Treme Wrap-Up: Musician, Know Thyself

[Spoiler Alert] After the first episode of Treme, someone on Twitter referred to Davis McAlary as the Jar Jar Binks of the show. The assessment’s brilliantly cold but wrong. Davis is a far more interesting character than Binks, but his stories are uncomfortable to watch because the wreck seems obvious before the train leaves the station. His self-absorption blinds him to who Lil Calliope (Ace B.) is and to the differences in what hip-hop means to the two of them. For Lil Calliope, it’s an expression of who he is; for Davis, it’s not the expression of who he’d like to be as much as a way to rebel against his safe, unthreatened upbringing. That distance can’t end well, nor can his relationship to the musicians in his group. For them, his band’s another gig; for him, it’s a ceremony and a way to further his vision of himself as a cultural menace to society.

Davis is part of an intriguing irony in Treme. As fascinated as the show is with music, it spends a lot of time with average or sub-par talents. Davis and Sonny are the weakest links in whatever they do, and Annie can play but struggles to find a voice as a songwriter. Antoine seems talented enough, but his band is up and down, and this week we see the return of small-time hustler in him. His desire to front a band came from a vision of money and attention, but as soon as another vision of money and attention comes along in the form of Henry Butler’s offer, he bails on his own band.

Notes on the episode:

- The episode’s story is by Tom Piazza and Eric Overmyer, with the teleplay by Piazza.

- The Dream Creighton notices that Toni took down his Les Blank poster. Blank is a documentary filmmaker who did a number of films on Louisiana music including Always For Pleasure, someone Creighton would admire.

- One positive byproduct of the addition of Nelson Hidalgo to the show has been that it has given the show an excuse to dig up some great Latin tracks from New Orleans for the soundtrack. Nelson danced in Gigi’s to a tune by Wardell Quezergue, and this week is driving while Cubanismo’s “Mardi Gras Mambo” is on the radio.

- The man directing the marching band while Desiree pleads her cousin’s case is Wilbert Rawlins, Jr., the band director at O. Perry Walker. Rawlins has made Walker one of the city’s leading high school marching bands, and he helped students who would become the TBC Brass Band get started as a group. He is one of New Orleanians focused on in Dan Baum’s book, Nine Lives, and his father was a long-time drummer for Irma Thomas.

- When Antoine’s class grumbles about not parading during Mardi Gras, one refers to the MAX Band, a melding of three incomplete high school bands for Mardi Gras 2006. Members of St. Mary’s Academy, St. Aug, and Xavier Prep marched together wearing windbreakers as uniforms.

- Harley tells Annie that “Bobby Z” got to her song first. Bob Dylan’s real last name is Zimmerman.

- Onstage, Henry Butler tells Antoine and the audience that it’s good to be home. After Katrina, he moved to Colorado.

- After finishing a plate, Janette says, “I’ll take a wallet-size of that,” echoing a line from early in season one when she admired one of her dishes and proclaimed, “Take a picture of that shit, my friend.”

- Does anybody know the significance of 726 N. White St.? I thought it looked like Nelson was checking out the closed Robert’s on Annunciation in the Lower Garden District, but 726 N. White St. is a house at the corner of N. White and Orleans between Broad and Bayou St. John. Did I hear the address wrong? 726 S. White St. is Central Lockup.

–Alex Rawls