September 25, 2012. Posted by Joshua Jackson.Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) plays in a tribute to tuba player Kerwin James. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
If you've been watching the HBO series Treme with us, welcome back.
If you're new here, welcome in the first place. WBGO's Josh Jackson, a New Orleans native, and I have been watching the music-saturated program set in post-Katrina New Orleans for two years now. After every episode, we try to establish some context for the many musical references and live performances the show features.
As the show enters its third season, two years after Hurricane Katrina, the story remains much the same: Cultural survival is at stake. Here's the email dialogue Josh and I had.
© 2012 WBGO
July 4, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), Donald Harrison and Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown) perform with Mardi Gras Indians at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Treme. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
In 2010, WBGO's Josh Jackson and I were down at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where we attended a panel discussion with the lead writers and actors of Treme. The show was only a few episodes old, but it had already won over a number of the locals and Jazz Fest regulars, from the audience's reaction. But after the show's producers admitted that Jazz Fest wouldn't make the program's first season, I distinctly recall several people expressing their disappointment. Apparently the first Jazz Fest after Hurricane Katrina was a rather cathartic experience.
Well, it's never too late to get to Jazz Fest.
Oh, hey Josh. You know, it struck me down there that Jazz Fest was a little bit more of a tourist draw than a locals' hangout. But here in the season finale, it's at least somewhat important for city residents — even if life goes on outside it — and clearly a joyous occasion.
The festival is a huge economic engine for tourism. It also functions as a homecoming party for some expats. Despite its programming philosophy of attracting every demographic profile, there's still a lot to love about Jazz Fest as a showcase for local talent.
I think so, anyway. Indeed, let's get to our weekly recap of the music of the show. This time, the season two finale.
© 2011 WBGO
June 27, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) address a crowd of musicians at Harley's memorial service on Treme. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
In season one of Treme, an important death took place in the second-to-last episode. It's a pattern we saw in The Wire — the previous HBO series from Treme's creative team — where writer George Pelecanos was drafted to script often morbid plot twists in penultimate episodes of any given season.
This season of Treme, Pelecanos wrote episode nine (episode 19 in total) — where Harley is murdered — but the most recent installment, the last before the season finale, had no plot twists on such a dramatic scale. We do see how Harley's seemingly senseless killing fits into the scheme. It reveals more about his previously mysterious character, a composite of so many who have moved to the city to play music. It brings the police force, and Lt. Colson's character, back into the fore. And it will seemingly launch Annie's career as a solo artist, now that she's come into Harley's stash of original compositions.
This episode is heavy on music scenes, though. Josh Jackson and I present our weekly discussion of 'em.
© 2011 WBGO
June 20, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.Ron Carter (left, as himself) looks on as Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) attempts to show him a thing or two on bass, in Treme. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
Lately, our rundowns of musical performances in Treme have ignored some of the non-musical narratives for the sake of brevity. This week is a little lighter on music, and a bit heavier on plot twists — especially at the end of this episode. So we'll address a few of the other storylines this week too. (Spoiler alert for what follows, naturally.)
In real life, singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who plays the street troubadour/sage counsel Harley, recently released a new album and his debut novel, both titled I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. Both are named after the posthumous Hank Williams song, and both muse heavily on mortality. As recently as late January, Earle — who also had a role on HBO's The Wire — wasn't anticipating he'd have to apply that titular maxim to his role in the series. When Billboard magazine asked him about touring, he said, "depends on whether I'm in the third season of 'Treme' or whether they kill me or something. But I feel like I've got a lot less chance of getting killed on 'Treme' than I did on 'The Wire.'" The odds did not fall his way.
Even after a relatively quiet Mardi Gras, violent crime remained a problem in New Orleans in 2007. New Orleans native Josh Jackson joins me again for more insights on this, and other elements of this week's episode.
© 2011 WBGO
June 13, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.Harley (Steve Earle, left) and Annie (Lucia Micarelli) busk in the French Quarter in Treme. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
It took a while to notice, but this season of Treme has set up another parallel between the chef Janette and the ranks of musicians. When her chef at Le Bernardin — played by Eric Ripert, the actual chef at the actual restaurant — senses her unhappiness, he points it out. She once had her own kitchen, where she learned to "express yourself," but now, she's working at her "craftsmanship" on another's vision.
This year, we're seeing Antoine, Delmond, Davis and Annie all initiating original projects which they front. At least Antoine and Annie have heretofore been career sidemen — now they're learning how to be comfortable in the spotlight, too. In this episode, Annie takes a big step forward to that end.
Joining me again to discuss this and other musical questions is WBGO's Josh Jackson.
© 2011 WBGO