I recently read an article on NOLA.com that hints at the very real possibility that we may be losing the University of New Orleans. To say that I'm not at all happy about this, regardless of any admitted resilience that I may have sometimes toward change in general, is not even a strong enough emotion. To have this formative place in my writing life be taken away from me, especially now that I'm back in the city and have rekindled my relationship with its campus and library, is heartbreaking.
I'd like to describe an experience that I had recently during a visit to the campus, which I equate to the phenomenon of "lucid dreaming." Just to be clear, the term refers to an awareness that one has while still in the dream state to the point where they can actually navigate the course of the dream. I think this is the ultimate freedom that we as imaginative creatures can have, the ability to run around inside one's own mind, and I think I may have had one of these experiences while still in a waking state on the campus of UNO.
The Earl K. Long Library is one of those places that I consider the birth of me as a writer, the birth of "Blanket," a refuge that ever since my leaving has had no substitute. In that library was where the first chunks of dialogue between Judith Blair and the Funnyman from Scenes from the Blanket came to be, written on an old Brother word processor in a cubicle downstairs, and later I would retreat upstairs to the soothing tranquility of the nighttime window desks to edit those pages. The campus of UNO is where I modeled Daniel Foster's academic career as being and home to the R.S.I.C. from The Petrified Christ, and not the campus of Loyola as is stated in the book.
These among other characters that I've created either live as a result of that campus and those professors and that university, or still dwell there in some way today.
A few months ago back when it was warmer in New Orleans, I took a drive out on a Saturday evening right around dusk to do some writing in the library. I found some private study rooms and picked one of them out from the many that lined every floor. There I would sit and work undisturbed until well after the sun went down.
As I went outside after I was done, I thought about how cool it would be to take my bike out for a spin. And after only a little bit of apprehension as random students walked by me there in the parking lot, I pulled my bike out from the back of my Jeep, placed it on the ground and started peddling. After getting the gears all set, what followed was that lucid dream of a bike ride through the empty, nighttime campus.
I rode all of the sidewalks up to the Liberal Arts building, peeking into the windows as I held myself up on the bricks, only to pedal off again to discover both new and familiar landmarks. I stopped at one point near a student-meeting place between the Liberal Arts and Mathematics building, where for some reason whenever I think about UNO and the possibility of my having had become a career academic, this location always pops into my mind. I'm guessing that I had such thoughts while standing right there many years ago, and thus that little courtyard has been imprinted on my mind ever since.
Off I peddled, taking pictures and making sharp turns as I zoomed here and there, and I felt like a kid. It was amazing. At one point I stopped at an office window that had the blinds pulled up, and on the ledge among piles of papers and books was a book on Chaucer.
I went inside to check the door, and sure enough it was the office of Dr. Kevin Marti, the same professor of the Medieval Literature that I'm writing about now in my new manuscript. Dr. Marti was one of three professors at UNO that impacted me greatly, the others being Victorian literature professor Dr. Leslie White, and the enigmatic Romantic literature professor Dr. Peter Schock. I hope one day to reunite with these men, if only for a few moments of quiet conversation, just to let them know how much of an impact they had on me as I roamed the halls of this great university so many years ago.
It was all very much like being suspended as would an acrobat on wires inside of my own skull, kicking myself from wall to wall, grabbing hold of something so I could take a look around before flying someplace else again to explore some other dark corner of my past. And the campus was dark indeed, silent and vacant on this Saturday night, and it was all just so perfect as to be at certain times overwhelming. I did a similar nighttime visit when I first returned home to my childhood house in Arabi, and being an empty post-Katrina neighborhood, it allowed me to explore the ghosts of my past undisturbed.
My childhood home is still there, however, it's just on the market to be scooped-up by someone else here real soon. And no, it doesn't look the same as it once did on the inside, but neither does my UNO home. But UNO is still there and accessible for the time being, and I sure would like to claim that building as a forever place, proving the age-old adage that you can never go home again dead wrong.
This is probably the longest I've ever taken between blog posts, but I have good reason. If you follow my Facebook or Twitter feeds at all, you've probably already seen that I've been quite busy lately, so busy in fact that I haven't updated here in quite some time. Yes, this is that post, the one where I catch-up and then promise to make more regular appearances on my own website.
So, let's see how this goes, shall we?
To begin, after spending the entire month of September dividing my time between learning lyrics and working on my new manuscript, I finally did two shows with 90 To Nothing. They were both in October and both during the second-to-last Halloween weekend of the legendary New Orleans haunted attraction, The House of Shock. This was to be the final year for this long-running show, which blends stage special effects and theatrics with some of the most terrifying twists and turns that an actual walk-through haunted house could have legally.
We played for the crowds as they waited to get into the stage-show area, and it was yet another incredible culmination of hard work and preparation. Everyone was pleased, and it was during this weekend that I broke through any barriers that I might have cultivated with regard to my being able to perform again in the capacity of lead vocalist. I know what it is that I do and do well in the music scene of this city, dormant all along like so many other things in this new and unfolding tale that is my life.
Then November saw the beginning of rehearsals for the play. That's right, I was in a play. Let me explain.
When I first came back to New Orleans in June of this year, my friend Scott Frilot asked if I would be interested in playing bass in a band as part of a play that our mutual friend Gary Rucker was producing over at his own Rivertown Theatres for the Performing Arts in Kenner. I accepted immediately, wanting nothing more than to immerse myself in all that the New Orleans arts scene had to offer, my hometown where it would seem that all the inmates I’d come up with were now running the asylum. I received all of the material for the show, the songs and the script, and then it was all put on the back burner for the next three months while I worked with 90 To Nothing.
But nothing could prepare me for that November night when I first walked into Rivertown and met director Ricky Graham. I had no idea that "the director" I'd been hearing so much about would be this familiar face I'd seen for most of my adult life in the entertainment section of The Times-Picayune, alongside some of the greats of the New Orleans theatre scene. It was truly an honor to meet this man and to, for all intents and purposes, work with him for as long as I did.
The cast and crew welcomed the band as equals as Scott Frilot, Woody Dantagnan, Brian Drawe and myself settled into the pit to begin the rehearsals for the British farce that was to be Richard Bean's hilarious "One Man, Two Guvnors." And I knew immediately that this would be an experience that I would never want to end, and night after night of rehearsals and actual performances did nothing to lessen this emotion. I understand now the feeling of absolute sadness that actors claim overcome them when a film or television series wraps.
Lead Chris Marroy was astonishing and did nothing short of spoil me when it comes to seeing any future shows in this city. I have very little exposure to the New Orleans theatre community, but for me to say that I was taken aback by Chris' performance night after night would be a silly understatement. I'm sincerely hoping that any future trips and/or involvement that I may have with the local theatre scene will feature a performance equal to or as great as what Chris showed me was possible.
The rest of the cast included my lifelong friend Gary Rucker alongside Erin Cesna, P.J. McKinnie, Shelley Johnson Rucker, Lara Grice, Logan Faust, Michael P. Sullivan, James Howard Wright, Matt Reed, Kyle Daigrepont and Joshua Talley.
So, let's review. So far since coming home I've been in a short film directed by John Beyer called "Sis-Tours," joined 90 To Nothing as their new lead singer, got a request for a full manuscript from a potential literary agent, and was featured (that's right, even the musician's names were printed in the programs and on the lobby poster!) in a New Orleans theatre production. Whew.
Which brings us to the here and now, where again I am that guy who has launched a blog, not updated it as regularly as he would like due to a complete lack of personal assistance and is now promising in his latest post to keep his website updated.
And so like I said only paragraphs ago, let's see how this goes, shall we?
I should be working on songs right now, but instead I'm writing. Not that I haven't been working on songs for the past week now, because I have. It's just that this is a part of the transition, the way in which I gradually take off one of my hats and put on the other.
Just as a quick update, I've slowed down production on my new book for a few days in order to deal with a different type of wordplay. You see, where there was once output there is now input, a gradual absorption of lyrics and meter and rhythm. No, I have not crossed over into the realm of the aspiring poet, not entirely.
But I have joined the New Orleans-based band 90 To Nothing as their new lead singer!
It's been about eight years since I last took the role of a front man in a band, where I utilized my vocal abilities and what interpersonal skills I'd learned with an audience from being a singer on Bourbon Street for the better part of the six years prior to Hurricane Katrina. While it's true that I've become older and shorter of breath, I am still confident in my ability to sing! And as far as the interpersonal part goes, well, we'll see how the subtraction of alcohol since 2009 works with regard to my ability to connect with you the audience.
Of course I'm saying all this in jest, and I couldn't be more confident and thrilled to be a part of something like this now again in a city where it seems as though I'm truly picking up where I left off. I'd forgotten just how much of a network there was here, especially now that I realize that I've left some sort of mini legacy behind during my nine-year sabbatical. Where at once I used to reflect on how New Orleans must've treated mention of me as one would treat the mention of a person who'd passed away and thus had no hope of returning, now I understand that talk of me has mostly centered around the possibility of my returning to an identity and role that has already been established and is very much in place.
With new musical opportunities coming in, all of which I plan to consider and work on throughout the rest of this year, I have also been actively seeking out other opportunities to throw my music hat into the ring. On my wish list is to return to Bourbon Street as a vocalist. Although I started out down there as a bassist that eventually just sang, I have to say that at this point in my life I consider myself a much better contender to work alongside the amazing talent on that street as a singer, and a singer only.
And so I've slowed down the writing for the time being, and I do mean for the very-brief time being, so that I can give these new opportunities the time that they deserve. I've always claimed to be of these two halves, the music and the writing, and a man who does two things at once really doesn't do either of them well. So wish me luck as I jump from one side of the green grass to the other to digest some words, and then with any degree of luck, back again very soon to lay down some more of my own.
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