If you’ve lived in New Orleans your whole life, you’ve probably noticed that there have been three major tectonic shifts in the mainstream (i.e., white) culture of the city over the past century, and we’re not talking about the face the tourism bureau puts forth to the world—you know, that “Big Easy” swampy misdirection that’s finally been reassigned to South Louisiana proper. In the early twentieth century, the city was thought of by outsiders as a sleepy, sweaty, sultry antebellum remnant, the era of mint juleps, slow drawls and Tennessee Williams plays. But after World War II that slowly began to be replaced with the “yat” culture of Irish and Italian immigrants, the suburban-era New Orleans that you probably remember from your childhood, the Crescent City of A Confederacy of Dunces, oil money and a French Quarter that slowly replaced sexy jazz with straight sex. Ever since Katrina, however, there’s been a completely unexpected diaspora.
Call it The Big Indie: a lifestyle choice for young and middle-aged wanderers, many of whom came to the city to help save it after the storm and fell in love with its still-beating boho heart. Of course, as happens with these things, the hipster influx also indelibly wound up changing the city’s culture, often against its will. The city’s fierce belief in tradition is sometimes at odds with its open-door policy. And that’s where Louie Ludwig comes in.
The little note that accompanied this single by long-time local singer-songwriter Ludwig puckishly identifies it as “our national anthem,” and like so many of his songs, it deals with life in pre- and post-K New Orleans. That befits Louie, an unrepentant progressive who seems to still believe in folk music as a shared instrument of communication; his wry lefty wit marks him as sort of the New Easy’s Phil Ochs. In that tradition, he cleverly but pointedly sketches out everything that’s happened to the city culturally, covering a whole lot of ground in three short verses and a bridge and taking less than three minutes to take on gentrification, the rising cost of living, charter schools, the death of Charity, even Airbnb and what it does to historic, wonderfully ratty old neighborhoods like the Bywater. (He even manages to get in a dig at people who are triggered by the very name Katrina: “I feel so sorry for women born with that name.”)
While it should be noted that he’s already gone on record as being okay with the invasion of the chill in his ironic redneck anthem “Let’s All Hate on the Hipsters”—“We didn’t drink no Ketel and tonic/ Didn’t say things all ironic/ Not that we’d remember anyway”—this new song, again ironically scored with nothing but jazzy guitar and trumpet, shines a cold light on how folks use tragedies to advance their own little agendas, intentionally or otherwise. New Orleans isn’t protected by any magic culture defense system: Like any city, it’s simply the sum of a bunch of people, and while you can bring the business (and those tourists) back, the vibes can change forever. For better or for worse? That remains to be seen, but Ludwig’s characterization of twenty-first century New Orleans as “Brooklyn South” feels a little too reductive. With a city this welcoming, you never know what you’re going to end up with.