An Adversarial Katrinaversary and the Delusional Post-Diluvial New Orleans — a Manmade Disaster


It took a while, but I’m finally convinced. New Orleans will never be what it was. This 10-year Katrinaversary has forever sealed this city’s fate as a shell of an existence. It is destined to be a post-diluvial distortion of the values it once espoused. The Crescent City has successfully become a cable TV version of itself. By the way, what is Treme? We never called it that when I grew up there. To us, it was the 6th Ward.

We Rock, We Roll, That 6th Ward Got Control

I’m also tired of hearing how resilient New Orleans is. No, it is not. That just furthers this lie that somehow the traditions and the values of what made this city great are not on the verge of extinction, and they are. And let’s be honest, they were suffering well before August 29, 2005. We’ve become those “resilient” folks who exorcize away every tragedy with a second line or a pot of red beans.

“Ooh, baby… you fell and skinned your knee? Come on inside and let Maw Maw heat up some gumbo to help take your mind off the pain.”

We’ve become “those” people…

Strike Up The Band

FairviewThe Real New Orleans of old would never have a second line as a 10-year commemoration for a flood. Today marks the 50th “anniversary” of Betsy. I don’t see no second lines for that. I guess Betsy wasn’t as sexy of a hurricane as Katrina.

The Real New Orleans would boycott and/or picket this second line. This Katrinaversary is all media hype. It’s sick and twisted thinking. Disaster capitalism is alive and kickin’. A second line to honor the dead used to be a solemn occasion. It was respectful to the deceased and their families. The first line used to be the family. The second line was those who came to pay homage. They should call this Katrinaversary parade a third line in honor of all the carpetbaggers we’ve turned this city over to, thus making a caricaturization of this once sacred land.

There has always been a criminal and violent element here. There were always structural issues. I remember hearing that my mentor Danny Barker once said, “I’d rather be a lamppost in New York, than to live in New Orleans.” I heard he got a lot of shit for making that comment, but he made good on it by returning. In case you don’t know who Danny Barker is, if you’ve ever seen that video of Billie Holiday singing “Fine and Mellow,” he’s the cat on guitar.

Danny Barker gave me my first steady, sit-down trad gig. He was clear to tell me “We don’t call it ‘jazz.’ It’s Traditional New Orleans Music.” We played as a trio with Shannon Powell on drums at The Famous Door on Bourbon Street. I was 12-years-old. I remember the first day we played, the owner pulled Mr. Barker to the side and said “Hey, that kid is too young to be up there.” Mr. Barker had my back. He told the owner, “Here, we’ll just slap my fedora on his head and no one will notice.” Genius. I still wear a fedora on my head when I play, to this very day.

That’s the Real New Orleans — the passing down of the torch from master to student — the way King Oliver did for Louis Armstrong. It’s what Danny Barker did for New Orleans when he started the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band. I subscribe to the theory that it was his solution to what he saw as a generation of younger people not hip to the brass band tradition. It also helped to take a lot of kids off of the streets so they wouldn’t get in trouble. Genius.

Well, those days are long gone. Now many of these brass bands can only play in one, or two keys, if you’re lucky. It’s not a put down, but our culture has devolved. It has ceased to be important to us. And let’s stop blaming Katrina like New Orleans was paradise before the flood.

See, I thought the flood would give us a clean slate. There’s a contingency in New Orleans that always believed that if this city became too forward-thinking it would lose its charm. That mindset kept New Orleans in a perpetual state of negative static pressure, which restricts flow. Since so much was lost as a result of the flood, I thought this was our shot. Well, that ship has sailed… Ironically enough, we’ve changed a lot by adopting all the wrong new things, while miraculously keeping all fuckedupdedness in tact. Genius. One plus is that per capita there are more bars serving craft spirits and beers than ever was.

Back-O’-Town Blues

And, for God’s sake, let’s stop calling it a “Katrina” anniversary, and “Katrina” this or that. Katrina had come and gone. What destroyed New Orleans were those levees. Some say they were compromised intentionally. I can’t say that for sure, though, I don’t put it past them. What I do know is it didn’t have to happen. The city was warned about those faulty structures for years. And even given that, the federal response to the disaster was abysmal. So, let’s be clear: God may have created Katrina, but God did not design those levees. And God travels at a speed much faster than George W. or Brownie, who did a “heck of a job.”

The future of this city is in the hands of the little ones now…

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— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop