inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #0 of 50: Ed Ward (captward) Tue 28 Feb 12 14:17
    
John Swenson's written a mighty fine book here, and the Well is proud
to have him in Inkwell. 

Leading the discussion will be the Well's David Wilson, who has this
to say about himself:


I’m an anthropologist who worked in government developing and running
subsidized housing programs.  I know how government bureaucracies work
and how they spin the public in normal times and in crises.

After living in exile for over 30 years in Minneapolis, MN (a good
government state), I’m back home in New Jersey (a bad government
state) in a town on top of the Palisades within view of New York City. 
I’ve been writing a book for the local Jewish Historical Society on a
history of my hometown, Paterson.  You’ve seen such photo books in the
Local Interest section of Barnes and Noble.  I also program an
internet radio station that focuses on jazz, latin music, and old r&b. 
<http://www://loudcaster.com/channels/1015-hipjukebox>    And next
fall I’m scheduled to start teaching a class at a local college.

I nurtured my long-standing love of music starting out by trying to
stay up at night  listening to Symphony Sid’s radio program and
supplementing that with trying to sneak into New York clubs like the
Five Spot and Birdland.  In 1961 my friends and I all played
instruments and we wanted to be Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.  
Much later I put together a large music collection, listen to that,
and read a lot of music history.

I’ve never been to New Orleans, but always appreciated the diverse and
distinctive music that comes out of that musical galaxy.  However I
did live in France and in a Tunisian peasant village where music is
part of the culture in the same way as it is in New Orleans.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #1 of 50: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 29 Feb 12 13:05
    
And says John Swenson:

I'm a journalist who's been writing about popular music since 1967. I
edited the website jazze.com for Knit Media and worked as an editor at
Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Circus, Rock World, OffBeat magazine and
others. I was a syndicated music columnist for more than 20 years at
United Press International and Reuters. I've written 14 published
books
including biographies of Bill Haley, the Who, Stevie Wonder and the
Eagles and co-edited the original Rolling Stone Record Guide with Dave
Marsh. I'm also the editor of The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album
Guide. 

My latest book, New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New
Orleans, chronicles how musicians returned to the city to rebuild
culture and infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina. It's a mix of
politics, social commentary and music journalism reflecting my
involvement in the city since moving there in 1999 to write about the
culture. I currently split my time between New Orleans and my
birthplace in Brooklyn New York.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #2 of 50: David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 1 Mar 12 08:10
    
Welcome to the WELL John.  You'll find that we are interested in your
book that covers the attempts by the musicians to preserve the
distinct
New Orleans culture that was almost wiped away by Hurricane Katrina. 
We're ready for you.  I hope you are ready for us.

Someone once said that New Orleans culture is made up of 3 things: the
music, the food, and the mix of different types of people.

And there seem to be 3 types of narratives that tell the New Orleans
story with Katrina as the latest chapter.  Ned Sublette wrote 2 books
which trace the culture through social history and ethno-musicology.
David Simon has dramatized the story in a compelling way in his HBO
series "Treme."  And your book takes a journalistic approach and
couples it with music criticism.

Could you start out by discussing how you see New Orleans culture and
what makes it so distinctive?  Then talk about what first alerted you
to the attempts at preserving it and how that guided your approach. 
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #3 of 50: Gail Ann (gail) Thu 1 Mar 12 17:38
    <scribbled by gail Thu 1 Mar 12 17:38>
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #4 of 50: Gail, posting for John Swenson (gail) Thu 1 Mar 12 17:40
    
(Sorry, I need to do that over. I copied it and formatted it badly.  
John Swenson passed along this response to get started, and he will be
back here himself as soon as he can.)

 From John:

New Orleans culture is unlike any other in the United States in that
its roots in Native American, imported Afro Caribbean and Catholic
French and Spanish cultures are so close to the surface. The French
colonists were isolated from the rest of North America and kept strong
Frankophone sympathies past the French revolution and even after the
Spanish took control. New Orleans was bought by the United States in
1803 but remained a bilingual French/English culture well into the
20th century. 

Consider that slaves brought to work on cotton fields in rural
Louisiana and Mississippi in the 18th century converged on New Orleans
after emancipation. In New Orleans African Americans had long 
been able to trade openly in the markets and buy their freedom. Former
slaves became small farmers and sharecroppers in the region or lived
in the city proper as craftspeople, dock workers etc. African culture
was therefore imported and nurtured in the region, and blacks became
political leaders there during Reconstruction. When the era of Jim
Crow 
brought white supremacy back to New Orleans blacks were prevented 
from holding places of notoriety in the community at large and
prevented 
from even mingling with whites. This brought the black community even 
closer together and helped foster the rise of jazz as a means of black

American expression. The music accompanied black culture from the 
cradle to the grave and was passed down through the generations by 
family members. Note that the forced depopulation of the city after 
the flood following Katrina broke up many of these communities and 
became in a very real sense the final leg of a centuries-long African 
diaspora. There is a very real danger of this culture being lost 
forever as the generational link may well have been permanently 
severed along with the neighborhoods that have disappeared or been 
almost completely gentrified since Katrina. We won't know until
today's 
kids grow up if they will seek to carry on the traditions of 
New Orleans jazz, Black Indian gangs, brass band music and 
second lines as well as R&B and funk. 

The attempts to preserve the culture are being made by the musicians
themselves, which is the main subject of New Atlantis and a subtext of
the HBO series Treme, which parallels the book's storyline and
references many of the same events. My approach has been simply to 
tell the stories of these musicians as I've observed them and 
interacted with them. A number of the subjects in the book have died 
since I began my research. They all made the ultimate sacrifice for 
their culture, and had the best reason for doing so -- they passed it
on. 
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #5 of 50: David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 2 Mar 12 07:06
    

When the reclamation phase came after the initial rescue and
stabilization phase, there was a lot of talk about redevelopment
/community development strategies.

In city planning and community development circles, someone came up
with a simple statement that I thought was pretty profound given New
Orleans character--give the musicians the resources to put their lives
back together and that would stimulate the economic development.

Simple, yes.  Doable, yes.  But the neighborhoods where the corruption
lived weren't badly affected.  
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #6 of 50: John Swenson (floating541) Fri 2 Mar 12 10:28
    
There was real concern at first about whether the musicians would be
able to return, or if the city would be taken over by developers who
would turn it into a tourist only destination a la Disneyworld. For
"Green spaces" read golf courses; for restoration read the gutting and
gentrification of neighborhoods and the closing of hospitals, low
income housing projects and schools. The lower ninth ward escaped the
fate of being turned into a giant country club but Charity hospital was
closed, the low income housing projects were shuttered and the school
system was gutted. The musicians came back on their own because they
knew they couldn't play the music they'd been playing all their lives
in other places. It was unique to New Orleans. Though musicians
received some aid mostly they came back and did the work of gutting and
renovating houses themselves and started small businesses to provide
services that were no longer available after the flood.  
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #7 of 50: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Fri 2 Mar 12 13:56
    
i've just started the book and really like it.  I don't know to what
extent the book touches on this, but it is interesting to compare the
aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans with the aftermath of Ike in Galveston.

One of the big differences is that Galveston has no deep and historic
culture of music.  I think some of the power structure in Galveston has
seized on Ike as a way to "cleanse" the island of some of the large
population of poor folks that have lived there for generations.
Unfortunately, because there is nothing similar to NO's musical culture,
there has been little that can articulate the plight of Galveston in a
manner that has resonance with broader american culture, if that makes
sense.

Ike decimated all of the public housing on the island.  In addition, after
the hurricane, the city changed the building codes in ways that made
rebuilding prohibitive for many low-income residents.  A lot of families who
had owned their homes for generations could not afford to rebuild and had to
sell their property at a loss.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #8 of 50: Monic (monica) Fri 2 Mar 12 19:41
    <scribbled by monica Fri 2 Mar 12 19:42>
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #9 of 50: Monica Brady (monica) Fri 2 Mar 12 19:44
    
John, welcome to the Well.  I'm enjoying very much "New Atlantis" and
the stories that you are telling.  I'm also getting turn on to
musicians who seemed to have passed me by like R&B artist Jessie Hill.


My first question is -- the first chapter describes an extraordinary
recording session on Piety Street led by Tab Benoit.  The descriptions
are rich, and I'm wondering how you came about getting that story. 
Did you bear witness to the event?

The story of the Andrews Family weaves throughout various chapters,
and you dedicate a few glossy pages of photographs of the Andrews
brothers by Elsa Hahne.  Are you close to the Andrews?  
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #10 of 50: David Wilson (dlwilson) Sat 3 Mar 12 06:38
    
To add to what <monica> is asking about the Andrews family--I thought
your reporting of the conversation between Trombone Shorty and his
older brother was key to understanding how they think about their
culture.

The older Andrews said that they knew the old songs and could play the
hell out of them before Katrina, but playing them now means so much
more to him.  They connect much more emotionally now.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #11 of 50: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Sat 3 Mar 12 09:00
    
hi John, and welcome. i only received the book on Wednesday, so am not quite
as far into it as i would've liked to join in the conversation here. i'm a
huge fan of many of the musicians who you cover and am enjoying all the
history a lot.

seems to me watching Shorty play up here in PA and turning people on to that
sound (like at last year's Philadelphia Folk Festival, of all places) is a
good indication of seeing the traditions carried on, and brought to new
ears.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #12 of 50: Ed Ward (captward) Sat 3 Mar 12 10:49
    
I should add that if anyone outside the Well is reading this and wants
to contribute, just send an e-mail to inkwell[at]well[dot]com and
we'll put it up here for John's informed comment. 
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #13 of 50: John Swenson (floating541) Sun 4 Mar 12 10:44
    
I've never been to Galveston but its relationship to New Orleans is
longstanding. When Lafitte's pirates were run out of Barataria in the
early 1800s they went across the gulf and set up their own principality
in Galveston.
Before Katrina New Orleanians who were concerned about the threat
hurricanes posed to the city due to the loss of wetlands read Isaac's
Storm, the great book about the historic Galveston hurricane, with
great interest. 
I'm sure the poorest people in Galveston were the hardest hit by Ike.
This is how political reality in the United States works these days. As
Bod Dylan once said "If you go down in the flood it will be your own
fault."
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #14 of 50: John Swenson (floating541) Sun 4 Mar 12 10:49
    
Piety Street studios is two blocks away from my house in New Orleans.
I drop in there from time to time and when special sessions go down
sometimes I'm allowed to be a fly on the wall. I augmented my own
observations with interviews to draw the best picture I could of the
historic VOW sessions. 

As a working journalist in New Orleans I've gotten to know Troy, James
and Glen David Andres very well. I go to their shows as much as
possible and marvel at their development as humans. I've gotten to be
friends with each of them and very much enjoy their company.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #15 of 50: John Swenson (floating541) Sun 4 Mar 12 11:00
    
Shorty is amazing. His band plays a different set every time I've seen
them in recent years. I was at the Philadelphis Folk Festival (selling
New Atlantis in fact) and was amazed at how Troy understood the
difference in this audience and played a more folk music oriented
concert, getting the crowd to sing along lustily to "Saints." Another
night he'll be emphasizing the hard rock end of the show, or the band's
ability to play James Brown-level funk or accompdate guest rappers. He
is at his best when he lets the show rest on his own shoulders. He
opened up for Bootsy Collins at the Montreal International Jazz
Festival and absolutely ruined the crowd. It was so spectacular a
performance that Bootsy had no way of following him. 

James has become one of the elder statesmen of New Orleans music. He
has really blossomed since Katrina and is always worth seeing.

Glen David Andrews can top even Troy on his best nights. He is a very
improvisational performer whose charisma is off the chart. In club
dates he literally interacts with every single person in the place. If
you ever get to New Orleans make sure you catch one of his Monday dates
at d.b.a. You won't believe what's in store for you. Also check out
his album Live at Three Muses. 
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #16 of 50: David Wilson (dlwilson) Sun 4 Mar 12 14:20
    
From reading your bio John, I see you are from Brooklyn and you split
your time between there and New Orleans.  From your name I conclude
that you are not from 19th St. and Ave. J, or Bed-Sty, or East New
York.  Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst?

So given your Brooklyn street cred, how did you wind up in New
Orleans? And could you share your first reactions to the ways things
worked there?
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #17 of 50: John Swenson (floating541) Mon 5 Mar 12 13:20
    
I was born in Methodist Hospital in Park Slope in 1950. Grew up in
Flatbush, moved back to what used to be called South Brooklyn (13th St)
in 1988, watched with incredulity as crack streetcorners became
gentrified. Took a job in New Orleans in 1999, bought a house in the
Bywater and watched with incredulity as crack alleys became gentrified.
Some of the same people I knew from New York moved into my
neighborhood in New Orleans. I have been splitting time between the two
places pretty much equally. I came to New Orleans because I found less
and less of the music I ran into elsewhere inspiring. I don't regret
the decision, especially since the flood, as I've gotten a chance to
see a very creative place infused with passionate young people.
Reminiscent of the lower east side in Manhattan during the 1970s. First
reactions? I'd been going to New Orleans frequently for many years. My
first reaction when I started going there was that this place couldn't
actually exist. Life is lived there to the fullest. It's incredibly
corrupt and violent of course, but the core people are wonderful and
very, very alive. It seems like everywhere else you go life has been
deadened and of course corruption and violence have many faces.
Manhattan is the most corrupt and violent place on the planet (along
with Washington D.C.) if you take into consideration what the banks,
super uberrich and the politicians they control are doing to the rest
of us. In a sense nothing "works" in New Orleans. People make the best
of what they have and infuse life, even in the face of extreme poverty,
with great love and caring. I like staying in the neighborhoods rather
than going to the CBD and tourist places, which are getting more and
more like the rest of the country. Watching the Mardi Gras Indians roll
on the back streets uptown on Mardi Gras Day is one of the most
satisfying experiences I've had since I was a teenager. 
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #18 of 50: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Mon 5 Mar 12 16:21
    
well, hell, now I'm sorry I didn't set foot into vending at PFF this year.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #19 of 50: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Tue 6 Mar 12 10:22
    
meanwhile, i have a question really unrelated to everything we've discussed
so far as far as "roots" music is concerned but kind of in line with the
topic of carrying on NOLA music traditions.

is there an heir apparent to the Radiators? having been a fan, and in later
years friends with some of the guys, i feel like there's a niche that's gone
now. certainly for us old fishheads. but i know people who went to MOM's
this year were very disappointed with the
"replacement". is are any youngsters out there doing anything like they did?

as an aside, was very happy to see your piece on Ed Volker in Offbeat. miss
him, as I do all the guys. but i was not surprised by his choice at all.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #20 of 50: John Swenson (floating541) Wed 7 Mar 12 08:06
    
There really could be no replacement for the Radiators. They defined
the position they occupied. But all the component parts are still
operational so I encourage Radiators fans to see Camile Baudoin's
Living Rumors, the Suspects featuring Reggie Scanlan, the Malone
Brothers, Raw Oyster Cult and watch carefully for Zeke Fishhead
sightings. The Suspects are quite good and sometimes Camile sits in
with them. Otherwise enjoy the music as it continues to reconfigure
itself. I've been really knocked out recently by Cyril Neville, PGF,
Tab Benoit, the Happy Talk Band, Helen Gillet and various Mardi Gras
Indian hybrids often featuring Monk Boudreaux (101 Runners etc). Monk
is at a career apogee in his 60s and on March 10 he reunites with his
partner from the Wild Magnolias Bo Dollis. Both Bo and Monk's sons will
also be part of this show.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #21 of 50: John Swenson (floating541) Wed 7 Mar 12 08:17
    
This just in:

NEW ATLANTIS WINS JAZZ TIMES CRITICS POLL 
The 2011 Expanded Critics' Poll
JT's critics choose their favorite musicians, books, DVDs and more
03/05/12 
JazzTimes 
After the encouraging response we received to last year’s inaugural
full-length Critics’ Poll, we decided to make it an annual tradition.
Our regular contributors were asked to vote in the same categories that
make up our yearly Readers' Poll, ranking their top five choices in
each. The poll focuses on artists’ achievements during 2011, as opposed
to their careers in whole.
Winners below are bolded; runners-up are listed in order of number of
points. THE EDITORS
BEST OF MEDIA
Book 
<B>&#8729; New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New
Orleans by John Swenson (Oxford University Press)<B> 
&#8729; Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice by Tad
Hershorn (University of California Press) 
&#8729; What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later
Years by Ricky Riccardi (Pantheon Books) 
&#8729; All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennettby David
Evanier (Wiley) 
&#8729; Blue Notes in Black and White: Photography and Jazz by
Benjamin Cawthra (University of Chicago Press)
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #22 of 50: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 7 Mar 12 08:50
    
Congratulations. You beat out some heavies. 
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #23 of 50: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Wed 7 Mar 12 09:19
    
No kidding.
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #24 of 50: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 7 Mar 12 09:24
    
Very nice!
  
inkwell.vue.435 : John Swenson: The New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans
permalink #25 of 50: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 7 Mar 12 09:42
    
congrats, man!
  

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