the brilliant “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” (all those Great White fans went to their grave never knowing it was a cover), and that disc is a tribute to the other great guitar of the glam era, Mick Ronson.

The Cool Kids: The Bake Sale (Chocolate Industries): Hip-hop has never been particularly good at looking back. People may pay tribute to Cool Herc, the Boogie Down Bronx and Run-DMC, but you rarely get the feeling their hearts are in it. Or, more accurately, they don’t care enough to comb through the past to revisit a moment and see what could be done with a style that was left behind in the headlong rush forward to the next new sound. The Cool Kids aren’t in any hurry, and they don’t have to hustle just to stay alive. They rhyme and flow with the pleasure and freedom of people who are likely middle class and have no investment in hardness or the cutting edge. The Bake Sale isn’t retro, but it isn’t produced to bully you in shaking your ass. Records this friendly are hard to come by.

The Avett Brothers: The Second Gleam (Ramseur): This EP presents the Avett Brothers as folk balladeers, which is good and bad. The six-song recording is beautiful and smart, finding arresting melodies or turns of phrase, including a song that starts, “If I get murdered in the city / don’t go revenging in my name.” Their angles on loss and change are surprisingly frank, but never so much that they jar you out of the track. It’s sweet, and their voices are more precise than I’m used to. But those who discover the band before its Jazz Fest appearance through The Second Gleam will be surprised at how spirited it can be.   

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December 21, 2008

Congratulations to Erika Goldring

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 10:02 am

 

OffBeat contributor Erika Goldring has three photographs in RollingStone.com’s 20 top live shots of 2008

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Do-Overs?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 7:35 am

 

In Keith Spera’s analysis of the Jazz Fest schedule (not online at Nola.com that I could find), he resurrected one of Quint Davis’ more infamous quotes. When asked in 1994 if younger bands such as then-young bands Counting Crows and Black Crowes should be at Jazz Fest, he said:

“I think Counting Crows and Black Crowes and Pearl Crows and Nirvana-Crows and Screaming Crows and every single one of them should be at this festival, but not on the stage.” 

I periodically wonder if he ever regrets saying that, not only because Counting Crows and Black Crowes have since played Jazz Fest, but because it was such a line in the sand drawn against the possible value of youth. I’d forgotten over the years how utterly dismissive it is of any band that someone under 30 might care about – so much so that he can’t even be bothered with their names, or notice that Counting Crows and Nirvana had drastically different sounds, sounds you had to work to avoid at that time. 

 

 

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December 19, 2008

Mandatory Reading

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , — Alex Rawls @ 11:13 am

 

The Nation’s A.C. Thompson wrote an account of white vigilante activities in Algiers in the days after Hurricane Katrina that must be read, if for no other reason than because no one else has covered it (or if the Times-Picayune did, I can’t find it on their Web site).

Pervel and his armed neighbors point to the very real chaos that was engulfing the city and claim they had no other choice than to act as they did. They paint themselves as righteous defenders of property, a paramilitary formation protecting their neighborhood from opportunistic thieves. “I’m not a racist,” Pervel insists. “I’m a classist. I want to live around people who want the same things as me.”

Nathan Roper, another vigilante, says he was unhappy that outsiders were disturbing his corner of New Orleans and that he was annoyed by the National Guard’s decision to use the Algiers Point ferry landing as an evacuation zone. “I’m telling you, it was forty, fifty people at a time getting off these boats,” says Roper, who is in his 50s and works for ServiceMaster, a house-cleaning company. The storm victims were “hoodlums from the Lower Ninth Ward and that part of the city,” he says. “I’m not a prejudiced individual, but you just know the outlaws who are up to no good. You can see it in their eyes.”

Since some of the people that were shot weren’t outlaws, it sounds like Roper’s not that good at reading eyes, or maybe he is prejudiced after all.

The story’s a brutal reminder of how nakedly Hurricane Katrina exposed the race issues New Orleanians and Americans would like to think don’t exist, and Obama’s election is only a small step forward. The story is also accompanied by a video and an editorial, the latter calling for:

Community groups should call upon Governor Bobby Jindal to lead a multiagency task force to get to the bottom of these crimes. In Congress, Representative John Conyers and Senator Patrick Leahy ought to make use of their subpoena power to get then-Police Chief Eddie Compass and then-District Attorney Eddie Jordan to explain their inaction; police officers posted in Algiers Point after the storm and the vigilantes themselves should face subpoenas, too. And it would be a fitting gesture if Eric Holder, once confirmed as attorney general, swiftly directed the Justice Department to open an investigation. If we as a nation are ever truly to transcend race, tolerance for racist violence in our midst must come to an end.

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