Treme Ep. Two Preview: Spencer Bohren and “The Long Black Line”

One of the best musical moments in Episode 2 of Treme, airing this Sunday, September 30, comes when Spencer Bohren, OffBeat’s October cover subject, plays his signature song “The Long Black Line” at Chickie Wah Wah. The song is generally acknowledged as the best of the “Katrina” songs documenting the flooding of New Orleans in 2005.

Bohren talks here about his Treme appearance.

Spencer Bohren guest stars on this Sunday's new episode of Treme.

“That was a pure pleasure, working with Eric Overmyer and Blake Leyh. At the time I hadn’t even seen Treme, but I knew it was cool. I was eating at Liuzza’s one afternoon with some people from my guitar workshop and this guy came over and leaned down and started talking to me. I noticed that all my guitar workshop guys were going ‘oooh.’ I didn’t know what they were staring at. The guy leans down and says,‘My name is Eric Overmyer and I produce the show Treme.’ I said, ‘I’ve heard great things about you.’ He says, ‘There are two things I want to tell you. The first thing is we love Andre.’ Our son’s band (Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes) had already been in several episodes. ‘We love having him around,’ he says, ‘we really enjoy him,’ which was a great thing to say, I immediately loved this guy Eric. That’s a really deep thing to do to somebody to tell them that you like their kid. The other thing he said is ‘You have been on our radar since before we ever started this thing. The problem we’ve had is your songs aren’t the kind of thing we do usually, the music is part of the backdrop, but your song demands more than that. So we’re trying to figure out a way to present it where it’s honored the way it should be.’ What can I say? What a great thing to say. And that wasn’t bullshit; they really did find a way to get it in there.

“They presented me with a script. It was fun, they set everything up and Eric comes in and I say, ‘Do you need me yet?” and he says, ‘No, they’ll be setting the lighting for another hour because it’s all about the lighting. So they got it all set up and they told me what to do, they wanted I think the first verse and the last verse of the song so I did what I was supposed to do and it was, ‘Cut! That was fantastic, that was perfect, we loved it.’ So I said, ‘Are we done?’ and it was, ‘Oh, no, we’re gonna change all the lights and we’re gonna do what you just did about five or six times. You’re gonna do exactly what you did.’ Although it does change, a song is not a script. I’m sure I created some editing problems for them. They’re making movies, they’re not making music. The other song they put in there was ‘Born in a Biscayne’ and all they got I think is just the first part of the head, I don’t think there’s even a verse.”

The Long Black Line

everywhere you look
everywhere you go
you read it like a book
it’s the only way to know
how high the water got
august twenty-nine
that hurricane last summer
left a long black line
sometimes it’s to your ankles
sometimes to your knees
sometimes it’s to your chest or head
or up above the eaves
water filled with chemicals
water filled with gas
water spillin’ everywhere
a city under glass
water laced with poison
god knows, of every kind
you don’t want to know
what’s in the long black line

you can go to church
confessin’ all your sins
you can tell your brothers
’bout the shape this world is in
you could tell your sisters
judgment day is come
he’s dealin’ with the devil
he’s thinnin’ out the scum
this one it was water
fire comes next time
all of this is written
in the long black line

I will never leave this place
you hear some people say
then there’s the ones
who just can’t hardly wait to get away
lots of others have no choice
they’re livin’ in a void
their house is wrecked, their job is gone
their lives have been destroyed
the people comin’ back
no tellin’ what they’ll find
one thing will be waitin’ there
the long black line

drivin’ on the highway
you go too fast to tell
but get down in the lower nine
it’s like a walk through hell
out along the curb
it’s everything we own
we sacrificed our every lives
to this mighty storm
beautiful new orleans
oh, she was so fine
now everywhere you go
there’s just the long black line

the long black line
the long black line
the long black line
the long black line

some people say the sinners
brought it on themselves
others say the climate change
will send us all to hell
some people blame the government
they speak of genocide
there’s some that don’t say anything
they just want to hide
even strong men fall apart
they break down and cry
mother mary pray for us
the long black line

every single minute
every single day
you wonder are you doin’ right
you wonder should i stay
‘cuz everything is broken
all the lines are down
confusion walks down every street
there’s rumors all around
the media is black and white
politicians whine
everything is broken
except the long black line

the long black line
the long black line
the long black line
the long black line

god help the lower nine
the long black line

—John Swenson