'Treme' explained: 'On Your Way Down'
Published: Sunday, May 08, 2011, 10:01 PM Updated: Monday, May 16, 2011, 1:32 PM
The "'Treme' explained" posts are intended as an episode-by-episode guide to the many unexplained New Orleans references in the second season of HBO’s "Treme."
This post contains spoilers.
It also contains a lot of information and links that might help viewers of the series better understand the show’s characters and stories, as well as the city and time period in which it’s set.
For starters, review a comprehensive archive of the Times-Picayune’s Katrina coverage, including an animated map of the levee failures. In addition, these books, links, CDs, DVDs and streams might prove helpful. Also, go deep into the musical culture celebrated throughout "Treme" at www.AmericanRoutes.org. The website for Nick Spitzer's American Public Media radio series, produced in New Orleans, has a searchable archive, and holds hundreds of hours of informative, pleasurable listening.
The title of the episode is "On Your Way Down," an Allen Toussaint song that can be heard playing in the jukebox as LaDonna closes Gigi's.
The episode was written by James Yoshimura, and directed by Simon Cellan Jones.
As the episode opens, Annie plays "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" with pianist David Torkanowsky at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Later at the museum gig, they perform "Snooks' 2-Step," and Torkanowsky plays a solo version of "On the Sunny Side of the Street." The Ogden exhibit the scene is meant to re-create is Do You Know What It Means? The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Photography by David Rae Morris. The photo of Sonny was created by the production. Some of the photos seen during the sequence appeared in a 2010 exhibit of Katrina photography titled “Telling their Stories: The Lingering Legacy of the Katrina Photographs.”
Nelson is staying at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. (In the original script, it was the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, but that hotel objected to this scene's nudity and some later dialog.) Sonny checks his ad (again) at the New Orleans Music Exchange on Magazine Street. Toni meets with her NOPD contact James Distel (played by Marc Menchaca) at Robideaux's Market, actually the shuttered Winn-Dixie at St. Louis and Marais streets.
Law-enforcement communications in the days immediately after Katrina, a time when store looting was widespread, were spotty. "With fire trucks and police cars blanketing the parking lot, we mistook it for a staging area for rescue operations," wrote Times-Picayune reporter Brian Thevenot of a visit to a Tchoupitoulas Street Wal-Mart, in an account (and follow-up) of the paper's post-Katrina reporting for the American Journalism Review.
"It also appeared authorities themselves had opened the store to provide a lifeline to refugees. We could not have been more wrong. We fanned out inside the store, looking to get some interviews and a little food, but found the most basic fabric of society had dissolved. One man smashed the glass tops of jewelry cases, screaming, 'Free samples! Free samples!' Assembly lines ran from the electronics and computer sections to vans waiting outside, clogging the wide boulevard next to the Mississippi River. Cops and firefighters pushed carts alongside looters, who scrambled like coked-up ants through the massive store, slipping and sliding on its soaked and filthy floors. We interviewed looters and cops alike, finding conflicting accounts of how the store had been overrun – and why the authorities now helped loot it. Most cops stuck to the basics – but some joined the free-for-all. Photographer John McCusker snapped off a shot of a cop carting out an armload of DVDs before McCusker left, fearing for his safety."
Antoine's band, rehearsing "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley" (an Allen Toussaint song recorded by Lee Dorsey and Robert Palmer, among others): Raymond Weber, drums; Cornell Williams, bass; Terrell Batiste, trumpet; Mario Abney, trumpet; Lance Ellis, sax; Thaddeus Richard, keyboard. Actor Lucius Baston plays the auditioning tenor player. Others who will appear as bandmembers: Herman Jackson, Roderick Paulin, Tim Green. Wardell. Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Debris-disposal challenges post-Katrina sparked landfill wars.
Tony Senzamici plays NOPD Capt. Jack Malatesta, who remembers the paper plate.
Glen David Andrews and actor Reginal Varice (portraying Hot 8 drummer Dinerral Shavers) discuss second-line permitting issues with LaDonna.
Sofia rants about the cause-and-effect relationship between the oil industry and Louisiana coastal erosion. About oil-and-gas leasing fees: "Fifty-four years ago, Gov. Earl Long and Plaquemines Parish boss Leander Perez told President Harry Truman that Louisiana would not accept 37.5 percent of the oil and gas revenues derived from offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico," wrote former U.S. Sen. John Breaux in an August 2006 guest column in The Times-Picayune. "They wanted more. In fact, they wanted all 100 percent. But Truman wouldn't budge off of the 37.5 percent offer that Louisiana rejected. As a result, Louisiana got neither 100 percent nor 37.5 percent. We got nothing. Since then, the federal government has generated more than $160 billion from oil and gas revenues from submerged lands off our state's shore in the Outer Continental Shelf, and almost none of those funds have been shared with our state."
Yesterday it was the Humane Society of Louisiana dog-and-cat relocation spending versus New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's efforts to restore electricity. The city had only a handful of electrical inspectors in the months after the storm, and a visit from one was required to have power restored in rewired structures -- and even to have power switched on in temporary housing like FEMA trailers. Toni's associate, Andrea Cazayoux, is played by Jen Kober, a Lake Charles, La., native who works as an actor and standup comedian.
The guy at Gigi's is not looking for Sydney's Saloon.
Sonny catches the New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings playing "Delta Bound" at The Spotted Cat. The Cottonmouth Kings splintered from the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, who performed in the second episode of season one, in 2009.
Dominic "Taz" Alexander delivers LaDonna to the emergency room. Her health-care providers are played by Kesha Bullard, Morrey McElroy, Nora Newbrough, Robinicole Kindrick and Han Soto. Dana Gourrier plays Det. Leroy.
Cecile Tebo, crisis unit-administrator for the NOPD, tries to get a mentally-ill patient admitted to emergency care. "The lack of hospital beds, and the distances police must travel to find them, has spread law enforcement resources thin at a time when the NOPD is already strapped in trying to deal with rising crime," wrote Times-Picayune reporters Laura Maggi and Kate Moran in an April 2007 story. "More and more mentally ill patients are winding up in jail, for lack of treatment options. The dearth of resources for handling psychiatric patients extends through both the public and private sectors, which have lost a combined total of more than 300 psychiatric beds in New Orleans alone."
Tebo said she got the part after an afternoon spent with the "Treme" writing staff to discuss the state of mental-health care in the city post-Katrina. "After spending several hours with the writers they decided that they would like for me to play my part in one of their episodes," she said. "The itty bitty piece exactly depicts the issue at hand when chronically mentally ill patients were brought into the emergency rooms immediately after Katrina. Today, University Hospital has done an outstanding job in creating a system of care for the NOPD when we bring a patient into their facility. However, patients continue to need access to longer-term beds for the chronically disabled, as the emergency room continues to be clogged with this population needing inpatient level of care services."
Driving to meet Robinette, Nelson listens to former New Orleans Saints QB turned radio analyst Bobby Hebert on WWL AM-870's "SportTalk." As usual, I couldn't understand a word either Hebert or his caller were saying.
NOPD's Capt. Marcus Grayson, played by Jon Eyez, references the conspiracy theory that implicates New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello and/or then-U.S. Vice President Lyndon Johnson in John F. Kennedy's assassination.
The cowboy chords.
Toni meets Lt. Colson at Cafe Beignet.
Nelson Hidalgo meets Robinette at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter. On the bandstand: Lucien Barbarin, a mainstay of Harry Connick Jr.'s band and Preservation Hall, playing and singing "Mack the Knife," a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1955, covered by Bobby Darin in 1958. (If the Ritz had allowed Nelson's scenes to be shot there, Jeremy Davenport would've been this scene' s featured performer.)
Vaz Jhoni is still working for Susan Spicer at Bayona.
Delmond and his band (Jonathan Batiste, piano; Joseph Saylor, drums; Tony Jarvis, sax) perform at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York. The Dizzy's patron who encourages Delmond to explore social-media marketing is played by Gregory Jbara, whose credits date back to "Newhart."
Ned Bellamy, whose credits date to "The Waltons," plays Toni's client.
Nelson meets again with Oliver Thomas. Fielkow. Chief Riley.
Jacques Morial, seen in season one, meets Sofia and Toni's assistant, played by LeToya Luckett, outside of City Hall. Once a member of the R&B group Destiny’s Child with childhood friend Beyonce, Luckett has recently been acting for stage and screen, with roles in 2010’s “Preacher’s Kid” and “Killers,” and the upcoming New Orleans-shot “From the Rough,” on which she working when she got a call to audition for “Treme.” At the time she started shooting her scenes, Luckett was working primarily with Melissa Leo, a very good actress. About halfway through the season’s production, Luckett found herself working with Melissa Leo, Academy Award-winning actress. “Melissa Leo is phenomenal,” Luckett said. “Even my first day on set, I was like, ‘This woman is absolutely amazing.’ She’s one of the first people since I’ve been acting (who) pulled me aside and actually wanted a rehearsal before we were to shoot. I was in love with that. I love how serious she is. I love how down to earth she is. She introduced me to the show. I’ve been able to learn from her by watching her. She’s amazing at what she does.”
The guitar-player ad that Sonny takes in the New Orleans Music Exchange seeks a player who can help bring Stax, Volt and J&M back to the fore.
Diana Boylston, who has her own remarkable Katrina story to tell, delivers the good Road Home news to Albert.
Jim True-Frost, a veteran of "The Wire," returns as Delmond's manager James Woodrow. Metafilter.
Wanda Rouzan sings "Got to Get You Off My Mind," a 1965 hit for Solomon Burke, with the Soul Apostles. “I think Wendell (Pierce) and maybe some of the producers had come to see me at a Jazz Fest performance last year,” said Rouzon of her casting. “I’ve been knowing Wendell a very long time.” A veteran of local and touring stage productions, Rouzan easily tackled one of "Treme's" biggest technical challenges: All of the music performed on the show is recorded live. "It’s not (difficult) for me, because I have a theater background,” Rouzan said. "For me it wasn’t a challenge at all. It was wonderful being able to do it live. A lot of times it’s just one or two takes. Good band. Good musicians." A full-performance video of the song can be downloaded at iTunes. Joe Tex.Ray Nagin announced in early December 2006 that Ed Blakely would be the city's recovery "czar."
Sonny observes busker Harley (Steve Earle) performing Professor "Fess" Longhair's "Tipitina" and "Hometown Blues," which Earle recorded on his 1997 album "Train a Comin." Playing with Earle is Jamie Bernstein. Telecaster. Danelectro.Thomas Wolfe. Doc Watson.
Larry drove 100 m.p.h. from Baton Rouge on the I-10.
The closing-credits music is Louis Armstrong's version of "Mack the Knife."
Other music in this episode:
Dinerral Shavers, played by Reginal Varice, admires the snare drumming on "Roll With It" by the Rebirth Brass Band, playing on Gigi's jukebox.
Driving to Janette's, Davis hears Chris Kenner's "Sick and Tired" on his car radio.
Jimmy McCracklin' s "The Walk" is heard as Antoine and Desiree discuss his job-job and qualifying for a home loan.
Allen Toussaint's "On Your Way Down" is playing when LaDonna shuts off the jukebox at Gigi's.
Sonny's roommates get busted to the tune of The Happy Talk Band's "May Day 1945."
Alvin "Red" Tyler's "New Orleans Cakewalk" plays in the Royal Sonesta bar as Nelson discusses carpetbaggery.
Dave Walker can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3429. Read more TV coverage at nola.com/tv. Follow him at twitter.com/davewalkertp.
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