W.W.T.F.U.S: Sittin’ in La La

If you’re not watchingTreme, you should be. I’m not saying you have to subscribe to premium cable, but make a note because the DVDs will be out sooner or later. In the meantime maybe you can just persuade someone to record it for you, or invite you over for dinner on Sundays. It’s worth it, because likeThe Wire, it’s not just a story about one particular city. It’s about the stuff you read on this blog, it’s about this country we all live in. Not for nothing, there’s a hell of a lot of great music in it too.

Sunday’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” was arguably the best episode so far. The first two were certainly not all fun and games but in this one, shit got real. AsMaitri commented right after it ended, the sense of dread was palpable. Whether they’re working hard to get their life back on track or just going through the motions, most of the characters end up someplace they didn’t intend to be. In jail, in exile, in bed with the wrong person, drinking alone, staring bewildered at the Disaster Tour bus rolling through a moment of private grief. 

In the most poignant scene of the episode, two story arcs collide when trombonist Antoine, drunk and stumbling homeward after a stripclub gig, comes around the corner where buskers Annie and Sonny are performing. Weaving back and forth, he sings along, escaping into a memory.I
don’t stand a ghost of a chance …
and just like that, he’s a different character than who we knew before, no longer just the tomcatting clown we’ve come to depend on for comic relief.  

The Dr. John classic the title comes from, used as a source cue as well as episode theme, serves as an apt metaphor for life after one’s world has been picked up, shaken, and thrown back down, by trauma, by natural disaster, or by both entwined. In “Right Place, Wrong Time,” post-K New Orleans is a purgatory where polarities have been reversed, nothing works the way it used to, things can’t get back to normal because normal doesn’t live there anymore either.

Which brings me to today’s WWTFUS, which is not byLee Dorsey orDr. John. Also which, while stirring, is not exactly cheery.

TheContinental Drifters used to call New Orleans home, and the storm and its aftermath wereespecially cruel to the band’s extended family. In a rambling remembrance written after the body of his
ex-brother-in-law Barry Cowsill was finally found months after
mentions “the purgatorial zone” so many Katrina survivors ended up in. But this song pre-dates Katrina by a few years, so it’s not about the storm or any of that.

Except that it is, inasmuch as it’s about being in limbo:

Nobody’s home.

Drive downtown

to this bar I know

Drinking alone

won’t get me where I wanna go

I listened to this a lot when I was in my own fugue state following a life-altering trauma. It didn’t make me feel better but it helped me recognize where I was. I especially related to the cynicism of the title because even though I sometimes allowed myself to hope things would work out just fine, when other people said stuff like that I wanted to slap them.

Not unlike Antoine wandering home from Bourbon Street, the singer (Mark Walton, who also wrote the song)
lurches through the lyrics. Spaghetti-surf guitar pushes along under poppy-gorgeouschoruses in contrast with minor key accordion noir and the slurred despair of the vocals. It’s Nick Cave meets the Mamas and the Papas. It’s the bardo. It’s where you’re left after your old life is gone but before you come to recognize the stranger that’s taken your place.