Originally published in Arthur No. 29 (May 2008)
So it’s been a few months since the clan decamped from Brooklyn and moved back to my old stomping grounds of New Orleans, and it’s been an incredible experience so far, and if I had to sum it all up all of its strange beauty in one sentence, it would have to be this:
I’m convinced that if New Orleans didn’t exist, Alan Moore would have to invent it.
Folks here are dreamers and schemers, and the majority of the scheming and dreaming goes on in the city’s bars, taverns, watering holes, speakeasies and so on. Tall tales, big plans and big ideas are everyday currency, and whether they realize it or not, it’s my opinion that everybody in New Orleans is a pulp writer at heart, a spinner of weird tales of the fantastic and supernatural, a closet Stan Lee or Robert E. Howard. Everybody here is a godlike creator of alternate realities. There’s one New Orleans, the “real” city, which is pretty bizarre and fantasmic in its own right. It needs no help to be confounding, dangerous and beautiful, because it’s all of those things automatically.
But then there’s the Uber-New Orleans, the even stranger city, the one invented in the bars. (Let’s pay DC Comics a tribute and call it New Orleans-2) is populated by armies of great bands, classic films, sublime paintings, amazing books and so on. This is not to say that people here DON’T produce things—there’s art going on in New Orleans, art and industry and mad creativity that is at a constant boil. But coming up with mad, drunken ideas for epic works of fiction is a favorite sport of three in the morning New Orleanians, a pastime so endemic that folks here joke about the amount of effort spent talking about things instead of doing them.
If ten percent of these ideas were ever seen to completion, the world would be a much weirder, much more interesting place. I’m certain that the same story could be told about bars the world over, but there’s just something about the way it’s done in New Orleans that makes me feel that it’s a city of a million would-have-beens and could-have-beens, the urban equivalent of a thousand issues of What If…? comics.
But let me get to my point. Every once in a while, just like in a comic book, New Orleans and New Orleans-2 intersect and there’s a massive crossover event and continuity just goes all to hell and it’s wonderful. This happens when someone makes one of these bar ideas actually happen, as was the case recently when my friend Alison Fensterstock had a brainstorm. The idea? To have the Noisician Coalition, a marching club made up of a loose aggregate of ne’er-do-wells and malcontents who bang on trashcan drums and jerry-rigged electronic noisemakers, to play at a local Purim service. Of course!
And this is where New Orleans-2 comes in – the idea was repeated in the light of day and it was run with. Someone knew someone who knew a rabbi, and the rabbi was cool, so the gig was booked—the Noise Parade would be part of the traditional drowning out of Haman’s name at the Anshe Sfard Synagogue over on Carondelet Street. When yours truly got the news that members of the N.C. were needed to add to the ruckus, he was in a bar and semi-disbelieving, but agreed to it nevertheless.
So cut to Purim – only six members of the group can make it, but that’s plenty: group founders MattVaughan Black and Robert Starnes, L.J., Churchy, Fensterstock and me. We’re decked out in our traditional red, black and white garb. The congregants in the synagogue are dressed even more outlandishly and it’s rad. Finally, the service starts. An older gentleman begins to read the Megillah of Esther in Hebrew and we’re all waiting around to hear the magic tragic name of that sneaky murdering bastard Haman to be uttered and when it is – wham! The Noisician Coaltion erupts quickly and messily. Sirens wail, Theremins are distorted and I, the sole member on percussion, bang out the barely recognizable rhythm of “Big Chief.” Smiles erupt throughout the synagogue. This, the assembled folks seem to be thinking, is RAD.
And so the megillah continues, and with every “Haman” we blast it out again and again and again, even going so far as to actually parade around the joint a couple of times. The service winds down, then, and everybody hustles down to the basement for raspberry hamentashen, meatballs, kosher wine and whiskey. Dancing erupts, thanks to the tunes of awesome local jazz-klezmer-marching mutants the Panorama Jazz Band. Dudes are doing flips, people are clapping and every once in awhile a teenager tries to snake a drink.
Later, as yours truly and a few members of the Coalition share a butt in front of the synagogue, a car rolls up, stops. The passenger side window rolls down and an African-American gentleman leans over to speak.
“What y’all doing in there?”
“It’s a Purim celebration, man!”
“Can I come?”
“Hell yeah. C’mon in.”
“Okay,” he says. “But you see, I’m in a wheelchair. I drive with some gears.”
He demonstrates how the gears work. We’re all impressed – it’s a cool set-up.
“So I’m going to drive around and be back later. Is that okay?”
And then he drives off, using his gears, and we watch him go and, well, all there is to say is thank heavens for New Orleans-2 and crossovers in general.
Until the next time, I remain,