Wednesday, April 27, 2011

'Treme' explained: 'Accentuate the Positive'

Dave Walker, 
The Times-Picayune 

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."

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, CDsDVDs and streams might prove helpful. Also, go deep into the musical culture celebrated throughout "Treme" at 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 episode's title is "Accentuate the Positive," a song (title: "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive") written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer in the 1940s. It's heard twice during the episode, first in a club performance by John Boutte and others, then under the closing credits.
The episode's teleplay was written by series co-creator Eric Overmyer. The story is by Overmyer and Anthony Bourdain, author and TV host. The episode was directed by executive producer Anthony Hemingway.
Celebrated Nov. 1, All Saints' Day was "instituted to honour all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful's celebration of saints' feasts during the year," according to the The Catholic Encyclopedia.
"All Saints' has long been an important day in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, brought from France as La Toussaint (a name for the day which is still used in French-speaking and French-influenced areas of the state). The above-ground cemeteries of the Crescent City, themselves such a distinctive feature of the urban landscape, were virtually mobbed on All Saints' in the 19th century and earlier decades of the twentieth century," according to The Louisiana Folklife Program. "The wood engravings of the nineties and the photographs of the thirties show cemetery aisles packed with people, tombs festooned with flowers or beaded immortelles. It was a time for families to get together and for general socializing, a festive day for most. Vendors lined the streets selling tamales, popcorn and pralines, or perhaps la biere creole, a beer brewed out of pineapple pulp and fruit juice, according to 'Gumbo Ya-Ya.'
"Today in New Orleans All Saints' is more subdued but still an important day for visiting and decorating cemeteries. A modest but steady stream of people makes its way to family tombs in Lafayette or St. Louis No. 1 or Cypress Grove, and Save Our Cemeteries, an organization devoted to the study and preservation of the Crescent City's historic graveyards, has taken to stationing its members in several of the older cemeteries to pass out information and solicit memberships."
The youngster practicing the trumpet is Jaron "Bear" Williams, who is a member of The Roots of Music marching band, and will be featured in Richard Barber's upcoming documentary about the recovery of school music programs in New Orleans, "The Whole Gritty City." That's Williams on the film's website home page.  
Feral chickens have proliferated in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.
The women in white are Zion Trinity -- Sula, Oshun Ede and Andaiye -- musicians and songwriters who also sell incense, candles, oils and jewelry on Frenchmen Street and at festivals.
The song Antoine Batiste plays at Danny Nelson's grave is Jelly Roll Morton's "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say." Antoine played the tune for Danny (via shared earbuds) in the hospital scene in episode seven of season one. Jelly Roll sings it here
Toni and Sofia visit Angelo Brocato's Original Italian Ice Cream Parlor, a favorite of Creighton Bernette's. Hit with 5 feet of failed-levee floodwater after Hurricane Katrina, the store reopened in late September 2006. "Angelo Brocato's is the sweet side of New Orleans' red-gravy roots," said the Times-Picayune story, written by food editor Judy Walker, that Toni mentions to Angelo Brocato III. "Their particular piece of Sicilian culinary tradition traces back to the famous dessert parlors of Palermo, where the original Angelo Brocato learned his trade, and the recipes his family still uses. Brocato immigrated to Louisiana in 1905 and by the 1920s had a tiled confectionery store in the French Quarter on Ursulines Street that operated for 60 years. Brocato's handmade fig cookies, seed cakes and assorted biscotti have decorated local St. Joseph's Day altars for decades." 
Though John Boutte's "Treme Song" remains the theme, the opening credits have changed to reflect the events of 2006-2007, the period in which season two is set. Karen Thorson, a "Treme" consulting producer who assembled the sequence,explains the changes.
Sonny busks near The Praline Connection on Frenchmen Street, where Delmond dined in season one. The song is "Basin Street Blues," written by New Orleans native Spencer Williams in the 1920s. Watch and listen to Louis Armstrong play it. The competing street music comes from The Loose Marbles, profiled in this 2007 Dan Baum post for  The New Yorker.    
The New York restaurant kitchen where Janette works is one of "Treme's" few constructed sets, built in a warehouse on the West Bank of New Orleans. The same warehouse holds the WWOZ FM-90.7 studio set.
Janette's line colleague is played by Paul Fitzgerald, whose prior TV credits include "Guiding Light" and "The Bedford Diaries." The psycho-chef they all work for, Enrico Brulard, is played by Victor Slezak, who's done guest roles in TV series ranging from "Miami Vice" to "The Good Wife." He is credited with playing four different characters on various episodes of "Law & Order." Several New Orleans chefs were cast for the restaurant scenes.
The saucier is played by Adrienne Eiser, a Montreal-native chef now working at the St. James Cheese Co. on Prytania. She's also an apprentice to a local Italian salumi maker. Eiser was forwarded an e mail from "Treme's" casting department looking for local chefs, and attended an open-call audition. "They asked everybody to show up in their whites and with their knife kit," she said. "I remember looking very carefully at the script they had given out, and realizing that they were actually looking for a New York kitchen and New York chefs. I put a lot of thought into what I was wearing. I saw someone there wearing chili-pepper pants. I used to work in Manhattan, and I know that chefs there do not mess around, and their whites are pristine at all times." The built kitchen set, she said, "was honestly one of the nicest kitchens I've ever been in." 
Annie tours with the subdudes. Accordionist John Magnie played piano and sang at Davis's house party in season one. All Souls Day follows All Saints' Day.The band has made several national TV appearances, but the scene was Tommy Malone's first pass at saying lines. "(Lucia Micarelli) was helpful there, just real sweet," he said. "'Don't worry about it. Just be yourself. Just do it.'" Set in a Connecticut nightclub, the concert scene was shot in The Hangar next to Rendon Inn. In early November 2006, the subdudes were touring through Connecticut. "I looked it up," Malone said. "Somebody did some research." The second song the subdudes perform is "Carved in Stone," which Malone wrote after the death of his father. "Part of the memory of that song ... was that one of the things me and my dad did every year when I was a kid was, we'd go paint the (family) tomb," Malone said. "I wrote that song about a week after he passed. It was a great choice for the scene."

Sofia's shirt: "Make Levees, Not War."
10th Ward BuckWWOZBig FreediaPiedmont bluesBumble Bee Slim.
The bar that gets shot up while Sonny's there is Voila, 300 Decatur.
In his off-the-record conversation with The New York Times, Lt. Colson references the bizarre tale of Zackery Bowen and Adriane "Addie" Hall, which unfolded in October 2006. Bowen committed suicide by jumping off a French Quarter hotel roof. A suicide note directed police to Hall's body, which Bowen had dismembered and cooked. The story is retold in detail in Ethan Brown's 2009 book, "Shake the Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder that Rocked New Orleans."  The East Village cannibalism case. The Times' story about Bowen and Hall in happier times. Given that they and the Sonny-Annie couple shared the history of never leaving town after the storm, and because Sonny was a total dick, first-season "Treme" viewers in New Orleans feared that Sonny and Annie would play out the Bowen-Hall story.
Janette's tattooed roommate is played by James Ransone, who's starred in two previous David Simon projects -- "The Wire" (as Ziggy Sobotka) and "Generation Kill" (Josh Ray Person).
Times-Picayune reporter David Hammer guest-explains the dialogue in the scene in which Desiree and Antoine visit Desiree's mother's flooded home: "Desiree's mother opted to take the buyout option from the Road Home, selling her house to the state based on its pre-storm value, minus whatever insurance and other aid she got. The Road Home was the state-run homeowner aid program financed with $10.3 billion in federal money. It eventually paid nearly $9 billion to more than 128,000 families, the vast majority of whom chose to rebuild. Only 10,500 homeowners, about 8 percent, went the route of Desiree's mother and turned their property over to the state."
The Musicans' Village
In a November 2006 story for New Orleans' Offbeat magazine, Katy Reckdahl recounted the January 2006 shooting Toni references, and the ensuing difficulties between the NOPD and second-line-organizing social aid and pleasure clubs, including the fee increase. Ray Nagin's "Chocolate City" speechVideo of a Sudan Social Aid & Pleasure Club second line in 2008. The New Birth Brass BandMore second line background. The Danziger Bridge thingHarry Lee. Toni's new assistant is played by LeToya Luckett, formerly of Destiny's Child and now a solo music artist and actor.
After his performance with Christian Scott's band at New York City's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola,  Delmond begins to correct someone's conversational assertion that what happened in New Orleans in late August and early September 2005 was a natural disaster. It wasn't.
WyntonHarryBranfordChristian. "A, it ain't Dixieland. It's Trad Jazz. B, there's a lot of great players at (Preservation) Hall." Donald.
Antoine blows with Bonerama at Tipitina's. They perform the song "Mr. Go" from the band's 2006 "Bringing It Home" album. The Mississippi Gulf River Outlet -- or Mr. Go -- is a shipping channel cut in the 1960s. "Over the years, the channel was blamed for the loss of thousands of acres of protective wetlands," said a 2009 Times-Picayune story marking the channel's closing. "And after Hurricane Katrina, many elected officials and residents of St. Bernard Parish, eastern New Orleans and the 9th Ward loudly criticized the waterway as the cause of the deadly flooding that decimated the region." Lots of  Bonerama on YouTube
Matt Perrine, who helped direct Antoine to the fantasy strip club gig in season one, encourages him to front his own band. Perrine's band is Sunflower City.
CJ Liguori is played by Dan Ziskie, whose TV credits include "St. Elsewhere," "Quantum Leap," "Ed" and "Gossip Girl." According to, he's played six different characters on "Law & Order."
Built in 1855St. Alphonsus Church, 2045 Constance, is a National Historic Landmark and was Anne Rice's childhood parish. St. Alphonsus LiguoriRick Perry has been governor of Texas since 2000. Tom Craddick was speaker of Texas's House of Representatives from 2003-2009. Tina Benkiser was chair of Texas' Republican Party from 2003-2009. As the Mississippi River makes it way through Jefferson and Orleans parishes, its West Bank is west, south and east of the the East Bank of New Orleans at different times. Nobody here uses compass directions -- ever -- so it's not a problem.
Annie performs the episode's title song with John BouttePaul Sanchez and Bonerama's Craig Klein.
The grill man who unsuccessfully presents the duck dishes from Chef Brulard's right (your left) is played by Alon Shaya, chef and partner with John Besh in Domenica restaurant in New Orleans. "A note came to my office saying that they were looking for a New Orleans chef to participate," Shaya said. "They asked me if I would do it and being a huge fan of the show I said yes, even though I had no idea what I was saying yes to." Shaya added that he's worked for chefs that share Brulard's professional demeanor, though not lately. "I have worked for a couple of chefs that have been maniacs," said Shaya, who with Besh participated in a brief HBO promotional piece about the food of New Orleans now available on "Treme's" cable on-demand menu. "It really taught me what not to do when I became a chef. But as a cook you have to balance your experience. Sometimes the craziest chefs are the most technically gifted, and so you learn the good stuff and forget the bad."
Lt. Colson and Toni lunch at Casamento's (Est. 1919), which is "(s)terile-looking, hard-surfaced and bracingly white" but the "slender Uptown institution has the vague look of a science lab that treats patients with Gulf seafood, particularly oysters," Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson has written. "The fried shrimp are also terrific, and if you spot a sign in the window advertising soft-shell crabs, look for a place to park."
Jon Seda's Nelson Hidalgo and his cousin Arnie (played by Jeffrey Carisalez) dine at Liuzza's -- not to be confused with Liuzza's By the Track where Creighton Bernette ate during his melancholy New Orleans walkabout in season one's episode nine -- where they are served by Rosa "Lola" Perron. "It was just a short little scene," said Perron, who's been working at Liuzza's for more than 25 years. "I was just doing my job, serving people." Perron also helped polished the lines written for her. "I have a habit of calling people 'Honey' or 'Baby,'" she said of her script additions. Perron's home had rooftop-high floodwater after Katrina, and Liuzza's was flooded and closed for several months, too. "I'm like 5-foot-3, and the water line was over my head," she said. "The bar opened first (about 10 months after the storm),  and then about two months later we started serving food."  

The Frenchuletta sandwich "is made on French bread opposed to the (muffuletta's) round Italian loaves, and they're cooked, which melts the cheese and releases some of the fat in the meat," wrote Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson in 2006. "A blend of oils richer than a cold muffuletta's runs through the resulting sandwich, which tastes close to what's served at DiMartino's Muffulettas." Also try Liuzza's fried pickles and a beverage served in a frozen mug. A May 15 benefit is scheduled for Liuzza's owner Mike Bordelon, who's recovering from an auto accident. Details.
 LaDonna thinks the new Saints quarterback looks pretty good. That would be Drew Brees, who joined the team in March 2006, a few weeks after before Reggie Bush was the team's first-round draft pick. 
At Gigi's, Nelson Hidalgo dances to Wardell Quezerque's "El Pavo."
From the balcony at Tipitina's, Davis and Annie watch Galactic, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Juvenile perform "From the Corner to the Block." A video of the full performance can be purchased on iTunes.
The Klezmer All-Stars. Listen to some of their music hereBen Ellman.
Outside of Muriel's on Jackson Square, Sonny checks out The Baby Boyz Brass Band.
The closing-credits music is Dr. John's rendition of Arlen and Mercer's "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" from his 1990 album of pop standards, "In A Sentimental Mood." A link to a full list of the episode's music will be here as soon as HBO posts it.
Dave Walker can be reached at or 504.826.3429. Read more TV coverage at Follow him at
© 2011 All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment