By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Simons writing team includes familiar collaborators: Eric Overmyer, a Treme executive producer and co-creator, first worked with him on the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street; David Mills, a Treme producer, adapted Simons book The Corner for HBO; the novelist George Pelecanos was cajoled into joining The Wire staff early in its run. Simon also added two new faces: Tom Piazza, a New Orleans transplant and longtime resident whose nine books to date include two post-Katrina offerings, the nonfiction treatise Why New Orleans Matters and the novel City of Refuge; and Lolis Eric Elie, a former columnist for The Times-Picayune, who, along with director Dawn Logsdon, created the documentary Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. Its a great room, says Overmyer, a TV veteran; Piazza, whos more accustomed to writing in solitude, found himself seduced by a sense of collective improvisationnot unlike, he admits, that of a brass band.
The cameras focus on a petite, doe-eyed violinist (Annie, played by Lucia Micarelli) and a gangly young man (Sonny, played by Michiel Huisman) at the keyboard. He plays a fairly rudimentary arrangement of Careless Love as she adds sweet-toned harmonies and knowing obbligato.
A blonde in a pink cable-knit sweater and brown skirt, purse slung over her shoulder, stands before the musicians with two friends, another woman and a man, all three bearing the look of polite excitement common among tourists who happen upon street performers in New Orleans. The trio claps, drops some cash, attempts small talk: Theyre from Madison, Wisconsin. First time in New Orleans. Came down with a church group to gut houses.
We saw everything in the news, what was going on in the Ninth Ward, the blonde says.
Yeah, mutters Sonny. Yeah, everybody talking about the Lower Nine... Let me ask you something: You ever even heard of the Ninth Ward before the storm? So whyre you so fired up about it now?
An awkward pause. Annie jumps in: A-a-anybody have any requests?
What about... I dont know... something authentic?
Real New Or-leeeens music? mocks Sonny. How about, When the Saints, you know, Go Marching In?
Annie: Thing is, traditionally, Saints is extra.
Sonny: Because every cheesehead from Chowderland wants to hear Saints.
Hes kidding, Annie quickly adds. We love to play Saints.
Cut. McKay has a brief discussion with the actors, focusing on Annies awkward pauseits gravity and duration. The context it reveals. There is, in fact, a sign on the wall in the dusty auditorium of Preservation Hall, just down St. Peter Street: Traditional requests, $2. Others, $5. Saints, $10. A curious if somewhat unspoken tension surrounds New Orleans culture; it concerns the faces that culture wears, the ways in which its bought and sold, the role it plays, and the meaning it holds depending on what neighborhood youre in and to whom you speak.
Simons new series draws its name from Tremé, which is considered by some to be the oldest black neighborhood in America and has long been a hotbed for New Orleans jazz. When I arrive at Lolis Eric Elies house there, workmen are attending to floorboards in need of replacement due to termite damage. A New Orleans native, Elie bought this home some 12 years ago. He pulls out a hardbound copy of New Orleans Architecture, Volume VI: Faubourg Tremé and the Bayou Road, which explains that the house sits on property originally deeded to College dOrleans, sold for $250 in 1827. He points to a piece in that days Metro section of The Times-Picayune, regarding the partial collapse of a building on South Rampart Street, in the historic Back o Town section, where early jazz history was scripted by the likes of Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong.
The fact that David and Eric have chosen to do this show, Elie says, is testimony to the power of New Orleans culture and the effect that its had on their lives. The show will help these things stay alive, because it will place a value on them. Part of whats so frustrating about New Orleans is I dont know of any Louisiana politician who really understands our culture and values it appropriately. Perhaps having an outsider who has a degree of notoriety and outside validation might possibly, in my most optimistic moments, help people understand how preciousand, these days, fragileall this is.