Atrocity Exhibition

The conference portion of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew just concluded. The day included interviews with Bartholomew, musicians who played with Domino and Bartholomew, and Lloyd Price (conducted by OffBeat‘s Jeff Hannusch). As a part of the programming, writer Daniel Wolff presented footage he collected in New Orleans with filmmaker Jonathan Demme in January 2006, then at lunch they showed a follow-up visit to New Orleans with Tavis Smiley from earlier this year.

I was of two minds of the footage and inclusion of Katrina-oriented material in conference. Anything that contextualizes New Orleans music – or any music – is valuable, but Domino and Bartholomew last recorded far before Katrina. I’ve argued that Domino is the perfect symbol for New Orleans after Katrina – someone prematurely declared dead – but that wasn’t the thrust of the film. In fact, its inclusion seemed a little easy and perhaps gratuitous because nothing gets people’s attention and tugs on their heartstrings like Katrina destruction.

But maybe such footage is always relevant. Maybe America needs to see a major city decimated by flooding to keep it focused on what’s important. Flannery O’Connor wrote at the end of “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “she would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Maybe footage of houses dropped on cars and barges in people’s yards will keep the possibility that this could happen again alive in people’s minds. After an election when the electorate embraced a more Darwinist approach to our civic relationships, maybe we need to see flood damage when we least expect it. In the middle of Glee, a quick cut to a floating body followed by exhausted, average people walking through the skeletal remains of their house, a house that had been gutted and now had to be rebuilt along with their community. After the gory, goopy examination of a body on CSI, a slow pan through a flood damaged house, gray from the dried mud with all the possessions bloated, distorted and destroyed in the lingering flood waters. The flood was a result of systematic government negligence of the levee system, and maybe people need to see those consequences whenever they can to get them to shake off the denial and force a little political will.