Rebirthing Elvis and the Pirates10.30.2005
Rebirthing Elvis and the Pirates
10/30 2:50 PM
Last night was the Saturday night before Halloween, which in New Orleans, is a huge holiday. It was also the re-opening of the Cabildo, closed since the storm. The Cabildo is a gorgeous building right next to St. Louis Cathedral. Now a museum, it is where the Louisiana Purchase was signed.
It was a little chilly last night. On Jackson Square, right in front of the Cabildo, a stage was set up. The Rebirth Brass Band was coming back to town to play for us. They are a premiere New Orleans brass band that started on Jackson Square playing for tourists and now tours the country regularly. They are local favorites, and known for being late or sometimes taking a "break" that lasts for two hours! David had gotten another tour so I was going to have to wait another hour before we could have dinner, so I got a rum and coke and headed for the Square. Once there I took up my favorite observational point, sitting at the base of the lamp post on the corner of Pirate's Alley and Chartres. I've spent hours sitting there over the past year just watching people. Last night was a great night for it.
Waiting for Rebirth to show up were about 250 stalwarts, many locals, some curious tourists. Some of the women were dressed to the nines in dresses, glorious fall shawls and heels. Most people were dressed more casually and some were dressed for Halloween. One couple had gotten a blue roof, a big blue tarp being put on roofs all over the city, and had fashioned it into suspendered pants for him and a strapless gown for her. They did a beautiful job. The stage was well lit, and on the stage little tiny kids were dancing around the big bareness of it, barely avoiding knocking over mic stands that were awaiting a screaming trumpet. Bicycles rode by, one of the local artists was back with his bike trailer filled with his work. He stopped to wait for the band a while then decided to head out instead and barely missed a collision with a krewe of folks dressed in highly imaginative anti-FEMA costumes. There were about five of them, some in coveralls with the big X's that are spray painted on all the houses explaining in code what was found inside, when and by whom. Most of us can now read the "X legends" on the sides of houses without benefit of a code book. A giant human MRE passed by, simple but smart--an overly large brown paper bag onto which had been glued all the various pieces and parts of an MRE, including the heater pack.
The area in front of my lamp post was noisy with laughter and squeals of delight as friends caught sight of each other. No one was bothered when the spokesperson from the Cabildo opened the mic and explained that the band had been caught in traffic coming from Baton Rouge. Everyone here knows that the traffic between here and there these days is horrendous. She apologized and one of the guys near me collected money from all of his middle aged friends along with their drink orders and trudged down the Alley to bring back a few more glasses. The trash container next to my lamp post was already full and had the usual array of empty go-cups sitting on top. Looked pretty normal for New Orleans. Felt more normal than it had since Katrina came along. I even saw some people on a balcony just the other side of St. Peter on Chartres stringing lights on their iron work and dangling it like Mardi Gras beads almost to the street.
I turned around slightly and behind me, leaned up against the Cathedral was Elvis and two pirates. The news crews seized on them, interviewed them and Elvis camped it up. The two pirates leaned against the wall trying to look as tall as possible as the news camera rolled. The Cathedral Elvis was short, but his costume had outdone theirs so they did their best Lafitte on Pirate's Alley and it all came off as casually indifferent exhibitionism, and it was wonderful.
The spokesperson returned to the mic and said that some of the band members had arrived. Four of them got on stage in the glaring light and before a note was sounded, the trumpet player says, "Don't even ask. NO I didn't get my FEMA check, my house is gone AND my wife left me, so when someone says they lost everything, I got them beat! But I sure am glad to be home in New Orleans!" The crowd screamed and there was a strange echo through the crowd of "I didn't get mine yet either did you?" Then the tuba player turns, starts moving up and down, plays those deep notes---do do do DO DO do---and then the blast came. People jumping up and down, dancing everywhere, laughter and joy and shouts. This continued for three songs while the old black danced with a broom in an intricate set of steps, hamming it up for the cameras in front of the stage. A man known to the band was called up onstage to sing. The music started up again, rolling over us with the power of the Mississippi River moving a log, and no one could stand still but there were tears in our eyes as the man sang, "Lord Lord Lord Lord you sure been good to me, and I know it was the hand of the Lord." By now some of the other band members had made it in from Baton Rouge and the sound grew and the crowd grew and the love of the city grew.
Between songs a little banter between the band and the crowd had everyone laughing. I'm not the only one who is upset with Tom Benson! And there was such resolve to rebuild this wonderful place, even knowing how difficult a task that will be. Naturally, all this would have to be followed with "The Saints Come Marching In" and it was, and just as naturally a second line started snaking past the stage and through the crowd. People cakewalking, some waving white sweatshirts or cocktail napkins as they hadn't brought their hankies. One man, in his 60's, naked from the waist up, joined the second line and leapt through the crowd grinning while Elvis incongruously danced near the corner of the stage. No hip-shaking from Elvis. What he really needed was a parasol to pump up and down.
From behind me I hear, "Hey lady, is this lamp post taken?" David, finally off work and in his top hat was staring down at me and we both just giggled. He leaned his bead laden bike against the over filled trash container and we stood thrilled hearing a brass band on the Square. This little patch of Jackson Square was the whole of New Orleans for that moment. The band played a few more songs then had to head to Tipitina's to re-open that club. The lights on the stage went out and everyone gathered their belongings and their drinks, rearranged their costumes, and turned to go to their next stop of the evening. The gratitude for what they'd heard was palpable.
The ladies in heels, Elvis and the pirates, the Blue Roof couple and the rest of us walked past the Cathedral and through a phalanx of National Guard MP's and a fleet of Humvees parked on the Pedestrian Mall. But while the music played, they were behind us, unseen, and life seemed normal for a little while.
Love and Light,
Bec and David
PS I took a few pics. Will send them along in a little while.
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