Sometime Post-Mardi Gras 2010

Finally the noise has come down to a level where one can hear a little. There’s still a general background buzz of around 105 db, but one can begin to hear one’s neighbor. The eyes are able to focus at last. The shattered nerves and strained heart and limbs are almost mended. It’s been possible to turn the heat off these last few days, and it looks like we are finally a-hurrying into spring.

No doubt one has read all one can about the months of January and February 2010 here in New Orleans. I was here almost the whole time, but I cannot summon many particular events. We had the great wisdom to schedule the first recording session for the new sea shanty record at the Saturn Bar following the conclusion of the NFC championship game on January 24. The whole city was walking on eggshells and most started drinking early. I was a nervous wreck because of the game, but not for the obvious reason. Were the Saints to beat the Vikings to advance to the city’s first super bowl berth in 43 years, it would be like an atom bomb went off, sending shock waves of hysteria from the Superdome emanating outward until the whole of Greater New Orleans was frothing at its collective mouth. Conversely, if the Saints should choke, the collective despair that would be visited upon the city would cause almost certain paralysis. The pall would be so great that many would be convinced that the sun would never rise again. How then to harness these most powerful emotions to record sea shanties? The genre encompasses both great exuberance and great pathos, but we had bet on the outcome engendering more exuberance than pathos. The music that we had planned on covering was lively and joyous, and we didn’t have many tragic ballads to fall back on.

I didn’t watch much of the game. My stomach was in knots and it was taking all my will not to drink too much. The printer was refusing to work and I needed to get the lyrics to “Paddy Doyle’s Boots” in everyone’s hands. For most of the game I was outside the bar pacing or bent over with my head in my hands trying to get enough oxygen. I was in the bar for the last minutes, however. The place was pretty packed and the emotions were off the charts. What started as a small group gathering on Sundays to watch the game with Eric had grown week after week until there were dozens of people crammed up to the bar to watch the 2 widescreen TVs (there were actually 3 TVs, but one was not hooked up to the satellite, and got the local broadcast 3 seconds earlier than the other two, so half the bar would know about the outcome of a play before the other half, causing psychic turmoil. Eric was forced to turn it off). For the deciding field goal in overtime I couldn’t watch and was walking away from the TV into the other room. When Hartley nailed it for the win the whole place went berserk. The image I will always have is of the room where the bar and the TVs are erupting like forty alka-seltzers in a half-pint of water. The air above the crowd was filled with missiles—bottles, food, full drinks flying in every direction and crashing into the ceiling. Hugging, kissing, slapping and all the usual grabbing. Stomping and screaming. Furniture overturned, people and clothes drenched. As everyone carried on I went to check in with Goat, who said the mics and the gear were all ready to go. All we needed was Carlo and his drums. Carlo was at the game. Given the expected mayhem in the vicinity of the Superdome we figured it would take about an hour for him to get down to the Saturn Bar, enough time for the extraneous football fans to clear out of the Saturn Bar, and for the chorus to settle down just enough to focus on the business at hand.

Of course that never happened.

Carlo got there much quicker that we’d expected—or so it seemed. All I know is I was getting my guitars and music stand ready to go and in he came like a hurricane holding his drums high over his head spouting some shit about the game and about the Saints destiny in general. I seem to remember he entered to some sort of fanfare, and that there was applause or something—my memory is quite hazy. I think I had ceased to abstain from drinking at this point—not that it made any difference. In a few minutes we had Carlo’s drums set up and everyone in position and were going to begin the session with an a capella version of “Paddy Doyle’s Boots”. We called for quiet in the bar, but there was absolutely no chance. Nobody had left. They were all still all over the place whooping it up in the bar and chattering on the balcony. When we realized that the majority of the people in the place had no idea that a recording session was going on we just decided to go for it and damn the consequences, the reasoning being that there could be worse things than capturing the verbal fallout of the greatest single moment in the city of New Orleans up to that point. The thing was turning from a piece of Art into a Document, and to hell with it. For the next two or three hours we screamed and hollered with feverish abandon, and what we may have lacked in skill we made up for in sheer gusto. There are moments on that recording that will raise the hairs on your neck, as will be seen when we get around to finishing and putting out the fucker.

May 18 2010
As this is now several months past the events described here, my memory is not very reliable. Now, after the NFC championship game there were two weeks to get through before the Super Bowl, and Mardi Gras was gearing up. Looking trough my calendar from that time—late January to early February 2010—I see that I had a gig most nights. The Tin Men played our annual Krewe du Vieux parade show at DBA where I think I lost 5 pounds. The Tom Paines made a disastrous attempt at gaining a foothold at the Apple Barrel, playing for tips on Saturday afternoons until it became clear they had no use for us. Mainly I remember a city with a strange look in its eye. Most everyone (there was one guy I knew who steadfastly insisted he had not and would not watch a football game) was preoccupied somehow with the Super Bowl game to be played on February 7th in Miami, football fan or not. Even Kourtney, who is no admirer of the gridiron, was busy doing the graphics for Carlo Nuccio’s “Glory Bound” Saints song CD. Lots of people really didn’t know what to do and were fretting about things like where and how to watch the game. Fear of jinxes and general superstition were running rampant. Josh Cohen went on at great length in a bar to me how we should all just go on with our regular Sunday football watching routines; if you usually watch at a bar, go to the bar--if you watch at home, stay at home. He was pretty emphatic about this and gave some sort of analysis of vibrations and patterns to support his injunction.

On Super Bowl Sunday Kourtney had to work at Mimi’s to help run the projector, so I was left to my own devices as to where to watch the game. Over the course of the season I had watched about half the games. Most of the ones I saw early in the season were at home on TV with the sound down very low while folding laundry or cleaning the room or attending to some other task. I went by the Saturn Bar early in the season for a bit of one game and saw Eric Broyard, Quintron and a few other people sitting quietly, for the most part, in their stools. I went back over to the Saturn for the New England game and it was a totally different scene, with at least forty people there. Eric had gone out and gotten a bunch of pizzas. CC Adcock was there with a fabulous girl. It was a scene. From then on, when I could make it I’d try to get over there to watch at least some of the game. For the Super Bowl Eric was going to put together some kind of spread with pizza along with some other food. I also knew about another party in the neighborhood hosted by the folks who run Iris, the amazing restaurant in the French Quarter. The food at this party was sure to be excellent, and I would have scads of friends there. But I was torn: What about Josh Cohen’s Super Bowl Mojo Directive?

I thought about it for two seconds and headed over to Ian and Laurie’s. They had a roast pig! TVs in every room! Free beer! All my friends were there! I sat down in their front room to watch the kickoff. By halftime with the Saints down by four and with the fate of the city at stake I put down my plate full of gnawed bones and quietly left on my bicycle to return to the Saturn Bar. By the time I was settled in and had a drink in my hand and some sort of a vantage point at the end of the bar halftime was over and the game about to resume. The Saints started doing better and soon I was joined by Luke Allen. We ordered some whiskey and before long we noticed that whenever we put our go-cups of whiskey down something bad would happen for the Saints. As long as we kept the cups in our hand things would go the Saints way. Given our well-honed sense of civic duty we determined to keep those whiskey glasses in our hands for the rest of the game. Bailee behind the bar was very helpful in topping off our cups as we held them aloft and before you knew it the Saints had won the Super Bowl. If I had known it was going to be that easy I would have done it years ago. When you look back on the 2010 Super Bowl you have Bailee Broyard and Josh Cohen to thank. As well as the good people at John Jameson and Son Distillers Dublin, Ireland.

Of course now there was Mardi Gras to get through, but before that was the not insignificant matter of the parade scheduled to be held on Tuesday February 9 to celebrate the Saints’ incredible season (the parade was to be held regardless of the outcome of the Super Bowl game—the Colts had fourteen people waiting for them at the airport in Indianapolis upon their return). The parade was to follow a Mardi Gras-style route downtown around Lee Circle and over to Canal Street on Tuesday evening. The problem for me was this was exactly the time for the weekly Tom Paines happy hour show at the Circle Bar. The entire New Orleans metro area was expected to attend—about a million people—all crammed into the Central Business and Warehouse districts, as well as the adjacent French Quarter. It was decided that rather than fight traffic all the way there only to park several miles away we would simply walk from our homes in Bywater, make stops for cocktails along the way and generally make a day of it.

We made it through the French Quarter and the CBD and were getting to Lee Circle just around dusk. The circle itself was too crowded to think about trying to make it up that way, so we went around the block to attempt the approach from the Uptown side. There the crush of humanity was unimaginable. When we finally reached the building that houses the Circle Bar we encountered a complete impasse. There was simply no moving forward. We tried to hand our guitars through the window, but this proved unsuccessful. Twenty-five feet ahead, at the door of the bar, someone-presumably the doorman-noticed us and gestured for us to hand our instruments over the heads of the people crammed between ourselves and the door, crowd-surf style. Ordinarily neither Jonathan nor myself would take a chance casting our livelihood into a sea of strangers, but this is a testament to the level of goodwill saturating the city. We strained to get our guitars over our heads and passed them forward, and watched as they made their way up to the doorman. It took us another thirty minutes to get that last twenty-five feet, and by that time it was dark and the parade was starting. I was feeling something beyond thirst when we were finally safely inside, but after a cocktail or two we were ready to play some folk music. Amazingly, if you fill people with enough alcohol, and the mood is just right, they will dance to almost anything. Folks were finally dancing to Mississippi John Hurt again, as is proper, and I was treated to two unbelievable sights: people shaking it at a folk show and the gleam of the Vince Lombardi Trophy out the window of the Circle Bar shining down from atop a Mardi Gras float.

Rest assured Mardi Gras came off just fine, as usual. A little cold this year, but just fine if you were in the sun. There was some grumbling about having to endure Mardi Gras twice in one week, but most folks took it in stride. Me, I lost a bicycle somewhere between Super Bowl Sunday and the following Tuesday, but then again I never did like that bike all that much.

I should probably mention here that my record “How to be a Cannonball” took Album of the Year honors at this year’s Big Easy Awards. This is probably due to Gambit Weekly’s foreknowledge that I would be on an airplane at the time of the ceremony and would therefore be unable to comment on the mashed potatoes, or any other aspect of the buffet (which I hear was quite lovely). Many thanks to the Gambit and all you nice people, including but not limited to the Threadheads, who lent me the money to make the record in the first place.

If you made it to Chazfest 2010 thanks for coming. And thanks to Peter Horjus Christine Horn and Anne Churchill who did the door and Rob Schafer and Kimberly Lancashire for schlepping ice. The folks behind the bar deserve great credit and their names are Whitney and Brett Babineaux, Meg Lousteau, Ian McNulty, Geoff Coates, Adam Cohen and Bill Malchow. Thank you Cathy Hughes for your help in the merch booth. Special credit goes out to Karley Frankic, who not only helped with the merch booth, but secured all the city and state permits. Extra special big thanks go out to Dannal Perry who did so much to help organize so many aspects of the event. Thanks to all the bands and all the vendors for helping the day come off without a hitch. We love you all!

Should probably just get into the general news here. The Tom Paines CD is finally out thanks to some key loans from nice folks including the Threadheads (thank you all). The record is classic American Folk Music and was produced by Mark Bingham at Piety Street Studio. It sounds terrific and you should have one. They are available on this website and will be available on iTunes soon. I recommend getting the actual hard copy, so that you can see the outstanding artwork whipped up by Kourtney Keller, and check out Johnny and myself chilling with the founding fathers.

The Tin Men are about to embark on a quick trip up to the Northeast, along with the shy and demure Debbie Davis, to back up Paul Sanchez in Washington D.C. at a place called 6th & I on Thursday June 3. We will also be at the Michael Arnone Crawfish Festival somewhere out in Jersey June 4 and 5. Details about these shows are on the “shows” page here at www.alexmcmurray.com

While I’m up in the New York area, I’ll be doing a one-off show at The Living Room on Ludlow Street in the city Sunday June 6, where I’ll be joined by some great NYC musicians including but not limited to Bill Malchow. Again, details are on the site.

Also in June is another West Coast trip. On Sunday June 13 I’ll be at the Live Oak Park Fair in Berkeley, Café Van Kleef in Oakland on Thursday the 17th, and Saturday June 19 at the Mojo Bicycle Café on Divisadero in San Francisco with Glenn Hartman. I have been promised a trip to Napa and I’m looking forward to it.

Summer is here. Look for a string of dates in the Northeast late July into early August. Stay tuned to www.alexmcmurray.com for details as they accumulate.