WBGO Blog
  • 'Treme,' Episode 4: Tragedy, Comedy, Song

    May 3, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.

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    John Boutte performs the Treme theme song and prominently in episode four as well. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

    We're only four episodes into Treme. But one idea that keeps recurring: everyone is ultimately doomed, and everyone manages to crack an occasional smile in spite of it all.

    Insurers' greed, correctional incompetence, municipal utilities failure, corruption, death of loved ones, physical injury, resentment, racism, relationship drama, parental guilt and the federal government's crocodile tears greet every character at every turn. But for nearly everyone, playing, hearing or being around music enables some sort of familiar grin. Davis' madcap songwriting, Antoine's gruff incantations (to LaDonna in particular), Albert's Indian rituals, Sonny and Annie gigging, Toni and Creighton's Christmas music, Jacques' kitchen radio, Delmond's sheepish encounter with jazz greats and so forth: whether transmuting their emotions or escaping from them, music is there for people. Even the visual sequence behind the theme song juxtaposes images of hurricane destruction with an upbeat, good-mood tune.

    Part of this is the character of musical theater, sure: everything gets filtered through song. But it's especially effective for Treme. There's powerful, unmitigated grief in the show, met by bureaucratic mess. And if you think about oil spills, erosion, global warming and inevitable future hurricanes, nothing seems to be working in Louisiana's favor. When faced with the mortality of your entire culture and community, the humor tends toward darker shades of black. New Orleans just so happens to have great music as a way to work through that.

    Again joining me to talk about the music is WBGO's Josh Jackson. HBO's full playlist is here.

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