Treme, Davis and Expanding the Culture

Sunday night was the last episode of HBO’s Treme’s third season, and bless Eric Overmyer’s heart, both OffBeat and the Weekly Beat got a couple of shout-outs (thank you Eric!).

I found the story thread on Davis McAlary’s CD production particularly amusing with his song “I Quit” supposedly marking his disgust with the music industry and the end of music career (hah!). I can’t link to the song on HBO’s website yet (gotta be an HBO subscriber for that, or at least wait until the DVD of the final season is available), but if you’re interested, you can listen to the original song by Davis Rogan, who’s the basis for the McAlary character on the show, and who’s featured as a musician and a regular extra.

Contributing Editor John Swenson reviewed Rogan’s album, the Once and Future DJ in OffBeat’s first issue published post-Katrina with a glowing review (December 2005). David Simon, the co-creator of Treme (and The Wire and many more superlative television series and books) bought the CD, and made Davis Rogan a TV star (in the persona of Davis McAlary). One of my all-time favorite songs (and apparently a favorite of Treme writers as well) is the original rant “I Quit,” that’s a diatribe against things other than the music business (Republicans, hotel employers, WWOZ, the New Orleans Public School system). This is classic…and by God, it inspired a television series about New Orleans and its music, and a classic quirky character. Too bad it’s Steve Zahn and not the real Davis, although I don’t know if the television-viewing public could deal with the Real Davis.

Relative to Treme, we’re rabid watchers. I have a lot of interest in the music for obvious reasons, but I also enjoy the character development. What I’m dismayed to find is how many people I know locally who aren’t following the series. I’ve asked these people why not, and have heard several reasons: it’s too dark; there’s too much music (wha?); the story isn’t exciting enough; “nothing happens…it’s like watching paint dry.”

Too bad, guys, you’re missing a show that really “gets” what New Orleans is all about, in all its byzantine glory, its musical and cultural richness. I believe it’s the only show about New Orleans that’s ever done that. I’m hoping that the next half-season will put some icing on the cake for this great series and finally get this show the praise it deserves.

Changes on Frenchmen, yet again: Frenchmen Street habitués, there’s another venue planned for the street. The vacant lot between the current Blue Nile, and the Laborde Printing Building at 520 Frenchmen Street has been slated for development as a three-story mixed development, with two floors devoted to a restaurants, a small bar on each level, and three residential units on the third floor. The development is rumored to contain a pizza restaurant and a jazz club; the plans don’t show any stage or backstage areas, however.

One of the local music club operators on the street was in my office today and was bemoaning how much Frenchmen had changed in the years he’s been operating. “I know things have to change,” he said, “but it’s just not what it used to be. All the original people are either gone or have died. There are a lot of new people on the street now.” True, and things do change and evolve. The most important thing is that Frenchmen Street continue to showcase live local indigenous music, and that it not become synonymous with another Bourbon Street. Let’s face it, Frenchmen is no longer a well-kept local secret. It’s becoming less hip and “inside” and more trendy and touristy. When that happens, the hipsters tend to migrate towards another location. St. Claude is the next area towards the east for music clubs (Hi Ho, Siberia, Allways); Freret Street is adding several new nightspots and music venues to the west, including a revival of the Funky Butt, the Publiq House, and Breezy’s (named after Robert Borsodi’s old coffee house, a place I miss so much), among others. Freret and St. Claude both have special zoning designations as arts and cultural districts (as does Frenchmen Street), which makes the development of music venues easier.

The more music the merrier. It all shows that New Orleans is back on the map (as if we ever left!). It’s heartening to see small businesses with passion and enthusiasm wanting to keep the city’s culture alive and well.

If you haven’t already, scroll down to a link to OffBeat’s 25th anniversary issue, which features yours truly on the cover (for the first time, ever). Normally, I’m not someone who wants to be in the spotlight, but Elsa Hahne, our art director and ace photographer, thought it would be attention-grabbing …and hilarious. Attention-grabbing, I don’t know, but hilarious, I have to agree. I just hope that “25” bubble doesn’t burst anytime soon—literally and figuratively. Oh yeah, if you’re free on Wednesday of next week, join the OffBeat staff for a celebration birthday at Cafe Istanbul in the Healing Center from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. We’ll have food, beer and libations, and music from Gravy, plus some birthday cake. Sorry, no bathtubs!



  • Davis Rogan

    Hey Jan,
    Just wanted to let you know that I wrote the new words for Macalary’s “I Quit.” That said, I prefer the original. Sold one copy on CD Baby, whooo hoo!

    • Janramsey

      I figured as much. Can’t see that coming out of Pelicanos.