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.
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!
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.
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.
20 million barrels of oil. 20 million. That’s what the USA uses every day. And nearly 50% of that oil is being burned each day as motor fuel. As of Monday, June 7, the BP Macondo well has spewed in the vicinity of 2,000,000 barrels with no end in sight. That’s the equivalent of 10% of one day’s oil use in the US.
“That’s what we need to get through the day!” exclaimed John Hofmeister (German for “yard master” to you etymological folks) the former head of Shell on a recent Larry King Show. In prior media appearances Hofmeister promoted his oil skimming ideas, his experiences in keeping a culture of safety at Shell, and his book. On King’s show he reverted to the Company Man and showed his Chamber of Commerce side, indulging in a couple too many Gripes on Behalf of the Oil Companies. He evaded James Carville’s challenge to explain and justify the cozy relationships Big Oil cultivated with government, including regulatory agencies and personnel, which will prove to be a major factor in the chain of events.
Then came T. Boone Pickens. He was visibly stressed. But he was clear as a bell. His overriding message, “It’s not time to panic.” He emphasized that we need to focus on stopping the well and dealing with the humanitarian and environmental response. When we get ahead of these demanding issues, then we can focus on inquiries and blame. But he knows it’s bad. “This event is like a 100 Year Storm.” He emphasized a military-like focus.
Which brings us to that ugly and horrible act of humanity: War.
For nearly 10 years we, our families, friends and neighbors have been paying the ultimate cost for our military actions around the world. The United States has been at war longer than World War ll, and as of June 7, longer than in Viet Nam, our longest war. We are paying the price in lives, money, energy and resources. Yet we blithely go about our days worrying more about phony celebrities, useless trends and pop culture than we do about being at war in foreign countries. We are sacrificing so much–lives, resources, energy, money, time–and we are so spoiled by all the power we wield with our smart phones, fast cars, fast cards and fast food–that we are oblivious, like slowly cooking frogs, to our impending doom.
Whether is it our diet and diabetes, or our vapid, mobile lifestyles and growing environmental crises, we are in a massive state of denial that only a large-scale psychological and spiritual transformation effort can least-painfully change. But it appears we’re incapable of changing without very painful and tragic impetus.
Hell, if even the increasingly unnecessary maiming and death of our best and brightest in military service isn’t compelling us to act, then perhaps Nature will. Or will it?
The root cause of this situation is our demand for oil and our addiction to dirty fossil fuels. Though we built our consumer society on what appears to be “cheap” fossil fuels, the true cost has never been fully factored or equitably distributed.
For 150 years, modern civilization has depended upon exploitation, extraction, manufacturing and distribution of natural resources, usually directed from the less powerful to the more powerful.
And now this. The BP oil disaster is well on its way to being the worst singular petroleum catastrophe in world history, impacting far more than just Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
The site of the BP Deepwater Horizon and areas impacted by the catastrophe are the uterus and placenta of the Gulf Stream. And a breathtaking array of biology upon which humans on multiple continents depend is threatened. We cannot determine how long it will take to recover, even after the well is stopped. Years? Decades? In whose lifetime will these land and water ecosystems return to the diversity and volume of April 2010?
Some 30% of the USA’s seafood comes from these estuaries. But, that’s only measuring it in the USA. Many of the species most seriously affected by this spill migrate between continents. There could be shortages of fish products around the world.
But let us not lose sight of the biggest tragedy–us. This is a growing humanitarian crisis.
In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas, hundreds of thousands of jobs are threatened and tens of thousands of jobs are at a standstill or waiting to be told to stop. This means that thousands of families and households are not receiving income.
Second Harvest has been overwhelmed trying to bring food to families in Louisiana. With the assistance of Catholic Charities, the New Orleans Food & Farm Network and others, a growing number of volunteers are participating in distributing food to the hardworking, diverse patchwork of celebrated cultures of people who define the character of Louisiana to the world but who are not emotionally prepared to be dependent upon charities.
As efforts mount, words get stronger. Beth Galante calls us to action in the May 2010 Global Green newsletter, “The humanitarian crisis is the first priority – every single coastal resident has had their job destroyed or damaged for the foreseeable future, from the fishermen to the local restaurant staff to the hotel maids, and it is imperative that aggressive action ensures that they can keep food on their families’ tables, make mortgage and credit card payments, and get rapid access to comprehensive mental health care services.”
Why are these things happening? Why is this how we are going to spend the 5th Anniversary of the tragedy of the failed levees after Katrina? Fundamentally because a perfect storm of stupidity has swept this country for the past few decades. We’ve had all the information, all the warnings we needed to make changes. We are lost in consumerism. We are not saving energy. We are not taking the steps needed to reduce our impact. We are indeed living in The Age of Stupid. We are at war on two fronts, sacrificing our friends, families and economy to the mighty Oil God. And we won’t change our ways. We are ultimately at war with ourselves.
Will this event change us? There is no doubt that Louisiana is now forever changed, perhaps for generations. But will the USA change its ways and reduce our dependence upon dirty fossil fuels? 11 dead in the Gulf and 15 dead in the mines in 2010 don’t seem to matter much. More than 5000 of our finest sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to make no difference. We blithely drive, shop and waste and waste and waste. We gossip about pop “stars” ruining their lives while our own are ruined by ignorance, inactivity, bad food and the resulting obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The fact that the current generation is the first in modern times to be expected to live shorter lives than their parents doesn’t even seem to be changing people’s attitudes much. We are speeding pedal to the metal into a dead end.
So I have a request to the USA: pray. No, I’m not a religious person. But I am desperate. And in desperation, most folks suddenly find God. Besides, other than cutting your driving by at least 20% and pledging to do better, there’s not much you can do.
So, Dear America, pray. And pray hard and for a long, long time. It might not slow the oil. But at least it will slow you down.
There are so many cliches floating about now that we’ve won the big game. But words and pictures cannot capture the feeling of being a New Orleanian right now. So many life/game-changing things are happening that it’s hard to explain/describe what it all does and could mean. Suffice to say that we’re feeling a lot better about so many things. We have an optimism we didn’t have a few weeks ago. And we’re flying high as we head into the peak days of Mardi Gras.
My thoughts are simply those of gratitude mixed with relief. I love New Orleans. I love Louisiana. I’m glad we get along so well. And, like thousands of Saints fans, I wish my late father had lived to see this day.
So many things feel different today. Oh, there go the cliches again. I’ll stop before I get carried away.
The yin/yang of our experiences have spun us into a state of euphoria right now. I’m going to be out on the streets today, relishing it with the Who Dat Nation. Yes, indeed!
Now that the issue (fill in the blank based on your views/knowledge: is, appears to be, might be, might never be) settled, it’s time to discuss what will happen next. We need to focus on better building techniques, sustainability and resource management. The demolition of buildings needs to be well managed. We must recycle as much of the irreplaceable old-growth lumber and components as possible. There should be a consortium of all the city’s materials recycling entities to handle this. NOLARecycles and the Green Collaborative represent collective efforts and can be tapped for expertise.
There will be lead paint issues, asbestos issues. But we have an enormous opportunity to set new examples of Best Practices in recycling and re-use, and that means economic development. Now is the time for leaders of the Biosciences District to seek assistance from area green organizations and leadership. I can see several sites processing these materials and the possibility of reinvigorating our rebuilding resource organizations with this effort.
A huge concern of this project is water management. Stormwater runoff from this site will be copious. There are many in this area who are well-versed in sustainable development techniques. We must make this site a shining example that exceeds anything ever built in New Orleans when it comes to water systems and ecological footprint. The development team needs to delve deeply into Low Impact Development principles, Regenerative Design techniques and Biomimicry concepts. These should be Living Buildings where healing takes place with the assistance of Nature. And they need to be leading examples of resilience and mitigation. We can make the hospitals state of the art in more than just medicine, but also in how to build in our hot, humid, windy environment and for our soil types.
There’s no doubt this project can be measured in both dollars and lives. There’s no doubt Charity Hospital was prevented from opening in the months after the flood by those seeking to build the new hospital. We can (and probably will) debate this issue for decades; because, for too many, the cost was measured in the loss of loved ones like Cayne Miceli. And there is no doubt that far too many of those lives were lost due to a plethora of failures that reach their nadir in the mismanagement and brutality of the operations of Orleans Parish Prison. Unfortunately for us, today’s funding decision changes nothing about life in New Orleans in that regard until both the hospital and new jail are completed, years from now.
So I say it’s time for us to come together and make these entities the best they can be. There will be opportunities for involvement, for cooperation and compromise in the coming days. I intend to do my part, and hope that everyone who worked so hard on both sides will do theirs, to ensure that these projects make New Orleans stronger and become the kind of assets that will improve our lives and economy.
Let’s not settle for the same kind of management, design and construction practices of the past. As yesterday’s Green Collaborative Platform for Candidates proposes, we know how to grow the economy of New Orleans. These hospitals need to be catalysts for green/sustainable development. It’s time to step up, demand the best and build our future.
Cayne Miceli was a truly mystical and deeply spiritual soul. She was enlightened, vibrant, sexy, colorful, outgoing, outspoken and could turn the most mundane moment into one of great insight, joy and hilarity. She possessed a sharp wit that she wielded with taste and great humor. She was never mean, even when life and friends let her down.
Cayne radiated life. She glowed with an intensity that reflected her spiritual connection. And she could brighten your day with her huge smile, even when she was not in great spirits.
Cayne also had a capacity for understanding and analysis that made her counsel and advice meaningful, thoughtful and soothing. She never gave you a sense that she was patronizing you or was impatient with your thoughts–though she was jumping to put her two cents into the discussion. She shared like nobody I’ve ever known, everything she had: emotional, physical, spiritual. She knew love because she gave love. Her friends and family grew with her passing, despite our pain, as we all connected and continue to share our love for her and for each other. Tuesday night, January 5, some of her friends gathered at a live music club to light candles at midnight to honor the anniversary of her passage and to conjure her spirit. It was a most appropriate setting.
Cayne’s probably laughing at us all as we fight our emotions and try to reflect the true nature of her spirit and joie de vivre. I hear her staccato voice this night, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m great, I’m fine, I’m so connected it’s amazing. You know I knew things could be this way but I never reeeaaaallly knew until I crossed over, really, it’s amazing, it’s so cool, I’m just so happy. It’s like I always said, Peace and Love, Peace and Love! I can’t believe how I got here, but I found it! It’s soooooo cool! I love you guys! Peace and Love! Peace and Love!”
This week an 18 wheeler delivered a truckload of plants for the final stages of The Great Concrete Lawn in City Park. This multi-million dollar project sure provided a lot of money and work. That’s economic development. And that truckload of plants sure helped keep people employed—in Florida!
As the photo shows, a truckload of non-native species plants was delivered from a company with locations in Wisconsin and Florida. Cashio Cochran LLC, whose designs have disguised, smothered and killed the native landscape of City Park for the past couple of decades, ensured their role in history as perhaps the most un-enlightened park designers of the past half century with this last implantation of imported plant life.
But all is not lost…..yet. After this past week’s debacle of destruction, the Voodoo Music Experience (VME), tore up the soil under some of the most beautiful and fragile oaks in the park, we at least can look forward to when these non-native palms, ginger and other decorative plants blossom and bloom and hide those ugly old oaks that obviously were in the way of Cashio Cochran’s Eisenhower Era vision of tidy design.
What a year it’s been in City Park! Though I’ve only been blogging about it since March, we’ve seen bad decisions multiply like invasive species. The ironies pile up, too. The post-VME smell on Roosevelt Mall, despite the preponderance of familiar bull horns on the portable toilets, isn’t the aroma of the past couple of years in the French Quarter, but that of Bourbon Street of years gone by–a sour, sickly smell that this week’s blooming Sweet Olives can’t disguise. The damage, the smell, the bad design, the out of state plants, the heavy equipment crushing soil and roots, I guess it all smells like money to somebody. Or else we’d be hearing more than just me moaning and griping.
But, I guess I’m lucky. Unlike the those ever-more scraggly old oaks, I get to go home and put those smells and sights out of my mind whenever I want. And I have to assume that the folks who work there find all this quite normal since it keeps happening again and again and again and again and again…………..