New Orleans has identity and pride. Birmingham has division and hostility.
We can’t get together to “save” anything, because we can’t agree that anything is worth saving
On June 5, John Archibald of the Birmingham News penned an interesting rant contrasting the passionate NOLA response subsequent to the announcement of a reduced Times Picayune publishing schedule to the conspicuous absence of such to the same plan for his own newspaper.
Archibald is pissed, and it shows. But here’s the interesting thing: as of this writing, the article generated a whopping total of three reader comments.
Think about that. Hypothetically reverse the roles in the article and picture this:
Brimingham has identity and pride. New Orleans has division and hostility.
Publishing that in this town would be the journalistic equivalent of sticking one’s hand in an ant pile; the servers might crash under the weight of the responses.
Identity and pride. I’d modify Archibald’s statement a bit and say we have identity and thus pride: one springs from the other. And that is because identity in this sense is just a synonym for difference. Stating what you are contains within itself a statement about what you are not. Quintessentially, New Orleans is NOT anyplace else, and that is the real source of our tribal identity. We know that we are different but, more importantly, how are we different?
That’s a lengthy conversation, but I think it starts with music. I’ve been to much of the U.S. and to some enchanting places outside of it. If I wanted to spend a month somewhere, it might be Barcelona. A year? Paris. If I had to move somewhere permanently? Maybe Stockholm. But more than a few times in these and other cities I’ve remarked out loud that New Orleans is the most musical city on earth, with far more to offer in that area than those postcard destinations or any other place I’ve been.
Our dining, our architecture, our history, and our laissez faire are all unmistakable, but our music is at the heart of things.
Normal is whatever you’re used to, and it is far too easy for all of us, particularly the natives, to take as a given the ridiculous bounty of terrific performers all around us. There’s a bit of a stereotype of the transplanted Post-K New Orleanian, wearing a fierce and almost defensive pride in his adopted home on his sleeve. But they might know something a few of us natives tend to forget. The past is recent enough for those newbies that they are well aware that it’s different here and that this is a culture worth defending.
Have you ever been somewhere else and longed for the WWOZ Livewire? Have you ever been frustrated by how much damn work it is to find live music in another town? You want to catch a set on a Tuesday? Good luck. If you want to catch a set on a Tuesday in New Orleans, good luck trying to choose which one.
You want to drop $20 bucks or so (gasp!) catching some sublime jazz at Snug Harbor? No problem. But if money’s too tight to mention, cross the street to Spotted Cat and buy a drink. Or put a beer in a go cup and just walk down Royal. Pony up the bucks at House of Blues, Tipitina’s or Howlin’ Wolf, or hit Carrollton Station, Chickie Wah Wah, or the Rivershack for something more budget friendly. If you’re a bit alternative, try One Eved Jack’s or the Circle Bar, or take in Brass at the Hi Ho or Maple Leaf, and don’t forget about d.b.a., Bullet’s, The Maison, Sweet Lorraine’s, Twelve Mile and Siberia, just to name a few more. Dressed to impress? How about Oak, The Polo Lounge, or the Ritz?
Getting the picture? Do not, DO NOT sleep on how ridiculously spoiled we are. More than anything else, music binds us together here and makes us who we are.
And those driving the recent live music crackdowns (I’m looking at you, Mitch) would do well to remember that. We’ve got our problems, to be sure: We need to figure out how to better open the doors of our booming economy to all of our residents, and we sure as hell need to figure out how to stop killing each other, but too much music in the air ain’t what’s holding us back.
Yeah, yeah, we all need to live together and balance conflicting agendas, and blah, blah, blah. And so the result of such ‘collaboration’ is the temporary shutting down of venues like Bacchanal a few months ago because of neighbor complaints? Hey neighbor, what exactly do you think is driving the increase in your real estate values, the nice potted plants on your stoop? Were you there at the corner of Poland and Chartres before Bacchanal opened? When I was in college I had a professor with a house in Bywater who walked away from his mortgage because the neighborhood was so bad his house was unsellable. Venues like Bacchanal make neighborhoods and cities captivating, unique places to live, work, and play. They increase the value of the brand, you golden-goose-killing jackass idiot.
Thank you. Thank you to every live music venue in the city, to every place that’s treated me to an incredible set or introduced me to someone I didn’t know about before. Thank you to every musician who’s humbled me with their skills and touched me with their performance, giving value far out of proportion to their economic reward. Thank you to every resident and visitor that supports our singular virtue with their dollars and their attendance.
And to those who think our big problem here is all the music, I’ve got a house to sell you. It’s in Birmingham.