Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) turns out in full Indian regalia. Eddie Vanison is on the left.
Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) turns out in full Indian regalia. Eddie Vanison is on the left. Paul Schiraldi/HBO
Season one of Treme concludes, if it were possible, with both a bang and a whimper. There's dancing, brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians on parade, cameos from New Orleans living legends, sunshine, springtime, renewal. There's also one funeral, another in the works, a chilling flashback, a series of departures and a set of reminders that the tragedy of New Orleans didn't end until long after Hurricane Katrina.
That juxtaposition of joy and pain has been central to the show; it's appropriate that the season finale ends with both a funeral and its second line parade. The characters in this drama deal with a lot of compromises and profound losses, but the culture of New Orleans has pleasure built into it. Perhaps that too is one of the show's messages: it'll take a lot more than a hurricane to strip the city of its fun.
Josh Jackson is here one more time (this season, anyway) to discuss the soundtrack to the drama. Our Treme archives are here; HBO's full playlist is here.
Patrick Jarenwattananon: So you and I were actually at the rehearsal where all those New Orleans superstars were gathering: Allen Toussaint, Lloyd Price, Irma Thomas, Dave Bartholomew ... they pulled out all the stops. Let's run down those scenes: what got played, and by whom?
Josh Jackson: Truly a murderer's row of New Orleans music. Lloyd Price sang "Stagger Lee," a real-life murder story turned pop hit. Archibald gave it the first New Orleans R&B touch, but Price had the hit. He even recorded a sanitized version of it for Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Get the original, non-censored take.
Art Neville sang "Cha Dooky-Doo," an early recording he made for Specialty Records. Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, sang "Time Is On My Side," a song the Rolling Stones eventually covered. The living legend of rock 'n' roll and producer extraodinaire, Dave Bartholomew, backs her on trumpet. Pretty nice blowing from an 89-year-old man, eh?
I presume that Clarence "Frogman" Henry might have sung his 1956 Argo Records hit, "Ain't Got No Home," though we don't see it. He's the one who says "I ain't got no hand" at the poker table. I like that the old-timers fleeced Antoine as they gambled during the rehearsal breaks. Fortunately, this was a friendly game, and there was no outcome similar to "Stagger Lee" — that is, no one was shot.
PJ: Listening to Steve Earle work out the words to his new song (and the episode's exit music) with Annie, I was struck by how self-referential the lyrics were to New Orleans. (By the way, dig Earle's guitar, a la Pete Seeger's banjo [edit: and Woody Guthrie's guitar before it]: "This machine floats.") He's talking about "Vieux Carre, Lower Nine, Central City, Uptown" and Annie finishes the line with a "jockamo fi na ne." It bugged me at first watching the show, but I've come to understand that this is just how a lot of New Orleans music is: acutely self-referential. I mean, check out John Boutte's theme song — written long before the series started production.
JJ: You even hear it on the rap music that Daymo is listening to on his way to DeSautel's — Juvenile's "Nolia Clap." New Orleanians are fiercely loyal to their city, if you haven't noticed. I also think so much of the internal reference to the city in its music and literature is what keeps its cultural identity intact without preserving it in amber. The fact that David Simon translated all this insider knowledge to a broader television audience is laudable.
John Boutte — what a great singer. I remember that his duet record with pianist Glenn Patscha, Scotch and Soda, turned me on to his talent. He rarely gives solo shows like he did for Janette. She's a lucky lady.
PJ: Like in the first episode, we get a nice, long montage when Davis plays a cut on WWOZ: this time it's "My Indian Red." Whose version is that? And I noticed it's the first song during the Indians' parade too, followed by "Hey Pocky A-Way."
JJ: Danny Barker. Zenith Records, 1951. Barker made a handful of Indian songs: "Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing," "Corrine Died on the Battlefield," "Chocko Mo Feendo Hey" and this version of "My Indian Red." You can find them on a CD reissue of drummer Baby Dodds' Jazz a la Creole, the record that Antoine pulls before he evacuates pre-Katrina. Highly recommended.
"Indian Red" is indeed the formal announcement of the gang hitting the streets as they leave Poke's Tavern. Clarke Peters is a very lucky man. He's one of the only outsiders to learn these rituals.
PJ: Interesting decision to make the big Mardi Gras Indian scene — the big reveal — on St. Joseph's night. I think it was the right one. For one, it really is an insider thing, I gather; the whole nighttime, everybody is asleep scene makes that clear. There aren't many people who have seen two Indian tribes meet.
JJ: It is a rare thing of beauty that everyone should witness at some point in their lives. I suspect more people may look for it as a result of this series — March 19th, if anyone's interested. For the record, Donald Harrison looked stunning, yes? His tribe, Congo Nation, carried the banner of his father, the late Donald Harrison Sr. The elder Harrison founded the Guardians of the Flame, the same tribe for whom Albert Lambreaux masks as the Big Chief. Respect for respect.
PJ: One more Lambreaux family thing. I think Treme left the whole jazz wars, old-school vs. modern jazz thing between Albert and Delmond at a good place for now. When father and son try jamming together on a Louis Jordan song, things quickly get heated. "All you do is talk!" Delmond finally says — and really, all this back and forth is just talk: hot air, perpetually unresolved, self-evidently a bit stupid.
JJ: These arguments about "Chinese music" are silly, but they're still fun. There's also an inside joke in this scene. Albert and Delmond are fighting over a Louis Jordan song. It is worth noting that actor Clarke Peters wrote the book that became the stage play Five Guys Named Moe, based on the music of Louis Jordan. You also hear Jordan's music playing in the background of an earlier scene in Poke's Tavern.
PJ: If this really is the end of Janette (no! she was lovely) then at least she had a proper send-off. Driving under live oaks, eating po-boys, getting a nap, dancing to John Mooney and the Soul Rebels Brass Band, getting in a little quality time with Davis for the road ...
JJ: "Drink a Little Poison Before You Die" — ha! They ate po-boys at Domilise's on Bellecastle Street uptown. Davis refers to Uglesich's Restaurant, now closed, and Parasol's in the Irish Channel area, which also has good po-boys. These are all local institutions. By the end of the night, Davis and Janette are at the Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, where Elie Kazan filmed the adaptation of Tennessee Williams'
Baby Doll Pretty Baby. Try the martinis.
PJ: Any other thoughts about this season? What do you want to see happen in season two? The only thing for sure I don't want to see happen is for Annie to get mixed up with this Davis character!
JJ: I'm ready for Sonny to exit, but I think we'll still see him for a while. What's so bad about Annie and Davis? I'm for it. I'd like to follow Janette a while longer, and I think it would be good for the show to get out of New Orleans a little more. It would be nice to get more outside perspective a little more frequently.
I'd also like to get Delmond to WBGO for an interview on The Checkout. I think a few well-positioned questions could show you more about his character ... but hey — I'm just another person that wants to insert himself into the narrative! I'll let the very capable writing team continue their alchemy. I'm happy to watch what happens.
PJ: What did you make of the end sequence? It's certainly plenty heartbreaking to see everybody — including Daymo — in their pre-hurricane stages, doom impending. But as LaDonna seems to be saying, even finding out why and wherefore won't bring closure: the best everybody can do is to move on. It's also what the show seems to say with not showing Creighton's funeral.
JJ: Creighton's comment about there being no closure in real life comes into focus. Yes, sad stuff happens in this world. Good people suffer. Your options are to live with music or die with noise, as Ralph Ellison wrote. These characters choose desperately to live.
PJ: That's especially true at the episode's conclusion, with the second-line dancing (and the Treme Brass Band) at a funeral. Even in death, life is celebrated — or something like that.
JJ: Release is a very powerful idea. Shakespeare might even be delighted to see his famous Hamlet speech taken so literally: "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil." In New Orleans, the dead are not the only ones who get to shuffle. Still we dream.