It was a raw and misty late afternoon in February during Mardi Gras. Spotlights illuminated the gloaming Marigny shadows with a surreal, almost funereal light. David Simon and Eric Overmyer huddled inside a doorway across the street from the Spotted Cat, watching Davis Rogan do a run-through of “Godzilla vs. M.L.K.” before Steve Zahn as Davis McAlary would sing it for the shoot. The music rattled across Frenchmen Street as crew members directed extras and music director Blake Leyh checked levels on headphones at the production station in the alley next door to the club. It was to be the last club music shoot in the HBO series Treme’s extraordinary three years documenting the music and culture of New Orleans.
“That’s the word,” said Overmyer. “Every day as we approach the end of shooting we say goodbye to other members of the cast and crew who’ve completed their assignments.”
Rogan took a break and joined Leyh and me in the side doorway of d.b.a. at the circular Red Bull table where I was watching the proceedings. We joked about Davis getting married next month and ruminated on which local musician received the biggest boost from Treme’s run. John Boutte was the consensus pick but it was a difficult choice because so many local musicians were cast into new relief by the international exposure the series has given them. They left and I said to a woman who’d joined us, “I think Davis has gotten the biggest boost. He was able to quit his teaching job and now works full-time as a musician.”
She responded, as so many locals who’ve followed Treme as if it was a story told by relatives about their daily lives have, with a plot suggestion.
“They should do a story about these guys coming into town and making a TV show about all of us,” she said.
She walked off and everyone took their places. I was waiting for the call “action” when I saw OffBeat art director Elsa Hahne walk by and chased after her. A stern assistant told us to keep walking as we passed by Simon and Overmyer, who called out to me. I returned a few minutes later and apologized for not stopping to talk.
“Oh, it was just that the camera was panning on these two guys conspiring across the street and you walked by,” said Overmyer.
Just like that, the shot was over and another of Treme’s final moments was complete. The show’s dexterity in weaving stories of real New Orleans musicians into the storyline alongside actors playing New Orleans musicians is so intricate that I couldn’t even tell you who the players in the band were without spoiling a near-Shakesperian plot point.
There was much laughing and handshaking going on inside the Spotted Cat as the crew broke down the set and Simon and Rogan enjoyed a final Treme moment together.
“It was a great coincidence, you walking by then,” said Simon. “Your review of The Once and Future DJ in OffBeat introduced me to Davis. I read it and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ So I get the album and the first song I hear on it is ‘Godzilla vs. M.L.K.’ That’s how it started and now we’re here at the end listening to ‘Godzilla vs. M.L.K.’again.”