Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Music and The Meow

The following is an excerpt from my memoire, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

The Silence. That was the first thing I noticed. The Silence. No birds singing, dogs barking, cars cranking up…nothing. Nothing but silence. We had awakened in Hell.

There was an indefinable stillness that greeted us as we drove towards our new home in the French Quarter. Everywhere we turned we saw destroyed houses, rubble pulled high, boats in trees, dead pets in the gutter…the detritus left behind by a monster with no mercy. Many had left meat and other perishable foods in their refrigerators. No electricity and extremely hot weather had rotted everything inside. Upon opening those refrigerator doors, unaware returnees were greeted by a stench unlike any other. This odor would linger in their homes for weeks. Up and down the shattered streets of New Orleans, these refrigerators were left on the curbs along with the other trash, trash that would not be picked up for weeks. Some folks had written in bold letters, “Please deliver to President George Bush, The White House, Washington, D.C.” on the refrigerator doors. New Orleanians have a way of finding humor in just about everything, no matter how terrible.

My Angels had been watching over me, as usual. Three days before the storm hit, I had moved my belonging from my apartment in Mid-City to our new place at 624 Dumaine near Royal Street in the heart of the French Quarter. My Mid-City digs wound up under eight feet of water for three weeks. All my belongings were high and dry in the Quarter. Not so for Gipsy. She had argued for staying. That’s what New Orleanians did. I insisted and eventually convinced her.

When we returned, her apartment in Metairie was totally destroyed. The entire second story had collapsed onto the first. Her bottom floor apartment looked like something out of a science fiction novel. The black mold on the walls was alive and made breathing difficult. There’s a good chance she would not have survived Katrina.

I began performing immediately to early returnees and the armed cadres of the U.S. government. I guess they were in New Orleans to save us from ourselves. The returnees had that same “deer-in-the-headlights” look I had seen throughout my travels. Nighttime was especially strange. There were no street lights and no traffic signals. The vast majority of buildings were dark. Most people walked to local bars lit by generators. There was a great deal of drinking going on, more so than usual in a town fueled by alcohol. After a week or two, a woman and her daughter parked their air stream each night on Decatur Street, across from Margaritaville. They would serve up home-made pastries that were delicious and seemed filled with love. We’d stop there nightly, enjoying the camaraderie, sharing a laugh or two in the dark before heading home. Those women were a ray of sunlight amidst the darkness. We knew at least somebody cared.

One evening, a few days after our return, I walked through what seemed to be a totally abandoned Jackson Square. I came upon a lone trumpeter silhouetted against the facade of majestic St. Louis Cathedral. He was playing a mournful tune that brought tears to my eyes as I stood there and listened to him playing to no one in particular. He was blowing his horn ’cause that’s what you do in New Orleans. You play ’cause you have to. It was then that I knew that the music was truly back. I knew then that we were gonna be OK.


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My neighborhood, Colonia Guadalupe, is a quiet place, especially at night. The rain-soaked cobblestones painted a glistening tapestry beneath our feet as Marcia and I headed to Hansen’s Restaurant. Not to eat but to bring our friend,Ulises, leftovers from the great meal we had just shared at Marcia’s dinner party. The unseasonable rains had forced us from the outside courtyard into the cramped interior of her store, The Black and White. There the guests enjoyed a disparate gathering of visitors from the Northwest along with a Chilean Muralist (he had also cooked the meal), the New York floral arranger and the New Orleans musician.

We noticed nothing unusual on our way to Hansen’s. Ulises was grateful and we headed back to our perspective homes. Then, I heard it. The Meow. Not “A” meow but “The” meow. It was coming from behind two 10 foot high solid steel doors protecting what I would later find out was a parking lot. I told Marcia, “That’s my cat!” She asked, “How can you tell? It just sounds like a cat.” I said, “I know that meow.”

There was just an inch or so of space between the steel doors and the sidewalk. I got on my hands and knees and said, “Hey buddy.” His response was a chorus of plaintive meows. Marcia said that her neighbor parks her car there. She felt it was way too late to wake them up. I said, “Wake them up! That’s my cat! That’s Boudin!”

We woke them up but the folks behind the steel doors had already respondedto our banging on the doors and opened up. At first, there was no cat. I cried out, “Hey, bud.” Out came a scrawny, barely recognizable Boudin, along with a string of those meows. He’s been missing for a month and, I’m sure, missing those regular meals for as long.  Again I said, “Hey buddy!” He practically jumped into my arms.

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He was a little freaked out so I put him back down on the sidewalk and said, “Come on, bud.” He followed me the six blocks to my house. When we got home, he could barely get his face out of the cat food bowl. My other cat, Princess Tofu, was not amused. She smelled the unfamiliar smells of the streets of Guadalupe and was not very welcoming to her old roommate. After some highly unPrincess-like hissing, they seem to be fine. Boudin has not left my side.

Anyone who has lost a companion like Boudin understands the hole in my heart he had left behind. Now, once again, I am never alone.

Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.”

He’s baaack:  Meow

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Katrina and Silver Linings

The following is an excerpt from my autobiography, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

Our Katrina Odyssey began the next day in Little Rock, where we stayed a few days with a friend of Gipsy’s. It was there that we discovered that the city itself had survived the storm but the levee system had fallen apart and flooded 80% of New Orleans. This was devastating.

Homeless, we stayed with friends and relatives in Pittsburgh, New York, and North Carolina. We’d heard that the Red Cross was supplying hotel rooms to survivors. We headed north.

There we heard one heartbreaking story after another from other survivors.

One told of hearing the rushing waters approaching. He grabbed his three children, warning each to hold onto his hand or the child next to him. As he led them around the corner, the water hit them with such power that one of his children was swept away. He never saw her again.

Another told of hearing a Coast Guard helicopter overhead. They lowered a rescue basket and instructed him to get in. He demanded that his 72 year-old mother be rescued first. She was worried that he’d be left behind. He assured her he would be following her. As they raised her up towards the waiting helicopter, their eyes were locked on each others’. He watched in horror as she died of a massive heart attack. They could not revive her.

My friend Catherine lives in Jefferson Parish. It was relatively untouched and wasn’t closed down. She ventured into the city to see the damage for herself. At one point, she got out of her car in an abandoned middle-class neighborhood. It was quiet, deathly quiet. From out of the yards and wooded areas behind the houses the pets came slowly, wondering, “Are you the one who’s going to feed us? Are you going to rescue us?” They were frightened and starving.

Pets were not allowed into rescue boats and helicopters. This was enforced at gunpoint. Thousands of animals died.

The worst was listening to a 911 recording. A woman, stuck in her attic, the rising waters up to her waist and no possibility of escape, called for help. She was told repeatedly that there was no one available, that they weren’t prepared for this. After begging for help over and over, she finally said, “So, I’m just going to die?” The surrender in her voice was heart wrenching. After that, just silence.

My friend Kenny Bruno called me in the midst of it. He said, “You’ll never guess where I am.” He was in a small boat in the heart of Lakeview, a large neighborhood southwest of the center of town. He said that the water was “deep, black and alive.” They were tying bodies to stop signs to prevent them from floating away once the levies were repaired and the waters resided.

Through it all was the barrage of media, the onslaught of video after video showing people crowded outside of the Convention Center, the Superdome, rooftops and bridges, crying out for help. They had been abandoned by their president, abandoned by their government. They were denied the most essential amenities, treated like something less than human. Those who had been elected to rescue them, elected to ignore them.

This all threatened to crush us spiritually and psychologically. Dazed and confused, we roamed the country wondering where to go and what to do. Through it all, we drank, and drank, and drank.

I also remember the kindness of strangers, especially the Red Cross volunteers. They seemed to sense that we were fragile and just barely holding it together. We all had that “dear in the headlights” look in our eyes. There were so many people along the way who showed us whatever kindness they could. Like that guy behind the counter who, when we answered his query with, “Yeah, we’re from New Orleans.” gave us half our money back. It was the people who got us through Katrina. For this, I am forever grateful.


nolatravelinman

“Febrero es loco y Marzo un poco.” February is crazy and March is a little crazy. So the saying goes here in Mexico. This winter has been unusually harsh here. Of course, nothing like the folks in the northeast of the U.S. but unseasonably cold non-the-less. The colorful Jacaranda trees are blooming but I still have to wear warm clothes at night. Climate change here in SMA? I don’t know. The locals are confounded and we are all ready for warmer weather.

As I often said, I am quite the recluse, a loner to the core. In an attempt to break out of this and create my own community, I am having folks over for dinner. I had my first one last night, a dry run if you would. I have a lot to learn, but that’s why I had it. Having the proper mix of people is crucial.

I had my first rehearsal with my new blues band, Jesse Moore & The Po’ Boys. Great musicians, fun people, great music. I’ve put on the pressure by making arrangements for a regular a gig. It’s coming up soon and we are expected to come up with the goods. We will.

I have been thinking a lot and writing a lot about Katrina. This has cost me no small amount of sleep. As I have discovered, the pain is still very real. I would imagine that will never go away. It promises to linger on the outer edges of my consciousness for a long, long time to come. It’s the price of admission, I guess.

It saddens me that what I felt intuitively about the aftermath of Katrina seems to have been spot on. Something intangible has happened to New Orleans. The New Orleans I left is not the New Orleans I experienced as I rode into it in late 2003. After the storm, I felt that some of the wind had been taken out of the sails. I still feel that way, which may have hastened my exit. That said, it’s still one of the great cities of the world.

No sign of Boudin, my runaway cat. My other cat, Princess Tofu, seems to be enjoying her newfound “Lone Kittie” status. Boudin is an aggressive alpha-male type. She is a princess. Now, she gets to do what she wants to when she wants to. Maybe there is just a hint of a Silver Lining ’round the feline cloud that has hung over my head since February 18th when I last saw my little buddy. I wish him well and miss him so.

Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.”

In loving memory: Meow

BooAlone

Golden Moments and Golden Silence

The following is an excerpt from my memoir, “The Kid Who Got Away.”

New Orleans has given me so many warm and wonderful memories. I could fill a book with just the people. Fans, friends, clubs like The Old Point and Margaritaville, fellow band members have warmed my heart and given my life purpose.

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There was Sully, who sat in the audience watching my performance after enduring chemo treatments for his terminal illness. His family told me he loved music. He had thousands of songs on his playlist. whenever one of my songs, especially my version of Anders Osborne’s “It’s Gonna Be OK,” he seemed to rally. When he went home to pass on, his family said the song came up on rotation just as he left.

There was the couple from Chicago sitting at the bar directly in front of me during a performance at the Rusty Nail. When it was time for a break, she headed for the lady’s room and he headed for the stage. He told me that after their last visit to New Orleans, I had become their favorite artist. He requested that I perform a particular song from one of my CDs.

I started the next set with it. He knelt down in front of her, opened a small box and asked her to marry him. She said yes. There was not a dry eye in the place.

I was the first musician to perform with any regularity in New Orleans after Katrina . I took up my residence again playing solo at Margaritaville. As the National Guard passed by in their Humvees and fatigues, The Storyville Tavern became a gathering place for survivors and returnees. The club often took on the look of an armed camp. Men with guns on their hips and shirts emblazoned with acronyms like DEA, FBI and ATF sat, ate and listened, discussing the horrors they were witnessing on a daily basis. They were attempting to piece back some semblance of order in a city gone mad with the pain and destruction. Theirs was a tough row to hoe.

I became something of a sounding board there at Margaritaville. Returnees talked to me about their harrowing experiences while making their escape from the waters pouring in over the levies. They talked about waiting for days without food or water, sitting on rooftops watching alligators swim by, losing loved ones. They felt abandoned by their country. One after another told me they felt soothed by my voice and that I somehow lightened their load for a while.

There was the time that I was invited to make my umpteenth appearance on WWLTV’s Morning Show with Eric Paulsen and Sally Ann Robert’s hosting. As Eric interviewed me, he said, “Your singing that song, “It’s Gonna Be OK,” has become the anthem for New Orleans’ recovery.”

There was the look of joy, pain and gratitude in the eyes of attendees of the New Orleans musical “Nine Lives” at the Le Petit Theatre Du Vieux Carre in the French Quarter. I will never forget that look. It was repeated each time we performed it over the years.

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I sit here late at night in my house, now becoming a home, and I listen. Just listen. The street is quiet. A lone car makes that familiar muted bumping sound as it passes by along the cobblestone street. Crickets continue to usher in  the new Spring with their night-time harmonies. My cat lies next to me on a small table content as she purrs something from her feline hymnal. My angels make their presence known with a barely audible flutter of other worldly wings. They are always with me. I am safe.

The Silence is golden. It allows my thoughts to roam free in this new shelter in this new place and time.  It sings of how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing right at this moment…nothing. Nothing but listening to the night move inexorably towards the dawn, a dawn that holds who-knows-what for me. In the very least, it will be an adventure revealing something new about this new life in a land so far from what has always been familiar.

My heart led me to San Miguel de Allende. It offered a knowingness, an awareness that has always spurred me on to the next moment, and to the next. It always has and it always will ’til there’s nothing left of me but my soul…and my heart. I have given it freely, sometimes for the good, sometimes with ill consequences, especially for others. I wonder at those people who say, “I have no regrets.” I can’t say that. Neither can I relive anything so that I might, “Get it right.” I am the sum total of all of my experiences in this particular lifetime. There’s no way I could change anything. After all, what am I but my dharma, my essence, my nature. There’s no escaping that.

As a wanderer, you are sometimes unaware that somehow alone has crept across into lonely. Those moments pass. I do wonder if I could really share my world with another. I am a loner, a reclusive sort who could go days without contact with another human being. I fight that urge by attempting to create my own community, engaging others to join me for dinner parties, movie nights and music jams in my new abode.

I remain open to the possibility that there is someone out there that I might want to share my life and my love with in that special way. Who she is, where she is, IF she even IS, I don’t know. If I never encounter her, I’ll be here in the silence, alone, waiting, wondering and listening to that golden Silence I love so much.

Be excellent to each other and remember: Think twice before hitting “Send.”

A lone “Meow”

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