As Katrina's horrifyingly tragic impact on New Orleans continues to unfold, the hurricane's destruction of the vibrant music scene in the "City of Jazz" is coming into ever-starker contrast. "This could really cripple it," said Jon Cleary, one of New Orleans best-known keyboardists, currently recording with Bonnie Raitt in Los Angeles. "A lot of the fans who have money to go see music will be leaving the city -- and without audiences, clubs can't pay musicians, and then nobody gets gigs." Native blues man Dr. John told Rolling Stone that the spirit of the city will continue intact, even beyond the flooding of the physical one: "My heart's always gonna be in New Orleans. It ain't just the place, it's the whole culture. The music will survive; the people will survive." Alt-country singer Shannon McNally said to the magazine, "I'm just assuming that anybody I haven't talked to is on the road or in the Superdome, but I don't know. I'm a little numb. The best parts of New Orleans are underwater. And all those people that couldn't get out -- they're New Orleans."
In an Op-Ed in the L.A. Times that reads like a eulogy, Howell Raines writes about the unique loss that faces the U.S. with destruction of New Orleans: "In the personal realm, there is no relief like the relief arising from the safety of loved ones. In the civic realm, there is no communal grief quite like the sorrow of watching as a beloved city is hammered by an unstoppable malice ... This was the place where Thomas Williams of St. Louis became 'Tennessee' and where that much-ridiculed postal clerk from Oxford, Miss., made himself into William Faulkner, novelist. This was the place where you could come to find or lose yourself. In the back room of the Maple Leaf Bar on upper Magazine Street, my classmate Everette Maddox, a poet so precocious he was published in the New Yorker before he left the University of Alabama, succeeded after two decades of steady effort in drinking himself to death." Musicologist Ned Sublette, writing in Nick Sylvester's blog at the Village Voice, says "The destruction of New Orleans, from a cultural point of view, is too awful to contemplate." Sublette, who spent time in New Orleans as a Rockefeller Fellow researching the city's connection to the history of American music, says, "If our history and culture as a nation mean anything, New Orleans is central to it. And if we can save New Orleans, if we haven't lost it already, it has to be put back and saved right."
Beyond the loss of the city's vaunted music venues, there is the staggering loss of archival material. "Everything from documents to recordings to things that are in private hands [are lost]," Sublette says. "Many of the more serious archives are on higher floors -- presumably many of them have survived the flood waters. But what condition are they in? How quickly will cultural workers be able to get in and rescue the patrimony which is very important in understanding where American music came from?" One loss is already known to public radio listeners in the New Orleans area: The legendary community radio station WWOZ has gone off the air, and there is concern for its incredible collection of jazz, zydeco and Cajun. The blog Sawyer Hall says WWOZ is just one of a number of public radio stations that have gone silent in the aftermath of the storm. WWOZ's Web site, however, is still posting updates, including a list of area musicians who've been located, including Doc Otis and the Neville Brothers.
Thankfully, many other artists who were thought to be missing have been located. The legendary Fats Domino was rescued, though his exact whereabouts are still unknown, and producer and musician Allen Toussaint was found to be sticking out the disaster at the Astor Hotel. Fellow New Orleans resident Ani Difranco's Web site says she "evacuated her home-away-from-home in New Orleans the day before Katrina hit. Despite the article in Rolling Stone she is not too distraught to speak, but understandably a bit distracted." There is still a lot of speculation, though, about the fate of Big Star singer Alex Chilton, the latest news seeming to be that no one has spoken to him in the last few days. Powerblog has a list of others displaced by Katrina who've yet to be mentioned elsewhere, like Frankie Ford, Clarence "Frogman" Henry and Pete Fountain. Meanwhile, over at the Rebirth Brass Band's site, there's an ongoing head count of local musicians.
Of course, artists outside of New Orleans are busy trying to organize benefits to support Katrinas victims. In addition to tonight's live concert on NBC featuring Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis and Tim McGraw, New Orleans native Master P, whose home was destroyed by flooding, is working with BET to organize a telethon. Usher, Green Day and Alicia Keys are among the artists who will be part of a larger relief concert that will span four cities and air on MTV, VH1 and CMT. The Detroit Free Press writes that New Orleans' own Dr. John and the Regal Brass Band will still perform in Detroit this weekend, despite missing uniforms and drums.
There are also a number of paeans to New Orleans popping up at MP3 blogs around the Web. One Louder links to songs by R.E.M. and Bob Dylan, Big Rock Candy Mountain presents songs from Professor Longhair and Tom Waits about the Big Easy, and News Hounds points to a classic song about an earlier flood, Memphis Minnie's 1929 version of "When the Levee Breaks." (via Brooklyn Vegan)