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March 23, 2006

Will America abandon New Orleans?

 OK, so the number necessary to start to commence to begin to make New Orleans reasonably safe from being washed away again by Mother Nature is bracing. $32 billion, it is reported. That would protect the town’s perimeters. So say the experts. Let’s hope these aren’t the same Army Corps of Engineer slackers who built levies, the metal pilings of which didn’t penetrate down through the silt. Which minor miscalculation is by all accounts the reason we must now contemplate the rebuilding of America’s most singular city. One guy’s opinion: $32 billion is a small price to pay. Cut the check and get on with it. That should come as no surprise. I’ve pontificated early and often in this space about the pleasures and treasures of the Crescent City. Much to my forgiving editor’s chagrin, I admit. But there are legitimate reasons why rebuilding the birthplace of American music is a no-brainer. There are forces at work these days in our land that make the city’s rejuvenation not only compelling but necessary. (Actually there’s an immediate personal reason working as I write this — Zatarain’s Creole Mustard. It’s made you-know-where. Seems my sweetie just made tuna salad for lunch and put sweet pickle relish in it. Yuck. The zest from New Orleans’ favorite mustard saved the sandwich. And the relationship.) But I digress.  That the patriots at Halliburton will get a healthy portion of that $32 billion doesn’t bother me that much. Think of the profits they’re making over in Iraq. Hundreds of millions, thanks to their former boss who now happens to be veep. And to his current puppet boss, you know, the prexy with his head in the sand. I mean, we’re willing to spend $32 billion squared to prop up a stretch of sand that will never ever, contrary to whatever that duplicitous duo says, be a democracy. Iraq’s a Disneyland for terrorists is what it is. Spend the bucks to remake the American birthplace of Satchmo, I say. Naysayers are quick to point out that New Orleans, even if reconstituted, will be surrounded entirely by water in a decade or so. Seems neglect and resulting erosion of the wetlands of south Louisiana makes this almost inevitable. Lake Pontchartrain, Ol’ Man Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico are destined, absent immediate rehab, to merge into one body of water. New Orleans would be an island. To which I say — so what. No U.S. town has a more European heritage than New Orleans. And how many cities over there were surrounded by moats back in the day? A lot. Or so I recall from history class. It’s not like we’ll have to worry about pirates. Here’s another reason to the rebuild New Orleans: the homogenization of American life. Every city around is being anesthetized by Macaroni Grills and Clear Channel radio and bad movies on too many screens. Heck, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation recently made its annual announcement of inductees. It labors under the misconception that there are five rockers worthy of designation every year. Blondie, a moderately enjoyable but far from transcendent entity, is to be enshrined. It’s another example confirming how our culture is being debased to pabulum. Yeah, Debbie Harry could rock. But she’s no Hall-of-Famer.  New Orleans, almost alone, has been the caretaker of indigenous American music. Gospel, jazz, rhythm & blues, zydeco — these are the staples upon which pop music was built. There must be a place where culture remains reasonably unadulterated. The Crescent City is it, where po boys trump Big Macs, and even the hip-hop generation upholds the traditions of their forebears. Last but not least is the overbearing moral fundamentalism that is consuming our country. Don’t look now, but Cotton Mather lives. Sure, America’s always been kind of a puritanical place. But enough is enough already. We love New Orleans because it represents excess and greed and gluttony and sloth. Vegas only wishes it could sin like the city at the Delta. If the U.S. of A wishes to be a healthy place, there must be yin and yang, scalawaging to counterbalance Bible thumping. What happens in New Orleans doesn’t stay there. It’s always so funky the tales must be told. Yes, America needs New Orleans. Now more than ever. Yo, President Head In The Sand, you say “America will not abandon Iraq.” Tell us then, Dub, you willing to say that to New Orleans? And really mean it?Contact the writer at cdk@culturemaven.com