Every Single Life

In a stark reminder of what it takes to come home and stay, musician Dinerral Shavers was killed yesterday while driving down Dumaine with his wife and children. A drummer, music teacher and part of the city we cannot afford to lose, he was gunned down with the senseless violence stalking New Orleans in ever-increasing statistics.

"Every time you saw him, he was the same person with a great smile," said fellow musician James Andrews. "A wonderful person with plenty of encouraging words. He was going to make it, too.

"He wasn't stingy with trying to teach the kids his stuff. He was a great drummer.

"And through the Hot 8 his music will live on forever. Through New Orleans," James said.

One of Dinerral's band members has been staying in the NOmrf apartment when he comes back to town to work, and he had been happy that the band's gig phone got turned back on over Christmas.

The Hot 8 was most recently known for their second line through the Ninth Ward with David Gregg Andrews in Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke." His mother's home was the one in the movie that floated across the street and landed in her neighbor's yard. Her quote from the movie was that he can't say she never gave him anything.

James is right - Dinerral was going to make it. His band was working on an album and his students are going to march for Mardi Gras - the first marching band the school has ever had, thanks to his teaching efforts.

Seven New Orleans policemen were just indicted for shooting civilians on a bridge post 8/29. Drummer Scott Sherman died under mysterious circumstances in that area. His brother Chris was first told by the coroner's office that Scott was shot in the head, then later told something else. Regardless of the circumstances, he's gone. Their last gig was Dr. Specs Optical Illusions with my husband at Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau party, summer 2005.

I kept passing signs this week on the way to the French Quarter. Rev. John C. Raphael Jr. and his son are on a hunger strike and they stand with their supporters between the lines of traffic holding signs that simply say, "Enough."

The story of Dinerral's slaying was covered locally, and combined with news of the other murder last night. A man whose 9-month pregnant girlfriend was left grieving at the scene.

Let's hope for the day when New Orleans murders no longer happen with the frequency that requires more than one killing per story.

Most international news bureaus have closed their New Orleans offices. I was told off the record by a national outlet not to bother pitching any story with the words second line, devastation or Katrina because the public is no longer interested. So we've been trying to slip around the picket line with "Redefine 8/29." Because I am tired of how hard the rest of the country is working to forget the post-disaster struggle from day to day.

With 2007 approaching, let us hope for the day when the national media again picks up the story of every single life lost in our city.

Every. Single. Life.


A Bad Day in New Orleans is Better Than a Good Day Anywhere Else

Call me a starry-eyed returnee, if only for a week, but a bad day in New Orleans is still better than a good day anywhere else. We earned this visit driving through fog that eventually had one foot of visibility on Sunday night.

Monday was the holiday party at Crepe Nanu. I put such a dent in the shrimp I’m probably barred from attending next year. That’s part of being land-locked and shrimp deprived. Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock talked me into doing Ooh Aahs on “Chain Gang” with We Are The Pretenders, much to the alarm of my husband on bass. (Little plug, they’re playing tonight (23rd) at the Howlin Wolf.) And Frankie Ford represented for young harpists.

The evening descended into Russian Roulette Karaoke with some quality Baby Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me. Singing anywhere near Susan Cowsill is daunting as she harmonizes better than any carbon based life form on the planet. Alex Chilton was too wise to get anywhere near karaoke.

Tuesday was the Maple Leaf with owner Hank who held down the fort uptown during the height of post-8/29 chaos and never did evacuate. He’s talking about getting a mega-generator for future preparedness. Then on to Jacquimo’s for alligator cheesecake, steak and crème brulee. Jack was making the rounds with his own mini-tree, and the next table over was singing four part harmony for no discernable reason.

Miss Elaine shouted “Felice Navidad” to the kitchen staff on the way out and they hollered back like it was a festival. Then to Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge for a couple of Abitas on the house. The midwest isn’t big on free drinks, even if you make a big stink about being an evacuee. It’s getting expensive.

Wednesday was torrential rain all night. Water started rising and cars were back on the neutral grounds. Houses started flooding and the mood dropped. The pumps still aren’t up to par, but no one was talking about what this spring could bring.

Thursday was more rain, dropping off our RE-Define 8/29 shirts off at RetroActive on Magazine and NOmrf landlord Dave cooking for the neighborhood. The rain finally subsided.

And today was paperwork for a donated van from Michal and her husband. NOmrf is passing it along to a brass band. Tonight, I toured the holiday lights on Saint Charles, the French Quarter, then Lakeview.

It was so depressing seeing a still-dark Lakeview that it took Cajun eggnog daquiris and the Creature from the Black Lagoon to turn things around.

Self-medicating? Hell yes. But only as a passenger. Apparently there's a lot of it going around, going by the rising number of light poles knocked over. They’re tilted like stalks of corn in the wind. But then everything looks like corn to me these days.


A Very Myspace Holiday

It's a very MySpace holiday, with more friends still reachable in the virtual world than with an actual address.

The good news is, there are fewer Christmas cards to send out, which freed up today for watching the Saints kick ass. (Who Dat Download)

As Jeff has gigs this week, we're back from Illinois and camping out in the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund apartment. Musicians who have passed through have helpfully left a roll of wrapping paper, a bible and Bass Player Magazine.

The spirit of Christmas has been alive all year with Dave and Molly Wilson in Baton Rouge. Jeff met Dave 2 years ago working on Walter Williams' Mr. Bill Wetlands Awareness
(Series), and even though our family barely knew them, they offered my in-laws an evacuation location on 8/29.

Five people, two dogs, two birds and a canary were welcomed unconditionally, and as FEMA trailers finally materialized for most of the family, Jeff's mom Gloria, her dog, cat and canary are still in Baton Rouge 16 months later.

As incentive for her to move up to Bloomington, I've sent photos of free sleigh rides in the snow around the town square, the masquerade ball for NOmrf across the street, and free gingerbread house workshops at Kelly's (I've got the Abominable Snowman attacking mine, with a graham cracker peace sign in the back yard), but she's happy in Baton Rouge until the elusive Road Home grants reach our family.

We gave Gloria back the family's antique bedroom set so she and the canary could wake up to something familiar, and Dave has devoted himself to restoring furniture, jewelry and every family photo that was retrievable.

He's worked on so many family photos, he can now pick Jeff's baby picture out of a lineup. And he came up with the idea of putting our family piano photo online as a fund-raiser for musicians.

So the couple who started out as acquaintances are now part of our family.

In this holiday season, as we all wait for our court-ordered FEMA explanation letters of why there will not be renewed rental assistance, it's good to have a reminder of the love and support that is still out there for those who have been blessed enough to find it.


A New Suit

Last night a New Orleans musician friend got so disgusted after a disappointing gig he threw his suit in the garbage. I can't disclose his name, or at future shows fans would be wondering if he's wearing the garbage suit.

His wife fished it out before any real damage was done, but it's an example of the lids about to blow for many musicians struggling to get by during the holidays.

Promises dangle but are not fulfilled. Most international news agencies have closed their local bureaus. The Road Home Program has now distributed a whopping 65 grants out of 88,000 applicants. Many national assistance groups have moved away from giving grants and have moved on to raising awareness.

You can't eat awareness.

Some gigs are sparsely attended as 60 percent of evacuees (depending on which survey you give credence to) are still not back and a third of the returnees are considering moving away. It's almost as if the (_________) is trying to (__________) the city -- insert theory of choice because there are too many to sort through and most of them are probably true.

Not exactly a party atmosphere if you go by the numbers, but the party is still lurking in New Orleans. We just got to town and in late December friends are already talking about Mardi Gras costumes, concerts, and carnival cd releases.

The musicians who have made it home are trying to hang in there until the world's biggest free party comes back to town. And their out-of-town brethren write me about wanting to come back home if rents start to drop.

A.J. Piron's was one of the many jazz greats who made his way from New Orleans to the north in the 1920s. When his band members got tired of the cold and the changes in lifestyle, they voted on whether to go back home.

Piron lost the vote and his band left Harlem in the heyday of jazz. New Orleans music has that kind of pull. And it hasn't thrown away its gig suit just yet.

To help keep the music rolling tonight in Boulder, Henry Butler and friends are hosting a NOmrf benefit for Freddie "Shep "Sheppard" of recent Studio 60 fame. Shep started playing music while still a junior high student in the late 1950s.

He bought his first saxophone coin by coin, with his mother who then worked as a maid, chipping in a dollar for every quarter he earned. The result was a $200 horn from Werlein's Music Store on Canal Street. "It was old and raggedy," he says, "but I didn't know it. It looked so good to me.” Shep now lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Since the year is winding down, I'd like to pay tribute to legends we have lost recently including Timothea Beckerman who I wish I had met sooner, Warren Bell, Sr., Charlie Brent, Marshall Seahorn and Mike Frey, Jr. - the 28 year old bass player killed in the French Quarter on the way home from a gig. All are gone too soon.


The Whole Civilized World

In Which Back Yard Tire Fire Learns Crack Alley

I’ve lived in Bloomington for a year as of today, with no prospects of moving home. It must be harder still to make it back to New Orleans and know you can’t stay unless something changes.

I read in NOLA.com that out of the 40 percent who have come back to New Orleans, 30 percent are considering moving in the next two years. That’s constantly reflected in talks with musician friends. Aside from those whose name recognition and touring have increased post 8/29, they sound more worried with each call. They made it back - but for how long with tourism down and crime up? The Road Home is now up to 65 grants out of the billions they were given to pave it.

There's a chain letter circulating that says 58 percent of Americans do not think New Orleans should be rebuilt. It may be true, but it doesn’t stop the draw of home. A grant recipient just wrote, “I can't tell you how much it means to me to know somebody cares. Since the price of gas heating is so high here in Ky. this will help pay my bill. I want to go home but its hard to find a place to live down there.”

Most of NOmrf’s grants go to musicians you probably never heard of stuck in towns I’ve never heard of. An artist’s manager recently told me backstage that “this is the best thing that’s happened to some of these old timers. They’re getting more famous than they ever were.” He’s wrong. No one was better off in the Astrodome and no one is better off now.

Next week, families from around the country are bringing gift cards and volunteering their time in New Orleans. For the second time, we’ll have a trunk full of instruments from WGLT, the NPR station in Bloomington.

Some musician friends in Back Yard Tire Fire are playing a benefit for the local homeless shelter tomorrow night before we drive south. They learned Barry Cowsill’s “Crack Alley” so my husband Jeff can join them on the song. Barry was Jeff’s bandmate in the Stragglers, and he’s a friend we lost to 8/29. It’s strange to think that Back Yard Tire Fire is keeping Crack Alley alive.

Tomorrow is also Jeff’s birthday and we finally have enough friends here to throw a small pre-show party before walking up the street to the show. The charity had reservations about “Crack Alley” benefiting a homeless shelter, but I think Barry would have enjoyed the juxtaposition. A year ago, the same Salvation Army not only let us gather winter clothes to send home to friends and family, they got a list of everyone’s sizes and helped us fill the basket. Bloomington is supportive that way.

It may be a midwestern legend, but rumor is that we live in the building where Abraham Lincoln was talked into running for the presidency. That’s probably true, because there’s a copper plaque at the antiques mall listing of all his failures. It cost $1,100 so I just committed a few to memory. Apparently you can free the slaves, but there will still be a plaque somewhere about everything you didn’t do.

At the same antiques mall, I bought collectible cards about the San Francisco fire’s aftermath. We were supposed to be furniture shopping, but at least I didn’t buy all the disaster cards. That would have indicated that I’m fixated on disaster. Here’s what some of them said on the back:

“The soldiers are just leaving duty from among the refugees at Ft. Mason and returning to their camp at the Presidio . . . But for the gallant services of the government troops crime and looting would soon have become rampant;

“This structure was one of the finest built by the Y.M.C.A. Organization and like other buildings, whether church, saloon or theatre, had to succumb to Nature’s will;

“The wealthy were on the same level with the lowly once more, for when they fled their palatial homes or houses into the streets, they were almost naked and without money, and as helpless to get away as the poorest beggar. For many days after the catastrophe many well educated ladies could be seen in the parks, dressed in overalls and striped sweaters, or in other coarse masculine garb,” (I ended up in donated pink socks as I only packed sandals, and kept being surprised by my pink feet.);

“With spontaneity and liberality without a parallel in history the whole civilized world answered the unvoiced appeal of ruined San Francisco. Not only from every city, town and hamlet in this country, but from over every sea humanity in its profound sympathy showered material aid upon the stricken city and its beggared people. No more amazing instance of worldwide generosity ever has been recorded.”

The disaster cards made me wish New Orleans still had spontaneity and liberality from the whole civilized world. Or at least the 42 percent who care.