This column is *not* about the hilarious 1999 movie comedy of the same title. There is, however, a New Orleans connection. Blast From The Past was directed and co-written by Hugh Wilson the man behind the teevee cult classic, Frank’s Place, which was set in a New Orleans eatery.
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Perhaps this column should be called Blasts From The Past since there are two segments but that’s not as catchy. This may make my board of former Picayune editors shudder but I’m going with blast. Please don’t blast me for my singularity, y’all.
FESTING IN PLACE: Jazz Fest 2020 was initially postponed and moved to the fall. It became obvious that it would still not be safe in October, so the Fest was cancelled. Cancelling one of the city’s signature events is a sign of how seriously this pandemic is taken locally. It resulted in widespread mourning among music lovers in the Gret Stet of Louisiana and beyond. To learn more about the economic and cultural impact of the cancellation read Alison Fensterstock’s piece at NPR.org.
WWOZ-FM stepped into the breach with Festing In Place, which evoked past Jazz Fests only without heat, horseshit, mud, or porta potties. I, for one, try not to frequent the latter. I head for the grandstand where, one memorable year, an attendant proudly proclaimed, “It’s the place to be, to make wee-wee.” I am not making this up.
Back to Festing In Place. It was a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed. It was 8 days of fun and music. They even had their own scheduling cubes a la the real thing.
The emotional peak was the final Sunday. It featured part of Bruce Springsteen’s legendary 2006 set, which included a song written in the aftermath of 9/11, My City Of Ruins. But it applied equally to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina and the Federal Flood:
The Boss had everyone in tears in both 2006 and 2020, even your humble columnist, and I don’t weep easily. Sunday’s replay united the city, reminding us of what I like to call The Spirit Of ’05.
Festing In Place concluded with a stirring 1994 set by the Neville Brothers. They closed out nearly every Jazz Fest on the big ass Fess/Acura stage between 1980 and 2012. I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with the brothers after moving to my 13th Ward neighborhood in 2000. Art, Charles, and other relatives lived nearby, which is why I call it Faubourg Neville.
The Neville Brothers were important to me long before that. My first date with my wife was seeing the Nevilles at Tipitina’s. They were late that night. I subsequently learned that they were habitually tardy. One of many reasons they’re the ultimate New Orleans band as far as I’m concerned.
The Neville Brothers 1994 set can be found at the WWOZ archives. Here’s a video clip of their closing medley from 4 years earlier:
We’ll never see their like again. RIP, Art and Charles.
The last word of the segment goes to Herriman biographer, parade route book signer, and former Gambit editor Michael Tisserand:
LOOSE TONGUE: Former New Orleans Mayor C Ray Nagin was released from the slammer recently:
“Nagin, who served two tumultuous terms in office that ended in 2010, was found guilty by a jury in 2014 on 20 counts of wire fraud, bribery and tax evasion after a trial that captivated the city. He was the first New Orleans mayor ever convicted of corruption. He reported to prison that fall to begin serving a 10-year term, but went home to his family in Frisco, Texas, on Monday after completing a little over half of his sentence at a prison camp in Texarkana, Texas.
Nagin’s early release at age 63 came at the discretion of the Bureau of Prisons, an arm of the Department of Justice, which has been under orders from U.S. Attorney General William Barr to release vulnerable inmates into home confinement when possible. A spokesman for the BOP said he could not comment on the specifics of Nagin’s current arrangement but said that he was under the supervision of a federal probation office in Dallas, and that, all told, 1,576 federal inmates — less than 1% of the total population — had been moved into home confinement.”
There was a veritable orgy of social media dumbassery after C Ray’s release. It was divided between those who believed his original sentence was too lenient and that he shouldn’t have been released early and those who thought he got a raw deal and shouldn’t have been locked up in the first place. I am in neither camp. Prison is supposed to be punishment, not torture. Besides, he’s still under house arrest, which is not dissimilar to what most of us are experiencing during the lockdown. But we don’t have to wear an ankle bracelet that lets the feds track our movements.
C Ray Nagin was the wrong man at the wrong time. The first three years of his tenure were relatively uneventful but there were warning signs. He came off as a well-meaning goofball whose business background left him unprepared for office. In some ways, he was a proto-Trump; only much better looking. Then again, who isn’t?
C Ray’s shallowness, vanity, and lack of political savvy became a huge problem after Katrina and the Federal Flood. He began to act even more erratically. When Air Force One landed not long after the storm, Nagin kept everyone waiting by taking an epic shower and primping like a teenybopper. Vanity thy name is C Ray Nagin.
After winning re-election, Nagin lost interest in the job and the city’s recovery. His erratic behavior accelerated culminating in a threat to “cold cock” then WWL-TV reporter Lee Zurick for a story he did not like. He also began complaining about financial sacrifices he had made in becoming Mayor. That, in turn, led to the grifting that landed him in prison.
As a blogger/pundit during Nagin’s time as Mayor, I had a lot of fun at his expense. I called him a “shiny-headed boob” among other things. My friend Leigh Checkman of the Liprap’s Lament blog dubbed Nagin “the Walking Id” for his propensity to shoot from the lip and say remarkably dumb and/or inflammatory things. Who among us can forget the Chocolate City speech?
I was president of my neighborhood association during the Nagin administration, so I had some up close and personal encounters with C Ray. I was never impressed by his intellect or political acuity, but his vanity was off-the-hook. I recall seeing the Mayor primping in front of a mirror in a hotel lobby. In a voice dripping with sarcasm I said, “Lookin’ pretty.” He smiled and said without a hint of irony, “I do, don’t I?” He resumed checking the shine on his bald pate. I am not making this up.
Nagin’s corruption trial was a catastrophe for the former Mayor. Against the advice of his experienced attorney, John Jenkins, he insisted on testifying. It was a disaster on direct examination and even worse under cross-examination. He thought he was coming off as a likable man persecuted by his enemies. The jury saw him as a jerk who cared only for himself and his family when the city was struggling to recover.
Nagin was convicted, then caught a break. Judge Ginger Berrigan could have sentenced him to up to 20 years but threw a much smaller book at him, 10 years. Now he’s out of jail and living with his family in Frisco, Texas.
The Nagin story is a cautionary tale about electing anyone who promises to run government like a business. They are nothing alike. The country as a whole is learning that in 2020 as the Trump regime runs it into the ground. It’s not pretty even if C Ray was.
Ray Nagin’s loose tongue cost him his freedom.
The last word of the segment goes to Neil Finn:
Finally, I recently posted my hitherto unpublished law school murder mystery online at First Draft. It’s set in New Orleans in 1991 and 1992. In 2020, it almost qualifies as a historical novel. The title, Tongue In The Mail, is taken from another Neil Finn song. What is it with Neil Finn and tongues? If you’re interested, click here and scroll back to Chapter 1.
That concludes this edition of the 13th Ward Rambler. See you in two weeks.