Yeah, You Right

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Celosia, caterpillars, doppelgängers, Sidi Touré, koras, The Who Dat Coffee Café, Lyft, tight muscles, Michael Flynn, watermelon sorbet, jazz, Algiers & The Big Easy.


Friday

Our Lyft driver, Paula, said the SF planning board passed a rule to allow skyscrapers all up and down Van Ness. So much for Tommy’s Joynt.

Moira says Louis Maestros has to move out of his place on Mandeville because he can’t afford the new tax assessment. He’s moving to Algiers.

Our landlady, Theo, knows Ben Jaffe, who heads up the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Ben is connected to the Cuban and Haitian music communities. Theo’s going to put us in touch.


The day weighs heavy with sound.


I banged my head walking out the window onto the balcony to write. The window only goes up so high. Note to self: remember to duck. Sat down fast on the floor. Slightly stunned but now writing slightly stunned prose.

Between prose and poetry it’s a fine line. Brandon’s Four Seasons is a long poem in prose. Rodger’s been writing prose poems under the influence of Max Jacob. Max Jacob and Picasso were roommates. Picasso slept all day while Max Jacob was at his job.

Walking back from the Who Dat Coffee Café, a tanned, blond, middle-aged man in a Nature’s Impressions T-shirt showed us flowers and plants in his side yard on Dauphine bound for balconies all over the French Quarter. Some of the plants were coleus, potato vine and some others I can’t remember. He loves the Bay Area, stayed rent-free in a room courtesy of his “straight buddy” in SF when he was having cancer treatments. “Public health is better there,” he says. “When I win the lottery I’m gonna buy a place in Bolinas.” Big smile.


He plays fast repetitive figures that ride over the guitars and bass and light rhythmic sparks that shimmer in air.


Today we’ll hear Sidi Touré from Mali, Kod Kreyol from Haiti and Steel Pulse from the UK.

The flower I couldn’t remember is celosia. Thanks, Rita.

I didn’t leave Ahni’s dark-blue mini backpack at Larry and Anita’s, nor at Ralph’s on the Park, nor at Bacchanal, because I hadn’t taken it out with me.

One guy in Sidi Touré’s band plays a small gourd with a few strings on it. He plays fast repetitive figures that ride over the guitars and bass and light rhythmic sparks that shimmer in air. The musicians create a steady state of groove-based energy.

One of our favorite musicians was Aurora Nealand, who played soprano sax with Calvin Johnson’s tribute to Sidney Bechet. Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records fame was there. Rodger told us they’re playing at Buffa’s at midnight. We passed Buffa’s on Esplanade at 11:55 coming back from Larry and Anita’s. It was time for bed.Compass Rose

Saturday

At Ralph’s on the Park, the bartender, Tito, asks, “Do identical twins have two separate doppelgängers or do they share just one?” And what about the doppelgängers’ doppelgängers, I wonder.

Leaving our chairs at Congo Square.

Theo told me she was happy about two things. The first was that I used the LSU coffee. I never found out what the second was because the second thing was something she was unhappy about, the fact that I had made coffee in the first place. She had left coffee in the white carafe. I’d overlooked it, then made a fresh pot, which I shared with John from Mississippi and his wife, Mel. Theo says the coffee maker leaks water on the counter if you don’t set it just right.

John asked who I liked at the fest yesterday. I mentioned Sidi Touré of Mali. He said that was the best music of the day.

On thing leads to another, but when does one thing end and another begin? And what about this business of leaving things out?


Rita speaks of a kind of imprecision built into the Spanish language, an intentional vagueness that allows the speaker leeway against enforced committal.


The new security cameras have flashing red and blue lights that alternate every second, 24/7. At night they throw red and blue light through nearby shutters. In the morning they crave attention in a futile attempt to compete with the morning sun.

Someone is playing a guitar in Washington Square. Ahni is practicing her flute in our living room, “Oseh Shalom.” I’m on the balcony writing this. The sun feels hot on the back of my neck. It feels good on the muscles still tight from banging my head.

I gotta go downstairs and get Ahni another cup of coffee.

John owns a bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s called Lemuria. He buys from SPD.

I’m thinking of calling this “Notes from NOLA.”

The day weighs heavy with sound. Like car wheels on a gravel road. (Lucinda Williams)


Our Lyft driver, Larry, worked on its construction in 2003. He mixed the concrete and ran it up through tubes for the pour. He also mentioned having commanded a tank when in the service.


Our NOLA Lyft drivers so far: Phillisha, Lanise, Diane, Kendra, Curtia, all young African-American women, all courteous, sometimes witty and entertaining. Each ride I greet the driver by name, introduce myself and introduce Ahni and Rita. The driver greets each of us by name. Finally we get a male driver, Michael, a middle-aged white man. I start to go into my intro routine: “I’m Kit.” He says, “Yeah?”

Best of the fest today, Sona Jobarteh of the Gambia, a stunningly beautiful vocalist and kora player with a smokin’ band.

Our kids arrive and we dine at a nearby Japanese place where the Thai place used to be. After-dinner walk with the family down Frenchman dodging drunks to music from bars and a brass band on the corner. The kids get watermelon sorbet at the deli.

Rita leaves early tomorrow. We’ll see her at rehearsal Wednesday. No, not Wednesday, Thursday.Compass Rose

Sunday

Up at 2:55 a.m., feeling for the bathroom doorknob.

 

A profound affection for literal fact.

Sun on my back. Waiting for the family to wake up.

Rita speaks of a kind of imprecision built into the Spanish language, an intentional vagueness that allows the speaker leeway against enforced committal. This occurs in the colonial territories, not Iberian Spanish.

Anita says the giant oak trees are full of caterpillars. If you step on one barefoot the tiny hairs sting like the dickens and leave a mark on the bottom of your foot.

In Treme, Kim Dickens played Susan Spicer, the chef-proprietor of Bayona in the Quarter. At Ron Carter in the WWOZ Jazz Tent we saw Treme star Wendell Pierce moving toward an open seat. He was wearing a bold plaid short-sleeved shirt.

On the concourse, I saw Michael Flynn moving along with the crowd. He was wearing a T-shirt and shorts. No hat or shades. With another guy. Definitely him. Just chillin’ while awaiting Mueller’s next move. Sure, why not go to JazzFest? The pleasures of immunity.


When Theo asked Brad Pitt the question he just said, “I guess you don’t want to sell me your house.”


Charles Neville passed away last week.

An Alberta Hunter song, “Talkin’ ’bout Texas / I said Texas / Texas people are your friend.” As played by Don Vappie & the Creole Jazz Serenaders. Thanks to Ericka, Flora and Plum for helping me get the words right.

Charles Neville was born December 28, 1938, the second of four sons. At fifteen, he left home to play saxophone with the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrel Show. He went on to work with blues and R&B singers, including Larry Williams, Johnny Ace, Big Maybelle, Jimmy Reed and Little Walter. After serving in the Navy from 1956 to 1958, he toured with B.B. King and Bobby (Blue) Bland. While doing a three-and-a-half-year stint at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola for possession of marijuana, he stayed in practice by playing with other jailed musicians, including the great New Orleans pianist James Booker. Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril Neville formed the Neville Brothers in 1977. The Neville Brothers recorded more than a dozen live and studio albums. In the 1990s, Charles moved to rural Massachusetts and performed with his sons, Khalif and Talyn, as the New England Nevilles. He returned often to New Orleans, where he performed with his daughter, Charmaine Neville. Failing health prevented him from joining a Neville family reunion concert in 2017.¹

Full moon over Esplanade.Compass Rose

Monday

In New Orleans, when someone agrees with you, they say, “Yeah, you right.” The sense of agreement is anchored not only in the object of agreement but also in a shared sociality, a common experience and a common tongue.

Theo loves the poetry of Steve Mason, a Vietnam War vet who published three books with major publishers in the late 1980s. The third one is called The Human Being. Theo read me one of the poems. It was about how being human is about being part of something bigger. The poem is direct, subtle and profound.

“Microbes maketh man,” Plum and Flora say in unison. I say, “Where did that come from?!” They both point to a magazine cover, The Economist.

Coming back from dinner at Ralph’s on the Park (Eric and I split a whole grilled fish), we’re talking about possible art museums and the National WWII Museum comes up. Our Lyft driver, Larry, worked on its construction in 2003. He mixed the concrete and ran it up through tubes for the pour. He also mentioned having commanded a tank when in the service.

The next day on our way to the Contemporary Art Center, up loomed the WWII Museum. I told our driver, Matthew, about Larry. “That’s a lot of concrete,” he said.


Anita says the giant oak trees are full of caterpillars. If you step on one barefoot the tiny hairs sting like the dickens and leave a mark on the bottom of your foot.


At the Contemporary Art Center we saw paintings and films by Sarah Morris. The show was terrific, with big, geometric works in glossy house paint, place-name titles like Rio and Abu Dhabi and provocative quotes like these:

“There are certain categories that continue to repeat themselves, whether they be cars, buildings or a certain exchange between people. You have the same sort of catalogue of gestures, a catalogue of moments, but they mean different things in all the different circumstances.”

“I am not interested in documentaries; I do not believe in any kind of objectivity.”

“Hi Theo, I’m Leo,” said Leo DiCaprio. When she meets movie stars or poets, Theo always asks, “If I only get one movie (or book) of yours, which one would you want me to see (read)?” Leo’s entourage all started talking about Titanic. “No,” said Leo. “Revolutionary Road.”

When Theo asked Brad Pitt the question he just said, “I guess you don’t want to sell me your house.” “Did he want to buy your house?” “They all do.”

There are many feral cats in Theo’s courtyard. They came after Katrina. Each cat sits apart in its own space. They are skittish and quickly flee when approached, though Theo says they are beginning to be more comfortable with humans.

Offbeat asked Charles Lloyd, “What’s exciting about playing music at eighty that’s changed since you were younger?”

Charles Lloyd said, “The longevity and the experience have given me more tools; it goes deeper. Truth and love. Transformation. Distillation of sound. Mother’s grace blesses me. Water does not wet it. Wind does not blow it and fire does not burn it.”


1. Jon Pareles, The New York Times, April 27, 2018


Kit Robinson was born in Evanston, Illinois, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, went to Yale and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area ever since. He is the author of Leaves of Class (Chax), Marine Layer (BlazeVOX), Determination (Cuneiform), The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems, 1976–2003 (Adventures in Poetry) and twenty other books of poetry. His collaboration with Ted Greenwald, A Mammal of Style (Roof), was named among “the best poetry of 2014” by the Chicago Tribune. He lives in Berkeley, California, and plays Cuban tres guitar in the charanga sextet Calle Ocho.

Lead image: Austin Prock

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks, Kit Robinson. Your Big Easy piece was just the way travel is, the path-crossing, the jump cuts. Most of the off-hand observations tripped off personal recollections in a similar vein: travel journal as interactive instrument, very useful. The two tips on west Africa music were both first-rate: Sona Gobarteh on the kora:17 strings never sounded so good.

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