Book Review: My Father When Young

This Tisserand tome was my birthday present from Dr. A. Thanks, babe.

Michael Tisserand is the author of The Kingdom Of Zydeco, Sugarcane Alley, and Krazy: George Herriman In Black and White as well as a charter member of the NOLA Twitter Pun Community. He’s better known at First Draft as the Parade Route Book Signer. I might as well share the historic Twitter exchange:

Sometimes Twitter can be fun.

Michael’s latest book is a collaboration with his late father Jerry Tisserand. An alternate title for My Father When Young could be What I Did During The Lockdown.

After his father’s funeral in 2008, Michael brought a bunch of boxes home to New Orleans, which he didn’t open until the pandemic. One box contained a treasure trove of slides:

“I pulled a few slides at random and held them to the light. Then a few more. At first, I didn’t understand what I was seeing. Then I realized: the photos had been taken by someone I never knew—my father when young.”

Michael had no idea that Jerry’s hobby had been photography. Tisserand the Elder stopped snapping pictures when he became a family man. Not only was Jerry a photography buff, he had an uncanny eye for a compelling image.

I recall when Michael first started posting his father’s pictures on his Facebook feed. I believe my initial reaction was: Damn, these are good. Others encouraged him to do something special with his father’s treasure trove. A book was born.

The most startling revelation to the son was that the father had visited New Orleans during Carnival 1959. Jerry’s pictures of the French Quarter on that long ago Mardi Gras day document a lost world. He also inadvertently stumbled into members of one of the first gay carnival krewes, Yuga. Jerry’s pictures of gay Mardi Gras don’t judge, they document. That’s the essence of good street photography.

The book is divided into three parts. The first, Taking Leave features pictures taken when Jerry was in the Army and stationed in Europe. My favorite European snapshot was taken in Barcelona and is called Children and Pigeons. Its centerpiece is a toddler dressed in a white church dress. I hate pigeons but I love this picture.

The second part of My Father When Young documents Jerry Tisserand’s return home to Evansville Indiana, which he called E-Town. I have conjoined favorites: pictures called Lighter and Smoke. They depict some Hoosier ladies lighting up cigars. I’m not a fan of cigar smoke but I am a fan of these images. They remind me of this Cole Porter song:

Anything Goes fits the third part of My Father When Young as well. I mentioned Jerry Tisserand’s Mardi Gras trip earlier. It’s the grand finale of the book in a segment named for a Professor Longhair song: Go To The Mardi Gras.

My favorite Mardi Gras photo is called Searching For A Zulu Coconut. In part, because it shows how much smaller Zulu’s floats were in 1959. The guy begging for what remains Zulu’s signature throw isn’t stretching or jumping, he’s hoping to be handed a prized coconut. I like smaller-scale Carnival. It’s one reason I’m in Krewe du Vieux.

My Father When Young is a work of love. Michael’s introduction tells the story of the father he knew and the gifted photographer he discovered. That makes Michael a lucky man. I’ve had friends who learned less salubrious things when they went through their parents’ possessions. Instead, Michael learned that, for a brief moment, his father was the Robert Frank of E-Town.

I mentioned that My Father When Young was a birthday present from Dr. A. That led to another exchange with the author:

He also threatened to make me recreate the book cover when it’s re-autographed. I couldn’t do a headstand when I was young and thin let alone now. Never gonna happen, my friend.

It’s time to grade Michael’s lockdown homework. I give My Father When Young 4 stars and an Adrastos Grade of A. Well done, sir.

You’re probably expecting the last word to go to Ringo Starr with George Harrison’s Photograph. I like to keep my readers off balance, so the last word goes to Gary Louris with the opening track of his new album, Jump For Joy. Its alternate title could be: What I Did During The Lockdown. Well done, sir.

%d bloggers like this: