Monday, January 14, 2008

It's going to take a few posts to get my last 36 hours in New Orleans documented, but I want to start with Clint Maedgen. During my week in the city, I talked with cab drivers, bartenders, waiters and waitresses, shop owners, and street performers about New Orleans' recovery, and each one said that the city still hasn't regained the same magic and vitality it had before Hurricane Katrina. They said that things are more complicated and more difficult, and they worry that the loss of affordable housing and the pending arrival of a Trump tower (among other things) will morph New Orleans into a caricature of its former self. New Orleans needs champions of its traditional identity right now, folks who can speak for the true character of the city, and through their talents, attract interest and assistance. Clint Maedgen could be one of these local heroes.

I found him by accident -- I was scanning newspaper listings for music events and read an article for the January 10th show at Tipitina's, described as an evening of local music with Clint Maedgen and another band, Rotary Downs. It seemed like a good idea to check out the favorite sons and daughters while visiting, so we had dinner at Martinique's on Magazine Street and then ambled the 15 or so blocks back to Tipitina's, Professor Longhair's old club, on Napoleon. It was a great walk, the sidewalk crowded by traditional victorians and shotgun cottages on one side and overgrown shrubs and palms on the other, all enhanced by the glow of the street lamps. The club had the feel of a typical alternative venue, an open, no-frills, warehouse-like space with a giant image of Professor Longhair over the stage, "holding" a functioning wall clock between his thumb and forefinger as if it were a pocket watch. I saw immediately that an ambitious project was being assembled on stage, one that included a pretty large collective with strings and horns.

Clint Maedgen took the stage at about 11 o'clock. The band consisted of violin, cello, horn, sax, keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. Maedgen was flamboyantly attired in a suit and tie, black hair spiked straight up from the top of his head, with dark eyes and thin moustache. At first, there was a minute or three of a pure crescendo, instruments layered into a rich, blessed din, and then the show took off. The music veered from alternative rock to 3 a.m. lounge to jazz to soul to experimental, and the array of diverse players made me think of other (although stylistically different) multi-instrumental collectives such as Super Numeri as I listened, transfixed. Maedgen's voice was incredibly clear and strong as he stalked back and forth, acted as band director, played rhythm guitar, and mopped his face dramatically with a brightly-colored kerchief. At times I compared him to Stuart Staples of the Tindersticks, Kid Congo Powers, and James Brown. After the set was over, I felt incredibly lucky to have picked Tipitina's that night and to have seen something unique and wonderful.

The next day I wanted to know more and suddenly tantalizing bits of information were everywhere. You can learn more about Clint Maedgen from his mySpace page (although the music clips are a more traditional, dixieland jazz/blues to my ear, check out the neat Complicated Life video) and from the Preservation Hall website. Along with the Preservation Hall band, Clint performed the National Anthem earlier last week at the LSU vs. Ohio State bowl game (there are clips on YouTube -- the Fox TV clips seem to have the best sound). The New Orleans Times-Picayune selected him as one of "8 People to Watch in 2008" (I spotted someone reading the article across the aisle of the airplane on the way back home). I would still like to know more about his other projects, Liquidrone and The Bingo! Show. It seems that Clint has been the guest vocalist for Preservation Hall for the past 3 years, where inheritor/new curator/keeper of the faith Ben Jaffe has been operating a foundation since Katrina to assist New Orleans musicians and preserve the city's traditions. Please give these folks your attention and support their endeavors, because they've got an amazing talent, and if we can just help to buoy them up, they'll do a lot to bring a whole city with them.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The French Quarter is wreathed in fog tonight, softening the details on the buildings, lending a silver gleam to the pavement. On Frenchmen Street, a sweet, red 1960s-vintage E-type Jaguar convertible emerges from the mist like a vision, resting easy in a gravel lot. The Jag has no plates, the rear driver's side tire is slowly going flat, redline just a bit out of round, and someone has written "Love me, wash me" in the dirt on the plastic rear window of the soft top. I dream of sliding into the driver's seat and motoring away into the soft white nothingness, with the V-12's exhaust note rattling the clapboards on the old houses.

For a while I listened to a band called Trifuncta in the Blue Nile. The set was a mix of originals, John Scofield, and Sonny Rollins. The band was more than capable and the music went down smoothly. The Blue Nile is a great space, with painted egyptian friezes over the bar, a large, black cat statue perched above the door, and a mural of a seated musician behind a pair of large drums with a meditative expression and four arms. The tiled floor was cracked and tilted in every direction and plastered arches and columns separated the bar from the dance floor and tables. New Orleans is a paradise of small, dark bars and clubs full of strange details and unusual patina.

Later, there was an obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets. It was a quiet night at the cafe and most of the waiters were seated against the wall, but even in repose their faces and postures were unusually expressive. They ranged from men in their twenties to a gaunt old character who had probably worked there for the last 35 years. I imagined each of them sitting for an Andy Warhol Factory screen test as I juggled my warm bag of beignets (and about a quarter of a box of confectioner's sugar) and coffee. It was the perfect end to a day of gustatory delights that started out with a Famous Ferdi Po' Boy at Mother's on Poydras Street, which reminded me of dear old Quinn's restaurant in my own town, a lovable Mom and Pop also wreathed in its own local tradition and history.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Wandered through the French Quarter of New Orleans tonight. Bourbon Street shows the aftermath of this afternoon's preparation for the LSU vs. Ohio State game -- the asphalt is littered with broken strings of beads, empty plastic beer cups, and the dregs of spilled digestive systems. While the well-lubricated fans were glued to flat screens in bars or ensconced in the dome, the less-traveled streets in the Quarter were beautifully empty. Alleys and courtyards with wide flagstones were full of promise. Baubles gleamed in the windows of closed antique shops. Near Jackson Square a small table glimmered with candles where tarot reader Fox waited for a customer. It was too quiet, she told me, with most people too busy of late to stop and have their cards read. I was no help to her, since I already know how my cards will read and didn't care to see them laid before me again. The police were out in force tonight, and since LSU has clinched the game, they're probably going to be busy. On the way out of the Quarter, I spied a group of five NOPD officers on break in a small cigar-convenience store playing cards while seated at a round table, faces creased in concentration as they scrutinized their hands...a strangely Norman Rockwell moment in the Crescent City.