New Orleans needs money, its musicians need money and the money can't get here fast enough. Tourism is down, donations are down and half the town is back. That's the "No shit, Sherlock" factor the mainstream media is focusing on for 8/29.
Ron Fournier nailed it for the Associated Press writing, "WHO'S IN CHARGE? Nobody. At least that's the prevailing view of most Americans. Katrina showed governments failing to prevent a crises, moving sluggishly to respond to it and refusing to be accountable. Charities, churches and other institutions couldn't fill the vacuum."
The BBC's Carolyn Briggs quotes Glen David Andrews; " "This is my second gig this month - two gigs in one month - you can't pay rent like that, but I'm going to make it work. Before Katrina I was a living musician, since I was 16 years old. I'm 27 now and I feel like I'm 10 years back. Literally." But even if work can be found, the fact remains that many musicians' homes are still in ruins. The rebuilding so far has been ad-hoc, like a sticking plaster on a severed limb."
The L.A. Times discusses how New Orleans' Al "Carnival Time" Johnson is still displaced in Houston and has gone from his eponymous tune to writing a song describing his heartbreak. "The song reflects the other half of the essential duality that is New Orleans, a city as adept with funerals as it is with partying. "It keeps me going," he says of the new song. "It brings me through a whole lot. Katrina was very devastating to us. It's different, and it's my story and exactly how I feel.""
Musicians need to share their songs as an essential factor to their survival. The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund hosted a ReDefine 8/29 Download kickoff on Friday with Mike Mills of REM who I love for donating a brand new live track of "South Central Rain" from Dublin to the download. Plus he stood out in the street and summoned the Rolling Elvi on their precarious mopeds like a rock god. It only takes one call to have Elvi roll in and they spread cheer.
One musician after another stepped onto the stage to share their songs including "Poor Man's Paradise, "Lord Willing" and "Brand New Old House." Some have moved back, and many are still bouncing around the country like us. Liverpool Musician Joe Topping flew in after walking across the US last summer in support of the music. Beatin Path drove their RV in from where one of them lives now. It was officially a love-in which makes me more homesick than ever.
"Kid," performed by Susan Cowsill, was written by her brother Barry who we lost to Katrina, and proceeds from the song will benefit his children. A former child star and my husband's Stragglers bandmate, Barry was last shown on Entertainment Tonight at the Convention Center two summers ago. He had been scheduled to go to rehab if he had made it out of the city. "Kid" is the most accurate description of a town without pity I have ever heard. (Song available here.)
The tunes range from hope to rage. David Fricke at Rolling Stone Magazine describes the Kaiser Chiefs new Out of My Depth as "a fine new stomp that sounds like a pissed-off Badfinger" and adds that "Doctor John is among the locals singing for his neighbors. Ian Hunter's "How's Your House" comes in video form; grim newsreels of the devastation that show why projects like this are still necessary, two years after the flood."
It's been difficult to know what to call this week's events. Calling it an anniversary sticks in everyone's craw. There will be no thoughtful gifts to unwrap. Especially since NOMRF lost the MySpace Impact Awards grant contest to a cutting awareness group yesterday.
But 8/29 is impossible to ignore, so we're hosting a local open house in a board member's half gutted home. They've created a beautiful gazebo where we'll gather. Bacco's will bring in food, and all we can think to call it is, "Step Away From the Cable Coverage." It's hard to watch "Keeping Them Honest" with musicians who have been pouring out their frustration since the day I got back to town. One mentioned that he gets itchy eyes and nosebleeds in his FEMA trailer. Another said she finds herself withdrawing from her social circle, has erratic sleeping patterns and has lost 150 pounds since Katrina. I already know that last part. She's a shadow. Eighty percent of the mental health workers left and didn't come back so she's cutting antidepressant samples in half to make them last.
Katrina has changed us all. This week's coverage is somehow gratifying, like someone calling on the anniversary of the death of a beloved family member and asking, "Are you going to be okay?" Susan and Mills learned "Love is All Around," on the back patio before Friday's set, and it helped balance the night.
It's going to take quite a few anthems to keep us hinged to the planet for another year.