Sunday, July 3, 2011

episode 21: finale

Life in New Orleans can be surreal and Treme has made it all the more so. Take the Davis character: Steve Zahn acting out Davis Rogan's life as the bandleader of All That with real band members (Kirk Joseph, Alex McMurray, Tyrus Chapman) is weird enough, but then Rogan himself is on keyboards? Add to that the fact that anyone of those musicians could be seen onstage on a given night in New Orleans, or that you could bump into Real Davis (as happened to my wife Alex twice this week) or pass Steve Zahn walking through Jazz Fest or down Frenchmen Street (as happened to me this spring) and things start getting heady. Spot David Simon out at the Sidewalk Steppers second line parade pushing a baby carriage, or pecking away on a laptop at the local coffee shop, and the separation between reality and TV-land becomes hard to maintain.

Treme has a direct impact on the lives of New Orleanians. Locals speak of a "Treme effect" when we see hoards of spectators out at the Mardi Gras Indian processional on Super Sunday. When we experience in real-life something that happened on TV - like watching a musician arrive late to a gig, in a cab, carrying an instrument without a case - we call it trémè-vu. And there is also the very practical and measurable economic impact that Treme has had on the lives of local musicians and actors who appear onscreen, along with all the revenue that filming a major production bestows on the city.

Treme is especially entangled with my own life because my job is to research the music and culture that remain at the center of the series' depiction of post-Katrina New Orleans. Because the city is the protagonist of the show, and because culture is the protagonist's raison d'etre, the Treme effects and trémè-vus pile up week after week, season after season. The first chapter of my forthcoming book follows the Rebirth Brass Band as they lead the Sidewalk Steppers second line parade through the Tremè neighborhood in the aftermath of Katrina, just as they did in the opening scene of the first episode. The book ends with the jazz funeral for drummer Dinerral Shavers of the Hot 8 Brass Band, which Treme viewers would recognize as a critical turning point midway through season 2. I experienced these events in real time and wrote about them before I ever could have known about Treme, and despite the occasional and irrational feelings of possessiveness I've mostly been excited to see these moments blown up on the little big screen.

I can't say that I've brought the same level of excitement to the weekly blog posts on soundoftreme. My strong reactions to the show are counterbalanced by an utter and total lack of enthusiasm for being a media critic. Ultimately I would rather write a book than a book review. Responding to others' creativity just doesn't give me the same kind of rush that I get from harnessing my own creativity as a writer, teacher, or musician. I'm looking forward to the Sunday dinners and screenings next season, and I'll miss being a regular contributor to an online community of others who love New Orleans culture, but it's time for me to sign off on soundoftreme. Thanks to Treme for giving me something to think about and a platform to voice my thoughts, and thanks to those of you who found me here.