Friday, September 16, 2005

Do you know what it means?

Tim says it's OK to keep writing about mix tapes. If you're sick of it, well, sorry: I am trying to stop.

And he posted recently about our dearly beloved drowned out city. I admit that my own experience there has been all too brief, although as a friend I was there with commented on the morning we were leaving, while we were sitting in the train station, "we did have a little conversation, and we did drink a little red wine, and we did catch a little bit of them cajun girls dancin' the zydeco."

To which the only fair response really was, "Et toi!"

But although heard some fine music that trip, that same friend never convinced us to go on the voodoo ghost tour that a former student of hers--and one who could be trusted--had recommended so highly. I wonder what that will be like, when the city reopens for tourism, which I understand is about to happen.

Anyway, last week I made (you guessed it) a mix tape (really a playlist and then a shortened CD version) with the things that I had had to pull up and listen to, even though some of them were so upsetting in a new way. Maybe it is indicative of a shared cultural heritage that I named my CD the same thing Tim named his post. Or maybe it isn't: when I finally went to post it at Art of the Mix I found that someone had beaten me to the punch, though of course I believe my mix is better.

So here it is:


Louis Armstrong, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?"
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, "Amazing Grace"
Henry Ratcliff, "Louisiana"
Professor Longhair, "Go to the Mardi Gras"
Dr. John, "New Orleans"
Them, "Baby Please Don't Go"
Buckwheat Zydeco, "Zydeco tous pas tous"
Fats Domino, "Jambalaya"
The Rebirth Brass Band, "Do whatcha wanna"
Beau Jocque & his Zydeco Hi-Rollers, "Don't Tell Your Mama"
Beausoleil, "Zydeco Gris Gris"
Percy Mayfield, "Louisiana"
Zachary Richard, "Iko Iko"
Paul Simon, "That Was Your Mother"
Clifton Chenier, "Squeezebox Boogie"
Harry Connick, Jr., "Basin Street Blues"
Roy Orbison, "Blue Bayou"
David Roe & the Royal Rounders, "I Wish I Was in New Orleans"
Bessie Smith, "Backwater Blues"
Queen Ida & her Zydeco Band, "Sad, Lonesome and Blue"
Four Year Bender, "New Orleans Lament"
Arlo Guthrie, "City of New Orleans"
Doug Duffey, "New Orleans Rain"
The All-Star Marching Band, "Didn't He Ramble"
Evan Christopher's Clarinet Road, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?"

If you don't know the Henry Ratcliff song, it is a field holler recorded in 1959 at Parchman Farm in Mississippi--now available as part of the Southern Journey series of the Alan Lomax Collection. Those work songs, of course, represent the blending of West African heritage and North American experience that made the Blues--these are the chronicles LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka) wrote about in Blues People.

There are obvious gaps: I couldn't find the version of "House of the Rising Sun" that I wanted, and there are no Neville Brothers, no Preservation Hall Brass Band, no Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Missing New Orleans indeed. And even though the all-day train I took to New Orleans was NOT the City of New Orleans, I always blend the two in mind. Earlier this week, lying groggily in bed, I fleeted in and out of an NPR story about the plight of New Orleans musicians--many of them not Nevilles or Marsalises or Connick Jr.s--after the storm. I see now there have been many such stories--many with terrific audio links.

I dare you to listen to "Blue Bayou" after all these years without getting a little tight in your chest. Last weekend when I went home for my grandfather's 90th birthday party, I took a copy of the disc for my dad. Good timing, it turns out, because having flown into the Norfolk International Airport, I had the quintessential Peninsula experience: back-up in the bridge tunnel. So we drove around downtown Norfolk to another tunnel and then back onto the interstate. The whole time we are driving in the beautiful clear air with my dad's car windows down and his fancy sunroof open and blasting this CD.

"That song really isn't about missing a woman anymore, is it?" he said.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Psychic wavelength or cultural phenomenon. I'm convinced that the reason New Orleans is so important is that so many people have left it. They always go back, but if Louis Armstrong had stayed there the history of the 20th century wouldn't be the same.

I think the fundamental power of New Orleans has always been that you aren't there. You can read that as a snippy statement about the livability of the town, or as a deeper existential statement; either reading works just fine.

(BTW: "quintessential Peninsula experience," indeed. I will long remember the first Digable Planets album, only because the Bridge Tunnel happened to be backed up and I drove around on 664 while I was playing the tape.)