Turn on your Gas Light
get on the plane, the flight attendants are wearing mardi gras beads, jazz is playing in the plane. people carry on "beverages" at 10am. Off the plane, the carpet in the jetway gets wet where i put my shoe. the air is sweat. GK meets me in the lobby. They have sauna here? This is sauna here.
Like many buildings in New Orleans, the front of GK's apartment has burning gas lights.
Driving along, above the city on freeways, it looks like Columbus or Sacramento. But off the freeway, the houses are a strange mix of beautiful and old. Aging soft and firm. The air and the peeling paint, it's like the third world. But this poor old lady holds her chin high and you can see she's wearing a sort of a purple lace corset that pushes her surprisingly young tits up towards your face. they're distracting enough that you might never notice that her legs are furry and her feets is cloven. The first billboard I saw for "Rick's Cabaret" features the usual drained looking blonde lady, but behind her, an unmistakable skull floats leering. Do they intend to partner death and sex here?
Rick's Cabaret - death on display.
Good Thai dishes on the first floor ($7-$16). Bands sympathetic to the college crowd play on the second floor in an over-the-top opium inspired atmosphere called the Dragon's Den. The darkness & music make the hipster/proto-yuppie crowd bearable. Stoners will enjoy the Dragon's Den balcony on Monday nights. A good bet on any night is to show up for a drink early around 8pm - you'll have the whole balcony overlooking beautiful Esplanade to yourself.
(from The Guide)
We wandered from GK's apartment down Barracks street deeper in the quarter. First restaurant his favourite Marisol. I had been asking about the vampires, the goth folks, the white kids who come to New Orleans to bring on the night. "They drink blood you know, crazy shit. They carry little ampules and poke each other and drink it." First thing I ate in new orleans was a blood sausage tapa, GK's favourite dish at his favourite restaurant. dark meaty sin in a pastry packet.
we ate outside in a garden; our hostess the owner with curly red hair and a soft steel gaze came out in her peach dress, tied with thin strings and after some introductions she leaned over a long time pulling moss out of the fish pond, her soft fabric behind waving sweet in the heat. I made GK eat expensive musty spanish cheese. we drank burbon and coke before sundown.
a brass band in jackson square. my mother calls my mobile phone - i'm in new orleans ma. your father and i used to go there every thanksgiving. so GK and I head to their old hotel, retracting steps, the Royal Orleans. Up on top, a rooftop deck boasts a view over the french quarter. two hundred years of similar moments maybe - standing looking at wooden houses, boats on the river.
at a thai restaurant somehow wedding the aged architecture and dark neon red asian fusion gives cool air and salty food. we sit on a rickety balcony overlooking a whole boulevard. helsinki, estonia, london, oakland and new orleans are all competing to run my clock - my eyelids are losing. the emergency Thai Iced Tea runs sugar and caffeine straight into my blood but my blood is too thin to support the stimulation. GK pours me onto his bed and retreats himself to his favourite local haunt Flannigans. after two deep hours visiting the timeless GK rouses me and we head to a string of bars as i struggle to recompile consciousness.
Of Stools, Swimming Pools and Eyelids
Joe's Cozy Corner|
Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band play here on Sundays for a night of unbelievable jazz for only $5.00 - it has to be the best jazz concert in the country. Joe's is in the historic African-American neighborhood the Tremé. Can be a rough place to walk at night (it's very close to the French Quarter). Occasionally someone from No Limit Records will drop by.
(from The Guide)
first was Joe's Cozy Corner. On the wall, Master P and Snoop Doggy Dogg pose, knees bent, wearing bright suits and many flowers and bunting and pendants for some sort of local holiday ritual. The only other white folk in the bar, the bartendress, she readily serves her house drink - vodka and red Alizé. An unbelievably loud juke box. A pair of black ladies sit next to me drinking beer and Alizé, one has the largest head of puffy yet lacquered gray hair i've ever seen, and wide hips to match.
Next the Saturn was some kind of old dancehall, too much space for the four local drunks enjoying Thursday night. It's filled with strange memorabilia, layered in dust. Pageants past. Photos tacked to the wall of happy looking ladies with 80s hairstyles. Above hangs ornate neon lights too pretty and lively for this strange musty museum. I'm still dragging, alternating caffeine and alcohol to push my shoulders back and my chin up, awake to receive this evening. GK can sense my troubles, and next he wheels the car around on the side of a bar. We must run past this place, he determines and after a dog nearly rips my tendons out we've arrived at a bar and bath house. GK orders a pina colada and i get a towel and we strip down to GK's boxer shorts and my dick to the breeze in a giant outdoor dark pool plaza peopled only by one other man, Nigel a mellifluous black employee of the EPA doing his own late evening swim. The water is just before cold, bracing and perfect with a little bit of drowsy tipsy to swim and talk about American cities.
The jewel of this night is to come, outside on a mississippi looking peeling paint wood porch peopled by both cornrows and hip slogan t-shirts, we find out that Kermit Ruffins has an abscessed tooth and may not play. GK is nearly down, but we soldier to a nearby bar, BJ's, where we have to be buzzed in. After we ring the doorbell and stand to wait a small woman with a pock-marked face parks a large dark green American sport utility vehicle and comes to wait with us, offering pain-killers for sale. Inside, a homey white crowd mingles with smoke and Stevie Wonder. An attractive young older woman is drunk and trading me some glances through my glasses. I offer GK my favourite chair in the joint, an old fashioned barber shop chair that's just too comfortably upholstered. He sits, and I dance. Feeling his drink, he starts commanding me - "dance bitch." I bristle.
Looks like your grandmother's garage. Good people & cheap beer. Ask to see the Polaroid collection - if you're a woman & you let the bartender/owner take a picture of you topless you'll get a free drink. Very comfortable place but be careful when walking. And make sure the roaches crawling on the bar don't make their way into your drink. No credit cards. Don't pay with anything over a $10.00 dollar bill.
(from The Guide)
Back to Vaughan's, the BBQ Swingers are getting set to play without the great Kermit. Inside we find two chairs up against the space on the floor reserved for band reverence. It is the front row, there are burbon and cokes. I'm drinking as GK comes back from the bathroom. He gives me a friendly slap on the back of the head, coke coats my lower face. I respond violently, verbally, castigating him for enjoying to act drunk and physical but in fact it's not fun for me to be intimidated. even as i say it i can hear that i'm stretched too thin; i shouldn't care that my oldest friend is feeling playful. but i'm wanting to keep my boundaries up as i look down the long tall glass of three days in new orleans, and i didn't feel up to the routine bruisings of our earlier friendship. GK responds by telling me a story of a former houseguest who also got pissed at him for too much hitting (like Bukowski a misunderstood social fighter, it seems) and GK responded by throwing his stuff out on the street and kicking him out his apartment. Our positions neatly staked out, I proceed to drink more and GK proceeds to suck in his gut and stare off into space.
The band starts; instead of Kermit's usual natty suit there's a young man with gold caps, cornrows and a Saints jersey. He starts in typical New Orleans fashion, blowing behind the beat (all the horns sounded off to me until GK explained that these new orleans players play just behind the beat, to create a sort of echo effect. they're constantly having to race to keep up with their laid-baid timing - tense). From the Little Rascals, Corey Henry the trombonist is the clear horn power tonight and he blows furious, tooting up and down, jumping up and falling deep down octaves. Each roll and riff spun out by the drummer seemed to me a sort of joke - there was much merriment in the air. Before Saint James Infirmary Lionel Baptiste was sighted dancing with his hands on himself and his elbows on a tall thin busty blonde girl; during this doleful ballad he takes to the microphone to command some respect and free the trumpet player to blow more alongside the trombone.
Vaughan's Lounge - Thursday Nights|
You probably shouldn't walk here (even though we have) & the street cars don't go this far but the price of a cab is worth well to see Kermit Ruffins blow the fuck out of his horn here on Thursday nights. Usually five bucks to get in. Free red beans and rice. Occasionally, Mr. Ruffins will BBQ pig or chicken or whatever for his audience. Notable local musicians also show up unexpectedly.
(from The Guide)
GK and I are up on our feet, doing the shimmy, the shake, the sway. Hands up in the air, hands on our hips. Fingers pointing. Voices crying. GK knows all the cues; he keeps up with the band like someone who has heard this all before and wouldn't rather hear anything else. They respond to him - he calls out for the song Casanova and the trombonist breaks out in a grin, and tells the other band members. It's a joke I his dancing partner don't get and neither do most of the other folks, mostly standing and not dancing enough behind us. Later he tells me, "Shout 'buck it like a horse'!" I do, and the trombonist points at me and smiles. I have no idea what I had just said.
Trombonist Corey Henry
from the Lil' Rascals and the BBQ Swingers
Lionel is continuing to dance around and sing - an elder statesman on the floor who likes to make some raunchy jokes I can't intelligate from his microphone mumbling. I know they're raunchy from his gestures; a finger coming back around from between his legs out where his dick should be, or a finger shoved proudly up into a song about a New Orleans girl. GK screams that he's a legend, a bass player in a far older New Orleans brassband. The young men behind this legend smile and play and watch him have his delicate prancing fun; he waves to try to tame the band down from their ecstatic whining horns and breakneck pace down to something more suitable for his variable soul warbling.
Pat the Floor, Honor the Hat
With Lionel and without him, the band catches stride and GK begins to pat the floor. On one knee, bent down, he pats on the floor with his hand. I don't understand. Then he does it again, just a few bars later. It seems like a suggestion, or a command for me. I'm confused, I shout to him, "show me what you want to do." He disregards me. Later, again, he pats the floor. A black man with poor dentistry joins GK over the bare spot on the floor in front of the band. He tosses down his hat where GK is patting the floor. GK and I make dance motions to worship this beat up black baseball cap. The man picks the hat back up, our hands rush to the sky. We are sweaty, sliding and shaking. This man throws back down his hat, nearby. GK and I down on our knees crawl over to bow before the hat, undulating in time with the propulsive "Little Liza Jane." This hat dance runs three songs. He hangs the hat near different band members and we worship. The hat hits the floor and so do we. We points our hands at the hat, we bow our heads, we wave our hands, we shake and we shout. The hat is thrown deeper into the slightly dancing audience, and it is immediately thrown back unheeded. Only two young men possessed, lead by a mystic milliner.
GK points out -
Plantation White Bread
The set ends and a tall blonde white gal in a shimmering tube top had been standing on the periphery says "share the space." Girl, I was just doing my thing, if you want to dance, you can join in. "yeah, but I want to dance my way." Girl, don't let me stop you.
We load up bowls of red beans and rice; GK instructs me - "take a little bit of rice, and get yourself a big piece of meat." Outside, sprayed by cold water from a leaky air conditioner, we sit near the band members making mobile phone calls, toking and horsing around. The man with the hat walks by and I said, "nice hat." He holds up, he says, "Most people don't understand this is Square D." The hat says, "Square D" on the front, below a picture of the letter D wrapped in a square. "With this hat I work with electricity in the house." at least that's what I thought he said; there was serious mumbling involved. "Okay, you're working on the house." No, he was irritated, "most people don't understand that I fuck with electricity in this hat." Okay, so you fuck with electricity. He shook his head at me and wandered off.
New Orleans Bumpersticker:|
Children Should be Seen and Not Shot.
GK rose, let's go to the car he said, we're going to find Kermit.
In the car, he began to talk about New Orleans.
I love this city. All my youth, from sixth grade through twelvth grade, I listened to jazz. Every note. I always thought this was a part of history. When I would play the trumpet with Jesse, and we would play "Green Dolphin Street" and "Basin Street Blues" I always thought I was playing a part of history. Tonight we heard "St. James Infirmary" and it rocked. Here in New Orleans, Jazz is popular music. People actually get up and dance to Jazz. The jazz here is alive.
Tears were streaming down his face. We were heading home.
After thinking that foot-tapping and head-nodding was the noblest form of jazz participation, I wasn't sure what I had seen. It wasn't like much of the jazz I knew, thinking of Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. But then I remembered Duke Ellington and his ecstatic Newport '56 performance; it's a frenzy inducing call to dance and celebrate. As GK said, Louis Armstrong played his music to make people go nuts.
New Orleans is a wet city. The air is wet, the ground is wet. If you push a coffin into the ground, the water will push it back up to the surface shortly after burial. Hello again! So to bury their dead, early New Orleans folk filled their cemeteries with above ground tombs. Sinking, leaning, decomposing, these stone structures stand as a deathly spooky labyrinth of early New Orleans history.
St. Louis Cemetery 1, 2
This man was coloring alarmed-looking photocopied portraits of his departed family members. Plastic flowers sat in plastic containers, watered by a man wearing a plastic bag over his baseball hat. He was happy to stop and talk to visitors.
Christina Jane Flash d. 1870
E.A. Gomez d. 1883
Cloud Hands from the tomb of the Dieu Nous Protege Society - 1844
A beautiful blue streak.
Lori and Jeremy wave from the cemetery.
A recent burial, a sculpture portrait.
Subsidence claims another sinking tomb.
Jeremy found this grave-table; he theorized that many goth kids might have had sex here.
A long row of aboveground tombs and on the right, some of the stacked "grave apartments" that were popular around the periphery of these cemeteries.
A small mostly-unmarked grave with a simple Masonic symbol carved into it.
The reputed tomb of the Voodoo queen, marked with many triple XXXs people scrawled to seal their wishes to her power.
We discovered that these weren't graves but were in fact sample tablets; GK decided to make a little marble love.
Society encroached upon the aged and sinking dead; here satellites loom on a large building near the last section of St. Louis #2. Elsewhere the freeway could be seen and heard rumbling. No rest for the departed.
Early New Orleans immigrants who couldn't afford their own above-ground tombs pooled their money with other folks of their same background and built large after-death apartment buildings. This is one example of unknown ethnicity, a at the base of a statue at the top is engraved "silence" on each of the four sides.
This is a populated little grave slot.
A large pillar celebrating one dead man is covered in text.
This pillar celebrates the life of Alexander Milne (d. 1838) with cool old fonts. He was an orphan; he donated his earned money "To incorporate an Asylum for Destitute Orphan Boys under the name and style of the Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Boys."
Very specific and elaborate language detailing the creation of the commission to administer the orphanage. Be it further enacted that every person in the corporation paying the sum of fifty dollars shall be a member for life of said institution - current as of the mid-1800s. Stone seems a strange place for such matters - "Hey, we forgot the bylaws, let's go back to the graveyard to look them up." Or, as GK put it - "This was before they had paper."
Some purple tied fabric celebrates the dead.
A color-clothed lad creeping out of an emptied tomb.
GK presents an empty tomb.
The Archdiocese responsible for running the tombs doesn't post guards or make any promises about personal safety. Tourist safety in these cemeteries seems to be an issue; more risk of attack from the living, not the dead.
This is a glimpse of the neighborhood near St. Louis number 2.
A beautiful red brick building housing a few dead bodies.