". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Do You Know What It Means" - HBO Tremé, Premiere Episode

Tremé (2010) David Simon – Overmeyer – Mills for HBO. Premiere 80 minute episode, "Do You Know What It Means"* (Sunday, April 11, 2010).

Tremé begins 3 months post the failure of the levees; its focus is the unique cultural and historic contributions to what is the United States that is the city of New Orleans. We watched it at the home of the series's music director, BL, in company of various others of his and his wife L's friends, their Abbysinian cat and their two daughters, A (6) and R (3 ½) – though the girls got sent to bed, despite every trick for stalling they pulled out. It aired 10 PM our time. We got home at 2 in AM.


It took until this last summer for the devastated botanicals of New Orleans to come back. On all the visits prior to summer of 2009, the trees and other foliages had not yet come back full force. You could see everywhere that horrible ugly nothingness of ashy not-color that is the sign of catastrophe (you can still see it around Ground Zero here). You can't re-create this, I thought. But the ep's first scenes are about NO's first second line parade post the Failure, and sure enough, the leaves are scarce and the trees are scarred. There's a negotiation between the Social Club and the bandleader. Nobody's got money. Everybody's hurting. Hurting big time. But they are going to do it. They have to do it. They come to an accomodation.

Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters, Freeman, in The Wire) has a discussion with a member of the Yellow Pocohantas Mardi Gras Indian tribe. Would the guy essentially donate his time and truck to helping him clean out the bar to have a practice space for his people, in this bar that he doesn't own? The guy's doing real well, boasting of how well he's doing, with the FEMA contract he got, because he has a truck and a business that does hauling and clean-up, and he's on the ground. He says no. Albert's not his tribe. Softly in the background we hear Juvenile's "'Nolia Clap." Vaquero deconstructed this Juvenile hit with superlative descriptive and music writing in The Year Before the Flood (p. 299, chap. "The End Is Near So Drink a Beer"). It felt like a shout-out to the book, which B's read carefully. Just a a few bars of the beats, plus the whistle -- not lyrics -- it was way off, low down, probably a passing car playing radio or sound system.

Albert Lambreaux unzips what you swear is a body bag. Slowly it is revealed that the bag contains one of Albert's Big Chief suits. Tears came to my eyes. Then you see this hallucinatory scene in the dark of the three months post the Failure that is the New Orleans night. Sparks and dazzles, here and there, like fireflies -- but in those months post the Failure the fireflies were all gone, all lost. Slowly out of the dark emerges this breathtaking float of orange feather. Albert's put on his position as Big Chief. He's put on his Suit. As Big Chief of his tribe se's come to confront, to negotiate, the Fema haulage contract Yellow Pocohantas member to negotiate, to get something accomplished that is good for the whole neighbhorhood and community. Everything that Albert Lamgbreaux does, breaks my heart in the way that my heart kept breaking every hour of every day in that full year post the Failure.

Delbert Lambreaux is Albert Lambreaux's trumpeteer son. This character is distinctly modeled on trumpeteer and Congo Nation's Big Chief, Donald Harrison. We see him in NYC, at the Blue Note, at NYC's House of Blues. Everyone in our viewing group has been to these jazz joints and often.

Already, we see that the major theme of at least this season is the negotiations and cooperations that go on among all groups and areas to revive, restore the lost communities and cultures, so that, as with the reference of "Nolia Clap," unlike that Magnolia, that Desiree, they aren't lost forever and ever, as so many communities had already been taken down, taken out even before the Failure, never to return.

All the black-on-black negotiations that go on, that have nothing to do with crime, but COMMUNITY. The Lambreauxs are central to this, their Indian tribe is central. Central we can already see is their family connections. Albert was brought into NO by his daughter. His son skips gigs, income from which isdesperately needed, to come back and talk with his pops, who his sisters says is losing it. He agrees to his father's request demand, that he contribute enough money to pay the water bill on this bar that he doesn't even own. As is quoted in The Year Before the Flood, back in February of 2005 I realized that without the Mardi Gras Indians the whole place would fall apart and disappear.  They are what make New Orleans New Orleans.

John Goodman, all the time, righteous ranter from the Tulane English dept., failed novelist, married to an activist attorney, father of an adorable tween daughter. He throws a Brit Twit interviewer's mic into the canal. And etc., like that – particularly when he tells off NPR, clearly All Things Considered: --"New Orleans isn't fucking Lake Woebegone!"

The brilliant colors of the photography -- this as different from The Wire as you can get. Some breathtaking shots. Wendel Pierce as Antoine Baptiste, who has really learned the moves of a trombone player. Kermit Ruffins as himself; ignoring Elvis Costello, reaction to the query, then, "You want to stay in New Orleans all your life gettin' high, cookin' and makin' a little music?" Long pause in which you hear the bemusement that such a question could even be asked – "Works for me." (This was shot in the very space where Kermit gets high when he plays at Vaughns. You won't ask me how I know this.)

Not so high:

The dj guy, even though he's totally real, modeled on someone well known, who is even worse than the actor's portrayal. Or as one friend said, "I'm looking forward to the episode in which he gets killed," that's how obnoxious he is. In a room of women married to musicians, who all laugh at the impossibilities of being married to a musician that the episode dramatizes. all these women agree that it is a million times better to be hooked up with a musician than one of the kinds of guys that this dj is.

Works for me. All of it, really. Surely the following episodes will work even more so.

As we don't have a television, we won't be seeing the next episodes, particularly as B has to go back to NO to finish up the season's on site work. But he's thinking maybe he can do a roundup of missed episodes for all of us every three episodes or so. And irony? B. didn't have a television or cable at home either, despite both he and L. working in television (she does documentaries, particularly for PBS). He got the set and the cable hookup YESTERDAY.

*One of the moments that everyone in the room loved (recall, at least half of the people in the room are musicians, with deep roots / connections to New Orleans), when Baptiste says he hates that song. The musicians all cheered, just as they all cheered the Louis Prima cut.


K. said...

The scene where Albert donned his costume was pretty amazing. It took an actor of Clarke Peters' skill to pull off -- it could easily have been maudlin.

My concern right now is that the characters have few to zero evident flaws. That could undermine the credibility of the points you make about Treme's themes. And while I wasn't there, it seems odd to me that -- three months after the flood -- Albert was the only figure in evident psychological pain. But, there's plenty of time to introduce these things.

Foxessa said...

Huh. To me, all the characters except perhaps the Indian with the fema contract, were screaming pain.

One of the signals -- they all ask each other about their houses and their loved ones:

I haven't seen my brother since the day. Don't ask me about my house. New Orleans matters! The temper tantrum over WWOZ's playing the old Mardi Gras tunes.

Over and over.

I saw all this. Experienced it.

Because they aren't they wailing feel sorry for me doesn't mean they all aren't in serious trauma, which continues to this day.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

Donald Harrison gave Peters lessons in how to play Indian.

The thing that Peters obviously got is when you put on the suit you become another creature.

Love, C.

T. said...

I fear that the "Brit Twit's" comments about NO being a passe culture could possibly ring true for many Americans, alas. Will HBO viewers without a love and passion for all that is NO even care about this series? (I thought When The Levees Broke should've been required viewing for every high school student in this country.)

That said, I found it to be visually stunning, beginning with the opening titles set on moldy walls. I'm saving any criticisms for the end of the season, and I'm most optimistic.

But I rather agree with K. -- I didn't really see much of the anguish one would expect 3 months post-levee-failure. Thought that would be much more visible in this first episode. It's all still to come, I'm sure.

Foxessa said...

That's weird -- that I did see that anguish, everywhere.

Like the National Guard was everywhere, along with the mysterious armed others ....

Love, C.