Sunday, March 23, 2008

Angelle's Whiskey River Landing

location  Henderson, Louisiana 
readability of post  mild
stats      3 (steps)
               1 (cavemen)
               25 (holes in the piping)

The ceiling and the floor are made of the same 2-inch thick planks. After a drink or two has replaced the sweat lost from three-stepping, it is easy to see how the joint could look just fine upside down. Two or three more drinks and it becomes perfectly reasonable that a guy known as Caveman can end up in the middle of the dance floor with the whole bar serenading him with the hope that he ‘gets some action tonight’ to the tune of happy birthday.

In is own honor the Caveman passes around a cigar as big as a carrot. A male friend grabs his arm and they dance down the line. The women folk, de facto Bayou paparazzi and official gossip hounds, snap pictures. The Caveman’s belly bounces underneath his tucked in purple t-shirt. His eyes seem permanently bloated and closed to slits, giving him the visage of a Louisiana Buddha.

Welcome to Angelle’s Whiskey River Landing.


I ended up here sort of the way a stick on a river ends up anywhere. Since my dad died it’s been hard for me to make choices. This has left me somewhat defenseless to suggestion.  So when JoJo mentioned going to a music festival in Austin, I said okay, and when she suggested we see Caroline in Lafayette on the way back to New Orleans, well, that was fine too. I was, and am, desperate for motion. New places and all the stimuli virgin to my senses have a way of putting the brain on tumble dry, a welcome state in these days when I’m afraid of accepting many of my life’s truths.

The problem with saying okay to everything is you can end up in uncomfortable situations. You can end agreeing to dance with Caroline.

To postpone the inevitable I take a walk around. I read the graffiti on the wall and learn that JEB had been here. I smile gamely at the bartender. An elk with a silky blond wig hangs over one of her shoulders. There’s a hog with Oakley’s riding low on the snout above her other shoulder. I wonder what conflicting advice the animals give her as I naively ask her for ‘something different.’ She slides me a bottle made by Budweiser. I tip her a dollar. She rings a fishing bell in appreciation.

To steady myself I run my hand along the coarse knots of wood on the wall until my fingers are stopped by the daggers of alligator teeth. The rest of the skeleton is glued to polished oak, but the teeth, they laugh out loud.


Caroline smiles. That’s a nice thing to happen to me, because Caroline has a beautiful smile. She also has wary and alert Mary Louise Parker eyes and a big old bouffant of silver and black hair. My cousin JoJo says that it’s great how Caroline, 32, ‘owns’ her grey hair. Caroline is a social worker, plays the stand-up bass in a band, and she recently realized that, despite her wandering heart, what she wants more than anything is to have a husband and a baby.

‘I’ve been coming here since I was little,’ she told me as she was driving over the soft, grassy slope of the levee. Caroline’s dad had taught her to dance at a bar like this one. I feel an instant kinship to Caroline when JoJo pulls me aside to tell me that Caroline’s dad passed away a year ago.

The townies circle the room like a school of bluegill in one of those great tanks at the aquarium. Cowboy hats. Tight jeans. Done-up make-up. Men made of coarse leather and nail heads dance and dance and wipe their sweat with handkerchiefs. Sweat stains rise on the back of shirts like Rorschach splotches. It’s amazing the way the partners on the dance floor move in unison. How do they know what each other’s feet are doing as they make love with their eyes, right in front of everyone? It is a sense not embedded in the genes of boys from Connecticut.

All of a sudden Caroline pulls me off my stool. ‘You promised me’ she lies in her sweet Cajun accent. She pulls me close. I don’t know how. I can’t. I won’t. I stagger back to the wall. The old man with the blue eyes and turkey neck takes my wrist. ‘You ain’t gonna learn nothing over here. You’ve got to be out there.’

Caroline follows me. ‘You can’t quit. And I like it when you hold me close.’

The tendons in the singer’s forearm flex as he massages his diatonic accordion. There’s a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist (one of the best in the area, Caroline tells me), and a man whose job is to constantly strum the washboard fixed to his chest. Half of the room is dancing. The other is laughing. There’s a break in the music.

‘We got people from all over here tonight,’ the bass player announces proudly. ‘That one guy, he’s all the way from Texas. And he’s feeling good too, I can tell. What you drinking, buddy?’

Backwoods Louisiana, it seems, suffers fools just fine. It’s a person acting like they’re above other people she can’t stand.


I sneak off to the bathroom. The urinal is a stainless steel cattle feed. PVC piping with jagged knife holes keeps the water flowing constantly. Along the bayou are shacks where some people still live to the rhythm of the water. A flag on the wall celebrating Vietnam vets says ‘Our Cause Was Just.’ Next to it are the three Bud Lite frogs.

Growing up in stuffy Connecticut left me uncomfortable just about everywhere as a child. But I feel good, right, here among these people. It’s funny. It took me nearly 30 years to get comfortable in a room like this. My dad, who spent much of his youth in places just like this in Virginia, it took him 30 years to get to the place where he had me raised.


On the levee I told Caroline that I was tired in my soul. I told her that at least I still had hope. She talked about her problem with living in the present. Seems like she’s always pining for the past or inventing the future.

‘I’ve never had that problem,’ I said.

She laughed. ‘Hope ain’t nothing more than living in the future,’ she said.

I watch Caroline dance with an old man. The beat is fast and his dancing looks like a series of tiny seizures. His cowboy hat seems to be growing from his skin like a fleshy tortoise shell. It is perfectly conceivable to me that this wooden box hidden in the curve of the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp has spawned a new species of man that carries their bodily organs in the well of their Stetsons.

Caroline takes my hand and I don’t have the will to resist. ‘It’s just like walking’ she promises. I watch her feet as she counts. 1-2-3. 1-2-3. I see the 1 and the 2, but not the 3, and the dance doesn’t work without the 3. ‘Don’t watch our feet. Look at me,’ Caroline says.

I think she’s going to explain the mystery of the third step, but we just watch each other. It comes so natural for her, this dance her daddy taught her. I wonder if she’s thinking of him. She’s holding my shoulder. She’s leading me in the circle. How, I wonder, has she found a way to re-own this dance her father gave her?  Me, I’m every bit my father’s son, his boy. I know that it’s time for me to be a man, to own myself, but I don’t want to. Not at all, at least not now.

My feet land on hers as much as they hit the dirty ground. I hope I’m getting better, though I know I’ve got a long way to go. Caroline is gentle. Patient. The bayou moves slowly at the whim of the wind as Caroline smiles in the past.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pretty girl I don't think you can take it; SXSW Review

location Austin, Texas
event South-by-Southwest music festival
stats 1,700 (bands)
1 (weak burritos)
50,000 (hipsters happy as housewives at the alter of RachelRay)
travesties occurred
too many to count

Soooooo, my friend Sundari convinced me to go to SXSW. Wow, that sounds fantastic, I thought, so I bought a ticket down south. And you know what that Sundari did? She backed out. She said she couldn't get away from the corporate job she hates where they make her work in a Batcave all day. But Sundari is from San Diego and her parents are spiritual gurus, so you can't get mad at the kid. Plus, she's got a super cute Muppet face on her. Am I wrong?
<--- There she is < ------ The good lord loves a working man, so my cousin JoJo Brown came along. Rather than write a narrative I thought awards might be appropriate. Here goes.

Worst Kennedy
JoJo picked me up in Houston Thursday night and we headed on a straight shot on I-10 to Austin. We got tired immediately and stopped in a town called "La Grange."
Me: Isn't the grange a disease that dogs get?
JoJo: I don't think so.
Me: No, I know a dog that had it.
We pulled into the Cottonwood Inn where we were met by the most tired Indian grandpa of all time. His pajama bottoms were hanging low and his snow white hair was raising high. The sign clearly said $29.99, but he charged JoJo's credit card $45. He was easy to love. I think the reason its always an old lovable Indian man that answers the late bell at cheap motels is because they know you can't get mad at him when he over-charges you. You think to yourself, He's somebody's grandpa! And he probably makes great malai kofta! $15.01, pish posh!

Anyway, we turned on the tv to find a news report about some poor girl and how Eunice Kennedy convinced her to give all her bah mitzvah presents away. It was an utterly insane story that the woman somehow reported with a straight face. The girl said she was "inspired" by Eunice, but what does a 13-year-old know? And what will retarded people do with an iPod? That Eunice Kennedy needs to check herself. Obv.

Worst Lyric
First thing on Friday morning we stopped in the town where they shot "Hope Floats." JoJo nearly passed out. She kept fanning herself, all a-flutter, saying "Kathy Najimy acted here, Kathy Najimy acted right here." I chalked it up to a case of the vapors and we moved on.

We parked just over the bridge from downtown Austin and walked into the first bar we passed on 6th Street, called the Dirty Dog Bar. We watched one band. The chorus of their last song, their big out, was, "I'm bored. The chairman of the bored." What an shitcan line. "Do bands have to pay to play at SXSW?" JoJo asked as we were walking out.

Most Terrifying Lyric
We wandered from there to an offer of free beer in what looked like a futuristic cattle shed, to a calming 4-piece group from L.A. via Ecuador, to a rap show in a tiny bar. The rapper was jumping up and down, urging the crowd to get their hands up, and, well, he seemed to really care about people getting their hands up, because that's all he talked about for maybe 10 minutes. And you know what? When JoJo and I finally begrudgingly raised our hands the young rapper didn't even seem all that content. What's the point of life, I wondered, but I kept it quiet.

At one point the DJ cut the music and the rapper kept on a cappella. Without the music I could understand his lyrics. Boy, was he angry! This is paraphrasing (but close, ask JoJo), but at one point he rapped: "My dick is so big it will strangle you/ it will kill all the Ugandan refugees if they front on me too."

Man, I wished for our society's future I made that up. We left and went to the Pasta Warehouse. Noodles!!!

Most Over-Hyped Band Vampire Weekend
Neither JoJo or I could afford the $600 for a 'badge' (which everyone wore around their necks in a very geeky way) or a $150 wristband, so we had to wait in line for the bands we wanted to see. We waited 2 hours in hopes of getting into the Vampire Weekend show, maybe the hottest ticket of the weekend. Man, was that line buzzing. The teenage girl next to me was so hyped up I thought she might grow a new pimple. I felt like I was waiting to see, in the least, the new Strokes. (Note: I've been out of the country for a while so I hadn't heard VW yet). It genuinely felt like "An Event."

So... we got in and then hid in a corner during the three opening bands. I read an indie music mag that had a sickeningly fawning interview with the VW boys. They're Ivy League kids, they say their music is more classically influenced than anyone gives them credit for, and they're 'not really surprised' by their quick ascent to the top of (insert witty adjective and then subversive noun). Bad start.

When we stood up that crowd was thick. All of a sudden there was a mass squeal, and out trot four kids that looked like they just came from the upper-middle class white kid factory (which also happens to make those delicious Easter treats 'Peeps'.) So the pretty boys in their Polo shirts (literally, with the logo and everything) start playing this lighter-than-air music, and everyone is going nuts. I don't get it. The music might be good while sipping a cold drink outside a cabana, but it ain't rock and roll. True fact: Upper-middle class white kids cannot make rock and roll. It's the music of the underclasses, the proletariat, of the oppressed. The unifying message of all great rock music has been: Fuck you, I won't do what you told me. But these guys, man... In their defense, I have to give them credit for one essential element of rock they do unquestionably possess: they're genuine. These guys are what they are, right down to the penny loafers, and F you if you don't like it. So I guess that means, well maybe they are rock..., hey you! SHOVE IT!

Best Band Devotchka
After VW the crowd surged toward the door like they were giving out free bottles of starch on the sidewalk. JoJo and I stayed to hear the next band, Devotchka. I don't know anything about them except that they made the song I most often put on repeat last year, "How it Ends." While we were waiting we met a nice lonely girl that looked like Miranda July. But she'll get her own award later. Moving on. Devotchka came out like the most dapper, musically gifted Balkan army of all times. Unlike VW, they were modest, a bit serious, purposeful. They then proceeded to blow the damn roof off the place. They're like a mix somewhere between Beirut and Arcade Fire. JoJo wanted to marry the lead singer, who looks like the bad guys from a good Humphrey Bogart movie. Everyone in the room was in love with everyone else, and the world spun, quietly, humming, re-assuring, on its axis just as the lord intended.

Stupidest Question Asked of a Rock Star Me
We took lonely Miranda July with us to see Tilly & The Wall, a band from Omaha that might be best known for having a tap dancer instead of a drummer. Man, was this band an inspiration, a revelation, a reason to Believe. At one point between songs the guitar player grabbed the microphone just to shout 'Fuck yeah,' and god damn if it wasn't one of the most earnest two-words I've ever heard.

After their last song the crowd did its cheering thing and Tilly walked back out. Somebody from the venue jumped up, hugged them all, then pulled out every plug he could find. Show over. One of the singers, a knock-out pixie of a blonde, took her time off stage then ended up next to me for a second.
Me: Bad deal.
Her: I know, right?
Me: How old are you?
Her: 29
Me: That's awesome.

Anyway, here's the video for my favorite song of theirs:

Most Ungrateful Lonely Girl That Looked Like Miranda July
JoJo explained to our new friend in no uncertain terms that all the hotels in town were booked and we had no place to sleep except our car that night. This girl, who'd we had spent about four hours with, told us how she lived alone on the other side of town. Yet! she did not invite us to sleep on her floor. What a kind, lonely, cute, I miss her was she wonderful, jerk.

Cooking Show Host at SXSW Most Likey to Cause Diahrea Rachel Ray
We ended up sleeping in left field of a local high school ballpark. We woke up to two old men playing tennis, who, for some reason, JoJo thought were either going to a) call the police on us or b) bludgeon us with their Princes. Then we drove to a Starbucks and splashed off in the bathroom. Good as new.

JoJo got us on a guest list to a party held by Rachel Ray so we went there. We started out by mocking all the people excited to see a her ("RayHeads"), but that made us lamer than them so we joined in. We loudly made up a hard-luck past to make Rachel's ascent seem even more heroic.
JoJo: I heard she was forced into child prostitution before a Cooking Channel executive found her.
JoJo also said the funniest thing of the weekend. I asked her what she thought was the funniest question to ask Rachel Ray. Without hesitation she said, "Rachel Ray, can I get pregnant from anal sex?" Hilarious. As penance her food gave us both bad stomach issues. What a wizard! Rachel Ray and Obama might be my dream ticket in 2008.

Best Quote From a Stranger at a Bar
It was damn hot in Texas, so after that we hid inside the first bar we found. It was actually a club, it seemed. Every girl in there (literally, every girl) was wearing a short skirt and had breasts, as my friend D would say, 'to the elbows.' Naively, I wanted to get to the bottom of this.
Me: This is an odd question, but why is this bar so, I don't know, boobalicious?
Girl Next To Me: You've never been to Texas, have you?
True story.

Best Quote From a Stranger Outdoors
We headed to an outdoor Talib Kweli show. We moved toward the front where we saw this highly disturbing sequence: Mother hands baby to a man who appears to be, at best, a stranger; Mom smokes a joint; Mom takes baby back. Hooray! I think live rap shows are mediocre 95% of the time, and this was not in the minority. After the show we were waiting for the bus when we met Sullivan. Sullivan appeared to be about 5o, and was really proud of his shoe shine business at some important building downtown. Salt of the damn earth, that Sullivan. Anyway, an attractive woman asked him for a cig, and Sullivan, who was out, gave her the rest of his along with a spirited barrage of compliments. She walked away shaking her miss thang as Sullivan and I watched. Once she was out of sight he grabbed my shoulder. "Jesse, Jesse, Jesse. That's a dude, man."
Me: Then why'd you give him a cigarette?
Sullivan: It's the South. We've got a thing called manners down here.

And so on
The Lemonheads bailed on their show that night, we saw a lively Jewish hip-hopper named Socalled, we slept in a church parking lot, and we plan on renting a house same time, same place, next year. And that's how I felt about that. Anybody want to come along?