“When you look at a city, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.” Hugh Newell Jacobsen
Of course what Mr. Jacobsen forgets is that a city is an impolite and imperfect marriage of those aspirations. Who does the city belong to and who owns its cultural heritage, episode three of HBO’s Treme asks. Davis McAlary assumes it belongs to him and the musicians of Treme. That no military police can tell him how to act in front of his house and that his rich white neighbors can’t possibly understand the specific history of the neighborhood and even invokes Trombone Shorty’s name in the discussion.*
*Funny moment: Early in the episode Davis, whom is white, unemployed, a part-time musician and a longtime music snob – i.e. a HIPSTER – is railing against gentrification when it’s an older gay couple, whom he’s (wrongly) assumed have no ties to the area. Later on he’s inspired to sing proudly about the group of strippers that have moved into the neighborhood and even uses the line, “You can call it gentrification, but I call it good!”
The musicians on the other hand, have their own ideas about their place in New Orleans. Delmond Lambreaux suggests that while New Orleans loves its music, it doesn’t have nearly as much love for its musicians and almost begs Trombone Shorty to leave the city for greener pastures in New York or Europe. Even the famous Dr. John, during rehearsals for a benefit at Lincoln Center worries that he’ll be criticized for not presenting the Mardi Gras Indian songs with enough “respect”.
While it has been two years since The Wire ended its five season run on HBO, it’s still hard to shake the poignant view it gave us into the reality of Baltimore’s streets. David Simon didn’t sugar coat addiction and corruption by packing it into a neat little 45 min episodes, each with its own happy ending. From the endless characters to the countless side plots, watching The Wire was a commitment. While the main idea was no different than any of the other dozen police dramas on television, the way Simon handled it couldn’t have been further from the generic network blueprint.
Now two episodes into Simon’s latest HBO series, Treme, we begin to reach deeper into our main characters and view the realities of their frustrations. Whether they are trying to land a good gig while many of the music venues are still closed, trying to repair their homes and businesses while contractors abscond with the money or holding out hope that the insurance companies will come through before the banks foreclose, it’s easy to understand the desperation felt by so many in the months following “the storm”.
We also become introduced to two more street musicians in Annie and Sonny during their conversation with the Wisconsin tourists/churchgoers. Sonny in particular becomes exasperated by the missionary’s (and America’s) temporary love and fascination for New Orleans and its Ninth Ward. A situation most recently replaced by the recent Haitian Earthquake, until that was also quickly forgotten.
Among the other moments that caught our eye:
Galactic getting a nod of approval from Allen Toussaint, “A Funky Good Group” despite Elvis Costello’s disappointment about the color of their skin. This of course leads to a wonderful back and forth between Sammie “Big Sam” Williams and Costello about a late night gig that ends simply with, “You be there Elvis, don’t disappoint me.”
Later on in the show we get to see Big Sam sitting in with Galactic, followed by him, Ben Ellman, and Stanton Moore almost getting arrested by the police for smoking a joint outside the club.
John Goodman gets his second rant in two episodes. This one concerns Tulane’s decision to eliminate the school of engineering programs in favor of human studies, or as Creighton put it, “It’s all about identity. Let’s not learn how to do anything. Let’s just sit and contemplate the glory of me, in all my complexities. Who am I? I am Black Jewish Woman, hear me roar!”
We see main character, Antoine Batiste conversing with Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews outside of the closed Preservation Hall. We also get an amusing exchange between Batiste and his current girl about Kermit Ruffins’ barbecue, being sweet as pussy, “Kermit’s barbecue tastes right, but not that right.” Of course that scene is followed up by Batiste and a very lithe and half naked stripper staring intensely at each other while he wails on the trombone, uh …
At some point during its five year run, The Wire evolved from a lowly rated & unwanted show about the City of Baltimore, to arguably one of the greatest shows ever seen on the small screen. Mixing the stories of cops, dockworkers, city officials, street dealers & heroin abusers, The Wire used memorable characters to speak about the broken promises of the American Dream and its decaying cities. Now David Simon, Eric Overmyer, and HBO bring us the story of New Orleans & its most beloved American creation: Jazz.
Set three months after Hurricane Katrina and the federal incompetence that followed, Treme portrays more of David Simon’s critique of our flawed American criminal-justice system, political institutions, and public housing affairs. On a more personal level, Treme will follow Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, and John Goodman, as they struggle to rebuild their homes, their families and their city.
Throughout it all is the music of New Orleans. With appearances by Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Galactic, Trombone Shorty, the Treme Brass Band, Deacon John and the Rebirth Brass Band, this show should be one to follow. Treme premieres at 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 11 (EDT), on HBO.
Back in 2004, VH1 aired a program called Bands Reunited in which producers would attempt to reunite a band that had broken up under bad terms. In most cases, the bands profiled on Bands Reunited didn’t reunite, but it certainly made for good TV. I forgot all about the show until coming across an item on The Daily Swarm called VH1 Killed The Beat Reunion.
The Daily Swarm’s piece links to an article on the Marco On The Bass blog that details how the program seems to have ruined any chance that the original members of 2-tone band The Beat would ever get back together. You see, when the producers of Bands Reunited weren’t able to get the members of The Beat to commit to a reunion concert, they started instigating fights and playing games to create drama for the show. All the name-calling and innuendo led to bad blood that makes a reunion near-impossible in the future.
While it was interesting to read about The Beat’s experience with Bands Reunited, I came upon a link to an insane essay written by Kurt Harland Larson of ’80s synth-pop act Information Society detailing his experience with the Bands Reunited crew. The efforts the show’s producers went through and the lies they told are just unbelievable. Sure, we all know reality TV is far from real, but Harland’s essay shows just how fake reality TV can be.