Monday, May 24, 2010

episode 7: gigs

One of the most representative exchanges of dialogue in Treme was back in Episode 1 when chief Albert's daughter Davina reluctantly left her father to live in the flooded remains of Poke's bar. She calls her brother Delmond for help, but the musician tries to recuse himself:

DELMOND: I’ve got gigs.
DAVINA: We all got gigs, Delmond. Life is a goddamn gig.

Everyone in Treme is doing a balancing act on a highwire: getting gigs, keeping gigs, playing gigs, and trying to finish the gig and wind down. One thing I remember about New Orleans after Katrina is that everybody seemed to be working overtime - regular work but also rebuilding, finding contractors, dealing with insurance, staying in touch with displaced friends and family, etc. - and most everybody seemed to be partying overtime also - drinking, eating, just about everything but sleeping - to counteract the work and suffering. It was zaniness that became normalcy because it was so routine, and the ensemble cast and episodic scriptwriting of Treme is ideally designed to capture the everydayness of the lunacy.

Life is a goddamn gig and Treme is all about the layers of responsibility that the gig entails:

- LaDonna searches for her brother Daymo, and when she finally locates his body she has to withhold the information from her family so as not to obliterate the joy of the first Mardi Gras season since the flood.
- When he's not teaching, Creighton holes himself up in his home office to plug away on his blog, er, I mean literary masterpiece, while his lawyer wife Toni singlehandidly saves the world.
- Annie gets an audition with the Pine Leaf Boys and then purposefully blows it, seemingly out of a sense of responsibility to her loser boyfriend/busking partner/piano man Sonny. (OK, so life is not a goddamn gig for everyone. The only thing Sonny seems to work at is his cuckoo crazy pose.)
- Janette is forced to close her restaurant and downsize to a roving BBQ trailer, selling her kitchen items to uberchef John Besh for some pocket change. (Katrina temporarily took away buildings and brought food trucks in its wake, particularly "taco trucks" operated by new Latino arrivals.)
- Even rolling stone Davis McAlery shows some determination in this episode, slinging his CDs, brokering a deal with a judge, and helping Janette get the BBQ fired up @ Bacchanal wine bar.

Albert Lambreaux is on more of a quest than a gig. He's broken into the unflooded-but-shuttered BW Cooper housing projects (aka The Calliope), occupied an apartment, notified the media and police, and ignited a community protest against HUD/HANO. There were actual protests against the blatantly racist housing policies post-K, and they were somewhat effective in getting a tiny percentage of public housing back open, though most (including The Calliope) have been demolished to make way for mixed-income housing. It's an effective dramatization to have the protest sparked by a Mardi Gras Indian chief, who is traditionally a figure of both fierceness and fraternity within the community.

And finally there's Antoine Batiste, who moves through this episode with a degree of quiet determination that we haven't seen from him yet. Antoine gets steady work in a brass band that welcomes arrivals at the New Orleans airport (yes, this gig has long been a way of promoting cultural tourism), but as usual, his success is put in perspective by his trombone nemesis Troy Andrews, who arrives with his older trumpet-playing brother James from the Portland Jazz Festival, and takes a moment to sit in with the band, make Antoine eat his trombone dust, and then have his chauffeur escort him to the limo. (James and Troy play the 1960 New Orleans R+B hit Ooh Poo Pah Do, written and sung by their grandfather Jessie Hill, with the unforgettable line: "I'm gonna create a disturbance in your mind.")

After the gig, Antoine goes to visit his mentor Danny Nelson in the hospital but finds he has passed, which leads to the inevitable jazz funeral. "You gonna second line back?" asks Nelson's daughter. Antoine responds something like "Danny would give me hell if I didn't," and the Royal Players Brass Band strikes up the old spiritual "I'll Fly Away," which is the standard choice to mark the shift between the period of mourning to the post-burial celebration of death. Even death is a goddamn gig that creates responsibilities for the living.

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