(The Worst Best Day Of My Life)
I spent my first year in New Orleans as a Yankee transplant, and I was there to work.
Between endless months spent in windowless recording studios with the occasional 15- people-shoved-in-a-van-for-thousands-of-miles road trips spent with The Wild Magnolias, my personal agenda of weaving my cultural experience in a meaningful way with all that New Orleans has to offer daily had been placed on the back burner.
I had made a pretty severe commitment to that agenda. I left a pretty sweet life in Syracuse, NY to start at the bottom of the New Orleans totem pole, completely from scratch at the age of 38. This was not exactly a pragmatic life choice, but it was one that needed to be made. If I was truly to be a New Orleans-styled musician, then I had to be from New Orleans, and soak it up from the sidewalk as a native albeit a transplanted one. Otherwise, I would have been just another culture vulture. Dues had to be paid, and shots to the body had to be taken.
This was a pretty huge gamble with my life's path. I was guided by three little ideas:
1. You're Only On The Planet Once, So Do Not Be Ruled By Fear
2. Go Big, Or Go Home.
3. Listen To Your Heart, and Follow It Without Question.
So after that year of work, I finally got my chance to start living like a native, and The Universe delivered me the romance of a lifetime, a runnin' podner, a best friend, and tour guide on schedule, in the guise of the woman of my dreams.
Now at the onset of this relationship, the temptation would have been to spend every spare minute in bed. That decision certainly could have been rationalized, and there was plenty of experiential evidence to back up that game plan.
But to me,Mizz Kimbly Ann Krohn was not only my living conduit to lust in the most mundane sense, she was the living embodiment of lust for life on all levels. I was in awe of her Joi De Vivre then, and I still am to this day. So on a beautiful New Orleans Sunday, (October 12th 1998, to be exact), after our now customary "wake-up-and-go-fifteen-rounds", we popped out of bed to seize the day, and experience all that New Orleans and life in general had to offer, with Mizz Kimbly acting as my personal tour guide.
First stop, Uptown for a Second Line... my first of what would turn out to be many.
Second Lines are held by various private neighborhood-based benevolent organizations, called "Social Aide and Pleasure Clubs". The roots of the traditions and functions of these societies were imported by via slave ships, and they are still very much alive in the present day. A "Second Line" is technically a component of a parade or funeral procession that follows the "Main Line", but on this day, a Second Line is a street parade hosted by one of these neighborhood clubs. It's a party, baby, and its all about community unity.
Walking into a Second Line scene is like walking into a joyful human tornado fueled by the celebration of life. So as Kim and I parked her signature caramel colored Super Beetle and folded ourselves into the parade like two little white chocolate chips in a bowlful of brownie batter, this is the scene:
Folks are all set up along the parade route, selling beer and bar-b-que out of the back of flatbed trucks. There are several brass bands, playing the polyrhythmic and polytonal funk that is the mother root of modern music, and they aren't moseying down the street: they are motoring a a pretty fast clip, and following the band are what seemed to me to be thousands of people dancing, ripping and running, whoopin' and hollerin': Flying into the air and swatting street signs, drenched in sweat, cooking in the hot summer sun and humidity so thick you couldn't cut it with a chainsaw.
And all those people are there for one thing, and one thing only. To levitate, elevate, and celebrate life itself... a massive throng of humanity with a singular purpose.
When you feel that for the first time, your life will be changed forever .
Kim took me to the crucible, and threw me in. As we danced we sucked down Heinekens like water; and in that sweaty cyclone of the energy of creation and the palpable life force that is all that is good in humanity, I thanked God for putting me in the path of this woman.
You can never give enough thanks, folks, and this was one of those moments where gratitude must be delivered in real time... it was clearly not the time for ego driven, self-centered jackassery.
The second line and the sponsorship of those parades by Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, is mostly about caring. Caring for your neighborhood and caring for your own, in a city that at these moments is ironically labled as "the city that care forgot".
Next on the day's agenda was pool scamming, a time honored tradition of any French Quarter resident of limited means evidently, but one that I wasn't aware of at the time. The tour guide was about to show me how it was executed.
We were hot and sweaty, so we hopped in the car, stopped off home and grabbed some appropiate swim togs, and walked to The Hotel Monteleone.
The "Pool Scam" on the surface is pretty easy. Basically, you just walk in like you own the joint as a much valued guest of the hotel, and head for the pool; to relax, swim, hang out, and enjoy some poolside cocktails paid for on a cash basis.
But I was a stranger in a strange land, and a paranoid New Yorker to boot.
Me: "What if we get caught?"
Mizz Kim: "So what?"
These, were words to live by in New Orleans, but I didn't know that yet.
We waltzed right in the front door through the opulent lobby of this Royal Street Luxury Hotel, and went to the roof top pool. We sipped cocktails, swam, and lazed in lounge chairs until the sun started tucking itself in for the night. The cabana boys and bartenders packed up, and we closed the pool.
As the sun finally dipped below the horizon line, we hopped in the women's shower to wash the days funk off, but instead decided to create more, and made love as the soap swirled down the drain. "Love, Rain Down Over Me", indeed. A fitting end to a most perfect day.
But my tour guide wasn't done with me yet. We hustled back to Frenchmen Street to Snug Harbor to catch Danillo Perez's first set.
Snug is the premier jazz showcase club in New Orleans, and located about half a block from Kim's apartment on the corner of Chartres and Frenchmen St. We got dressed, and moseyed on down to the club.
Kim knew George the manager, and he let us skate into the show for free. Can you say "The best tour guide EVER?"
Perez is a Panamanian pianist who is on the forefront of modern jazz. As we started with jazz in its purest raw form, we end with its current progeny.
Perez is a monster musician. His show was all about the same concepts:Communal elevation, levitation, and participation, but in the context of a Jazz Club. He ripped the top of my head off, plain and simple, and put me right next to the force of creation. Now THAT'S a fitting end to the most perfect day in my life.
As we walked home, I spoke of my utter amazement of my adopted home town. All this access to all that is amazing is just a daily occurence in the Beautiful Crescent City... on any given night you can walk down to Donna's on Rampart and hear a world class pianist like Henry Butler for five bucks, and Charlie (Donna's Husband) will feed you a free plate of Red Beans and Rice! Hop a cab, go to the Rock and Bowl and see Snooks Eaglin, or head uptown to the Maple Leaf and check out Jon Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentelman...on Sunday, head to Second and Dryades to the H& R Bar for Mardi Gras Indian Practice. Go see Ernie K Doe or Allen Toussaint at Tipitina's French Quarter, or pop uptown to the original location to see Dr. John. Or just stay put, because invariably a parade was going to pass by your front door.
The music, the culture, and the history eneveloped your very existence like the abundant spanish moss hanging from the oak tree lined boulevards. It was inescapable.
And as I was sharing that revelatory moment with Kim, we took the left hand turn onto Chartres toward her front door steps, we saw it. Tons of flashing lights on the corner of Elysian Fields knocked us out of our ecstatic reverie.
Several squad cars of the NOPD were on the corner, less than a stones throw away from the front door.
I told Kim to go upstairs, and walked down to the corner. There in a pool of blood was a large man, shot muiple times, his body mutilated. And I knew him.
The Po-Po had just arrived, so the crime scene hadn't been cordoned off yet.
I told an officer that I knew the guy. They hadn't I. D.'ed him yet.
Me: "That's Raymond Myles"
Po-Po: "Raymond Who?"
Me: "Raymond Myles, The Gospel Singer".
I gave the Po-Po my name and address, and headed for Kim's third story walk up flat.
In shock, I thought about the fact that only a few days before, I sat with Mr. Myles in my courtyard. He had a record out on NYNO records, and their offices were in the slave quarters attached to the house I was living in at the time.
That's the real New Orleans folks. The one that the board of tourism doesn't want you to know about. It is a crucible, but there are two sides to it, one of light, and one brutally evil. My perfect day ended in utter abject horror and shock.
I trudged up three flights of stairs, and steeled myself to break the news. It was going to be a long night.
It was just another day in the city that care forgot.
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THANK YOU KINDLY,
COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"