John McWhorter writes:
A main message from this sultry pageant of a show is that New Orleans is an occult matter that you can never truly “get” unless you’re a native or pretty close to it. The perky, hopelessly “white” tourists from Wisconsin with their nasal voices, the ones who get schooled by the street musician, can be taken as stand-ins for the viewer. Which makes the whole enterprise strangely unwelcoming. … What’s especially challenging is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t quality: criticize New Orleans, or even don’t pay quite enough attention, and you’re a chump—but praise it and you’re probably doing it wrong.
I had a similar reaction to certain scenes in the first few episodes: an idealization of New Orleans that deflated the show’s narrative power; an indulgent, tinny self-righteousness in spots. But don’t sell Simon and his writers short. Not yet. They’re playing long ball.
Those false notes are deliberate bait that draw you in. And then the writers start to hit you with complications: the “authentic” busker turns out to be telling tall tales about saving flood victims; the stereotypical gentrifying gay couple – (gardening!) - turn out not to be colonizers but native New Orleanians who know as much about their neighborhood as the authenticity-obsessed fool/truth-teller Davis McAlary; just when you think the NOLAs are stoic saints, thugs shoot up the first post-flood second line; tribalism threatens to divide the Mardi Gras Indians; questions of authenticity and progress – functional music in the parade bands, or the more abstract modern Jazz? - plague the musicians. How does the food and the music of the provinces measure up against the (rootless?) cosmopolitanism of New York? This show takes culture seriously. What in the culture is truly useful in a time of need, of catastrophe? What part of the culture will the characters choose to live and survive by? What’s real? What’s not? What works? What doesn’t? What saves?
Let me ask this: what other American television show is even coming close to examining questions like these? We are
4 6 episodes into the first season. This should be the show that a deeply thoughtful conservative like McWhorter prays for, one in which “blacks” are depicted in all of their infinite hues and individual selves without any – any! – of the reductive linguistic, behavioral, or sartorial trappings of contemporary pop culture. That in itself is a whopping triumph. “American culture is incontestably mulatto,” wrote the great essayist Albert Murray. That’s what this show is about. I would think McWhorter would be ecstatic, instead he is cranky.
I remember watching “The Wire” in its first season and thought it was pretty bad. It struggled with similar false notes. It patted itself on the back. And then it developed into the most substantial television program that’s ever been broadcast. As jazz musicians from New Orleans like to say, goading one another on the bandstand, “Take your time, now. Take your time.”
The Ben Waltzer quartet featuring Ben Waltzer (piano), Chris Lightcap (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) and Christine Correa (vocals) performed for Bank Street middle and upper school students on April 1st, 2009. The musicians alternated between playing such jazz favorites as “Old Devil Moon” and “Caravan” and engaging students in a discussion of jazz rhythm and improvisation. After the concert, the quartet taught two workshops for the 12/13s. The concert was funded by the Alex Cohen Endowment Fund for the Performing Arts in memory of Bank Street alumnus Alex Cohen SFC ’86. The Fund brings a wide range of performing artists to Bank Street School each year to stage theater, music and dance productions for its students.
An anonymous commenter at Sound of Treme:
To me, the narrative style is much more like a Faulkner short story or James Joyce’s Ulysses than anything else on television today. That is to say that the story is not one of protagonist vs. antagonist, but rather one of characters dealing with their ordinary lives in the shadows of something monumental. Many of Faulkner’s short stories, including the famous a Rose for Emily, are not driven by any conflict that appears in the story, but are instead stories that reflect the way in which characters of the old Southern power structure are surviving among the ruins of a once thriving culture. The story is not driven by a current conflict per se, but rather are still dealing with something they have never been able to sort out.
I’m adding Gershwin’s “For You, For Me, For Evermore” to my repertoire. Duane Eubanks and Bill McHenry played the hell out of it in rehearsal yesterday.
I first heard it this year on Coleman Hawkins’s record “At Ease.” You can listen to Ella Fitzgerald’s version here.
What a lovely world
This world will be
With a world of love in store
For you, for me, for evermore.
h/t Larry Applebaum
A good roundup of all things Treme.
Sakakeeny on the second episode:
This one was all about staking out territory – drawing borders around the REAL New Orleans and the REAL New Orleanians – something that the writers have basically admitted to being obsessed with, and rightly so, since just about everyone whose ever tapped their foot in Preservation Hall or ordered their po-boy “dressed” seems to have an opinion on what’s Naturally N’Awlins.
But trying to ‘keep it real’ in New Orleans is a slippery slope. What’s authentic folklore to you might be pure fakelore to me, and for the most part Simon and Overmeyer are onto the notion that what the REAL New Orleans looks like depends on where you’re standing
Read the rest here.