It's springtime, the weather is ambrosial in New Orleans, post-Super Bowl, post-Mardi Gras, post- last week's truly endorphinic French Quarter Fest, the prospect of Jazz Fest looming. There is only one way to describe the feeling-we're in love with the city all over again. And so is David Simon.
You can tell, because no one would have worked so hard to get it right as he did with Treme, if he wasn't in love. All our past suitors professed their love for us, swore to us they would tell extol our specialness to the world. And then they dressed us up in ridiculous clothes, made us say words we never use in accents we never hear-made us feel like we were in a recurring betrayal nightmare, where the groom over and over again runs off with his whore-girlfriend while we are left standing at the altar, in our ridiculous get up, words coming out of our mouths we don't say in voices we don't recognize.
I have a theory that the hurricane-strength love affairs that devastate our lives and that we are lucky enough to experience even once in our lifetime are powered by the sense of our inability to "nail down" the "object" of our quirky, unpredictable, unattainable, finicky fancy. You might as well grab water in your hands. All you can do is swim. And David Simon is in that gulf of the smitten, along with all the others who really cared-- Lafcadio Hearn (The New Orleans of Lafcadio Hearn), George W. Cable (Old Creole Days), Sidney Bechet (Treat It Gentle), Les Blank (Always for Pleasure) and the late tormented soul of Stevenson Palfi (Piano Players Rarely Ever Play Together) among others.
So, I know Simon really tried to "capture" New Orleans, or even more allusive, capture the "spirit" of New Orleans. I know he really tried. But, alas, only to be rebuked by those in the Mardi Gras Indians community who know how incorrect the details were, smirked at by many of the 600 volunteers at WWOZ who know we don't have playlists and know we weren't in Armstrong Park after the Federal Flood of '05, scorned by just about all locals who know that that Hubig's pie had to be at least 4 months old if it was served up as depicted in the 1st episode. Actually, that last item is theoretically possible! Even the word "local" - so anthropological, so tour guide, seems the analog of the scientific vocabulary that would explain to us the neurophysiology of love. Simon even acknowledges as much, saying he had to have outside writers along with the "locals" to keep from being so seduced that he'd fail to tell the hard truths while in his now 5-year swoon, that "art is the lie that tells the truth." (At least that's the quote I got in conversation with a "local" quoting Simon quoting Picasso.)
And I agree with him. Because orgasm is cathartic and catharsis is orgasmic. And Treme: Episode 1 for locals was truly cathartic. There is no one I've talked to in New Orleans who didn't feel finally liberated by any number of the scenes: One being where DJ Davis says to Kermit Ruffins: "You just standing there telling me all you want to do is get high, play some trumpet and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?" Kermit: 24-bar achingly poignant pause, "That'll work." What is so deeply moving about this scene for me is that we've seen this scene starring the very same Kermit Ruffins, with our own eyes, heard it with our own ears—for years. So what if the train was pulling out of the station? We're already in New Orleans. No need to go anywhere. And now Kermit will become a household word throughout the land, but he's doing it on his terms, he's doing it his way. He's getting the brass ring anyway, because of Treme. And he didn't have to be somebody he's not. And Treme is validating that. YES! There's a reason they call Kermit "Trueheart" in the hood. No one gets that one on the cheap. "All aboard!" Thank you, Kermit. Thank you, David Simon.
And then there's that scene with John Goodman aka Creighton Bernette aka Ashley Morris heaving that smug interviewer's microphone into the Industrial Canal, blasting the interviewer into smithereens. YES! I know that every "local" in New Orleans watching that scene stood up and roared with release. The house full of viewers at my home sure did. It was so-o-o cathartic... it was orgasmic. Thank you, John Goodman. Thank you, Ashley Morris. Thank you, David Simon.
How artfully coy and difficult we are, those of us who feel entitled to respond to the on-going stream of New Orleans' ardent suitors. Well, I for one won't carp about David Simon's indifference or ignorance of the details, whatever the case may be. David Simon is doing right by us. This is as good as it's ever gonna get. Thank you, David Simon. Thank you, Treme. Thank you HBO.