It’s Alabama in the middle of the night. The gas station is closed so we go behind it to piss, and find a creepy little shack where someone’s tanning hides. It’s Urbana, Illinois and a dude in U of I hippie in patch pants is cooking us empenadas. It’s dawn in Mississippi, and we’re convinced that the grits at the Waffle Houses here are better than the grits at the Waffle Houses above the MasonDixon line. It’s Indiana in the early morning and I’m starting to hallucinate. The lines and puddles in the road melt into a Yellow Submarine-esque scene and I know it’s time to pull over. On the side of the road, a fat family of deer stumbles in front of the car and into the woods. It’s early morning commuter traffic in Chicago. I keep blinking and swerving. I’m a creature of habit, and WBEZ sounds a lot more welcoming than the half dozen or so nearly identical other local NPR stations I’ve heard this week. It’s good to hear Tony Sarabia’s voice, talking about the predictably grey, shitty day ahead. I haven’t done a lot of traveling, definitely not as much as I’d like to, but from what I’ve seen, New Orleans is the only city other than Chicago that I could ever call my home.
Looking at it cynically, perhaps, the truth is that I can only ever live in flat, politically corrupt cities built on swamps.
Without the filter of cynicism, I’d have to say that it’s a truly magical place, from the antebellum mansions, to the bonfires and the art parades, to the hints of voodoo and creole cooking wafting in and out of every building, a million flavors of cephalopod broiled in the same spices, to the million different shades of goths and punks and neo-Victorians and new romantics and steam punks, to the bike cruisers weaving in and out of traffic in the 9th ward and the Marigny, on Tchoupitoulas and Elysian Fields and Canal, and all the other big streets I need to use to get around because my Chicagoan ass is used to streets built on a grid, and not concentrating out from the rivers,
I have trouble explaining what I like about Mardi Gras, and New Orleans in general, because it isn’t the shit that people think about when they think of Mardi Gras that makes me like it. It isn’t tits and beads and masks and public drinking and daiquiris, even though those are all things I do very much enjoy. The city is alive. It’s an enabler. It’s a different experience from one person to the next, and the only common thread is that it’s there to fulfill whatever type of party it is you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for the Jersey Shore experience, if you want to toss money around a nightclub and get your sleaze on with tanned and toned babes, it’s there. One night found us at a club in the central business district. “Millionaires” (as these dudes were described to me) had rented out the stage in front of the DJ booth, so that everyone in the club could watch them enjoy bottle service and the company of $25 dollar-an-hour escorts (who were real sweet girls, that should be asking for more money in my opinion). And on the exact opposite side of the spectrum, another night found us at a punk show in the backyard of a squat house on a particularly devastated block of the Ninth Ward, gagging on the hickory smell of a bonfire with too much shit in it, listening to a violin-and-drums combo along with a couple dozen traveller kids and crusties and three-legged dogs.
Touring is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I haven’t done nearly enough of it. The funny part is that every time I leave my home, leave my element, leave my routine, something goes wrong. Or everything goes wrong. My primary camera breaks. Shows get cancelled. The weather turns to shit. The car gets all screwy. A lack of privacy and personal space gets tensions all high between me and my friends and loved ones. I’m not sure if the fun part of touring happens in spite of all the setbacks or because of them. I keep a cooler head because I’ve gone on tour. In Chicago, I can fix a bad situation, or anticipate it and brace myself. Anywhere else, I just have to let it roll over me.
A show I was excited about shooting, a festival at the sprawling NOLA Arthouse, whose backyard includes a five-story treehouse (with a rope bridge to a smaller treehouse) and a geodesic dome, got shut down by the cops (along with, I’m sad to say, the house itself), so we bounced around town, watching metal bands at Saturn and soul djs at Mimi’s, and finally to The Saint, an awesome little divebar in the Garden District, owned by Sean Yseult (former bass player of White Zombie, the first band I ever saw in concert), where Major Lazer’s Diplo and Switch were playing a free, secret show.
Just as there were a couple dozen little heartbreaks and letdowns I couldn’t expect, there were just as many pleasant surprises. Running into a girl I went to grade school with at Pravda (a gothy expatriate-themed bar in the Quarter), or a girl I had a crush on in high school busking with a hula hoop, and assorted other Chicagoans left riding bikes hither and thither all over town, or the Krewe Du Poo (an awesome all-inclusive parade of artsy weirdos that we’d tried and failed to hook up with earlier that day) outside of one bar, or a fire-breathing robot called Beatbot spinning a dance party in the middle of the street.
Much love to the crews from Diasappear Here and Members Only AV for rolling down with us, to my good friend AZ for putting us up, to Party Steve for being hilarious and omnipresent, to the NOLA homies DJ DIS@STR, Swiss Chriss, Deft Jams, Rusty Lazer, and Tess Kisner, to OKdeejays and the Chaotic Good in Kentucky, and to DJ CZO in Urbana-Champaign for making it an awesome, unpredictable trip.