Saturday Odds & Sods: Born Under A Bad Sign

Tollan, Aztec Legend by Marsden Hartley, 1933.

The only predictable thing about the weather in New Orleans to start the new year has been its unpredictability. It’s been warm and muggy, wet and damp, foggy and chilly. You name it, we’ve had it, except, that is, for snow. The last time it snowed here was in 2008. Thousands of pictures were taken of the St. Charles street car in the snow. It melted quickly and hasn’t happened since. So it goes.

It was Twelfth Night yesterday, which means that we can finally eat king cake, and, more importantly, hang our krewe flags on our houses. I’ve been wanting to fly the Spank flag for months but Dr. A wouldn’t hear of it until yesterday. So it goes.

Here’s the flag with Dennie the den of Muses cat:


End of laginappe Carnival catblogging, make that reblogging. If you blog long enough you end up repeating yourself, repeating yourself, repeating yourself…

This week’s theme song, Born Under A Bad Sign, was written for blues great Albert King by Stax Records legends William Bell and Booker T. Jones. It seems to fit the mood of at least half the country as we contemplate the next administration. I’m not sure whether to feel cursed or resigned but I’m certain that the shit brought to the surface in 2016 will continue to stink. Shit’s a funny thing, no matter how you disguise it, it smells just as bad. So it goes.

We begin with a version King recorded in New Orleans in 1978, produced by Allen Toussaint:

We continue with an instrumental version by the man who wrote the music:

Finally, a swell 1993 rendition by the great Paul Rodgers:

Now that we’ve admitted to being down since we began to crawl, we’ll shoot for a rebirth (no, not the brass band or the pale ale) after the break.

We begin with a piece about Golden State Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr. I’ll let the NYT icon serve as the segment header. Why not? It’s a head shot, after all.

Steve Kerr has been one of Donald Trump’s fiercest critics in the wide world of sports even before we experienced the agony of defeat on November 8th. Kerr was a reliable role player on five NBA champions and was rarely openly political until 2016. His inspiration, however, is rooted in tragedy:

The airport was closed. There was talk of taking a cruise ship to Cyprus, or accompanying an ambassador on a helicopter to Tel Aviv or even crossing into Israel on a bus. A military plane headed to Cairo had an empty seat, but it went to someone else. Finally, a hired driver took Kerr over the Lebanon Mountains and across the Syrian border to Damascus, then on to Amman, Jordan. It felt like an escape.

“I’m fearful that all this uncertainty and inconvenience, not to mention even a sense of physical danger, has not done Steve’s image of Beirut much good, and in his present mood he wonders what any of us are doing here,” his father, Malcolm H. Kerr, the president of the American University of Beirut, wrote to other family members that day in August 1983.

A few months later, Malcolm Kerr was shot twice in the back of the head outside his university office.

John Branch’s profile for the NYT Magazine is one of the best sports pieces I’ve read since the demise of Grantland. Why? It’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about the growth and evolution of Steve Kerr from callow athlete to thoughtful adult. Well done, sir.

Since it’s Twelfth Night plus-one, it’s time to visit Acadiana where they do Carnival differently than us city slickers. Jeez, I sound like Jack Palance. It must be time to do some one-armed push-ups…

Cajun Mardi Gras: One of my internet friends, Megan Romer, has written a fabulous piece about what the locals call the Courir for Louisiana Life Magazine. Here’s how it starts:

As 8 a.m. fast approaches, activity fills the misty Mardi Gras morning on the old stretch of Cajun prairie called Faquetaigue. Horses are saddled and fiddles tuned. Bright costumes are topped with festive hats and masks while a bottle of whiskey (the good stuff, it’s early yet) gets nipped from and passed.

The courir — “run” — is about to start, and the Mardi Gras capitaines explain the rules to all the newbies as they kneel on the open ground in a chilly, muddy hazing ritual.

“When we arrive at the voisins (neighbors’), you don’t enter the lawn until the capitaine raises his flag. Now repeat after me: “donne-mo’ que’q’ chose pour les mardi gras!” (“give me something for the Mardi Gras runners!”). The genuflecting chorus chimes in heartily and is instructed further in the etiquette and nuance of chicken-chasing.

With roots in the same medieval begging rituals that gave the world mummers, wassailers and even trick-or-treating, alongside the Christian tradition of Carnival (a final consumption of meat and display of merriment before the Lenten season), quirky accoutrements of medieval traditions (for example, the traditional hats worn at Cajun Mardi Gras are the pointed capuchon, a mortarboard, and a bishop’s miter; remnants of some Middle Ages cosplay intended to mock princesses, scholars, and the clergy), and a heaping helping of Cajun-style humor and irreverence, the Mardi Gras courir is a tradition both ancient and fully alive.

One swell thing about Megan’s piece is its punworthyness. I will, however, try not to assail you with wassail jokes, instead I’ll endeavor to keep mummer than this XTC album:


Speaking of puns, I had the following exchange with the author on Zuckerbook:

A:  Does one have to wear a mumu in Mamou? he asked knowing the answer.
M:  Only if you plan on doing the mambo.
 Did she say mambo?

It’s time to dance away from the Courir to a controversy that’s been raging in New Orleans since the passing of Carrie Fisher.

 NOLA CULTURE WARS: There’s a sci-fi parading group that has grown like kudzu in recent years. It’s called (what else?) the Krewe of Chewbacchus. It’s fun but it’s wildly disorganized and somewhat unwieldy. It takes place in the Bywater, which I alternately call the Gentrified Kingdom or Hipsterland. Cue Spank picture:

Dizneylandrieu Spank

The Captain (Emperor?) of Chewbacchus decided to have a  “second line” in “honor of Princess Leia. They stuck Carrie Fisher ‘s name on it after the inevitable social media uproar. I was annoyed that they planned to honor a fictional character: Princess Leia is immortal, Carrie Fisher is not. I’m thinking of holding a Philip Marlowe parade since the main movie Marlowes are dead: Bogie, Dick Powell, and Robert Mitchum. We could all wear fedoras and trench coats. We’ll skip the cigarettes: Bogie and Mitchum both died of lung cancer.

The main controversy was over the use of the term second line, which is originally of African-American origin hence charges of cultural appropriation. Here’s a pretty good definition of a more traditional second line:

Second line is a tradition in brass bandparades in New Orleans, Louisiana. The “main line” or “first line” is the main section of the parade, or the members of the actual club with the parading permit as well as the brass band. Those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the “second line.” The second line’s style of traditional dance, in which participants walk and sometimes twirl a parasol or handkerchief in the air, is called “second lining.” It has been called “the quintessential New Orleans art form – a jazz funeral without a body.”

The social media controversy over what seems like an innocuous idea “hey, let’s honor a fictional character” is rooted in the tense relationship between post-Katrina arrivals and locals. Many of the post-K folks have what amounts to a savior complex: “we’ve come to save your crumbling, crime-ridden, flooded city.” The resulting gentrification in traditionally working-class neighborhoods has led to a housing shortage and sky-rocketing rents. The people who do the scut work in the tourism industry are finding it harder and harder to find affordable housing. It’s a familiar story made worse by feelings of cultural appropriation, especially in the black community.

Zombie-Picayune art critic Doug MacCash captured the back-and-forth quite well:

The buildup to the parade had included some rather strident social media criticism. In the briefest terms, the celebrity-centered parade was seen as too untraditional to be taken seriously. Or even worse, the memorial parade was seen as eroding New Orleans’ fundamental culture.

This is nothing new to Chewbacchus. The ever-growing science-fiction oriented parade, which formed in 2010, is often a scapegoat for fears of post-Katrina change. In the minds of some traditionalists, Chewbacchus is just too alien for the Crescent City.

But Martin Childs, a long-term Chewbacchus member, sees things differently. Childs, who was dressed in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle disguise for the parade, said that Chewbacchus’s success is based on two basic factors.

Since it only costs $42 to belong, he said, the price isn’t prohibitive. Plus, he said, lots of people relate to the sci-fi puns and metaphors.

“People come to participate in what we do because it’s actually a very accessible and fun thing.”

The anti-Chewbacchus contingent, he said, want to be seen as more purely devoted to New Orleans’ old time traditions.

“I get it, I’m from here,” he said. “People try to tell us that they are NOLAier (rhymes with holier) than us.”

But, he said, “NOLAier than thou has got to go.”

I spell it NOLIER but the man in the silly turtle costume has a point. Carnival is all about diversity and different groups of people doing it their own way. Parade routes used to be informal and less structured much like Chewbacchus itself. The problem is their use of the term second line instead of calling it a tribute parade. Music writer Alex Rawls poses some interesting questions at his web site My Spilt Milk. This one is particularly thoughtful:
Does the language we use to talk about the event matter? If we know that the second line is an African-American invention and we’re doing that thing but calling it something else, is the alternative phrasing anything more than a fig leaf? What’s preserved by setting aside “second line” for parades with African-American involvement and using “tribute parade” or a similar phrase to describe the same parade but with primarily white paraders and a non-traditional honoree? If we’re concerned about cultural appropriation, what should a culturally respectful memorial parade look like?

Language always matters. There would be less controversy if they were called tribute parades. The use of the term second line is akin to Pat Boone covering Little Richard and selling more records. Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom.

 We’re going to stay on the 2016 R.I.P. beat with our next segment, which is about the passing of two talented men who could never escape from their father’s shadows.

The parts about Frank Junior are particularly poignant. He sounded just like his father. It was his voice too but he didn’t have the charisma or pizzaz. There’s only one Sinatra.

This piece provides evidence as to why it’s a lousy idea to name a child after oneself. In addition to being egocentric, it puts a burden on the namesake regardless of whether the parent is famous, notorious, or obscure. I’ll take the Greek custom of naming the eldest son after their grandfather any day even if it leads to too many dudes with the same name in one’s family.

Hail & Farewell: It’s no secret that I’m a devoted CBS Sunday Morning viewer. Their annual story about prominent people who passed in the previous year is always superbly constructed. The 2016 edition is no exception:

That brings me to the point of this segment. Something that bugged the living shit out of me: the endless, overwrought handwringing on social media every time someone prominent died in 2016. It’s sad when someone you admire dies but connecting unconnected deaths is ridiculous. A friend of mine once slyly observed that “if you can’t make a celebrity death about yourself, you don’t belong on Twitter.” That goes double for the book of faces.

2016 *was* a terrible year and many pop-culture heroes died but it’s more a matter of demographics than fate. Nothing is written. Baby boomer icons are dropping like flies, but death is a part of life. It’s worse when someone under 65 passes but it’s not about you, it’s about them. We’ll always have the music of Bowie, Prince, Kantner, Frey, and Cohen to listen to or this marvelous Debbie Reynolds clip to watch:

We move from protective ice to the fiery blues stylings of the great Albert King as opposed to Albert (The Iceman) Collins.

Saturday Classic: This was a theme song derived no-brainer.  Here’s Albert King’s 1967 album recorded with a little help from his friends at Stax-Volt.

That’s it for this week. Since I wrote about those who died last year, there’s only one way to bring these proceedings to a close:


2 thoughts on “Saturday Odds & Sods: Born Under A Bad Sign

  1. Marcel Duchamp would have loved living in these times. If past tumult is a guide, we should be enjoying a tsunami of art, music and literature very soon.

    I do wonder, though– who’ll outline the ground-rules for Dada?

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