ORLEANS NINTH WARD UNDERGROUND
KATRINA ORAL HISTORY - COMPLETE TEXTS
O and Kid Twist
The first warning
of the hurricane felt like a nuisance, a media event, an inconvenience.
That was three nights before the storm. Kid and I had evacuated
the year before when Ivan was supposed to hit, and after a 14-hour
drive to Houston (5 hours normally), it passed right by. Not even
a drop of rain. This time, there were warning signs that things
weren’t right, that perhaps things were more serious. Every
local hermit weirdo was wandering the streets, and the crack dealers
on our block were lined up like never before, ¬¬as though
people were stocking up just in case. We had been planning on going
on tour for the past three months, and the risk of the car getting
flood damage was worth the three-day excursion, even if we were
just being paranoid. In the end, we decided we had more to lose
by staying than leaving. We planned to go to Houston and come back
for our instruments in a couple of days and start the tour out west.
We ended up taking six people. Each had one small bag and some stuff
to keep us busy for the next couple of days.
We went to
my mom’s house and the day after the storm hit we woke to
the news that everything looked mostly OK at home, except some low-key,
unconfirmed reports of a levee breach…or two. As we began
to pack the news grew more grim, along with the pictures on TV.
When we realized we weren’t going anywhere near New Orleans
anytime soon, I got on the phone with the insurance company. I had
purchased musical instrument insurance two weeks before the storm
in anticipation of the tour. A friend of mine pestered me until
I did it, and we couldn’t have been luckier in retrospect.
They paid out almost immediately based solely on the extensive citywide
damage and the immediacy of our tour and we scrambled to replace
our sentimentally precious friends/instruments and make 150 new
CD’s by hand (we left behind our previous stock when we evacuated).
We packed up the van with our new equipment, our friend Walt, with
whom we perform in another band called Crooks and Nannies, and headed
for our first show in Austin, TX. We played at The Carousel to a
dream audience (for me, at any rate). All of my friends and family
from Austin came, plus all of my recently evacuated friends from
New Orleans, plus a healthy dose of people who know us from Myspace
or whatever. Our songs are full of images related to water, drowning,
catastrophe and loss, and they felt more relevant than ever. The
Carousel let us drag on a little late and people outside were sitting
on the curb, drinking and smoking like Austin’s notoriously
strident liquor and drug laws never existed. We left the next day
for Phoenix and points further west, having revamped our press emails
to include the fact that we were essentially, and quite likely literally,
homeless. Throughout the tour this gave us the kind of publicity
and support a first-time-out-west touring band rarely receives.
We played with
bands like Reindeer/Tiger Team in Phoenix that gave us all the show
money, plus whatever they made from merchandise. We played in a
little restaurant called Café Adrift in Anacortes, Washington
(the best food on the west coast, no shit) that not only paid us,
but turned the show into a benefit, gave us the door money, and
donated the profits from the food sold to the relief organization
of our choice. But more than all of this, audiences sincerely and
emotionally absorbed our music, often drunkenly dancing and even
more drunkenly mourning with us.
We came back
to New Orleans one month after the hurricane. We walked in the door
to find our house largely undamaged. It was truly unbelievable.
We were surprised by each sentimental object we realized we would
get to keep after having mentally accepted them all as completely
lost. But we have also come to realize that even though our own
personal asses were spared, the soul of our city was wiped out.
Gone. 250+ years of tradition effectively evaporated. There’s
so little that reminds me of the town I love.
While we wait
for things to return to normal we’re planning a tour back
to New York and the east coast in March, and we’re writing
a new record, hoping to draw on what difficult beauty we find in
the twisted version of home we’re living in now. We got some
money from FEMA and some money from other places and we’re
making a new studio in the house. We’re gonna record our new
record and a new record with our other band “Crooks and Nannies”
sometime before summer. As far as live music goes, the scene is
a bit fractured and audiences are full of the unfamiliar faces of
relief workers and hippy helpers. It’s not much like before,
but it’s not bad either. We’re staying in practice with
pick-up shows at the Abbey on Decatur, but until we get the Dragon’s
Den back, we won’t be truly excited to play here.
I get from people most often is “was your house okay?”
Before I came home it seemed important, but the more time I spend
in New Orleans, it seems to matter less and less. Sometimes I think
it might even have been easier to lose everything and be forced
to start over. The way things are though, there is façade
of normalcy, that at times has been comforting, but most times,
in comparison to the rest of the city is devastating. As though
we are living inside of one mausoleum in a massive graveyard. On
our tour, Walt, Jay and I would sadly joke about every city we passed
through, “Nope, this isn’t the city, I could never live
here.” The truth is, the last remaining threads of our lives
in New Orleans seem to be better than any other home we could imagine
in the states. But in the near future I think we’ll think
about New Orleans as a base to travel from, instead of home. And
the feeling that we are homeless, in constant search of the city
we adored passionately, I think will continue for years to come,
if not for the rest of our lives. Despite all of this, there is
a shred of hope in my heart that things won’t turn out as
bad as our minds imagine.
After all, the world is a crazy place.
early a couple of months after we wrote all that other stuff. The
city is growing, but people are hesitant to believe things are really
gonna be okay. Our governor’s in the Netherlands looking at
new flood control ideas (and getting a much needed vacation), and
people come back on the weekends to work on their houses with the
hope of someday returning from Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Memphis,
or wherever they’re staying right now. I’m listening
to James Booker’s beautiful version of “That’s
Life” as the sun rises and the trucks rev up their engines.
today really is the stuff of life. Yesterday was the first ‘second
line’ (look it up) I’ve ever been to where the mood
was as peaceful as it was exultant. Where the crowd was almost evenly
black and white. Where the thug mentality and posturing were noticeably
nonexistent. Where people seemed sure that New Orleans would return
and we would be able to effectively police ourselves. Joyful songs
and chants like “We ain’t coming back! We back!”
rang through the freeway underpasses. Children and old people and
everyone in between were singing and three brass bands were wailing
and weed smoking in the streets and all the things I moved to New
Orleans for in the first place. Family. And then damn if some fools
didn’t fuck it up. About 3 blocks before it ended…“Pop!
Pop, pop, pop!” Three people, including the 18-year-old niece
of one of my best friends, shot and headed for the hospital. Thankfully
they’re all ok, mostly. But the first thing out of people’s
mouths was something along the lines of “I knew this town
would never change! I ain’t never coming back!” Finally,
a much-needed dose of the kind of joy that is only found here. And
in the same second, all of it jeopardized by the kind of rivalry
and revenge that residents had hoped was washed away with the storm.
That’s what all the people say.
You ridin’ high in April.
And you shot down in May.
And each time I found myself flat out on my face,
I just pick myself up,
And get back in the race.
Take it or
leave it. This is our town. And it may be fucked up, but it’s
still better than anywhere else. ..
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New York Night Train , 2006