'our' new orleans was, to quote a dickens line, “the best of times, it was the worst of times”. But 'our' is now a bygone era. The days of my waking with a hangover, looking out the shuttered window of my friends Quarter apartment, to see tennessee williams in his muumuu, hosing down the banana plants, elephants ears, etc. etc. cocktail in one hand, hose in the other; or george dureau descending a never ending dark staircase, drunk as a fiddler's bitch, champagne glass in hand- or going to south rampart to pick up and haul professor longhair's rmi piano to a gig, or ernie k doe [taking my tips] or guitar slim jr [with a butcher knife up his sleeve] sitting in with me on bourbon street, etc. doing acid with the creators of the jazz fest at the dream palace [names withheld] - drinkin' wine at dawn on the steps of the cathedral, etc- so many stories of so many artists, musicians, characters, quarter rats, run amok in such a 'no holds barred' insanely liberal city, are now faint memories; fading photographs; my brain is crammed full of them, starting with my 1st era of 'being there' when I was 13...
As becky allen [comedienne extraordinaire] always said “we had culture when the rest of america had agriculture” - true dat. She was speaking specifically of nawlins, BUT I speak of ALL Louisiana. Natchitoches  was the 1st European settlement here. The Louisiana Purchase to this day infuriates me- that Napoleon sold us [about the size of 15 states] to America [via Thomas Jefferson] for a mere pittance! Je ne comprend pas! BUT THAT was a VERY bygone era... way be fo my time...
louisiana is a land of many multi and varied cultures, many which, thank God still flourish
as for Nawlins- for me, the death knell/bell tolled, when the Old Absinthe Bar [where we- Razin Cain- did the graveyard shift in the late 70s] was turned into a daiquiri shop. DESECRATION! Also there was the changing/moving of Maspero's from it's original spot- DESECRATION! And a Shoney's in da qwawtuh, dawlin... DESECRATION! Corporate dueling piano bars popping up left and right- trying be Pat O's on coke- but there was a "whole lot of changin' goin' on", even in the 90s. That's normal. Time marches on. Shit happens. They iz a fresh crop of folks every year! thangs gots ta change. the only thing that is consistent IS change.
I howled in the streets w/friends during many a hurricane in my day. we always had hurricane parties; it was an occasion to celebrate [but then, anything is, in new orleans]and challenge life! But never in my mind could I have envisioned one [even though betsy and camille caused much destruction] that would do the damage of katrina. i watched CNN relentlessly, for days, unable to sleep; not believing what i was seeing happening as it happened. i felt gutted.
After Katrina, new orleans was a skeleton lying in a broken soup bowl, a cadaver floating below sea level. It was no longer the same place. I went to the first Mardi Gras afterward  and it felt like 'dancing on corpses' to be partying, drinking, parading [oh my]- especially when the stench of death could STILL be smelled, especially if you crossed over the bridge down St Claude. The few pockets of the city which hadn’t been destroyed or affected went on... business as usual; all the outlying areas were like a war zone. the quarter seemed pretty much the same- whereas other parts of the city were completely GONE. I spent all of Ash Wednesday driving all over the city photographing, documenting the devastation, the horror, the tragedy [and continued to do so throughout 2006]- photos which will never be seen. I certainly wouldn’t exhibit them, unless it was for a new orleans based charity.
I always loved new orleans* more than any place on earth. I spent so much of my life there; had so many life experiences there. So much of who I am is because of 'being there', living there, absorbing it all by osmosis. I always called it my 'spiritual home'. When it was destroyed I felt like a family member had been beaten to almost death, and was just barely hanging on. I wanted to move back and nurse her* back to life, back to health. I wanted to be a part of the resurrection of the city*... but, I was/am dug in, in north louisiana, with my career being primarily in europe since 1992. I had, literally 'bought the farm' [family land and home outside Monroe] and continued to travel back and forth to work in europe every year. I had responsibilities here. I rolled the thought of moving back, over and over in my mind, for years, until I finally realized that the window of opportunity had closed shut; it* was no longer possible... and it was no longer my reality. The thought of pulling up stakes, picking up and moving, leaving my my roots, family and friends, homes and land, at my age... was/is not going to happen... [unless I won/win the lotto]
having been here all these years, ever deepening my already deep roots, my ties to my terra firma, my sense of place, my comfort zone, having fallen into my own routine, basically evolving into a hermit monk and recluse- [except when I DO perform locally, or work abroad] I have no intention of any major life changes. Life does enough of that to me, itself; I don't need to make more. AND the thought that there could be a hurricane worse than katrina in the future, always lurks in my mind...
BUT what I have discovered, and what is the 'punch line'/point to this whole rant, if there is one, is that- as I wrote in IF IT AINT ONE THING [thank you, Marcia!] “no matter where you go, there you are” - When I read my old new orleans diaries, I realize I was just as reclusive then and there as I am here and now. Of course, i did get out more- [i was also 42 and in good shape] I would go to museums, art galleries and to coffee houses and such, but I wasn't big on hanging out in bars. I did enough of that in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, thank you. I did have my haunts: la Madeleine, Cafe Kaldi, A Museum for Fine Photography, the Country Flame, Sid Mar's in Bucktown, Beckham's bookstore [and every used bookstore in the quarter- some open all night] when i DID hang in bars i was drinking non alcoholic beer, which is an oxymoron. blah blah blah. I went out mostly in the day time, but even walking the streets at night, I was seldom afraid, like I would be NOW even in broad daylight.
IF Monroe were a walkable city, with a thriving functioning downtown, [which i remember it had in the 50s, early 60s] I might get out more. They're [the famous 'they'] trying to, God help em, build up and gentrify downtown; but, i don't foresee it happening in my lifetime. There again, living in the country, as opposed to living in the city [as I did in NO] also makes a BIG difference. i've grown accustomed to and like the peace and quiet, the solitude, or country life. I 'occupy myself' when here; i feast and gorge on culture when i go to europe.
I remember my cher ami, gloria powers, always chiding me because I didn't “hang out”, I didn't schmooze, I didn't go out to be seen, rub shoulders with, or to mingle and hobnob with, the movers and shakers there. Whether living in new orleans, hollywood, nashville, or working in NYC- I've never liked playing the fame game: hustling to meet famous and/or powerful people, and playing kiss ass, thinking they can or will somehow help you in your career. They're usually either too protective of their own status, or give you a line of bullshit, or empty promises that never come to anything. I learned that very early on.
I ran into [late 80s early 90s] barbara hoover [whom I knew from the punk daze] in the quarter, walking down royal street, with a big crucifix. I asked her if she was “starting a street mission” [y'all know that laugh] She was helping decorate daniel lanois' house/studio on esplanade. we walked, talked, and somehow got around to the new orleans music 'business' scene [which, as far as I was concerned was non existent, a lot of meetings and talks, events, but no REAL action] – she said “Everybody comes to 'new awluns' thinking they're gonna make it big. New orleans is like sleepy hollow, you don't make it big here, you come here to 'get it together' and 'make it somewhere else, like new york or L.A.” a statement I have never forgotten... and she would know.
The pay scale, for the most part, back then, was not great; it wasn't even good, in MOST joints. Working in a band? forget it, you'd starve to death. I lucked out, working Bourbon Street [Tricou House] and Decatur street [Storyville] I made a good living and didn’t have to leave town... I didn't have to tour! For the 1st time in my life I had a normal work routine, which also gave me a chance at a semi normal life. the absolute best thing I got out of my last period there [1987-1992, other than forming DOUG DUFFEY/STREET LEVEL/NEW ORLEANS] was solo performance experience! working my ass off, playing and singing 4 sets a day, 5 or 6 days a week [7 during mardi gras] AND working that crowd, dawlin'...
Things WERE different then [but then things were different every decade I lived there] but The CITY*, especially the Quarter, was pretty much ALWAYS the same. Living there [1960s] when I was about 12-13 w/family; then in my mid teenage years [runaway- oh la la], the hippie daze, the 70s/early 80s rock punk days, the late 80s early 90s -je ne sais quoi days- 1987-92 my 'clean and sober vegan years' [which is the only way I survived it, again] and then... the end of my eras there, except for occasional visits, nowadays.
I've always said “new orleans: a great place to live but I wouldn’t want to visit there” and there IS a truth in that; there's different rhythm/vibe to living there, or visiting there. I had been 'on the road' in America, playing in bands, from the time I was 18 until I was 35, playing in every watering hole from coast to coast. When I moved back to New Orleans in 87, I gave up 'the road' [USA] and have not, and will not, 'do it' again. I have only gone back and forth from Monroe to Europe, for the past 22 years- and have only seen America from the inside of airports. I have no idea what is 'out there' anymore; nor do I want to. I'm sure it is only much more of, the ever increasing, ever devouring, same crap being thrown up everywhere. Environmental rape in the name of progress and business.
The gentrification of New orleans is inevitable. We live in an age of greed. Katrina washed away so many locals to distant shores; shores they can never and will never return from. Whole neighborhoods vanished, and with them rich and irreplaceable cultures. Wheelers and dealers, land grabbers, developers, and property snatchers jumped with deep pockets and took over. Realtors were already hawking properties the minute the waters subsided.
Things will most definitely change- and probably NOT for the better- but it's not only happening in New Orleans; it's everywhere in America. As Manhattan was sterilized and Disney-fied, new orleans will be white washed and gussied up by strangers in a strange land, that have NO idea or concept of what it* was [or is] all about; nothing but hints of our past cultures, traditions, and ways of life; none of which will mean very little if anything to them. I miss the good ole days, but then we always do. Hindsight is 20/20 and very often overly romanticized and unrealistically remembered/portrayed.
Many comments were also posted on CC's page, agreeing about how corporations have taken over, how the city has lost and is losing so much of it's soul. That IS indeed sad. They also spoke of the lack of respect for musicians; but I never saw much respect for musicians there, unless your last name was marsalis or neville. the more things change the more they stay the same. i would not want to be starting out in the business there, or anywhere, in this day and age; much less be out trying to hustle gigs
the other documentary i watched last night was on J.D Salinger [Catcher In The Rye] whom i identified with because he got out of the rat race, went into seclusion, but continued writing/working, even though he wasn't publishing anything. he said [paraphrased] it was only important to write for yourself, to do the absolute best work you could do, for yourself. he was very pro spiritual, and extremely anti commercial. [he could afford to be] but it is HARD to be in THIS tres modern age, and not deal with the commercial... you're surrounded by and bombarded with it every nano second.
i've never understood the mentality [or lack of] of Bourbon Street club owners. [back to CC's thread] instead of clubs with musicians/bands playing traditional new orleans music [in any of it's many forms] they play to the lowest common denominator. they don't need professional musicians when they have karaoke bars and boobs onstage in abundance. american idol/idle on steroids. everybody is a drunk star with their 15 minutes of false fame. [the other documentary i watched was on warhol star "candy darling"] - if it ain't dat, it's bands playing either whatever passes for 'urban' music, loud as hell rock, or the old chestnuts like 'mustang sally' - where IS the new orleans music that the city is world famous for? duh? i done served my time
BUT on the bright side of things, young energetic people ARE moving in, and are willing to work to rebuild and revitalize the city; even if they do modify it; photoshop it; create it in their own image. At 64 I am a little too long in the tooth to sling a hammer for habitat for humanity, even if I can still kick a 20 year old's ass onstage! [lol] i'll miss the old funk; but it, like elvis, has already left the building. Whatever the 'new' New Orleans becomes, it will not be 'our' new orleans, but that of those who are working to bring it back to life... as well it should be.
[c] 2014 doug duffey