Saturday, September 10, 2011

Treme (1st season)

2010,  David Simon & Eric Overmyer -- downloads

Have you ever lost everything? I mean, all worldly possessions, your home and your way of life? No, I haven't either nor anyone I have ever known. If you turned on the news in the last few months, you saw many examples of such with the tornado belt being hit again, fires currently going on in Texas and the less-than-spectacular but still devastating to some hurricane. Of course, Japan's earthquake and tsunami still haunts many despite it leaving the news. But have YOU experienced it?

Katrina was expected to be just another hurricane to hit the Louisiana coast and turn at the last hour, like it had so many times before. Like the residents of New York City recently, most packed up and left but expected to come back to their homes after it passed.  Again, like NYC, many also stayed because  they couldn't leave or because just because they were tough mofo's toughing it out. Then the levees broke and up to 80% of the city was flooded. Many of those who left lost their homes, their neighborhoods and many of the friends who stayed behind.

Treme picks up almost six months later, with a view from a small musically & culturally rich neighborhood called the Tremé, and on the musicians, business owners and colorful characters that live in the neighborhood and surrounding area.  The show begins as a combination of love story to the music and lifestyles along with laser focus of the political situations cluttering the rebuilding of a beloved city. But as the season progresses the music becomes second nature and the political commentary drops away as we see more and more how people were just affected. We begin to share with them.

Take John Goodman's character Cray. He's not directly affected by the damage of the flood, being from a nice upscale white neighborhood obviously inland and high up. But the institutional failures have him ranting on YouTube when he should be writing his novel. His city was hurt and failed by every body of government and that pisses him off even though his personal stake was very little. We, as most likely outsiders, feel his anger with him but also his sense of wasted effort. But as time passes, as episodes fade into the next, we see his malaise settle in, the depression of knowing that no matter how much you care, it happened and so much was lost.

We also have his wife Toni, an attorney fighting a handful of battles against the corrupt and inept legal system that mishandled everything about the policing and control after the hurricane. Sure records were lost and computers fried, but she gets to experience just how the system did not care one iota for the folk left behind, whether criminal or family member. Yeah, she obviously has money but I don't think we see her take one dime from anyone through the entire season. But again, this is her city and she is fighting for it, case by case.

In contrast we have Antoine Batiste, the itinerant trombone player living with his latest baby mama in a crappy apartment on the edge of town. He goes from gig to gig playing where and when he can for whatever money is offered, stiffing the cab drivers for a few bucks each time. Through him we experience the music inherent to the city, that the hurricane couldn't take out. He doesn't have a home or a car or even a job, but he has a lifestyle. He literally lost everything but his trombone and his people.

That brings up the music.  While the commentary on the politics gives way to the personal stories, the music is inherent to each and every episode.  As in, every fucking episode has a gig or an extended pause where we sit and hear people playing New Orleans music. I won't even attempt to say I know the music or comment on what is real or not but let me say I got the impression, from character comments and such, that this was the real music of NOLA. This wasn't the Disney dixieland and gospel that we know from TV and movies. I also know nothing about jazz so I won't comment on style but the raw music being played by dozens of musicians who all know each other in dingy little clubs all over town just felt authentic.  I am sure that to an aficionado of the scene, the faces and names dropped are astounding. And even I could tell that even the background characters dripped authenticity.  This show wanted us to know how ingrained the music is in NO's life and how important it is for the country to treasure it.

It wasn't just the music we heard,  but the culture of NOLA that we learned about. I do mean learned. Have you ever heard of Mardi Gras Indians? Do you know what a Second Line is?  These are things I never conceived of let alone heard of. We know Mardi Gras costumes are elaborate and colorful but did you know one group merged them with native american cultures not only creating the prettiest costumes you have seen but also adapting the severe reactions to authority? You've seen the somber funeral marches where brass bands play slow tunes and people walk slowly behind the casket. But have you heard the more joyous ones where people celebrate life while dancing & shimmying their way, sometimes having them emerge spontaneously without even a casket to follow. By showing us these elements found no where but in NOLA, we can can be led to understand the value of saving a city that, for the most of us, might be know for drunken college kids and beads for tits.

That was season one, the introduction to the city and it's people. We experienced the joy of the music and the tragedy of what they went through. We saw the black hearts in politics and systems and how most people just rolled their eyes and got on with  their lives. We were given characters to care for, to mourn with and some who you wanted to fucking shake. I wonder what season two will bring us?

And yes, I am still craving a beignet.