hot 8, here now

Jun 29, 2008 by

(Originally posted someplace else on May 1st, 2008)

This is the kind of scene you occasionally find yourself stumbling into when you live in the greatest beat-up beat-down city on earth:

(photos on this page copyright 2008 Louis Maistros)

Me and the wife are minding our own business, performing our evening ritual of snagging some joe and peace along with Chalmette the misfit pooch down at the Sound Café a few blocks down, and what do we happen upon through pure serendipitous dumb luck? Maybe the best brass band on earth slamming down right there on the coffee shop floor. As if this weren’t heaven enough, jazz legend Dr. Michael White is there, too, sitting in on clarinet. Moments like this cannot be bought with mere cash-money – and that’s alright, because in New Orleans the best moments always come free of charge.

The Hot 8 Brass Band matters. Everything that is good about New Orleans is embodied in this little band of regular neighborhood guys. They’ve been to hell and back, have even lived through the senseless murder of their friend, teacher, leader and drummer Dick Shavers, and yet they keep on with this music, this amazing, uplifting, truth-giving music. This is cool jazz, funked to the core and set ablaze, but it’s something much more than that. It’s the rawness of the street shot out through the business end of a tuba. It’s Tabasco spiked with tears and gasoline. It’s love. It’s war. It’s life and God and the devil and everything else in the world that matters and some things that don’t and a few that fall in between and ask me if I give a damn about whatever it is because the reasons, the causes, the rationales, if there are any, can’t possibly matter in this singular moment that puts this whole fucking mess in one simple context, on one single page, down and clear and all right there. These guys are not always in tune. They’re not always sober. They’re not always tight. But they are always, always just right. In the moment. In the pocket. In the heart. My heart. Yours if you’re lucky.

So the night is cool and rare, the sun’s creeping down the sky, and it’s one of those gray, gray pissy southern skies with a dirty tint of orange twilight like a slow-rotting peach that I’ve only ever seen in New Orleans, and I’m having an epiphany moment.

I’ve had days where I’ve pondered the wisdom of staying here, days where it seems best to pack up the kids and take them somewhere/anywhere up north and just be done with it already. I’ve had days like that, and I guess I’ll have a few more.

But today is not one of those days.

Thinking about leaving is something I sometimes do. Staying is what I do every day without thinking.

Today my heart is clamped to my sleeve and bulletproof. I’m seeing and hearing this neighborhood band, these normal guys, blowing out through those horns, wailing away, kicking through songs of the 1920s like “Girl of My Dreams,” ripping them to pieces for this modern-fucked-sideways world, I’m hearing the hopped-up rage of their own songs, like “Ray Nagin,” a song that can make you cry and scream and dance all at the same time, and I’m hearing the pure funky hotgoddamn of “Let Me Do My Thing.” I’m going all the way back then fast-forward to here, ten minutes past now, with outrageous brassed-out covers of everything from “High Healed Sneakers” to Marvin Gaye’s disco sin, “Sexual Healing,” and I’m hearing my wife say over and over, “I never liked this song before, but I love it now.” I’m knowing that they’ve been through so damn much, these guys, these normal fucking guys, much worse than the troubles suffered by me and mine, but they just won’t stop, they can’t or won’t, they just keep going, taking all those hits – from behind and above and below – and they still come back up again, over and over, these guys, these normal everyday fucking guys, still raging, still preaching, still high, still defiant, still towering in spirit like it’s just another day on the job. And now I’m thinking: How dare I bitch about a single bad day? My problems are reduced to shadow tonight and these guys have lighted the way. I’ve done nothing for them, but they give me this. They give me this without even knowing who the fuck I am or that they are giving anything to anyone at all. They’re just playing. They’re just doing what they do.

And that’s New Orleans tonight.

Go visit the Hot 8 at their MySpace page where you can listen for free in streaming audio. If you get what I’m talking about, buy their CD or download a few tracks off iTunes.

Here’s the thing:

Some types of truth cannot be told in the usual way.

Louis Maistros

These things may not be right, but they are true.

The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros is due for publication from The Toby Press in Spring 2009.

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