[SPOILER ALERT] Jazz Fest may display the city’s finest talents, but Mardi Gras puts an essential characteristic of the city on display. David Simon and Eric Overmyer’s script for this week’s episode illustrates how ritual gives events meaning, and how it provides a starting point for improvisation. Nothing highlighted this like the montage of the characters getting ready for Fat Tuesday set to Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras,” where they did what millions of people have done a million times to a song that’s been heard a million times in similar contexts.
The episode begins with the parade by the Krewe of Muses, a relatively new krewe (started in 2000) that riffs on Mardi Gras krewes and parading traditions. Just to show how meta- New Orleans can get, Muses’ shoe throws put a female-centric spin on Zulu’s coconut throws, and Zulu’s whole parade including its throws began as a burlesque of Rex. Appropriately, with Davis at Muses we see a reversal of the tradition of women flashing for beads and coconuts as Davis lifts his shirt for Muses. Typical of Davis, he gets shut down.
Ritual shapes the episode for good and ill. Nelson joins it with Oliver Thomas when he rides in Zulu and discovers one of the secrets New Orleans likes to overlook – how much business takes place inside krewes. Jeanette finds a way to enjoy Fat Tuesday in NYC, and Davis can’t imagine celebrating it any way but the way he always does. Neither can Antoine, whose plans to tomcat his way around are scuttled when he ends up playing pappy to his kids and his students. On the other hand, Sonny and Annie will both remember it for the way the variations they found for this year’s Mardi Gras. Toni and Sofia’s Mardi Gras plans are a reminder of how each iteration of the ritual brings to mind the versions before it, and how celebrating the old rituals is a way of remembering those who’re not around to participate this year. Ritual sparks invention and it shapes the landscape. When the poor tourist flashes Muses, Lt. Colson doesn’t bust her; he simply points her to the place and time where that tradition’s more acceptable.
As Nelson (rapidly becoming my favorite character) makes love to the woman he met on the route while still in his Zulu garb, he tells her, “Go easy on the skirt. I may need it again next year.” And so another ritual begins.
- It was nice to see Terry’s toughness and rage. At a point when the show has largely cast him as the conscience of the police force, it was important to see that he’s not entirely immune to the violence associated with the NOPD. He’s not a saint, even if his anger is motivated by outrage.
- On the other hand, it’s heartbreaking to see LaDonna look like she’s sliding into a drinking problem. Addictions were all the rage around this time, and not everybody who developed one had LaDonna’s experience to hasten it. I don’t know if it was true or a common saw that sounded true enough that people believed it, but I remember hearing that the city was a quarter of its old size but drank as much as it ever did around that time.
- It was great to see Al “Carnival Time” Johnson finally get air time. Here’s the story of Johnson’s Mardi Gras classic.
- I think I saw Bo Dollis, Jr. of the Wild Magnolias leading Lambreaux’s Guardians of the Flame.
- I definitely saw Steve Riley of the Mamou Playboys in his Saints costume on the Savoys’ Mardi Gras ride. Joel Savoy – Wilson’s brother and one of the owners of Valcour Records played at Dennis McGee’s grave. If anyone can tell me who played the duet with him, write in so I can update this. Valcour recently released a CD of McGee playing solo and talking about the music.
- Tim Green’s sax solo during Cyril Neville’s performance at the Mother-in-Law Lounge was killer and worth rewinding to hear a second time. Miss Jeannie, Baby Doll and friend of the K-Does, was seen talking to one of the objects of Antoine’s affection at the Mother-in-Law.
- There was some harrumphing and consternation about Treme getting cameras on Muses, but I don’t remember seeing them when the parade passed this year, and they caught Mardi Gras in a way that looked like Mardi Gras. Last year’s Mardi Gras episode wasn’t one of my favorites as it seemed to have a lot of expository dialogue, and it didn’t look much like Mardi Gras. This year was a giant step forward and one of my favorite episodes of the season.
- The Radiators’ “Long Hard Journey Home” is this week’s music video. Download it here from iTunes.
Lots of love to the Starbucks on Queen St. East in the Beaches in Toronto for the non-stop loop of ’70s reggae (including Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Bass Culture” and the late Gregory Isaacs’ “Night Nurse”!) for a fine soundtrack for this morning’s writing.