Tuesday, November 29, 2011

CocoCoco Robicheaux; Reflections of a Single Facet

Coco & Danielle, at French Quarter Festival
Coco Robicheaux was my friend. Which is not to say I knew him more or less than anyone else, of course. Coco knew everybody. And they knew him.

He had an amazing knack, one of many, for remembering someone's name & face, some particular elements that were peculiar to them, always something interesting. He saw that thing that stood out in you. And he reminded you of it, in his own way, and often. Sometimes in the strangest, yet simplest ways.

For several years, Coco lived in the guest house behind Dr. Fred's, both while my friend, Howard, & I were painting it ("I'm livin in the Red House, now!" he would proclaim) and while I was building the Rookery Studio in the garage there. One day, hearing some of my material through the open door, he told me, "You're a Voice."
  We sat at the out door table, and I, thinking he was remarking on my singing, mumbled something or other about 'scratch vocals'.
"No, man, you ARE a voice. You got some things you wanna say. Every body is part of the Body of Humanity, but we all play different parts. You're a Voice."

I remember feeling strangely complimented and weighted down by this. It seemed like a gift and a responsibility, but then if everybody played a part....

"So, what does that really mean?" I asked.

"Well, it wouldn't hurt to find some people that are Ears," he said, and went back to his paper, doing his New York Times cross word puzzle. In ink.

I met Coco in perhaps 1996 or '97. Mimi could tell you. It was the year she opened Esoterica on Dumaine Street. Her associate, Gina, introduced me to Coco, simply because I asked, "Who's the cat in the purple suit?"

His name was Coco, he told me, and we discussed the grand opening of that occult & esoteric shop in the Quarter, one that was far more than a tourist trap.
"Useful things!" he said with sweeping motion of his arm, holding that twisted cane of his. "So many useful things!"

 That first night, speaking as just David & Coco, we traversed Aleister Crowley & Edgar Casey, Hitchcock & Hawking, Coco later offering his opinions on which of Valikovsky's books Einstein was reading when he died (Earth in Upheaval), how to hypnotize snakes, what color eagle feathers are on different parts of the wing, and the proper way for a gentleman to wear leopard skin pants.
  It was only later that I learned he was that Coco Robicheaux (He hadn't had a last name to me until then), and few weeks later until he discovered I, too, was a musician.

 Over the years, there were literally thousands of conversations like that. And by the early 21st century, a whole new venue was opening up.

I had partnered up with my friend, & cohort, the late Jimmy May, for several years, running Sin City, on St Philip St. All things run their course, and Jimmy wound up on Frenchman St, tending bar at the Apple Barrel, for Doug & Liz. There were shows at Snug Harbor & d.b.a., but the Spotted Cat was still a dream, and the upscale bars on lower Frenchman were just dark, foreboding derelict buildings. Jimmy insisted on bringing music to the Apple Barrel, something acoustic, local, special...

Re-enter Coco Robicheaux. His sets in that tiny room were, and are, in fact, the stuff of legend. Lives were changed, lovers met, hearts were elevated and the Truth of the Spirit was literally on the walls. And that was where it started... This grew into a scene, drawing musicians who craved this action, rather than the safe & steady gig, folding themselves into a new chapter of New Orleans music.

Coco, Mike Hood & Jimmy May on Jimmy & Mike's birthday
 It was there that I first saw Dave Easley play both electric & pedal steel guitar like nobody I had ever seen before him. Mike Skallar, Mike Hood, Sam Price, Smokey Greenwell, Tom Chute, they all came through that room. On several occasions, Coco would not only say my name as I waked in, but urge the crowd to make me play; whatever my condition. I once refused, due to the guitar they had, and Mike Hood, laughing, said "Well, I know you'll play mine," pulling his strat out from behind a piano. And so I did.

Mike Hood & Coco, French Quarter Fest 2011
Many people are familiar with the various incarnations of Coco's bands, from his solo acoustic shows, to the full blown gospel version, every year at French Quarter Fest, where he would stand, arms extended to each side, there by the river, and invoke the Spirit for all of us, and in all of us. His spiritual leanings are no secret either. He rarely, to my knowledge, separated the two. This was part of his power, as a healer, a musician, and a creative force. Those bands that came together around it saw that the  vortex that he & Jimmy created was demonstrated full force when Jimmy & Michelle were married at the Skull Club, with Coco presiding as resident Holy Man. They were all there, Hood & Skallar & Price, and Lani & Lynn Drury & the amazing Irene Sage, one of Coco's dearest friends. It was a session to end sessions, and they were there for the love; of Jimmy, for creating the space to do this, of Coco, for pulling it all together, and for the music, more important than the money or recognition such a group could have commanded in a public setting. They played for Jimmy & Michelle & Coco, and they did it for free.
Coco Robicheaux & Irene Sage

 Snakes don't like choppy rhythm. And the Dali Llama likes bacon & eggs for breakfast. And if you tune the top five like Keith Richards and double the bottom like John Lee Hooker, you don't really need a bass player sometimes. I know these things because Coco Robicheaux found them out, remembered them, remembered that I love this shit, kept an eye peeled for me, and made sure I knew about it.

  I walked up to the coffee shop, and saw him at a table, reading the paper, like a shark, pretending not to see the NY Times crossword, until he & his pen were ready to go in for the kill, leaving no hope to the poor boxes, doomed to be correctly filled.
Without really looking up, he announced me; "Lord David!" Then a peer around the paper & over his glasses, "Hey now..." he'd say.

Sometimes we'd talk right away, and briefly. Other times there would be comfortable silence for a bit, and then...

"You know, it was the Germans who introduced the tuba to Hawaii many years before the G.I.'s took spam there. That wasn't until the second world war.
Maybe that's why they figure so prominently in Hawaiian music."

"Who, the Germans or spam?"

"What's another word for 'one of many faces'? Oh, never mind... facet..."

And that was Coco Robicheaux. A man of many facets, in fact, so many of them that all of us caught but a glimpse, from a different angle, of the same man. A man who once crawled in to a cave, like Johnny Cash, waiting for the end, only to hear a voice of salvation, and spent "two weeks on a bus with Marianne Faithful one night." It was always a surprise, and it was always Coco.

Some might say that they didn't always like what he had to say. Many times, it was because of the truth of it. Some might say he never made much of career, but those people measure in money and that was not the coin of the realm.

Coco Robicheaux made music & art, it's true. And more broadly, he made friends with almost anybody who would join him in that, truly remembering, caring, making contact at a base level, where the heart lives. And there is something more...

 Coco created a character with and of himself, stripping away the confinements of economics, upbringing, education, career and every other misconception that we carry like monkeys on our backs. He got down to the real deal, evolved beings, carrying spirits in the flesh, with no reason not to say hello to someone, anyone, as no person held more or less sway, except for how they comported themselves, what they were willing to find inside to offer back. How clearly he could see that, sometimes.

Now there is this legacy of music, of magical whimsey, of love & acceptance, of healing and seeing beyond the game, to where we are elevated by each other, hands joined, voices raised, the whole world, that bar gig, with everybody invited.

Coco Robicheaux leaves us with a legend, a catalog of music & video, and stories, oh god the stories; they haven't even yet begun... But this is also the proof that it can be done. That one man, with the right kind of spirit, can live that life, right up until the very last minute, and never blink, never back track and say he regretted it, never give up on living his life they way he chose to live it, pure to himself, to the very end.
And create so much joy, so much love, so many stories, and songs, videos & photographs, art & poetry, bringing so much happiness to so many in the process.

I loved him tremendously, and I can hear him chuckling at my saying so, as I do it, followed by "Well, I love you, too man." Because he did. He tried to love everybody.
 And in doing so, he became our friend, our mentor, all of us, together, each one of us special in some way. He made us the legends, to ourselves, while he was here.

I think it's time we return the favor, don't you?

Coco Robicheaux's official second line will be held Monday, December 12th, starting at 3:30 pm on Frenchman Street, and ending at the House of Blues. There will be a night of music dedicated to Coco from 6pm-till. 

Buono viaggio, mio fratello.
I'll catch up later.


Photo by Hubie Vigreux


Lord David said...

I feel compelled to point out that Coco's Bleu Cheese burger was always a better recipe than mine. no matter what I said before. Dammit.


Anonymous said...

I see that your voice is finding some eyes to listen. A fine paean.

Hello from the frozen prairie.
Ken Greenlee

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU, David. This perfectly defines someone so complex. Lovely - and sings of Coco in every way - xox Eli

Buck Redbuck said...

This is a lovely rememberance. I'm sorry to hear of his passing, mostly for selfish reasons, since I did not know him on a personal level. I heard Coco play many times at the Apple Barrel. He's a touchstone to a wonderful time in my life, made wonderful in no small part by the sights and sounds he provided. I feel fortunate to have those memories, and grateful.

Sam said...

Beautiful, my friend. Beautiful. Many many thanks for this. You're right. The stories will keep coming, be added to the compendium, and we'll all be grateful for both the man and the story.

And it's his music and our memories that make him immortal.

Love you, ya know.

mardi claw said...

I would go to the who dat coffee shop on my walk with my dog every morning. on several occasions I would see Coco, and many times we would discuss my "catahoula". pretty dog, those houla's. on other occasions, we would discuss eagles, and hawks. but always? an odd yet compelling conversation would arise.

here's to Coco. :)


Merci Lord David

Mille Mercis Coco!!!

Mark Folse said...

You are a Voice for sure. That's a great story. Thanks for all this.

Lord David said...

Other pieces about Coco:



Anonymous said...

Your words are perfection. Thank you.

I found the same video you posted the night I got the call, and it gave me so much comfort as I watched it many times through the storm. I felt like he was right there with me reminding me to smile.

We made this memorial love board. I hope you will find something special there.