Easy To Die

We move pretty slowly here in New Orleans. I almost said “Big Easy” but I truly abhor those two words to describe the city. It’s like offhandedly telling a joke, one that you didn’t think was offensive, but after giving it some thought, you realize that it perpetuates an abominable stereotype, and you shouldn’t have told it.

That’s sort of the way I feel about calling New Orleans “The Big Easy.”

There’s a lot of irony, I think, in using this name for New Orleans. I’ve really never known the origin of the moniker—I always thought it might be a term that some tourism official came up with to promote the city as the antithesis of New York (“The Big Apple”). Things aren’t so easy here. Slow—especially in the summer—but easy?

The “Big Easy” I’m most familiar with was the name of the roundly-ridiculed (at least in New Orleans) 1987 movie featuring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin.

I’ve read other origins of the term. Some people opine that “The Big Easy” title is ironically derived from a 1970 crime novel by James Conaway, who worked for the Times-Picayune as a reporter in the mid-1960s. The Kirkus review describes it thusly:

“Horror, tragedy, crushing violence and the effluvia of sin and guilt sluice this murky chronicle of race embroilment in New Orleans. Onlooker, accidental mover and victim is white newsman Andrew Comiski, who had been friendly with the deceased black Parks, a likable and discreet racketeer who had escaped the trigger-happy police. On the trail of the grave robbers who had decapitated Parks’ corpse, Comiski is propelled into the vortex of drug, track and gun-running operations through which a white motorcycle killer gang, a black militant, Tea, his stable of followers, Tea’s wife Carrie, and spooked police elude and stalk one another. In a blur of pain and fear–he is shot at, clubbed, bruised and mashed by just about everyone–Comiski survives a race riot in which Tea is killed. But his attempt to clear Carrie and thwart hoods and brutal police by dumping narcotics ends in his death. Carrie, after uncovering the Parks’ “artifact” among Tea’s possessions, stunned by Tea’s note that she doesn’t “exist” (she had slept with Comiski) groggily buses north. A certain raw impetus but the accelerated, insistent bloodletting drains the real compassion and concern.”

Whoa.  I wouldn’t call any of that easy. In an interview with New Orleans Magazine in 2007, Conaway says he picked the title from hearing a couple of guys talking about how easy it was to get a music gig in New Orleans, and the phrase stuck in his head. Yeah, we always knew that it’s the music that makes things “easy” here. Ask any musician how easy it is to live here.

Treme’s co-creator and author David Simon wrote his first book about his experiences at the Baltimore Sun when he covered the crime beat there from 1982 to 1995. Simon was embedded in the Baltimore Police Department homicide unit. It was called Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s been occurring in New Orleans. It’s summer, and the crime rate here usually rises with the temperature. I woke up to read this morning’s paper where it was reported that two people had been shot to death and three more wounded while attending a birthday party yesterday afternoon. The shooting took place about 10 blocks from my house. Thugs killing innocent victims at a birthday party: a 5-year-old girl and a 33-year-old woman died from gunshot wounds; a 10-year-old boy was grazed by bullet wounds to the face and leg. Two other men in their 20s were also wounded. And, as I write this, I’m reading about a brazen shooting by two would-be robbers (aged 13 and 15) that killed a Mid-City man, who was sitting on his front porch. 13 and 15 years old. How tragic is that?

Yeah, this is the “Big Easy” all right: easy to get a gun, easy to use a gun. Easy to walk away from victims you don’t give a damn about. There’s absolutely no “easy” fix to this. My first inclination (and a pipe-dream, to be sure, considering the country’s continual brainwashing by one of Washington’s slickest and most affluent lobbying organizations, the NRA) would be to make it impossible for anyone to get a gun in New Orleans. No one can own a gun, or have access to a handgun or an assault weapon. While this would not solve the problem, at least it would keep young soulless morons from killing each other, and innocent victims and bystanders. Before the gun folk start screaming: please check your statistics about the people who are killed or injured by guns in a crime situation in the US. Owning a gun is not going to prevent you from being attacked by a 20-year-old soulless thug in a surprise situation. And if you do own a gun, how much of a chance to you really think you have of protecting yourself from these zombies? Do you really want to carry a gun at all times to protect yourself? What kind of paranoia is this?

I am very aware that this is simplistic, and the factors that contribute to our escalating murder rate are a lot more complex and interrelated: poor education, lack of jobs, lack of hope, lack of love and concern and moral training from parental figures for these kids who are doing the killing. Of course, we need more police. Of course, we need better cooperation from witnesses. Naturally we need more convictions from the judicial system. But this is putting a band-aid on the problem. As long as it’s easy to obtain a gun to rob, kill and maim, murdering someone else will also be easy, very easy.

  • It’s sad

    Thugs shooting at a birthday party crowd because two thugs (who are not talking to NOPD because apparently, being a snitch is worse than guys firing at your grade school cousins) were part of the crowd.  It doesn’t matter who the mayor is, who the police chief is, how many cops are walking the street, none of that can stop this kind of barbarity.

  • Nhemeter

    Well said Jan, The tragic results of the NRA’s lobbying power bloody the streets of our city daily and nothing is said.  Thank you for pointing this out.

  • Canadian who loves New Orleans

    it is not simplistic to say that outlawing guns would help . You are one of the few countries where it is legal to carry a gun . I love the US and especially New Orleans , but when I cross the border from Canada to the US , I am painfully aware that I am not as safe as in my own Country because there are people carrying guns . It is a shame that US citizens have grown up with the idea that the “right to carry a gun ” is a good thing for the society when the statistics show how many kids and unstable types end up with access and not the proper level of responsibility . You are safer when you visit other countries where it is against the law to carry a gun and by the way that is most countries . (and by the way a gun at home is less likely to help against intruders when they have the element of surprise on their side –forget the gun and make your home harder to break into )
    We have visiting New Orleans yearly for 20 years and our group calls the city The Big Hard

  • TWJ

    I’m with you 100%, Jan, on the NRA and gun laws.  It’s an absolutely pathetic situation.

  • Steve Gilbert

    I’ll pass this along to my friends and people within the musical community.  They’ll understand-nobody refers to Detroit as “The Big Motown…”

  • Deanslist2

    Betty Guillaud, the former longtime “Lagniappe” columnist, may not have originated the Big Easy moniker but she probably helped popularize it. She used it a lot in her columns, mostly about local and visiting celebrities.

  • Deanslist2

    Betty Guillaud, the former longtime “Lagniappe” columnist, may not have originated the Big Easy moniker but she probably helped popularize it. She used it a lot in her columns, mostly about local and visiting celebrities.

  • Janramsey

    Yes, I’m aware that Betty used it a lot, but she didn’t come up with the term. I think it’s cliché, overused, and isn’t necessarily the way we should portray New Orleans to the outside world. I’m sick to death of it. Why don’t we call it The Big Laissez Faire, or The Big Tolerant? It sure isn’t “easy” to live here, except to acquire a gun to shoot someone. I wish the term would go away.

  • Bydabayou

    It’s also easy to get pregnant. Stop the breeding of unwanted and neglected children.
    It’s Hard to have patience and to be a nurturing parent when that has never been seen or experienced. Since the parents aren’t doing it and are expecting the state to care for their kids,  please integrate child development classes in high school, and teach young people that it really is OK to use birth control until physically and emotionally able to be a parent.

  • Janramsey

    Please don’t use the word “breeding.” Do you understand how callous and insensitive that sounds? I hear you on the child development courses and birth control education, but to tell you the truth, I think it has to go beyond that. There needs to be a massive intervention of some kind to save children that are in households where there’s bad or no parenting. This is the only way we’re going to break the cycle of ignorance, poverty and ultimately, young people who are so hopeless and who feel so disenfranchised that they turn to crime and become social monsters and parasites. I don’t know what how that intervention would take place. But I do know that if you make it harder to get guns, eventually these senseless murders will come to an end. It will take time, as every social change does. But you have to start somewhere. 

  • Stephanie

    Oh, come on Jan! Leave the term “The Big
    Easy” alone. I tell hundreds of tourists we call it that because New Orleans is the most unique city in the world. It’s EASY to:
    find fantastic food and get a good drink; listen to the best local music
    including talented musicians on the street; people watch
    with a smile; tour and discover the FQ with a beer in your hand; meet local artists; find great locally owned boutiques and galleries; meet
    and make friends; lose your troubles while
    listening to a local band; laugh during a funeral and dance in the streets;
    second line anytime, anywhere; wear “our costumes” any day of the
    week…..and on and on. No city can put on a party like we do…Mardi Gras, festivals, crawfish
    boils, parades for any occasion….It’s easy to have fun. It’s easy to laugh. And, yes, it is easy to cry. Just
    remember, every city has crime and desperation and sadness. We can’t fix our problems
    by denying the reason we all still live here. There’s no place like The
    Big Easy.

  • Bedico

    It is a terribly fatalistic situation!

  • Bydabayou

    Sorry, I’m a scientist using a scientific term, but you are right. Some of the unwanted and uncared for kids running the streets aren’t even from conscious breeding; they are just a byproduct of sex. I’ve cared for foster children, very damaged foster children and that’s a great way to become callous and insensitive- to the parents- that don’t have enough sense to break the cycle, and reach a point of stability without carelessly bringing children into the world. Most parents do their best to provide a healthy, stable, and loving home for their children, but some aren’t fit or ready to be parents. I can’t see a “massive intervention” happening (remember how they almost crucified the Congressman that suggested putting the kids in an orphanage?) but if we don’t target the source of this problem – piss poor parenting, we will never even begin to pull our city and our society out of the mud. 
    And I agree with you about the gun control, but it will never happen. Too many gun toting red necks in LA. and in our legislature.

  • Janramsey

    Well, of course, we live here for good reason. I just think we need a new name. From Wikipedia:
    A cliché or cliche (UK /ˈkliːʃeɪ/ or US /klɪˈʃeɪ/) is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. In phraseology, the term has taken on a more technical meaning, referring to any expression imposed by conventionalized linguistic usage. The term is frequently used in modern culture for an action or idea which is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. Typically a pejorative, “clichés” are not always false or inaccurate; a cliché may or may not be true.[1]Some are stereotypes, but some are simply truisms and facts.[2] Clichés are often employed for comic effect, typically in fiction.Most phrases now considered clichéd were originally regarded as striking, but lost their force through overuse.[3] In this connection, David Mason and John Frederick Nims cite a particularly harsh judgement by Salvador Dalí: “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”[4]A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience. Used sparingly, they may succeed. However, cliché in writing or speech is generally considered a mark of inexperience or unoriginality.”The Big Easy” is a big cliche. Let’s find another name for it. The term’s days are over. Maybe OffBeat should come up with a poll to get some new suggestions.

  • Janramsey

    Well, of course, we live here for good reason. I just think we need a new name. From Wikipedia:
    A cliché or cliche (UK /ˈkliːʃeɪ/ or US /klɪˈʃeɪ/) is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. In phraseology, the term has taken on a more technical meaning, referring to any expression imposed by conventionalized linguistic usage. The term is frequently used in modern culture for an action or idea which is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. Typically a pejorative, “clichés” are not always false or inaccurate; a cliché may or may not be true.[1]Some are stereotypes, but some are simply truisms and facts.[2] Clichés are often employed for comic effect, typically in fiction.Most phrases now considered clichéd were originally regarded as striking, but lost their force through overuse.[3] In this connection, David Mason and John Frederick Nims cite a particularly harsh judgement by Salvador Dalí: “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”[4]A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience. Used sparingly, they may succeed. However, cliché in writing or speech is generally considered a mark of inexperience or unoriginality.”The Big Easy” is a big cliche. Let’s find another name for it. The term’s days are over. Maybe OffBeat should come up with a poll to get some new suggestions.