Grayson Capps – Some thoughts on the past, present, and future of New Orleans music
I’m writing you from the foot heels of a destructive woman named Katrina. The relationship with any woman comes with the excitement of the initial experience and goes with the repercussions of the convergence of forces. Whether or not the relationship sustains or wanes, the event is usually life-changing.
In this case, Katrina flooded my life and drowned my home. I happened to be out on the road for a weekend tour to southern Illinois with my band when the hurricane decided what she would do, and like any one-night stand, you think you can go back to your life like it was before, unaffected.
Around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning after Katrina had zipped her dress up and put on her shoes, the waters started rising. Physically I could do nothing about the tempest, but mentally I had to bust out the roof and get to dry land. Then, where are my children? Where are my people? I looked to the church, but Katrina blew off the steeple. We haven’t been able to go home since.
Every minute, every hour the devastation mounted and became so overwhelming that my inundated soul was unable to act. I watched as the world became liquid like it was in the beginning: primordial ooze and the base organisms were left. The primal necessities of life — water, food, shelter, sex — floated to the top. The amoebas, the roaches, the snakes and the alligators ran the city with no rhyme or reason, just primitive desire. Desire, desire, desire became magnified as our vice, our reason for living, our Achilles’ heel.
Desire can be romantic in retrospect, but in introspect it is worthless. When the flood subsides, I will rebuild on higher ground. It is so easy to slip into a warm wet place, nice and natural like breathing, but the complacency of comfort through time and space can leave you starved and bleeding.
We were scheduled for some shows in Nashville at the Americana Music Association conference the following week. With nowhere to go and all our work back home washed away, the decision was made to stay straight ahead and keep playing music. While in Nashville, the request came to write from my perspective as a New Orleans-based artist. I could condemn the government or remind the reader of the intricate atrocities, but deep in my heart I see the disaster as a reminder of the fragility of our lives. We are the most fragile creatures on earth, yet we act like the toughest. But put us out in the elements for five days without a Wal-Mart and we are helpless.
The newspeople point fingers and cameras perpetuating a reactive state of consciousness. As a whole, this organism we call the United States of America is reactionary. We wait for disasters to happen, and then we are excited to fix them. The western attitude is mirrored in western medicine: “Sure, eat sugar and processed pork products, and when you get that there tumor in you belly, we’ll just cut it right out.” But, when it comes to self-sustaining, preventive measures, there appears to be too much legislation and too much financial fear to ever finish or at least instigate a plan.
Yes, the levee system was not complete from a project started in 1975, and yes, the 17th Street Canal wall was scheduled to be repaired the Tuesday before Katrina hit, and yes, the local officials could have provided buses and shelter for those without means to leave under a mandatory evacuation. All these and more measures are apparently not feasible when somebody’s brother-in-law is running the show making a lot of money doing something he knows nothing about.
Our involvement in Iraq has become more magnified and more questionable than ever, and our dependence on oil is as deplorable as any drug addiction. The old adage that “the chain is as strong as its weakest link” repeats itself over and over in my head. The chasm between the haves and the have-nots becomes disgustingly apparent. The richest man on earth was once a naked, crying, hungry baby. The Christian Coalition and neoconservatives and a lot of other folks like to quote the Bible in favor of their favorite causes, but few pay heed to the quote, “The rich shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Hypocrisy and greed are the destructors here, and we all know it.
As far as New Orleans is concerned, it’s just a place where certain souls converged and might converge again. Meanwhile, this nation will absorb the denial as New Orleans’ people and energy dissipate into the infrastructure. The culture of New Orleans and its people could teach this sexually oppressed, Bible-obsessed, fancily dressed nation a lesson. The reality is some folks understand the gravity of the situation, while there are some who don’t.
There was an AM radio broadcast we picked up near Laurel, Mississippi, around 4 a.m. the Wednesday after the storm when we were reuniting our drummer with his wife and baby boy. The commentator blamed the Chinese for seeding hurricanes in the ocean as a form of terrorism. Two men were discussing this attack on America and saying the Chinese had the ability and the know-how to direct storms at New Orleans, a port city through which a third of our nation’s energy flows. We have some dumb, scared, gullible people in this country, and when the water recedes, we are only as strong as our weakest, dumbest, most gullible person.
You can lead a child to the convention center or you can take them to the White House to dine with the president. Either way, we remain one nation under God, and God is watching. After living in New Orleans for twenty years, I find that it is your own definition of God that makes all the difference.