Tag Archives: Hurricane Katrina

Thoughts on Time and Loss

A conversation yesterday prompted me to think about time and loss in a personal way.

Think about it: as a musician, it seems like one is always surrounded by greatness in terms of performances and songs. Upon close examination, you find yourself watching a recent Neil Young concert documentary where he’s playing songs like “I Am A Child,” “Old Man,” or “Down by the River.” You see the Beatles on TV doing some of their great songs, or Paul McCartney in concert within the past few years, and you hear “Yesterday”, “Let It Be” or “Helter Skelter.” Put on Hank Williams record.

What do these artists and songs have in common? Age.

All the Beatles recordings were made before John, Paul and George were 30 years old. Hank Williams, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Ian Curtis, etc., etc. wrote and performed their best (in some cases, only) work in young adulthood. The Rolling Stones were in their prime in their 20s and 30s. Steve Winwood was 15 to 17, for heaven’s sake, in the Spencer Davis Group.

How does this relate to me, you may wonder?

I’ve been writing songs and playing music since I was eight years old. In the 30+ years since then, I’ve written probably 600 complete songs, composed countless additional melodies, and crafted lyrics for hundreds of songs that are still awaiting melodies. Many of these were captured on fragments of paper, journals, napkins, dozens of cassettes, a couple of CDs, and existed in NO OTHER FORM. It’s the rare song, and usually one from within the past 10 or fifteen years, that exists in digital recording form (MP3) or whose lyrics still exist – usually because I posted this information on my journal.

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, any extant documentation in written or recorded form is lost forever. That means that my musical output that correlates to that of John Lennon, Hank Williams, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan from the ages of 8 to 35 may as well have never existed.

Imagine if John Fogerty, for example, had to start at age 40 writing songs and had never composed “Run Through the Jungle”. Or if Jimmie Rodgers had never written “Blue Yodel #5”.

There were some great songs in my younger days. From a perspective that I don’t have anymore. Because I’m 42, not 18 or 23 or 27. I’ll never fall in love for the first time again. Or a lot of other things for the first time. Or be as politically angry and energetic enough to scream about it. Or have a four octave range, for that matter. And just because you may have never heard those songs, doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth missing, or wondering about.

I suppose it’s the equivalent of having spent 30 years writing a 1,000 page manuscript, never making a copy, and suddenly having only pages 899 through 937. How do you recreate it?

How many great songs does a songwriter have? How many poems? Would W.B. Yeats have the same cultural significance if the only thing he could prove he’d written was “The Wild Swans at Coole” or “The Stolen Child”?

I used to think that my legacy would be the documentation of a life in art – from cradle to grave as a writer, musician, philosopher, bard. But instead, I find myself in a kind of reverse Rimbaud. Arthur, you’ll remember, gave up poetry at 19 to become a businessman, and never wrote another verse. I can only prove I started out at about 28. Elvis died at 42 – the age I am now. Where would he have gone had he lived, without having had those years from 17 to 41 documented and memorialized so thoroughly?

So many words, melodies, pictures, and recordings make up a true artist’s magnum opus.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve suffered a literal and figurative lobotomy.

Isn’t That Something?

Haunted by a hurricane that made it clear
who does and doesn’t matter;
you learn to keep your mouth shut, though the beer you’re drinking
tastes like muddy water;
You’re told just pretend that nothing’s changed
because illusions tend to shatter;
don’t make a clatter.
Suffer in silence.

Listening to a government that makes it plain
it has no truth worth telling;
You learn there’s not much difference whether it’s the left or right
that does the yelling.
You’re told to play along, to keep us strong,
’cause that’s the only dream worth selling;
No shadows need dispelling.
Believe the nonsense.

Reading about hate that doesn’t sleep, but seems to spring
from out of nowhere;
you learn to figure out who makes the rules, but says
they aren’t obliged to play fair;
You’re told your side is right, the side of might, thanks to a blessing
that you won’t share;
Nobody wins, but who cares?
You look good dying.

Watching for the stormclouds once again;
another war, another season.
you learn to test the wind, to judge the spin
and it’s end effect on reason.
You’re told to shut your mouth, that any doubt
is ample evidence of treason.
Silence is more pleasing;
there’s no point trying.

Haunted by a hurricane that made it clear
not many can be trusted;
you learn to seek the holy in the strangest places,
where the world is rusted;
You’re told, keep a low profile, watch your step,
or you might end up getting busted;
People would be disgusted.
Keep it in private.

Listening to a radio that makes it plain
it’s more than sound they’re pumping;
you learn to find your own songs, without caring
if your single isn’t jumping;
you’re told no one will listen, if it’s not the same old thing
the speaker’s thumping;
Now, isn’t that something?
Some kind of bullshit.

21 DEC 2006

The Louisiana Post-Katrina Right Wing Blues

This used to be a quiet place northward from Baton Rouge,
a sleepy set of boroughs where no one became confused;
but now the world is changing thanks to Katrina’s deluge
and Louisiana’s really learned the blues.

It used to be there was a place to send off ne’er-do-wells,
that deserved all our outcasts who were surely bound for hell;
but now who’s right and wrong it’s getting very hard to tell
since the levees let the water come and swell …

The zipper on the Bible Belt has rusted, that’s for sure;
and the muddy water’s backed up all these troubles to our door.
Where will we send our deviants, our crazies and our poor,
since we can’t count on New Orleans anymore?

This used to be a safe place, even-keeled and quite discreet;
when someone got an urge, we sent them down to Bourbon Street.
Their systems purged by Mardi Gras, they were docile and sweet;
but no more — now decent people must retreat.

We gathered in the money from the bars and tourist trade;
now that our golden cow is gone, we really are dismayed.
And what about the music? Some of us are quite afraid
that our towns will need more places it is played …

The zipper on the Bible Belt has rusted, that’s for sure;
and the muddy water’s backed up all these troubles to our door.
Where will we send our deviants, our crazies and our poor,
since we can’t count on New Orleans anymore?

This used to be quiet place, a tidy Christian spot,
we’d send our heretics off to the place that care forgot
but now it seems our apple cart is suddenly upsot …
will Louisiana all now start to rot?

In Shreveport and Monroe, they wonder, how will they survive?
Will folks out in Coushatta have to learn how to speak jive?
How will we pay for schools, and jails, and roads in Lafayette
now that the state’s big moneymaker is all wet?

The zipper on the Bible Belt has rusted, that’s for sure;
and the muddy water’s backed up all these troubles to our door.
Where will we send our deviants, our crazies and our poor,
since we can’t count on New Orleans anymore?

P.S. … now we won’t miss the Saints, because they never were much sport,
but what about the income from the world’s third largest port?
And those artists, intellectuals and tarot-reading sorts?
We don’t want them back up here skewing our demograph reports

So what’s the best solution to this problem that we’ve found
now that the water’s pushed our trash back up to higher ground?
We’ve tried reaching the Lord but he’s not uttering a sound
and doesn’t seem to mind these heathens back in town

The zipper on the Bible Belt has rusted, that’s for sure;
and the muddy water’s backed up all these troubles to our door.
Where will we send our deviants, our crazies and our poor,
since we can’t count on New Orleans anymore?

18 JUN 2006

Nobody Wants to Hear

I could be bitter about all this shit
or at least, start to doubt a benevolent universe;
whine on in rhyme about storm clouds and sunshine
that doesn’t come out ‘cept to drink up the water.

My angst could flower under its own power,
give me at least something to call creativity,
some kind of edifice, beautiful, more or less,
a place to lead willing lambs to the slaughter.

Nobody wants to hear you’re doing fine
Thinking your happiness is just a line
To sell them something which they are inclined
to believe could end any old time

I could be bitter, and perhaps I am;
but Goddamn, what’s the point if your grief isn’t endable?
drown in your own tears, and you die expendible
one more pathetic and troubling statistic.

The blues could cover me beneath a shadow,
give me some shade on these hot summer nights,
some of kind of protection from clear understanding,
but would my demons be more realistic?

Nobody wants to hear that you’re OK
without a care for their cares and dismay
working through your special brand of malaise
seeing both colors and grays.

I could be bitter about how things are;
find a bar serving solace and fade from the light;
sing out the changes in slow minor modes:
let my mood fill darkness around me.

My holocaust could be compared to your own;
let us groan ‘neath these chains here together,
spend our time looking for some life beyond
and pretend it’s all inclement weather.

Nobody wants to know your life is great,
instead pretending we share the same fate,
wanting to think that the reason you’re late
is the same trouble piled onto everyone’s plate.

12 JUN 2006

The Undertow

Halfway up to Shreveport
driving to outrun the storm
I knew somehow there’d be no going back.
There was no sign yet of water
and the breeze was soft and warm
but the skyline in the rearview mirror was black.
We had a hunch that morning we should go;
thinking that we’d just be gone a day or so.

We spent all day Monday
with an eye on the TV,
watching as the worst seemed to go by.
Listening to the talking heads
outside on Bourbon Street
who kept the cameras pointed at the sky.
But when we heard the levees busted through
we didn’t need a photograph, we knew

All those years of living were a span of borrowed time,
and it really doesn’t matter which was yours and which was mine.
It don’t make no difference where you want to lay the blame
’cause the score ends up with both sides at zero
if you don’t watch the undertow.

We drove back to Natchitoches
to sleep at a hotel,
the lobby filled with countless refugees,
each one of us in limbo
under some strange kind of spell
thinking life should offer up some guarantee.
But it never really happens quite that way;
all you really ever have is just today.

And the headlines in the paper
went from bad to even worse:
seems the uglier, the more it lingered on.
With the worst part the denial
from those safe and dryly perched
that the place we thought was home was really gone.
It took a while before the truth sunk in:
that we had no choice but to begin again.

All your years of living are a span of borrowed time,
and it really doesn’t matter what is yours and which is mine.
It don’t make no difference where you want to lay the blame
’cause what’s up ends up in pieces down below
if you don’t watch the undertow.

28 APR 2006

To Let New Orleans Die

There’s a hole in the levee where my city used to be
and there’s talk of the future in the papers, on TV
but the truth of the matter is quite obvious to see
nothing’s gonna be the way it used to be

Some still say that the water washed away some evil sin
and that God cleansed the palette so that He could start again
but the truth of the matter is not hard to comprehend:
it’s the end of our longing to pretend.

No one should ever be so poor that they should need rely
on folks that really don’t care if they live or if they die.
Whatever dream we started on has shriveled up and dried
still waiting for the haves to all decide
the cost to let New Orleans die.

There’s a hole in the levee and the money’s pouring out
into the Gulf of Mexico and points much further south
while those with lots of nothing figure what to live without
and watch the nonsense that comes from
the politicians’ mouths

Some blame the federal government while others blame the state;
still others, the Big Easy’s leaders; a few, they blame fate.
The truth, though, is quite simple: far too little, far too late,
and denying it is to prevaricate.

No one should ever be so poor that they should need rely
on folks that really don’t care if they live or if they die.
Whatever dream we started on has shriveled up and dried
still waiting for the haves to all decide
the cost to let New Orleans die.

From this, let little people take a lesson they can use.
you think we’re all together, well, just watch the evening news:
you’re out there in the undertown, and others get to choose;
remember, when the chips are down
the house will let you lose.

04 APR 2006

Musicares and Musicrising

Don’t say there’s nothing good on television.

The other day I was watching TV and a commercial came on that featured U2‘s The Edge walking through the toxic streets of New Orleans, picking up broken guitars. It then showed him handing a new guitar to an elderly blues musician.

Turns out Edge is the spokesman for a Nashville-based organization called Music Rising, which is in turn a segment of the MusiCares foundation, a relief fund to assist musicians who have been affected by natural disasters, war, etc. Music Rising is an ambitious program to put instruments back into the hands of every New Orleans (or other Katrina-area) musician who lost everything in the hurricane. Without the music of New Orleans people, Edge so accurately puts it, there’s not much reason to rebuild, nor much really to do it with.

So I visited their website. What’s required to apply for aid is demonstrated work in the music industry for at least five years, and also proof of residence in the hurricane disaster area. So I applied. And guess what? At the end of next week using a special phone number, I am callling Musician’s Friend and placing an order for replacement instruments. Anything in stock at 25% off up to a specified limit (it’s the same for everybody).

Musicians from New Orleans, Pay Attention to This

If you haven’t already, and you qualify, sign up. I think time is running out, and they’re working on a first-come, first-served basis. I believe you’ll only have from the 16th to the 30th of this month to place your order, and it takes a couple of days for them to review your application in Nashville. So get on this, if you’re a musician from New Orleans that’s lost musical equipment. Believe me, this is a far better alternative than trying to justify buying a guitar before a new washer/dryer. And that FEMA/SBA money doesn’t cover luxury or specialty items anyway.

Happy Christmas, yes?