Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Silencing the Voices of The City

It is a scene imagined in minds across the Globe; an evening stroll, deciding to taste the foods indigenous to the city, distracted by the beauty of the ancient architecture, and listening to the sounds of jazz, played on the very street corners... until now. Mayor Mitch Landrieu ran for office on a platform of, among other things, "preserving our local culture". Many an eyebrow was raised when he chose Ronal Sherpas as our new Police Superintendent, after a 'nation wide search' that promised to chose from 85 of the country's "best & brightest", as Serpas is not only former NOPD, but third generation NOPD and his father was apparently Mayor Moon Landrieu's driver for a time. As New Orleans struggles through a new wave of horrible press (thanks, BP), the HBO program, 'Treme' keeps us barely seen positively in the Eyes of America. For the most part, anyway. People see themselves as imagined in the first paragraph, walking through a renewed French Quarter, surrounded by food, drink & music. Now Mayor "Preserve our Local Culture" Landrieu & Chief "Law & Order" Serpas have taken on the Real Enemy; Street Musicians. Local ordinances, rarely used, have allowed the NOPD to shut down street musicians performing on Bourbon Street, from Canal to St Ann, at 8pm. There is another, equally ridiculous ordinance, allowing them to do the same to the brass & acoustic Jazz Bands that play at the corner of Frenchman Street & Chartres, a spot long known for it's free music. It's over at 8pm, well before the parade of tourists and local listeners hit Frenchman for their nightly stroll. Under these current conditions, Louis Armstrong's career might never have been launched. I try to imagine a city, it's culture based on silence after 8pm, side walks clear of both musicians and those who would make a living from the crowds they draw; bartenders, cooks, busboys, waiters, and the myriad delivery people who help to service the dwindling tourist trade. Just who would be left to stroll there? Tourists who have dreamed all their lives of Quiet Time in the Big Silence? Imagine with me, as you fly in to Curfew International Airport, and quietly take a cab to Keep It Down Park, famous for the noisy Congo rhythms, no longer allowed past 8pm... Sorry. This antiseptic version of the Stepford Quarter is too horrible for my mind's eye to behold. There is a flicker of further madness in all of this. There are city ordinances provided to allow the constant use of power tools, compressors, leaf blowers, jack hammers and agricultural equipment from 7 in the morning until ten at night, starting a full two hours before music can begin, and running a full two hours later. In what insane nightmare standard does this become allowed to stand? Is crime in the 8th district so fully under control that NOPD cruisers have nothing better to do? As warned, Serpas' penchant for focusing on minor crimes to raise his stats is well under way. Perhaps burying his head in the COMSTAT room, he cannot hear the oppressive silence forced upon our streets by such persnickety police work. God help those carrying a trombone and forgetting to put on their seat belt. The Tower of Punishment surely waits. At a time when the State of Louisiana is wrestling with White House over it's oil platform closures, saying that without fishing, there is only that & tourism to support so many, why is the Mayor of New Orleans shutting down jazz on the street, possibly THE oldest tradition we cherish & hold dear? While the NOPD undergoes Federal Investigation on never-before-seen levels, why is the new Chief of Police using vital officer time & energy to shut down brass bands and acoustic street musicians? Banning street amplifiers after 8pm I could understand, but banjo's & trumpets? This is seriously ludicrous, if there is such a thing. I have been sent sections of blogs, with commenters there, claiming to be NOPD or Ex-NOPD, voicing their "strong disapproval" of the way they are portrayed on HBO's 'Treme'. Some have called for all off duty NOPD security to stage a walk-off, others for the officers on duty to "forget" to respond to this particular entity. I have even read some that call for the removal of all street musicians who "got what they deserved" on the HBO program. I cannot say if these commenters are actually NOPD or not. I can say that I know where the Buck Stops. And now, so will you. Please, let those who "govern" at City Hall know what you think. It is, after all, our city, and it is they, not us, who serve at our discretion. Mayor's Office Phone: 504-658-4900 Police Chief Serpas Quality of Life Officer for 8th District Ofc. Roger Jones, 8th Dist PD 504-301-7667 Arnie Fielkow/City Council Counselor at Large 504-658-1060 Jackie Clarkson/City Council Vice President 504-658-1070 Kristin Palmer/District C Council Member (District 8 is her district) The silence you hear is the End of an Era: Music on the Streets of New Orleans.


mardi claw said...

wow, this brings to mind dr johns book the night tripper, and what jim garrison did to bourbon street. silencing jazz, and sending it to the four corners of the USA.

I always judged my night by the band on bourbon and canal street. If they were out there playing? It was gonna be a good night. If they weren't? might as well close my door.

guess that speaks lengths now.

giuliana said...

I think the time has come for some good, old-fashioned, 60's style, Civil Disobedience. I say we organize as many our like-minded brethren as possible, to stand behind the musicians, and when 8 p.m. comes along and the cops try to stop the music, we all join hands, make a human chain, and start singing, right along with the musicians. What are they going to do? Arrest a hundred of us for singing in the street?

Anonymous said...

I live in Greenville, SC but NOLA is my 2nd home (& soon my permanent home). This reminds me of what Greenville (buckle of the Bible belt) did a few years ago. They revitalized their downtown area & advertised it as a place to discover local art & culture. There were wonderful art galleries featuring local artists, street musicians & performers, funky little clothing stores, a vibrant nightlife with a variety of live music venues & a People's Market where artists could rent a booth & sell their art. Then the yuppies moved in from the suburbs - the People's Market was closed & a "delightful" Mast General Store (chain store) moved in, rent was jacked up & the funky stores & art galleries had to close, condos with sky-high prices were built in places were performers used to congregate & a noise ordinance silenced the street musicians. The clubs & music venues were ordered to close by 2 AM (even private clubs). Then the yuppies looked around & decided they wanted to be seen as a funky, cool arts community & formed a committee to decide how to make Greenville funky & cool! These people moved downtown because of the exciting nightlife and funky bohemian vibe, & then tried to turn it into the "burbs. If you want the 'burbs...then STAY IN THE "BURBS!