By Doc Wendell
I can still feel the rain-kissed breeze traveling vastly across The Mississippi River down onto Decatur Street; The daydream inducing intoxication of the ancient Cherrybark oak trees and the sad, wistful Spanish moss tempering the rhythms of the adolescent street drummers banging furiously on plastic buckets, lost in that deep Southern mid-day funk found nowhere else on Earth. New Orleans. A man like me could disappear forever here. Yes, that sounds perfect. You’re expected to be something or someone in Los Angeles. I no longer have the energy to present any image of myself to anyone anymore. As a massive crowd passed me on a late Saturday morning on Jackson Square moving towards St. Louis Cathedral, it dawned on me that I could get lost in the sea of already slightly drunken faces for an eternity with my lady by my side. And no one would know.
Time and nature both move at their own pace in “The Big Easy.” The music is a soundtrack of America in all of its glorious, unabashed splendor. None of that jive rock- blues, smooth jazz, or fake bop here. Frenchmen Street will not allow any of that. No amateur posturing at all. I never thought this could be. I was seeking total anonymity of being and it was waiting for me with its skeleton key in hand. I didn’t even want to take notes on the various bands and musicians I witnessed. I wanted to live the music, take it all in and not report on it in under 200 words. My sweetheart and I wandered from club to club, chowing down on shrimp and grits at The Maison while listening to a sprightly young Traditional Jazz band paying tribute to the late, great Sidney Bechet. The tenor saxophonist and trumpeter both cooked beyond belief. Next we moved onto to the world famous Louisiana Music Factory record store across the street where local blues great Little Freddie King was just finishing off an in-store set. The more immersed I became in the whole scene, the more my identity melted away. suddenly a torrential rain storm blasted Frenchmen Street like a cannonball. We darted over to a club called Vaso for more real blues and a dry refuge. As we attempted to shake off the rain and listened to what looked like a 16 year old boy playing like T-Bone Walker, a fallen down, stone drunk woman seated next to me asked me for some spare change to get something to eat. We stayed for a few more numbers until we witnessed what looked like Katrina all over again outside. It was like a monsoon. Even the smell of the unforgiving rain felt ancient but we had to think quickly and so we jumped in a cab, drenched to the bone, but alive. A new alive.
The rain had washed more of what I felt I had to be away forever and the feeling was sheer ecstasy. Ghosts haunt every twist and turn of the city and I wanted to join them with one last joyous funeral procession. I contemplated what it would be like to exist with no physical form, no name, no legacy, just a faint feeling of something unknown that passes too quickly to process. The voodoo priestesses and grand illustrious cemeteries understood this desire all too well. What lead me to this frame of mind felt like a near nervous breakdown before arriving in The Crescent City. How I got there is no longer relevant. I found a new realm of survival to chase all the way down. Everything else now is just circus peanuts and gravy.
I left New Orleans with a calm I hadn’t felt in 5, maybe 6 years. What one might define as death breathed new life into me. Actual death always seems to be waiting for me in Los Angeles but I knew I would return someday soon to the city where life and death dance together in that dance of the gods.