Bob Dylan gets New Orleans.
And sweet holy Jesus, I think I get it too.
I’ve been here a lot throughout the years. I have a good buddy who lives here, and every time I’ve come down I’m rolling deep with a hefty number of friends, and this time is no exception. That seems important mostly in that the more friends you have with you the more of them that you can lose, running here and there from one place to another. Then you find them again and no one cares, everyone is happy and it’s time to start all over. That sort of expresses the emotion. I’ve generally tried to live my life like the harmonica solo in “Bob Dylan’s Blues,” which is really the most festive little ditty I’ve ever moved my feet to. This whole city feels like that. Good God, it’s heaven. Oh, also it is a stinking, humid hell-hole.
Do you remember that island in Pinocchio where all the kids go and everything bad is allowed to happen? Drinking and smoking and playing pool and music burbling out of every open doorway and flashing lights and heat and smoke and drinking? And then they all turn into asses? You see where I’m going with this? You know why we have those archetypal images of debauchery and chaos? Because we’re human, and we created them. But we created them because they are inside us—they’re part of our fully formed and nebulous inheritance. It’s like Drinky speaking of the Greek gods—are we insane cause they were or are they insane cause we were? I think I know the answer. There’s no imagining that isn’t born out of the earth. Or else I mean, that there are many different forms of expression that we have access to inside us, and that it’s nice to touch upon some of them from time to time. Or maybe I just mean, go on bender. Act like the Greek gods for a while. Do you know why Drinky even thinks about those kinds of things? Because he’s drunk! He’s crazy! Hey Drinky, move down to New Orleans.
Here’s the thing: New Orleans isn’t like America. It’s a town at the bottom of a giant river, built inside a swamp. When it gets too sticky you don’t wanna do anything. And it’s old. It’s old enough to have built a solid culture before air conditioning. Its houses all have giant porches, its windows stretch from ceiling to floor. Its streets are lined with giant trees that twist and turn and cover everything, their roots cracking through the sidewalk. You know about ten seconds after arrival that you’re “somewhere else.” It’s a hodge podge of life. New Orleans was founded by the French in 1718, given over to the Spanish in 1763, returned back to the French in 1801 and then sold off to America. It had a large Creole population before ever belonging to the United States—a mix of Spanish, French, African and Native-American. That culture, distinctly different than the Anglo-Saxon one of the U.S., has marked it to this day. It’s part of the South for certain, and also unique from it. It has a large and storied Jewish population and a lot of the same European ethnic groups that moved to Brooklyn—Irish, German and Italian. In fact their dialect sounds very close to “Brooklynese,” like pronouncing girl as goil. Wait, wait, now where was Popeye supposed to be from? It sounds like that, like him. And hey, the Popeye’s chain started down here at least.
But New Orleans isn’t a chain or franchise kind of town. It is a giant mess, that’s what it is. At some point each night it leaves me thinking, my god this is a sad world. And at some point each day it has me feeling this world’s overwhelming happiness. But anyway, that’s pretty much the story of reality—that measured up and down. So let’s just please forget the bad things for a minute; there are a lot of them. I love this place. When I first came here I was younger and it learned me something then. There is a joy in that spontaneous arrival of yourself at each new moment. The simplest of things, the interaction. You can celebrate it like an act because it is one; it’s a creation. So what are you creating? What are they creating down here? They’re not creating anything! They’re putting on a dance. And they’re so good at it. Take that away with you and build something. Make it beautiful; that would be nice. Let’s do it cause we’re here, no other reason. Because we love so many people. We don’t want ownership of anything. We’ll keep meeting at all these different moments, over and over again. This life feels so damn long. We’ll lose each other; we’ll come back. Where are my friends? Where are my friends? I’ll find them.
(Originally posted Apr. 24th, 2009 on Takethehandle.com)