As it was when I lived there (although for different reasons) the time I spent in New Orleans last week is starting to blur around the edges a little. So I'll try to compile what all I did when I was there in something of a digest form until I get to Thursday and Friday.
1. Drove out to Mark Walton's house to find that the house was no longer there, the house we'd gutted a couple years before. I don't know why, since Mark had been looking for someone to mow the lot for him, but I guess the fact that the house was demolished had escaped me. So I pulled up on St. Bernard Avenue to where the driveway used to be. I got out, looked for anything I recognized, saw nothing and began to cry. Sometimes it's those final moments that drive it all home to you--so many rehearsals, band dinners, birthday parties for the boys, the trike I ran over while unloading gear, Mark's hard work on renovating the living room, kitchen and family room... all consigned to memory.
2. Drove by places I used to live in Lakeview. There's a house rebuilt on the site of 769 Filmore where Susan, Miranda and I lived. It's pretty true to the neighborhood style, a little higher thankfully. I hope the good vibes from all the music and fun that happened there seeps up through the new floorboards a little. The lot on Catina Street where I had lived in one side of a duplex is vacant. It's been gone for a long time, so I was used to seeing that.
3. I shopped at the new Borders' location on St. Charles Avenue. The bookstore occupies the former Bultman Funeral Home, vaguely apropos for the present state of the printed word--DVDs and CDs were all fifty percent off chain-wide, to make room for more important items like stationery and coffee mugs. The last time I'd been in the building was for Grandma Clements' eventful funeral a while before the storm. It was a little disquieting to the soul to see a Borders there, but the coffee was hot, and I'm loathe to pass up half-off compact discs (even though I didn't buy any).
Bultman Funeral Home, on its way to becoming a Borders store, 2008.
4. Four mornings I ate at the Bluebird Cafe on Prytania Street, for many years the best place in town for breakfast. The first morning there, I was informed by a huge sign in the window that the Bluebird was closing permanently at the end of May. We have a pair of Bluebird mugs at home, but I'd considered buying some of the nice, bright prints on the wall that they sell. I ate migas most mornings, since the Bluebird is the only place outside of Austin I've ever been that had that yummy egg dish. This restaurant will be sorely missed, and people will have to figure out how to make their own migas in New Orleans now, I guess.
5. I had two lunches at Liuzza's on Bienville and Telemachus, home of the Bushwhacker (a ice cream and booze combination that's lethal when consumed in quantity, served in a giant frosted goblet--it was a tasty fave back in my drinking days.) I asked the bartender if they made a non-alcoholic version, and she smiled sadly and said "that's impossible". So I had a Barq's Root Beer in the mug instead. The food was just as wonderful as it always has been. One day I opted for a shrimp po-boy and the next a plate of beans and rice with smoked sausage. Both days I had their shrimp and artichoke soup, something I'd never tried when I lived in New Orleans and regret having taken so long in experiencing.
6. Mark and I closed the Drifters' bank account. We realized when we got to the bank that it had changed names two or three times since we left. The nice teller went to speak with her supervisor about closing the account, and we parked ourselves in front of the coffeemaker. The problem, it appeared, was that there was no record of our signatures on the account; the signature card, like so much else, had gone down in Katrina. You forget how the aftermath of the storm still affects many sides of life down there. Finally, she unearthed a photo copy of a check written in 2003 that had Mark's signature on it, gave us our money and sent us on our way.
7. I met up with the father and son who were doing the lot cleanup in St. Bernard for us. Nice folks, and the son said his dad had just bought a Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder so that they could possibly transfer a bunch of tapes to digital. The tapes were of his grandfather's jazz band in the French Quarter, probably recorded in the 1960s and 1970s. I begged him to get the tapes baked and transferred professionally if possible. He didn't know about tape-baking, so he was happy to get the advice. They got the yard levelled and cleared, and they sent some pictures to prove it was done.
8. I got to hang out with Rich Siegel and Bill Davis a bunch, as Rich was my host for the week. Rich runs La Crepe Nanou, one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans. Bill has been cooking there of late, but he's probably best known as the leader of Dash Rip Rock, a crazed three-piece hyperrock band who are celebrating twenty-five years of their special kind of musical terrorism. Dash used to open up for the dB's toward the end of our existence, back when their drummer was the inimitable Fred LeBlanc (drummer and leader of Cowboy Mouth). Bill had also spent time teaching high school but told me that it was taking its toll on him, thanks to disinterested students mostly. He discovered he had a knack for cooking, and Rich, being one of his best pals, set him to work in the Nanou kitchen where he had been having a ball. Rich is one of the people in New Orleans that I miss the most; he is a bon vivant of the finest kind. His generosity and support over the years has kept many of us fed, housed and working.
Inside La Crepe Nanou
9. I was able to spend a lot of hang time with my daughter Miranda who is now fifteen. She has kept me up to date on the doings of the Jonas Brothers and her possible future as Mrs. Nick Jonas, and she wants a car to go along with her learner's permit. It was delightful to be in her company. She's turning into a fantastic person as she gets older, not that she wasn't a superb child as well, but you know what I mean. I'm proud to be her daddy.
10. I tried to soak in all the changes that were happening. Renovations, rebuilds, new businesses, old ones closing. New houses and abandoned ones. I didn't make it out to where Bruning's Restaurant used to stand, but I'm guessing there's still nothing happening there. Landry's on Harrison is still closed. There is progress in town, but you have to look for it to see it clearly.
(1032 St. Charles Avenue at Lee Circle. The Circle Bar, through the archway. I lived in the apartment on the top floor, the three shaded windows you see on the right, for a year. The best Mardi Gras location EVER.)
I rehearsed on Tuesday night with my pick-up band at DC Harbold's comic emporium on Oak Street, just down the way from the Maple Leaf Bar. DC is a busy fellow; he is in about half a dozen bands and he runs his business and somewhere in there has time to be married as well.
I'd contacted DC (or David, as I've known him for years) when I booked a Circle Bar gig for Thursday. It had come to my realization that in all the time we'd know each other, we'd never actually played together. So he recommended his drummer, Joe Adragna, for the gig. I said fine, then he recommended another friend he played with, Lee Barbier, as second guitarist. Lee had expressed to DC that he knew all my stuff and would love to get the opportunity to play with me. I had visions of what little money was to be made at the Circle Bar being divided by four, but I figured it would probably end up sounding more fun and chaotic with more people in the roux, so it was a 'yea' vote on Lee also.
We plowed through a bunch of songs, some of mine ("Neverland", "Black & White, "Amplifier" and a couple others) and some hastily-chosen covers (like "James" by the Bangles and "Land of 1000 Dances" by Chris Kenner). Everything got run through at least once, and I was trying to keep in the front of my mind that I should not blow out my voice before the big Drifters' show on Friday.
Fat lot of good that did.
Thursday, I went in to the Circle Bar, started with an acoustic set then switched to the combo. The Little PA That Couldn't was straining under the agonizing power of my voice to get over the din of the amps, and I guess it did somewhat. We were loud (Lee much louder than I, with his Twin Reverb--I had my groovy Omnisonic volume governor attached to the Hot Rod Deluxe, though I needn't have done that for this show) and sloppy and fun as hell.
I made them learn "Learning the Game" by Buddy Holly as we played it, and the guys responded in kind. We got endings right, mostly, and there was some absolute mayhem between the guitars.
The nice, intimate crowd at the Circle Bar did not seem intimidated by the volume or lack of subtlety. So we played for over an hour (I think) and kept everyone singing along, especially when "Land of 1000 Dances" made a surprise re-entry later in the set. Na na-na-na-na etc. I left the show croaking, but determined to repair my voice for the next night with hours of sleep (!) and herbal tea (not).
Here's a video of "Neverland" from the show. Some happy faces to be seen throughout, not just in the crowd either!
Lee, Joe and DC asked if I'd consider playing with them again, to let them be my New Orleans 'house band' and I said absolutely. With a little more rehearsal we could conquer the world and not just the Circle Bar.
Pt. 3 just ahead... sleep schedule slowly resuming normal hours, decompression nearly complete.