AKA Abraham Bacoln

A little promotion
June 8, 2010, 10:09 pm
Filed under: New Orleans, photography

So you’ve probably already read about this if you follow me on Twitter or if you keep tabs on me through Facebook, but I’m gonna post it here for posterity. There’s a local news site, inthekNOwla, and they decided to interview me for their Artist Spotlight series.

It’s very flattering, of course, to have someone want to write a little bit about what you do. It also feels strange to be getting interviewed and having attention rise at the same time as my photography inspiration and productivity declines. However, as much as I want to say, “Why are they interviewing me? I hardly ever make anything good anymore” it doesn’t negate the fact that they liked my existing stuff enough to write about it.

I’m in too good a mood for any sort of serious self-deprecation, so I’ll just say thanks to everyone that has constantly reminded me that I’m doing good work here and that I should keep it up. I had a pretty good day because of this interview, so I’m gonna ride that for a while.

A little positivity
May 24, 2010, 9:26 pm
Filed under: New Orleans

Many of my friends keep asking me about how the oil disaster in the Gulf is doing, and I tend to respond that I can’t even think about it. I keep the Times-Picayune’s headlines in my feed reader, and it seems like literally every third news item is about the tragedy. If you really want to know what’s going on it’s all here on NOLA.com’s page about the oil. I felt that Editor B’s comments on the whole thing summed up my feelings pretty well.

Since the oil is so depressing I am concentrating on other good things instead. For instance, last year the Buck Moth caterpillars (horrid stinging beasts) were out in what felt like record numbers, but because of an exceptionally cold winter this year they’re not nearly so bad. Likewise I think that our winter helped slow down the mosquitos this year, a sentiment shared by others, and also the Formosan termites aren’t swarming badly yet – no thick clouds of buzzing bugs obscuring every streetlight in sight.

But the best news I’ve had yet today is that this building:

Lindy Boggs Medical Center

the deserted Lindy Boggs medical center that has stood empty and falling apart since the storm has been purchased and plans are in place to turn it into a nursing home and hospital. It’s great to see that such a useful building is being put back into operation instead of being bulldozed to make way for a shopping mall.

Since I can’t reach out and touch all the higher-ups at BP (and by “touch” you know I mean “strangle until no sign of life is left”) I have to take the good news where I can find it, and this is pretty good news indeed.

The foodening and drinkening continues
May 3, 2010, 10:43 pm
Filed under: food

I have found some amazing things to please my mouth lately.

There are these guys – I hear they’re from New York, maybe Brooklyn, but that’s just what I heard. I could be totally wrong. Anyway, they moved down here and realized there’s no proper NY-style pizza to be found in New Orleans. That’s not surprising, we do food in our own weird ways down here.

Well, these guys found a catering company that doesn’t use its facility on Sundays (again, so I hear – I had a chance to pose all these questions to them and totally forgot) and they decided that on Sundays they would rent out this place and create some amazing pizza. I am here to tell you that they are doing exactly that. They call themselves Pizza Delicious and it lives up to its name.

So here’s the thing, though – they only prep a certain number of doughs the day before. I think they started at 60 and are now up to 90, but they go fast. That means if you want one of their pizzas, you’d best call them at 5PM sharp to get your order in. When I called I got the pancetta and creamy sauteed mushroom – an amazing creation. All their pies are one size, 18″, and like I said, you’d better get your order in fast.

They also are located in the Bywater, a part of town that isn’t terribly far from me but not necessarily convenient to get to. They’ll deliver within the Bywater, and maybe the Marigny, but if you’re not there then you’re destined for pickup only. They don’t publish their address on their site, so I’m not going to list it here, but it’s not hard to find and if you order over the phone then obviously they’ll tell you where to go.

When I arrived I saw this:

and sure enough, that is what it looks like – a door in part of a side wall leading into an empty courtyard-ish area. I won’t spoil what was behind the door, other than to say it was TASTY.

While I was talking to the guys at Pizza Delicious I noticed one of them had some banh mi sitting there waiting to be eaten. Because I love Vietnamese food, I said, “Hey, where’d you get the banh mi?”

I ask that because all of the good Vietnamese food in this city is on the West Bank, which is to say all the way across the Mississippi River, which is to say somewhere I never ever go, unless I’m specifically looking for Vietnamese food. Well, um, I mean I thought it all was. And his banh mi was, yes, it was from Tanh Din which is a great joint on the West Bank. “But hey,” he says, “have you ever tried Eat Well on Canal and Broad?”

No. No I had not. I had driven by there months ago when it opened and seen a sign in the window that said Vietnamese food, but I didn’t really trust that a corner store on Broad Street would have real pho or anything else I would want to eat. Later that sign came down and I figured they had quit serving it already.

I mean look at the place:

Doesn’t look tasty to me. Looks like a place to buy candy bars and cigarettes and bad liquor – you know, like every corner store in this city. Don’t get me wrong – there’re some good po-boys and fried chicken and seafood to be found in corner stores, but Vietnamese? And yet here I was, talking to some hip kid who knows his food and he was recommending it, so I stopped by no more than two or three days later. And you know what I got?

That’s right, some awesome banh mi. They only have one flavor – triple pork – and it’s delicious. I also picked up some pho, because I can’t go to a Vietnamese joint without getting pho. It was tolerable, better than Dosun Noodle House, but it was no Pho Tau Bay pho, nosir. But still, the banh mi! Just a few blocks from work! Actually that photo above is from the second time I went there on this Saturday – that’s how good their sandwiches are.

Oh, and you get a free 12oz. can of Big Shot soda with every sandwich. I don’t necessarily want Big Shot but it’s there if I need it, right?

To wrap this up I’d just like to mention two recent beverage purchases of mine. I figured it was time to have something more than the standard whiskey and gin around the house. Okay, I have far more than just whiskey and gin here, but I wanted something really different. I’ve had several drinks made with Cynar over at Cure and I figured it was time that I owned a bottle for myself. If you’ve never sampled this bizarre, rich, savory, sweet, and slightly bitter liqueur made from artichoke, you really … no, seriously, stop making that face – you really have to try it. It’s amazing on the rocks or with some soda water, or especially as a Cynar flip.

After that, I went to Editor B’s house to spend the afternoon outside grilling out and celebrating Beltane / May Day / Head Shaving Day (no I did not shave my head, only B did). While we were there we drank copious amounts of Amaro, another herbal liqueur. I’d had Amaro before in mixed drinks (see: Cure) but never on its own as a digestif, and man, it hit the spot. Again, plain, on the rocks, or with a little bit of soda water, it was delicious. As soon as I could I picked up a bottle of the Luxardo Amaro Abano. It’s not the King of Amaros (whereas I am the King of O’Maras) but it is good.

So, as you can see, I’m treating my body right by putting nothing but the tastiest food and drink into it. I hope you’re doing the same.


March 8, 2010, 9:54 am
Filed under: tidbit

At my favorite po-boy joint, Parkway Bakery and Tavern, they take your order at the counter and you go find a table. Later they call out your name over their speaker system – “Dave, pick up” – and you go get your food and you eat it. Well, I mean, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Thing is their speaker system is a bit antiquated and it comes out sounding more like “aahvpickUP.” If you’ve ever been there you know exactly what I’m talking about. Therein lies the problem: my name, when blasted through their speakers, sounds about like a hundred other names. I always go up to the counter for the wrong name at least once. Always. It seems like every time I go to Parkway all the Evans and Heathers in the world go there too. Oh, and I forgot to mention they call out orders for the bartender in the ‘tavern’ section, so the whole time I’m waiting for my food I’m hearing “evnpickUP” which really isn’t much different from “evrnpickUP” and “evrpickUP.”

Yesterday I went up to the counter not once but twice for the wrong name.

First trip:
Me: Sorry, thought I heard my name.
Johnny: Oh, no, I just called Devon. You’re coming up soon though.

Second trip:
Me: Man, Johnny, sorry, thought I heard my name again. I’m always thinking I’m hearing my name.
Johnny: Oh, yeah, no, I just called an order for tavern pick up. You guys had the Italian sausage and fried shrimp po-boys, right? They’re almost done.

So I went back to our table to talk to Dom, and about two minutes later I heard over the loudspeaker:

“evnpickUP. That’s Kevin with a K. Kevin, pick up.

He’s a tall guy. Brown hair.

has a beard.

has the strength of a gorilla.

has the strength of ten gorillas.”

I will not deny that I got a little bit of applause as I flexed my biceps on the way to the counter.

A tour, proposed
February 24, 2010, 10:08 pm
Filed under: photography, Tennessee

If you have the time, please read until the end. A question for you is waiting there. I can’t really put the question down without explanation, though. I apologize in advance – by necessity the following is going to be kind of rambling. I’ve been trying to put my thoughts together for weeks and I can’t seem to find a coherent whole around which to organize this mess, so bear with me.

For over five years now I have lived in New Orleans, and for most of that time I was living with someones who, like me, were from Tennessee. Are from Tennessee. I guess you don’t stop being from Tennessee, even after you die, do you?

For the last five months I’ve been living alone, and this has had an effect on me. This is the first time, amazingly, that I have lived by myself not in Tennessee. Every other place I’ve lived I’ve had someone with me, and that person has always shared my experiences with regards to growing up in the South.

I already feel like I’m losing my train of thought. I’m struggling here.

I found myself recently talking to my friends, specifically Paul, about what it was like growing up in Tennessee, and how different it is from here in New Orleans. I found myself talking at length, and marveling at the reactions of my listeners.

What it boils down to is this: I am just now beginning to realize, while living alone and not constantly in contact with someone who shares my experiences, that where I grew up was unique, different, and in some respects worth celebrating and embracing. All places are, of course, I’m not implying that my home state is somehow special. But unlike all other places, I have a personal connection to this one.

A segue: there is a musician, Jim White, with whom until recently I was only vaguely acquainted, musically-speaking. His songs, especially those on his album The Mysterious Tale Of How I Shouted Wrong-Eyed Jesus, revolve around what it means to be from the South, and what God means in the South, and what conflicts and struggles we all suffer and redemption we achieve by virtue of having grown up there.

Another segue: my landlord had a temporary tenant staying in her part of the house. He disappeared for a few days, and I thought he’d gone back home. When he appeared again I inquired as to his absence and he informed me that he had rented a car and gone up to Memphis to visit the stomping grounds of all the blues greats.

Shortly after I heard this I found out that a filmmaker had become entranced with Jim White’s Wrong-Eyed Jesus album. He was fascinated with this land and this music and wanted to know where it comes from, so Jim took him out in some busted car and toured what he calls the South, and they made a film, and they recorded some great performances, and … it’s not a documentary, it’s not a normal movie, it’s … an event. It is Jim White’s South as presented by Jim White. It is Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.

But still, it makes my head spin. It makes my stomach tighten up in a way I can’t explain. White mentions how he grew up in the South but because he was not born there he never considered himself a true Southerner, until one day he made the decision to return and force his way through all the experiences he had until he could come to grips with what it meant for him to be who he is.

Now we come to me, and you can see clear where I’m headed. I spent the years 2007 and 2008 back in my hometown in Tennessee and the whole time I was there I was busy fighting with school and personal issues and I feel like I ignored my surroundings. Sure I headed out with my friends into the woods to go rock climbing, or have bonfires, and sure I got a few pictures while I was there.

But the more time I spend alone and away without companions that are linked in to what it means to be from Tennessee, the more I find myself describing my experiences and my hometown to people that have never been there. I recently showed my book of pictures of Cookeville to someone who has never been anywhere near there, and I couldn’t even follow her reactions. My head was pounding lost in the thoughts of what it truly meant to have been there, and how this pitiful little book couldn’t begin to convey what my hometown really is.

Those two years I was back in Cookeville I spent documenting with my camera the things that to me were unique about Cookeville from the perspective of one who was from there, who had seen the same old tired things a million times. Suddenly I found myself looking at this book of images with someone who didn’t know what the square looks like, or Jefferson Avenue on a Saturday night with cars sitting in the parking lot of the People’s Stockyard (1947) watching everyone else slide on by wasting their time with nothing else to do.

And this … this fed into my desire to see Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, and my desire to see all of Tennessee anew with fresh eyes. To visit Tennessee as an outsider, and take the photographs I have forever ignored because “I’ve seen that a hundred times.”

I feel inspired by White’s music. I feel inspired the story of touring the Memphis blues land. I feel inspired by the photographs of some of my fellow Tennesseans, and how they show me the land that I’m from in ways I’ve never expected and may never be able to recreate.

So here is what I propose:

This summer I plan to drive from the west side of Tennessee to the east, over the course of a week or more, ignoring all the major interstates, and trying to understand a little more about where I’m from. I’m going to try to take the pictures I’ve automatically dismissed, and bring back something I can show to anyone and say, “This is the Volunteer State. This is how it grows from the flat rich soil of the Mississippi River to the sharp steep hills of the Great Smoky Mountains. These are the people you would meet, the roads you would travel, the homes you would see.”

I want to do this. I need your help though.

If you’re from Tennessee, or have spent time there, what are the locations that hold a special place in your heart? If you could pick one thing to show a stranger to best represent what you love about Tennessee, what would it be?

If you’ve never been there, what do you want to know? What would you want to see?

And finally, I may need an assistant. I may need someone to drive for a while so I can shoot out the window and capture the moment. Someone who is patient and will understand when I have to turn the car around and go back to something I just saw, or will understand when I want to spend an hour in one spot waiting for the sun to go down just right.

I really do think I need to do this.

I wish you could have been with me
February 8, 2010, 3:21 pm
Filed under: New Orleans

Yesterday was one of the most amazing and intense experiences I’ve ever had in New Orleans and I feel like I have to write about it. Not so that I can brag, and not so that I can pretend I’m some sort of Voice of New Orleans (Professional Blogger Edition) but so that I don’t ever forget the details.

I was extremely fortunate to have my good friend Mark in town for this occasion. He appreciates New Orleans more than anyone I know that doesn’t actually live here, so I couldn’t have asked for a better companion during the day. He’s a seasoned visitor, not just a Mardi Gras and Bourbon St. reveler, so he knows how to relax and flow with the changing situations that pop up down here.

As with so many other adventures here I felt it was best if we just played it by ear. Often times there’s no sense in making elaborate plans, especially those that involve the French Quarter, because you never know who’s going to call, where the fun will be, or what’s (literally) around the next corner. So, we headed down to the Quarter with only the vaguest of direction. Earlier we had a tantalizing offer of being able to watch the game at a private party on a massive screen, but unfortunately no one was able to pull enough weight to get our names on to the guest list for the kickoff, but we had rumors that we might be able to sneak in at halftime.

We parked in Tremé, just a few blocks outside the Quarter, in one of those magic parking spots, you know, “Well, this may not look entirely kosher, but I parked here once and didn’t get a ticket, so it must be okay!” During the walk down the Esplanade neutral ground we were flanked by standstill traffic on both sides – I couldn’t figure out where those cars thought they were going to go, or even where the unending stream of traffic headed out of the Quarter was coming from. Maybe everyone was driving down just to turn around and drive right back out, I don’t know.

Royal St. seemed to be a great place to cut right and head into the heart of the Quarter, so we did. The street was covered in black and gold, everyone wearing team jerseys, every fifth person with face paint or a football helmet or flag or umbrella. We stopped at the Verti Marte to get some Cokes, because even though we had several flasks filled and on our persons it seemed ill-advised to start drinking heavily at 3:00PM in the afternoon – not that that was stopping anyone around us. A block or two further a nice set of steps in front of an empty business presented themselves, and we took a load off for a while to do some people-watching. We were also at that point still waiting to hear whether or not we’d be getting in to the big party, so we didn’t have much of a destination anyway.

Though I had cooked up a killer breakfast of eggs, sausage, biscuits, and gravy it couldn’t stick around forever, and hunger found us. Having nothing but time on our hands until the 5:30 kickoff we decided to cross to the far side of the Quarter and check to see if Johnny’s Po-Boys was open … which of course it was not. It seemed like we weren’t going to have many options for food – true local joints (you know, the kind that locals might actually eat at, as compared to the overpriced tourist traps) were mostly closed to let their employees watch the game. So we wandered for blocks, seeing typically one of two things: closed signs or long lines. One place on Decatur (which shall remain nameless) actually had someone at the door saying, “Stop on in and get a muffaletta! Try our crawfish pasta!” and we had a mutual agreement that anyone who was having to ask for business on Super Bowl Sunday must be serving up some pretty wretched grub.

“At the very least,” I said, “we can go back to Verti Marte and get some po-boys there” yet I felt there must be a better alternative. I decided to make one last stop and check the wait at Coop’s Place, and that turned out to be The Right Idea. The wait wasn’t too long, and the atmosphere was great. Maybe a little hectic, maybe a little loud, maybe no less than three times did a spontaneous WHO DAT?! chant break out, and maybe no less than twice did I see our loving but harried waitress doing shots behind the bar, but that’s what makes things FUN. Feeling like a true American I ordered a grilled cheeseburger po-boy while Mark opted to sample their famous fried chicken. I must digress for a moment here to state that I’m not that big a fan of fried chicken, but I know good fried chicken when I have it, and Mark has the distinction of having made the Best Fried Chicken I’ve Ever Had. So, when he declared that Coop’s chicken was, “pretty darned good” I knew we’d started to hit that magic.

Sure enough I got a text from a friend saying, “Come to so-and-so’s house where we’re watching on the big screen” and that’s all I needed. With our bellies full of food we walked to the house on Orleans, just on the other side of Bourbon. By this time it was 5:15PM and in stark contrast to our earlier afternoon experience, the streets were empty. It was like a ghost town out there. The few folks on foot seemed to be just like us, hurrying to plant themselves in front of a television somewhere. We heard the cheering from every door when the Saints hit the field, we walked by the huge street windows of some bar just as whoever-it-was was singing the national anthem. I felt kind of like an outsider, catching glimpses of everyone else and their game faces while no one was seeing us walk by. It’s really strange to pass by shop after bar after restaurant and not have anyone staring out the window at you, to see all eyes turned towards the televisions.

We received a typical New Orleans warm greeting when we arrived at the house party. “Kevin, Mark, this is everybody. The buffet table is over there, help us eat, and sit anywhere you like.” You can’t ask for more than that.

As for the game itself: I don’t watch football, really. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not something that usually catches my interest. I know enough to watch a game, though, and this game kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire first half. Every time someone would open the front or back door of the house you could hear from all directions outside people yelling, especially when the Saints did … well … did anything, wrong or right. There was certainly a lot of yelling inside the house. By the way, don’t call me today because my speaking voice is shot. I don’t know how that happened.

At halftime Mark and I made the decision to stay there with our new friends instead of trying to scam our way into the aforementioned gigantic private party, so stay we did. And yell we did, and stick pins into a Colts voodoo doll we did, and hop up and down we did, and watch Tracy Porter do an amazing magic trick we did, and realize that with the time remaining in the fourth there was no way in hell the Colts could come back we did, and everyone began to yell even more.

I had told Mark earlier, “If we win this I want to see Bourbon St. explode, so I’m grabbing my coat and heading out the door.” After it was over and we had hugged and high-fived everyone in the place we left out and … it couldn’t have been more than two minutes since the game ended by the time we did all that and walked the block and a half to Bourbon, but the street was PACKED. I’ve been here for enough Mardi Gras to know how many people you can fit on Bourbon and we were near the limit. As I’m sure you’ve read by now in countless other stories, this was like no Mardi Gras or Bourbon St. anyone has ever seen. To clarify, I have seen that many human bodies on Bourbon before, but never all of them dressed in black and gold, and never all of them smiling, screaming, high-fiving, hugging, shouting, jumping, kissing, crying, and otherwise in a state of sheer ecstasy. Too often when you’re down there you’re trapped in a mass of humanity too drunk to care that they’re packed like sardines into a river of people milling about for no reason, with bland half-lidded expressions on their morose faces. But last night … there wasn’t one person in a hundred that didn’t have an enormous smile on their face.

I know I’m not from New Orleans, but I’ve done my dues and spent my time here, I’ve lived through (okay, partied through) enough Carnivals to feel that I have a good grasp on how this city celebrates, and I can absolutely positively tell you that I have never ever in my years here seen the city of New Orleans so incredibly happy. Like so many other people have said, it wasn’t so much about the Saints winning the Super Bowl as it was about New Orleans winning the Super Bowl, and it showed on the face of every person out there.

Mark and I stood in the crowd for I don’t know how long, just reveling in the waves of energy and excitement. Eventually we ducked off of Bourbon so he could grab a cigar, and I checked my phone for texts. One was from my very own mother who had just watched her first Super Bowl game ever, and it said simply, “WHO DAT?!” You’re awesome, Mom.

The other was from a friend and it said, “Molly’s?”

Having seen enough of the Bourbon St. crowd we indeed headed down to Molly’s on the far end of the Quarter. When we got there it reminded me of the traffic on Esplanade during the day – there was a serious clogged stream of people headed both into and out of the bar. I wondered if they were all just going to the back and turning around. We opted to stand outside instead, and because it was Molly’s, and this always what happens, I ended up seeing countless people I know. I realize that earlier I said I’d seen Bourbon St. as packed as it was, but I have never seen as many people on Decatur as were there last night. I can not tell you how many strangers I high-fived but it had to have been over a hundred. Literally every second (at least) someone yelled out, “WHO DAT?!” or “WHO DAT SAY DEY GONNA BEAT DEM SAINTS?! NOBODY!!” or “WE DAT!” or any other variation on the theme. For maybe twenty minutes we stood there and just watched it happen, and were occasionally dragged into it happening.

Feeling restless we headed out of the Quarter and down to Frenchmen St. where we met up with yet another of my friends. The cops on Bourbon are notorious for sitting there on horseback stone-faced and

okay I have to interrupt myself to say that I just now heard someone yell “WHO DAT?!” out in the street in front of my house. It’s still going on.

anyway the cops on Bourbon are often uninterested in engaging the crowd because, you know, they deal with drunken idiots trying to talk to them every shift that they’re out there. The cops on Frenchmen, however, were dealing with a crowd that was mainly locals, and I will not hesitate to say that I high-fived at least three of them. Mark refueled at the Apple Barrel and we stood around (and in) yet another seething mass of jubilant humanity with smiles and cheers in every direction. An empty parking lot had been appropriated by some drummers and fire dancers, and we stood there kind of shaking our heads, watching beautiful women flinging flaming fury in every direction while car horns honked and WHO DAT?!s punctuated the night. The siren call of the ‘Pizza by the Slice – Kitchen Open All Night’ sign got to be too much for some of us, and we wandered off to obtain some greasy cheesy wonderfulness. We stood eating out on the sidewalk, watching the parade of humanity go by.

At some point we realized it was well after midnight and while things certainly weren’t slowing down by any stretch of the imagination, nothing really new was cropping up either, and so we decided to call it a night. On the walk back to where we’d parked we saw the same unending stream of cars on Esplanade as before, but this time there were people crawling out windows, sitting on hoods, and shouts from every direction. I honestly felt like the entire city was made of pure Party(â„¢) and nothing could dampen my mood … not even returning to my car to find out that my magic parking spot wasn’t so magic after all. I wasn’t about to let one parking ticket get me down, though.

I couldn’t have been more proud than to wake up this morning and find out that yes, New Orleans knows how to party correctly, and no, we didn’t turn cars upside down and light buildings on fire and have crushing riots. We did the same thing we do every year – went out in the street and danced and cheered and had a good time.

I am so glad that Mark was in town to witness all this with me, and I’m so glad I chose to be down there in the Quarter before, during, and after the game. It was the biggest celebration I have ever seen, and likely the biggest that New Orleans itself has seen since the end of World War II. I’m grateful to the Saints for playing such a strong game and giving this city the victory party it’s been waiting for for 43 years.

Cities mentioned in Tom Waits songs
February 6, 2010, 12:03 am
Filed under: tidbit | Tags:

I was discussing with friends the other day how I probably only know the town Waukegan, Illinois because it’s referenced in a Tom Waits song. Then of course the discussion led to how to create a Tom Waits song, and how they inevitably involve the name of a town or a kind of car, or some girl’s name that sounds a bit antiquated, and so forth.

This got me to thinking, “Just how many cities does Waits reference throughout his discography?” I couldn’t find a list of exactly that online, so I decided to make my own list.

A caveat: I was very literal in my search and only kept cities explicitly mentioned by name. You won’t find in here any time he says Hollywood, Brooklyn, the Bronx, etc. as those are neighborhoods or boroughs within proper cities. Likewise I skipped a time he referred to something as a personal Waterloo since I figured he wasn’t actually talking about the city but instead what it stands for. Finally I didn’t take any note of cities referenced in songs that he covered. I just wanted a list of cities that he felt were worth mentioning.

So, more or less chronologically, we have:

The Early Years, Vol. 1:
Had Me A Girl: Los Angeles, CA; San Diego, CA; Tallahassee, FL; Chula Vista, CA; Toledo OH

The Heart of Saturday Night:
Diamonds on my Windshield: San Clemente, CA; Riverside, CA
Drunk on the Moon: Cleveland, OH

Nighthawks at the Diner:
Better Off Without a Wife: Reno, NV
Spare Parts I (A Nocturnal Emission): Cleveland, OH; Bakersfield, CA

Side note: there’s a song on this album called Putnam County. I grew up in Putnam County, TN and I know that I have heard more than one person there claim that Waits was referencing our home. However, since there are nine Putnam Counties in the US, I don’t think it was Tennessee. Plus, in the song he says, “just like a bastard amber Velveeta yellow cab on a rainy corner” and my Putnam County sure doesn’t have yellow cabs. I would like to think he meant Putnam County, Illinois, but this song was written before he met Kathleen Brennan. Come to think of it, I think I read once in an interview which one he is referencing, but now I’ve forgotten.

Small Change:
I Wish I Was in New Orleans: New Orleans, LA
The Piano Has Been Drinking: New York, NY
Pasties and a G-string: Portland (but is it Oregon or Maine? Gasp.); Paris, France (“Gay Paree”)
The One That Got Away: San Francisco, CA
Small Change: Seattle, WA

Foreign Affairs:
Barber Shop: Cincinnati, OH; Pittsburgh, PA

Blue Valentine:
Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis: Minneapolis, MN; Omaha, NE
$29.00: Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, LA
Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard: Baton Rouge, LA
Kentucky Avenue: New Orleans, LA
Blue Valentines: Philadelphia, PA

Johnsburg, Illinois: Johnsburg, IL; McHenry, IL
Town With No Cheer: Melbourne, Adelaide, and Serviceton, Australia
Swordfishtrombones: Crutchfield, NC; Birmingham, AL

Rain Dogs:
Singapore: Singapore; Paris, France
Clap Hands: Cincinnati, OH; Baltimore, MD
Tango ‘Til They’re Sore: New Orleans, LA
Time: East St. Louis, IL
Gun Street Girl: Birmingham, AL; Waukegan, IL

Gun Street Girl also mentions a city named Baker – I think it’s Baker, MT because earlier in the song he references the Burlington Northern Railroad, and there are train tracks right through the middle of Baker, MT.

Also, in case you were wondering, though the song 9th & Hennepin doesn’t explicitly say it takes place in Minneapolis, it probably does.

Frank’s Wild Years:
Hang On Saint Christopher: Reno, NV
Yesterday is Here: New York City, NY
I’ll Take New York: New York City, NY
Telephone Call From Istanbul: Istanbul, Turkey
Train Song: East St. Louis, IL

Mule Variations:
Low Side of the Road: Kokomo, IN
Hold On: Monte Rio, CA; St. Louis, MO
Get Behind the Mule: Atchison (KS?); Placerville, CA
Pony: Murfreesboro, TN; Natchez, MS; Belzoni, MS; Talulah, LA
Black Market Baby: Moberly, MO
Eyeball Kid: Saigon, Vietnam

Real Gone:
How’s It Going To End: Liverpool, England
Circus: Kankakee, IL; Sheboygan, WI
Day After Tomorrow: Rockford, IL

If you’re paying attention at this point (and I don’t blame you if you aren’t) you’ll see I skipped Don’t Go Into That Barn which has a litany of place names. Many of them exist (in name) in multiple states. However, since he says “take me on a flat boat” just pick one that’s near a river. Anyway, his list is: Dover; Covington, LA; Louisville (KY?); Smithland; Memphis, TN; Vicksburg, MS; and Natchez, MS.

Fish in the Jailhouse: Yazoo City, MS; Rolling Fork, MS; Natchez, MS; Kenosha, WI; New York City, NY
Road to Peace: Jerusalem, Israel
Rains On Me: Argyle, TX; Dix, TX
Fannin Street: Houston, TX
First Kiss: Elkheart, IN

So there you have it, a more or less complete list of cities mentioned in Tom Waits songs.

There were three albums that I was not surprised to find featured no names of cities: The Black Rider, Alice, Blood Money. Those were all in some way meant to be soundtracks to plays.

Albums that I was surprised to find named no cities: The Early Years Vol. 2, Closing Time, Heartattack and Vine, Bone Machine. If you had picked any of those and said, “Does Waits, at some point during this album, call out a city?” I would have put twenty down on yes without hesitation.

As for city most mentioned, it’s a two-way tie between New Orleans and New York at three each. They both get a used in a song title, so I can’t declare one a true victor. Coming in a very close second (third?) place is St. Louis, which would have tied for first, but there are two mentions of East St. Louis and one mention of regular St. Louis so I’m arbitrarily handing out the bronze.

Finally, if you know some place that I missed, by all means point it out. This research was performed haphazardly at best.

[EDIT: someone immediately pointed out that I had missed Kenosha, WI which was mentioned in Fish in the Jailhouse. Well, I hadn’t just missed Kenosha, I’d missed the whole song … which includes one more mention of NYC, putting it in the top spot for most-mentioned. Sorry, NOLA, looks like the Big Apple trumps the Big Easy.]

[EDIT II: I totally forgot that Singapore was an island city-state, so it’s been included (as has been the mention of Paris in the same song).]

[EDIT III: Thanks to Erich for pointing out I missed Talulah, LA in Pony.]

New Orleans neighborhoods map
January 20, 2010, 10:14 pm
Filed under: New Orleans

Hey, NOLA people and people interested in NOLA:

As you well know this city is a crazy bundle of crossed-up mishmash streets that start and end in unlikely places and probably drive the cartographers mad. I know it’s frustrating to me to make four right turns and not end up where I started. I spend a lot of time driving around New Orleans looking for things to take pictures of. When I’m out I usually know where I am, streets-wise, but have no idea where I am, neighborhoods-wise. That’s because the “official” NOLA neighborhoods have borders that could be defined as anything but regular.

Fortunately, the GNOCDC (Greater New Orleans Community Data Center) has this under control. They publish a map of neighborhood boundaries [link, .PDF] and that is pretty darned cool as well as helpful. My complaint here, though, is that the map itself doesn’t have any street names which can make it hard for me to ascertain exactly where I was, or where one neighborhood changes to the next. Likewise a PDF is not the easiest thing to scroll, zoom, or otherwise navigate.

Thank goodness for this day and age of do-it-yourselfness and the companies (and their applications) that help you out in this endeavor. I took some time to lay out the neighborhoods in Google Maps, as seen below:

View New Orleans neighborhood boundaries in a larger map

Hopefully some of you will find this helpful – the ability to zoom in and out, see street names, and so forth. Each neighborhood on the map has a link back to the GNOCDC’s community snapshot for that neighborhood. I realize that I’m linking to pre-Katrina data, but the point is to inform oneself of the neighborhood and its history, not the most up-to-date population count.

I hope you find it useful, entertaining, or both.

[caveats: I realize some of my borders are not perfect down to the foot – when one has to click every single corner of a polygon for 55 different neighborhoods one tends to be less than pixel-perfect. Also I did not do the neighborhoods on the West Bank or in New Orleans East because some of them cover many square miles of empty-ish space that I did not feel like tracing. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go back and fill them in but don’t hold your breath]

Also if you ever want to get straight to the map without visiting this blog just bookmark that there link.

Ojen again
January 15, 2010, 5:58 pm
Filed under: tidbit

You may remember – or you may not, it’s been a while – that back in April of 2009 I wrote an entry on a curious liquor, Ojen. If you don’t want to read the whole thing the short version is as follows:

Ojen (pronounced OH-hen) is an anise-flavored liquor produced in Spain. It’s not the same as absinthe though the two have far more in common than, say, Ojen and gin do. Ojen gained popularity in New Orleans at the beginning of last century and over time became an old standby, especially during Carnival season. In fact, some went so far as to claim that New Orleans’ consumption of Ojen surpassed that of all of Spain – and considering how folks down here tend to enjoy a drink every now and then I believe it. Martin Wine Cellar was the last company importing Ojen into the US and they received their final shipment in the mid-1980s. Since then they had been slowly selling through it with no replacement coming because the distillery had stopped production [click here for a much more detailed history].

Anyway, that blog entry was last year. I bought myself a bottle of Ojen because I realized that soon enough we would be totally out, and soon enough we were. In fact it was sold out not more than two weeks after, which was a momentous enough event to warrant a short piece in the Times-Picayune (yes, that’s me being quoted in that article).

So where does that leave us now? Well, it leaves us at a very unhappy Mardi Gras, that’s for sure. One of the most (if not THE most) illustrious carnival krewes, Rex, used Ojen as their signature drink. This will be the first year in decades that their members haven’t been able to stop by the store and pick some up. I have it on good authority that there may be twenty or thirty bottles still remaining somewhere, if you know who to ask and have the right connections. I’m not sure that even I could get some if I wanted to.

I did have the good fortune to come into possession of a few bottles before it disappeared from retail shelves for good, though, and now have just over three left. A few days ago I had a friend in town who had read my bit about Ojen and heard me talking about it, and was interested in learning more. I said, “Let’s have a drink then!” He said something along the lines of, “No, no, it’s too special, I don’t want to use up your bottle.”

It took a while to convince him that that’s the whole point of owning a few bottles – so that I can drink them and share them. I didn’t buy them to hoard them in hopes of making a profit by selling them to some desperate member of Rex, I bought them to drink them. Slowly, maybe, una copita de Ojen every couple of months, but drink them I will. I have them so that I can share them with people that haven’t ever had it before, or in a few years maybe I’ll be sharing with someone that just hasn’t been able to taste it in a while.

Regardless of the circumstances I’m happy to have it, because sharing it makes me glad, makes other people glad. Together we can drink up the last bits of this small but not insignificant chapter of New Orleans history.

A little more blood, please
December 7, 2009, 7:19 pm
Filed under: photography

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes get images stuck in my head and can’t relax until they’re brought to life. This is the most recent one:


I would love to tell you why one day I ended up with the idea of hair coming out of a faucet, and then the realization that it should be bloody hair, and that it should be a nice white basin instead of a grungy work sink, but I can’t. These images appear unbidden, sometimes unwelcome. I mean, really, do you think I enjoy watching a movie and finding myself distracted by the thought of bloody hair in a sink?

While thinking about this intrusion over the past day or two I’ve come to realize there are three different kinds of photographs in my world:

The first type is the opportunity photograph. I wander around with my camera and look for something to document. Sometimes these come out well but most of the time they’re only average. I rarely get truly excited about my spontaneous opportunity photographs – they function mainly to alleviate boredom and keep my camera skills from going completely and utterly dull. I won’t deny though that occasionally I get that “HOLY CRAP” moment from having been in the right place at the right time.

The second is the meticulously planned photograph. These are always my favorites, and they’re the ones that materialize in my thoughts and crystallize over the course of a few hours (or days, or months) and one day I finally get them out and gone and finally feel relief. These are also everyone else’s favorites, if Flickr and casual conversation are reliable metrics. They also usually involve props – lately props that I have to go out and spend real money on, since I don’t keep dentures and jack-in-the-boxes and hair and octopi and fake blood around the house.

The third type is special – it’s the photographs that don’t get taken. For every sticky idea I get that grows in my head and feeds on weird dreams and festers until it’s time to be created, I have five that go nowhere. I keep a checklist online of photo ideas, and it seems that it stays populated with those that just aren’t quite good enough. For example, some of the items currently on my list are: corndog, cardboard box half-person, manticore, someone in the will-call room, shadow with a hole in it. I don’t need detailed notes because just reading the words reminds me of the full image. So often, though, that image just never comes to life. It’s not that I don’t have the time to make them, or the resources, or skill – I just end up letting them drift. It’s only every fifth one that really grabs me, that I end up thinking about over and over until I find myself at Party City trying to find a cheap blond wig and debating store-bought fake blood versus making my own. I ended up making my own, of course. I always do.

In short, there’s no explanation why I take the photos I take. Either I’m there with my camera, or there’s some dream-inserted image that won’t let me go, and one way or the other I end up with a picture.