From 1992 to 2005 I was blessed to be assistant director of the Louisiana Music Commission, working under the excitable and inimitable Bernie Cyrus countered by the grace and wisdom of Chairman Ellis Marsalis. I can’t begin to describe what an amazing time it was. We had many discussions about the fragility of our music legacy, built upon so many older musicians. Despite the fact that in the 1990s we enjoyed another big run at the top of the charts due to the popularity of Louisiana-born pop, country, hiphop, and jazz stars of that decade, the music they played didn’t have the impact or potential longevity of our R&B and funk era, and nobody was more important to that legacy than Allen Toussaint.
If Louisiana music was a sport, Allen was our MVP. Nobody could touch him for his productivity and impact. As a songwriter he was peerless. As a musician he was uniquely gifted with his own distinctive piano style, horn arrangements, and sweet voice. As a writer his soul was a reflection of the Universe. Every song seemed connected to an optimistic spirituality that made saints blush of embarrassment for their inability to be so consistently good-hearted and inspiring.
A Bodhisattva is an enlightened spirit who forgoes Nirvana to share their gift with the material world. I realized many years ago that this was Allen—the Bodhisattva of New Orleans. This factor is one of the most meaningful reasons why I live here: this city, with all its paradoxes and dangers, produced Allen Toussaint.
In his 77th year, Allen’s spirit chose to join the light from which we all come. Our challenge is to endure without him, to remain optimistic about our roles and goals, and to stay connected. I know we can make it. I know that we can.
Thank you Mr. Toussaint.
A story in the Times-Picayune tells the sad tale of the death of yet another benevolent giant live oak in Louisiana. This time, it was a revered tree in Old Mandeville, killed by the usual suspect–humans. Yet the writer and the so-called expert got it all wrong. This tree did not die a natural death, it was a slow-motion murder by pavement and development. It didn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t have to continue to happen, but it will.
We lack the common sense to be responsible stewards of our landscape. To some, this isn’t a big deal. But the fact is, we will die if we continue to fail to address our ignorance. That tree is just one of thousands of ancient oaks lost to development. In too many cases, “tree coffins,” those concrete boxes in the sidewalk or parking lot in which we expect trees to “live” are ultimately the cause of their deaths. You see it everywhere, from downtown streets to mall lots, older trees getting scraggly and dying in these small set-asides. It’s just plain stupid.
I’d love to do a documentary on this subject if anyone out there is interested in helping. It’s long overdue.
And here are the comments I posted:
It is clear that development under the canopy is what killed that tree. To have a concrete curb within mere feet of the trunk means that the root system was damaged, ripped up and smothered by paving. The number one cause of the death of urban trees is soil compaction. Older trees, that grew without interference for decades, are particularly sensitive to disturbance of their root zones. Think of a tree as a closed system where the roots recycle the fallen leaves and act like both lungs and intestines, processing nutrients, water and air in a metabolic system. Then imagine machines, shovels, people, digging, covering, and sealing this system. It often takes decades for these trees to die.
Look at the large trees in Old Metairie, surrounded by pavement. They are spindly, which means the tree is shutting down branch systems in its attempts to adjust. Trees are like submarines or ships with watertight doors that close to protect the rest of the vessel. When you see dead branches, those branches are shut down and will not become leafy again.
That tree in Old Mandeville was murdered by progress. It died a slow and public death. It did not die of old age. It died of ignorance, neglect, and by the assault of human development.
The good news is that we know better and can do better. But it is too late for many of these sentient giants in whose branches we can sense the touch of the divine. Older trees need and deserve protection and that means public policies that honor their roles in the health and wellbeing of the land that supports and nurtures us. We need to give older trees space. The top 18 inches of soil where most of the life-giving aspects of biology give rise to not only trees, but us. We need to understand that soil is alive and that trees–and humans–need healthy, loose, alive soil if we are to thrive.
Guidry is wrong. It was somebody’s fault, a very long time ago, when they failed to care about the space that tree needed, and put concrete and pavement over its roots, and began a process of starvation and strangulation that weakened it and caused it to die sooner than it should have. We killed this tree, probably generations ago, when we built the roads and sidewalks over its most sensitive space, its root systems.
But it’s not just about protection, if we are to have good public infrastructure and healthy communities to serve future generations, we need to understand that we must put the right tree, in the right place, planted at the right time. And that means a broader variety of native species, not more crape myrtles, and not live oaks planted in small spaces between sidewalks and roads and under power lines. This, too, is foolhardy.
Until we become better educated about tree biology and implement policies that protect older trees and guide future plantings, many more will die. And we lose something of ourselves every time.
And here’s a picture of a tree killed by development after Katrina, since this article needs a dead tree and I’m not going to use the T-P’s pic.
Santa made the rounds early this week, delivering the latest Bas Clas CD Love Food Sex Peace to audiences in New Orleans. The 7 song disc features five new songs and two tunes familiar to longtime fans. As with the band’s previous release Big Oak Tree, an Offbeat Magazine Top 50 CDs of 2012 and a nominee for their Best of the Beat awards as Best Rock Album, “LFSP” was recorded at the legendary Dockside Studio and engineered by Grammy-winner David Farrell. Produced by Bas Clas, David Farrell and Steve Nails, the new CD features guest musicians Eric Adcock on keyboards, Jonno Frishberg on fiddle, Roddie Romero on accordion, and Dickie Landry on sax. Backing vocalists include Leslie Smith, Mike Picou, and on the song “Goodnight,” harmony ninjas Susan Cowsill, Alexis Marceau, and Sam Craft. The CD cover art is derived from a stained glass piece by the bassist Geoff Thistlethwaite’s wife Michelle Fontenot.
The band will make the disc available to the public at a special year-end show at Chickie Wah Wah in New Orleans on Friday, December 27. We’re blessed to be able to wrap up an eventful 2013 by releasing this CD at our last live gig of the year. The CD will be available at the Louisiana Music Factory, CD Baby and on iTunes in the coming days.
My band, Bas Clas, takes the Dumaine Street stage at 6pm Saturday, May 18 at the Mid City Bayou Boogaloo for a 90 minute set. Guest musicians include Leslie Smith on vocals, and a brief but very special guest appearance by Jonno Frishberg and Kevin Aucoin. We’re warmed-up and ready to rock, so it’s going to be a good show. Louisiana Music Factory will be there selling our CD and there’s tons of food, arts, crafts and more. This is one of the city’s finest festivals, on the banks of Bayou St. John, and we hope to see lots of friends and make new ones.
The band also spent the past couple of days working with David Farrell, one of the best audio engineers in the world, on our latest batch of songs. We plan on releasing more music in October, so stay tuned!
Though I crossed into the New Year with a case of shingles that hit at Christmas, it’s going to be a great year. I could easily write an extensive blog (or perhaps a book) about what it’s like to deal with shingles. I documented it well and believe that I have a responsibility to share what we learned. But the pictures aren’t pretty and I’ve got lots to do, so it’s going to have to wait. There’s lots to report as the year gets going, though. So here’s a quick overview.
I was so happy with the Bas Clas gig for MOMS Halloween that I never posted the fact that on October 19 I was “Jindalled.” My position as the one and only Sustainable Housing Agent with the LSU AgCenter was eliminated. And yes, that means I don’t have health insurance right now and paid cash for my medical care in treating shingles. I haven’t added it all up, but I guess it’s around $350 so far.
The cuts to higher education and health care in Louisiana are criminal. People are dying. And, when they’re dying they aren’t going to have hospice care at home, because Jindal cut that, too. His administration is heartless. They are destroying Louisiana government, health care and education. Shame on them. My sincere prayer for 2013 is that the people of Louisiana wake up and throw these cold-blooded bums out. But then, that all-too-often is my prayer for Louisiana.
Nevertheless, there are many good things happening in my life these days. Besides being cared-for by the most amazing person I’ve ever known and loved, other wonderful events and activities are on the agenda in the coming weeks. For the band, things just keep getting cooler and cooler. We are an Offbeat Magazine Best of the Beat Nominee for Best Rock Album! Thank you!
Bas Clas is also the subject of documentary filmmaker Pat Mire‘s latest efforts. He started shooting during our recording sessions at Dockside Studio back in August, and will shoot our upcoming show at Grant St Dancehall in Lafayette LA on Saturday, January 26 for the 8th Annual Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival. Yes indeed!
To launch into the New Year as entrepreneurs, Grasshopper Mendoza and I formed NOLA Vibe Consulting, and we’re busy as ever working on the 2013 Water Challenge, and co-chairing the Horizon Initiative Water Committee. And I’m getting ready to take another course (only 1 more and a thesis to go for a Masters in Urban Studies) at UNO.
2013 is going to be a great year!
The End of Daze are upon us. Saturday, October 27, 2012 is the official date chosen by the Enlightened Ones of the Krewe of MOMS to open to the world the chance to join them in costumed revelry as they dance in the face of doom to celebrate the End of Daze. Bas Clas is one of the triumvirate of musical mystics chosen by the priests of pleasure to sound the alarm and sing the songs that will shake the foundations of the Temples of the Prudes.
Taking the altar at the start of the night, Bas Clas will begin the sacrificial rituals with music and dance at the musical temple of The Howlin Wolf in New Orleans.
Asked whether the music can indeed turn the tide at this late hour, a not-to-be-named mystic said, “These are dark times. We shall prevail, and if this is not to be, we shall dance until the end.”
MOMS Halloween 2012, the End of Daze will soon be upon us.
It’s official. The first new recordings by Bas Clas in more than 20 years will be released on Earth Day, Sunday April 22. The 7 song CD is titled “Big Oak Tree” and features a mix of old and new songs all recorded at Dockside Studio in August 2011 with engineer David Farrell. Featuring an expanded lineup that includes Eric Adcock on keyboards, Dickie Landry on sax, and backing vocals from Leslie Smith and Mike Picou, the tunes range from crunchy rockers to a Cajun-flavored tale of life and loss (from which the title was gleaned) that features Roddie Romero on accordion, David Greely and Mitch Reed on fiddles, and Christine Balfa on triangle. The band will be performing at Festival International du Louisiane in Lafayette on Thursday, April 26 at 6pm and the following night (Fri, Apr 27) at The Wild Salmon, also in Lafayette.
When I started this blog, it was to vent my spleen about things that matter to me. Though music was the first subject, and my past work as a public servant trying to help Louisiana recognize the importance and economic impact of music spawned many posts here, I’ve almost never discussed my musical career. In fact, the only blurb about my band was back in 2008. But it’s time to change that.
I spent 15 years as a full time musician in a Lafayette, LA-based band called Bas Clas. The name is from a Cajun insult for people deemed “low class.” There’s a long story behind that and I recommend our Facebook page for the best version. This band was my full time profession from 1976-91. I lived, breathed, ate and slept that musical life. But in 1991 the stresses and struggles and the lack of money finally caught-up with us and we disbanded. I did not play my guitar for the next 9 years. My fingertips had no callouses and I cared not a bit about my “career” in the music business. And when I blundered into my job at the Louisiana Music Commission I knew I could do it without conflict.
For more than 20 years I’ve described myself as “a musician in remission,” and joked that I generally had it under control, though it flared-up now and then, and that music was no longer ruining my life. Well it’s time to sing a different song.
When I withdrew from my musical path, my eyes opened about the desperation and frustration that drives many artists to complain and be unhappy. While at the LMC, a standard line I dispensed to frustrated fellow musicians was, “Play music because you love it. If you are unhappy, quit. And don’t complain, because you’ll find little sympathy.” I still believe that. In fact, in this latest incarnation of my musical life, I live by this: “If it’s not fun I don’t want to do it.” This attitude has been occasionally met with mixed reviews by some of my friends. But I mean it.
So off I go with my band/family to explore our musical horizons. We’re going to spend 9 days playing music. And it’s going to be fun.
The Lens is reporting that the Office of the District Attorney has chosen not to press any criminal charges against the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in the torture and killing of Cayne Miceli in January 2009. I’ve blogged extensively about this horrible crime. And I’m not surprised that professional courtesy appears to have won over justice in Orleans Parish.
There is no doubt in the minds of all who loved Cayne that she was murdered by a chain of incompetence, negligence, ignorance and insensitivity that coalesced that fateful night. She turned to the system and it failed her. Today, the totality of that failure was punctuated by the parish’s arbiter of law. It is no surprise to most of us.
Justice cannot repair this murder. Justice did not exist that night and it does not exist today for Cayne Miceli or her family. This is a bitter Christmas present from the District Attorney. But it does not absolve the staff and leadership of the institutions into which Cayne entrusted her body and which, via negligence and abusive treatment, released her soul. Those who participated in every step of this tragedy know what their roles were in this crime. Their consciences must deal with this while they live. For now, the lawsuit filed by the family is the only vehicle for extracting truth and some semblance of justice from this community.
We all share in the shame of today’s hand-washing of responsibility, for these are our elected officials. We put them in power and we pay their salaries. They betrayed our trust and our faith. But at least we are here to say that.
Cayne Miceli was murdered. And I will say that until I no longer breathe.
After 4 years of lifeless existence under the direction of Chairwoman Maggie Warwick, the Louisiana Music Commission (LMC) is finally being put out of its misery. As reported in newspapers a few weeks ago, after July 1 the LMC will disappear. The articles quoted Ms. Warwick as saying she “supports eliminating it.” That’s like quoting Nero during the burning of Rome.
I would like to congratulate Ms. Warwick for her vision and talent in destroying the state’s (and nation’s) first agency dedicated exclusively to music. And thanks also to Lynn Ourso, the ostensible “director” of the LMC for directing it right into oblivion.
Though there were 15+ people appointed to serve on the LMC over the past 4 years, evidently none of them had the ability or power to grasp the controls and pull the LMC out of the dive it entered when it was eviscerated by (convicted and jailed former film office director) Mark Smith, then relocated and de-funded during the Blanco years (with the assistance of former Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development Mike Olivier). To those members who tried, really tried to represent the best interests of musicians, I say thank you. To those who colluded with and bought-in to the tired and ineffective leadership of Ms. Warwick and Mr. Ourso–and you know who you are–I say that the proof is in the pudding. And yours turned out to be a runny, smelly failure.
Since 2006, when they finally wrested control of the remnants of the LMC that had been systematically weakened by their team, observing the Warwick-Ourso tenure was like watching an elderly nursing home patient slowly, painfully gasp for breath–for month after month after month. It was a pathetic and absurd situation. And now it’s finally over.
The coroner has declared the patient dead but did not cite the cause. I say it was starvation, deprivation, and neglect compounded by malpractice and out-of-touch stewardship. And there will be no investigations, no funeral, no accurate recapitulation or memorial. This will likely be my last blog on that subject. And for that, I’m sure some will be grateful.
I’m proud of the work Ellis Marsalis, Bernie Cyrus and I did, but we were far from alone. From 1992 to 2006 literally hundreds of people helped us achieve unprecedented levels of support for Louisiana music. Because of our work, thousands of Louisiana musicians appeared on radio and television; tens of thousands of elementary school students statewide experienced living jazz history lessons; sites were saved (though many were lost); and attention to the health and welfare of working musicians was raised to new levels not surpassed until the tragedies of the failed levees of Katrina. You can read about what we did here: LMC Summary Report 1992-2003.
The LMC is dead. And though I spent 25+ years in music, it was always with a focus on environmental and social justice issues, on reducing our impact and helping the needy. Today, that’s what I do full time. I love music. I hope to play again some day. But I have a great job and a mission to bring positive change to the way we live. I am blessed to be where I am today.
Music is vital to our quality of life in Louisiana. Perhaps one day it will benefit from dedicated resources and support equal to what we give other industries such as agriculture, petrochemicals and film. One day. But not today.