That’s the phrase used by the American Experience: New Orleans commentator to describe “the big noise” or brass/jazz band music that echoes through this city during Carnival season. Funny that the only two things on my Must Do Prior To Leaving Earth list that I have checked off are seeing an aurora borealis and riding in a Mardi Gras parade. And if that music doesn’t bowl you over like that fascinating light show, live a little.
High/lowlights from the show:
– At first glance, I thought too much time was devoted to Backstage At The Rex Ball; on further consideration, go ahead and let America know that this city has its Old Money royalty and traditions (which aren’t limited to white folk alone). If they had only relayed the money, pomp and artistry that goes into Zulu every year as well.
[My favorite line was by the Uptown woman: “Rex is the soul of this city.” At this time D was on a potty/kitchen break, and when I mentioned that quote to him, he came back with, “A black man said that, right?” We burst out laughing.]
– Our pathetic float from Krewe du Vieux 2006 was visible in the background while a member of CRUDE explained the Katrina-Rita-Wet-Spot float. Ashley was missing from the Buy Us Back, Chirac mime box. *boo hiss*
– Sculptor John Scott amazed me with his erudition and sensitivity through a breathing tube.
– Obviously, someone at the NYT doesn’t see past the surface.
In between the moments of hype, however, the program provides an often fascinating look at the city“s history. It’s all the more interesting because it is completely at odds with the talking heads“ glowing comments. They say what a model of multicultural tolerance the city is, but the history lesson documents odious episodes of racism and bossism and shows how they produced, by the time of the hurricane in 2005, a city marked by alarming poverty.
Sure, all that boisterous music is great, but only up to a point. Louis Armstrong, a New Orleans native, gets his due in the program, but when he returned to the city, famous, in the 1940s, he couldn’t smile away the Jim Crow segregation he found there. They treat me better all over the world than they do in my hometown, the program quotes him as saying.
Multicultural co-existence does not materialize out of nothingness and cannot maintain itself without tension and debate. It is not a state of nirvana, which once attained requires no more work. Instead, it is a journey marked with new challenges at every turn. We are not a static and homogeneous people, and there is no better place to realize this in America than in New Orleans. When we forget the meaning behind those glowing comments, or fail to heed the colorless and zenith-reaching strains of the boisterous music, we fail as a people.
New Orleans is an excellent manifestation of all America is and can be – ingenuity, provocation of the senses, the cultural confusion of the melting pot and the heights and abysses that come with experimentation as a society. Just because some parts of the experiment blew up does not mean we throw the baby out with the floodwater. It is up to us whether we merge into the cool-down cycle of the rest of America (a tragedy for a country so young) or take the best of ourselves and try again.
As Tennessee Williams said, “Instinct … directed me here, to the Vieux CarrÃ© of New Orleans … I couldn’t have consciously, deliberately, selected a better place than here to discover — to encounter — my true nature.” Whether this multi-cultural and multi-faceted being stays here or goes, she will have seen her true nature in this city and, for that gift, will always fight for its survival.