AKA Abraham Bacoln

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.]