Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Sound of Music Hurts

The Sound of Music Hurts

For musicians in New Orleans post-Katrina, a job is a job, unless you’re Antoine Batiste. Full of embarrassment, initiative and grief in the most recent episode of “Treme,” the weight of Antoine's unstable music career bears down heavily on the trombone player who desperately wants his big break. An impromptu concert with Antoine and other freelance musicians takes an interesting twist, when award-winning jazz musician Troy “ Trombone Shorty” Andrews joins the group. He plays alongside Antoine. As if the unspoken competition between the two men wasn’t enough to bruise Antoine’s pride, the death of his mentor brings him to tears.

Davis on the other hand has no reason to cry. The joke of a political campaign he sporadically organized gets steam from his popular theme song and carefree approach to possibly being elected. His bid for office ironically develops into an opportunity of a different kind. A judge makes the wannabe city councilman an offer and without hesitation, Davis accepts. However, as anyone knows with politics in New Orleans, Davis's compromise could turn out to be as rewarding as eating nails.

Chief Lambreaux eats more than his ego and pays a painful price for his decision to defy an order to vacate an apartment in the Calliope Housing Projects. His act of civil disobedience leads to an altercation between police and the bullheaded chief. I’m sure you can guess what happened when police entered the apartment and closed the curtains to keep news cameras from capturing the encounter. Lambreaux put himself in the delicate position of breaking the law because he wants the city to open the concrete housing development to residents longing to come home.

Creighton longs for a day when the country will respect New Orleans and its recovery efforts. In what is his routine since the beginning of “Treme,”the Tulane University professor spends his time composing video diaries on YouTube. His content amounts to insults and innuendoes that criticize and strategically targets everyone from president George Bush to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, for the Katrina-fatigue the country seems to comprise. Creighton’s disgust jumps off-screen at you as he spews every vicious word he can muster to send his message to anyone who’ll listen. He is still, however, falling further behind on the novel Random House wants.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Creighton will finish the novel? Is Lambreaux doing the right thing? Will Davis regret his decision? What’s Antoine’s future?

For more on “Treme” and to catch up on previous episodes, scroll down and read other blog entries. The show does not air tonight.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mardi Gras, Politics & Problems

Mayor Ray Nagin made quite the name for himself in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Many may agree, Nagin's words of comfort and encouragement often ended up doing more harm than good to his administration and reputation. To show the mayor just how disappointed and disgusted returning residents are with his administration, Creighton, his wife and the couple’s 15-year-old daughter dress up as sperm cells and parade through the streets of New Orleans with a Mardi Gras Krewe. The float behind Creighton’s family is an oversized Ray Nagin with an erection.

The sperm cell costumes give Creighton the attention and satisfaction he wants but the national attention that’s blanketed New Orleans in wake of Katrina changes what Random House wants from Creighton. A representative of the book publishing powerhouse visits Creighton and informs him that the company is willing to forgive his six year blown deadline, if he agrees to spin the novel, initially created to highlight the 1927 flood in New Orleans and give it a post-Katrina twist. Creighton is livid and stuck because he spent the publisher’s advance and does not want to comply with the new guidelines set by Random House.

Davis springboards his campaign for city council by enlisting the help of scantily clad women, struggling artists and a relative who’s a borderline alcoholic. Local newspaper headlines call into question Davis’ campaign slogan: “Davis Can Save Us.” During a campaign forum on a local television network, his inability to seriously answer questions emphasizes his inexperience at politics but does not diminish his drive to stick with his one-man-band commitment to make New Orleans better.

Chief Lambreaux gets an offer he vehemently refuses because he sees it as an insult. When a city housing representative tells Lambreaux a councilman pulled strings to get Lambreaux a FEMA-issued trailer, he wastes no time rejecting the trailer and gives the representative a piercing stare. The trailer was supposed to be the answer to Lambreaux’s request for temporary housing to help displaced members of his Indian tribe come home. As annoyed as Lambreaux is with the city’s refusal to reopen the Calliope Housing Projects, his son, a well-respected jazz musician is equally perturbed with his father. Lambreaux is so wrapped into ensuring his tribe comes home, he disregards the father-son bond his son aches to build.

Life continues to play a long, loud and sour note in Antoine’s life. After he finds out he got stiffed by a loose-knit group of band members on an impromptu tour, he gets a tip about a local event. Kermit Ruffins tells Antoine about a debutante ball, where he can fill-in as a trombone player. The problem with the act of kindness from Ruffins is Antoine needs a tuxedo for the event. His live-in girlfriend, ignorant to the care a tuxedo requires, washes the tuxedo. Let’s just say Antoine looks young in the too short tuxedo.

What did you think of the plot and characters in this episode? Send your comments to Maniko Barthelemy at newsheels@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

CRIME, CHANCES & CONSEQUENCES

Who shot two people at the end of a traditional second-line parade in New Orleans, shortly after Katrina? That question and many others may get answered tonight in the sixth episode of Treme. In the latest episode of HBO's drama that takes an in-depth look into the lives of families who returned to New Orleans, despite the city’s despair, the main characters and their lives open up to a long-awaited steamy and spicy gumbo of controversy, confusion and consequences.

Antoine gets a break he couldn’t anticipate but it’s one he certainly appreciates. As he struggles to get some sort of normalcy in his chaotic life, the stressed-out, trombone freelance player, beaten by New Orleans police has been out of steady work and out of luck for months.

His predicament takes a turn for the better with the help of a Japanese businessman who’s an avid jazz fan. The stranger buys Antoine a brand new trombone. His original horn was mysteriously misplaced by officers who beat Antoine for bumping their cruiser with the horn, as he walked through the French Quarter. As a parting gift, the jazz fan hands Antoine a fistful of cash and did not ask for anything in return.

Meanwhile, Davis is running for a city council seat because he wants to cease the corruption he sees in New Orleans. If he’s to win, or even seriously compete, Davis must first figure out the politics of the streets, in addition to effectively managing a shoestring campaign. The loafer and wannabe politician finds out quickly that using the N-word, even casually, is dangerous in the company of African-Americans. Seconds after he voices his disgust with thugs who shoot innocent people, Davis gets punched in the mouth, despite trying to explain to a man that he lives in the Treme, so it’s okay for him to use the racially offensive word. No one helps Davis to his feet. Ironically, he wakes up on the couch of his two gay neighbors.

Chief Lambreaux gets closer to a woman who’s conveniently available to help him stitch his Indian costume, in preparation for Mardi Gras. Lambreaux, however, is more concerned with finding out why the city refuses to reopen the Calliope Housing Projects, despite there being no obvious structural damage to the apartments. If Lambreaux can get the city to reopen the concrete apartment complex, it serves as an opportunity for displaced members of his Indian tribe to have a place to live and a reason to return.

Creighton pours himself into making plans with his Krewe for the first Mardi Gras in New Orleans, since Katrina. However, his time may be better spent catching up on a six-year-old deadline. Creighton’s novel on New Orleans and it weak levee system pre-Katrina took a hiatus years ago. A phone call from the book publisher based in New York may confirm Creighton’s fears. How will he repay the publisher the book advance? Creighton used the money to restore his Garden District home.

Treme repeats on HBO throughout today, starting with the very first episode. To read my Treme entry for last week scroll below.

Please forward all of your comments to Maniko at newsheels@gmail.com. Thanks for logging onto this site.

Monday, May 3, 2010

KATRINA’S HARD CHRISTMAS

RESILIENCE, RENEWAL and REPOSITIONING

The first Christmas in New Orleans after Katrina is anything but a happy holiday. In the latest episode of Treme, one of the central characters believes he’s the answer to the mounting challenges in The Big Easy. Full of liquid courage, rising frustration and an uncertain future, Davis announces in of all places, a neighborhood bar, that he plans to run for city council. His decision comes as a result of hitting a crater of a pothole in the city, having his instruments stolen out of his car and failing to get his part-time girlfriend and fraught restaurant owner to have sex.

The possibility of sex grows to a fever pitch for Indian Chief Lambreaux. His opportunity to mentor an at-risk neighborhood teen gives the teen’s aunt the opening to invite Lambreaux to dinner. If a woman could melt herself into a bottle of syrup and pour the contents over a man, Lambreaux would be drenched and the boy’s aunt, significantly sexually satisfied. The woman steals glances at Lambreaux throughout dinner and slyly moves the conversation about his construction skills to a crack in her bedroom wall that needs his attention.

The mental high Lambreaux experiences on a personal level doesn’t match the low blow he receives just days before the funeral of a beloved friend. At the request of the dead man’s mother, the Indian-styled funeral service Lambreaux planned, complete with Indian chanting and customary dancing as a tribute to the life of a tribe member is banned. It crushes Lambreaux, although he complies with the family’s wishes.

If Creighton doesn’t get a handle on his pestering obsession with the unpopular opinions of others regarding the future of New Orleans, his holiday break from Tulane may send the professor into a series of seizures. As he contemplates finishing a novel about the sketchy preparedness of the city’s infrastructure pre and post-Katrina, Creighton finds his way to YouTube for a full blast venting session. Throughout his electronic verbal mooning and crass salute to cities like Atlanta and Houston, where many displaced New Orleanians felt like the welcome mat quickly wore thin, Creighton blasts everyone for their misunderstanding of New Orleans. Creighton’s commentary earns him a free cup of coffee by a fan, who’s also a coffee shop employee. It also gives him street credibility because he says what many displaced residents couldn’t or wouldn’t say, albeit rather vulgar and vicious at a boiling temperature.

Antoine is on a quest, since he recovered from an atrocious beating, courtesy of city police. He gets an alarming awakening, when his two sons who live less than an hour away are hesitant to reconnect with their stereotypical deadbeat dad. In addition to the delicate repositioning of Antoine in his sons drama-free lives, he eats his pride and accepts free dental care from his ex-wife’s husband, as well as the use of the man’s vehicle to take Antoine’s sons to dinner. When, where and how the trombone player will ever renew his solid footing in the New Orleans musician’s inner-circle, become a model father to all of his children, and lose his thirst for sporadic sex are all questions that are as thorny as the answers.

Will you stay tuned? What did you like or dislike about this week’s episode of Treme’?
Please forward all comments to Maniko Barthelemy at newsheels@gmail.com