“Me Donkey Want Water,” the title of Episode 3, Season 3 of Treme, is also the title of one of Monk Boudreaux’s compositions on Tab Benoit’s Voice of the Wetlands album, one of the most important pieces of music in Louisiana history.
The record, recorded in January 2005 at Piety Street, warned of the catastrophe that in fact took place on Aug. 29th of that year when a storm surge took out the levee system protecting New Orleans. The near-total destruction of the city that followed is the back story that informs Treme. The album’s opening track, “Don’t Let the Water Wash Us Away” still has an eerie resonance today.
In this week’s episode, the VOW All-Stars play “Me Donkey…” as well as the Benoit/Anders Osborne composition “We Make a Good Gumbo” at the Howlin’ Wolf. It’s a great example of how Treme employs music to advance plot details while promoting the music in real time. The sequence affords Antoine Batiste an opportunity to indulge the bad boy side of his personality as he uses a road trip with VOW as an excuse to get laid and allows Delmond Lambreaux to point out that there are more R&B gigs in New Orleans than modern jazz opportunities, an observation that was more accurate a generation ago than it is today.
More importantly, the episode airs during the week leading up to Benoit’s ninth annual Voice of the Wetlands festival in Houma. Treme implicitly draws attention to this significant local event, which is designed to raise consciousness about the threat the ongoing destruction of the wetlands poses to the Gulf coast in general and New Orleans in particular.
Treme may be sacrificing some of its dramatic impact to make points like promoting the VOW agenda in the long run, but it’s doing a tremendous public service in the here and now. If more people demonstrated the creative courage David Simon and his staff bring to exposing the issues underlying Treme — corruption, crime and the abrogation of responsibility on the part of political leaders and the corporate interests that finance them — the world wouldn’t be in as much trouble as it is today.