Wringing out the Dead in New Orleans:
Music, Mayhem, and a Category Five Shit Storm

Mike McHone


How high's the water, mama?
Four feet high and risin'
How high's the water, papa?
Four feet high and risin'
Hey, come look through the window pane
The bus is comin', gonna take us to the train
Looks like we'll be blessed with a little more rain
Four feet high and risin'
- Johnny Cash, "Five Feet High and Risin'"

I am sitting here in my office, completely dry, writing on a Gateway computer, with a belly full of homemade pasta salad and Pepsi. The stereo is putting in overtime today. I am listening to cool jazz . . . Miles . . . "Kind of Blue." I've been listening to a lot of jazz lately. I listen to jazz because I love it. But recently . . . I've been listening to it out of respect; as if I should listen to it, as if I need to listen to it. I feel, right now, as if I don't listen to every possible note in the genre, it will be gone. Faded. Forgotten. Extinct.

I have also been drinking heavily. (More than usual.) I've been drinking whiskey and beer like they're going out of style. I guess I'm numbing myself, making my mind stupid, trying to take my faculties out of reality for at least a few hours out of the day. I can't cope with what's going on around me. Every time I turn on a television, I want to puke. Every time I see a picture of my president, I want to burn it. Every time I see a Bush 2004 bumper sticker I want to throw a rock through the windshield. Every time I see a storm cloud I get nauseous. And so, I head to the corner store, pick up a case of beer, or a fifth, or some Bloody Mary mix and polish the shit off in one sitting. My head swims, and I don't think about what's happening to the south of me.

Last night was spent with my Fearless Leader Joe Giuliani at Ruby Tuesday's in Taylor. Joe is Italian. I am Irish. Therefore we both know how to drink. The tab came to $125.00, including gratuity to the nice kid behind the bar . . .

Kid? Yeah . . . Kid. There's another thing that's weighed on my mind lately: age. Next year I will be 30, and ten years from now I will be waiting on 40. I am getting old and I do not like it. But it happens. It has happened. You start to grunt when getting out of a chair. You listen closer to jazz. The weekend bartender starts calling you "sir" and you start calling him "kid." And then somewhere down the road you end up on your back with the only thing you can possibly hope for is a mortician with warm hands, and hopefully you get there without being completely disillusioned with life, not thinking that the whole world, the whole human race was just some cosmic accident, some joke.

I don't think the end is going to be like that for me. I am already disillusioned. I am near 30, look 33, act 16, feel 50, think like I'm 12, fuck like I'm 80, and have the outlook of a 125 year old: bleak, weary, and covered in cataract. I'm going to my grave with my glass half empty, probably because some schmuck took a sip when I wasn't looking. Or maybe I spilled it. Or maybe because it's only half empty because there was nothing good in the glass to begin with and the other half wasn't worth drinking.

I wonder how many in New Orleans went to their ends like this . . . with their minds black, their hearts cracked, their outlook cloudy like the weather. I wonder how many of them thought that their last hour on Earth was going to be spent waste deep in Gulf water, slowly dying on the same streets that Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino walked down once upon a time. I wonder how many of them felt betrayed, used, lied to. I wonder how many of them knew that their mayor didn't dispatch proper measures in a sufficient amount of time to get most people out, that there state received billions in funds to help with natural disaster preparation yet did nothing to improve anything, that their President was still on vacation giving Nixon a run for this money as the commander-in-chief to spend the most amount of time on vacation and played a guitar while the city met an Atlantian fate . . .

Ah, yes . . . The guitar. That now-famous picture . . . Modern country artist Mark Willis gave the guitar to Bush. On Willis' website, the twang-riddled wonder boasted, "How many people can say they gave a guitar to a President?"

How many people can say they played an instrument while thousands of people were dying? I can only think of one: Nero, on the fiddle, while Rome burned. But the big difference is at least Nero knew how to play the violin. Bush couldn't strum a handsome melody if his worthless life depended on it. Look at the picture. His fingers are in the shape of a G chord but his hand is placed one fret above where it's supposed to be. Just how stupid is this man? I'm not saying he's stupid because he can't play guitar, I'm saying he's stupid because he's stupid and also doesn't know how to play guitar. Every time I see that picture I want tot pull a Pete Townsend and smash it over that bastard's head in the hopes I could knock some sense into him. But that will never happen.

Knocking sense into the bastard, I mean.

The idiot probably doesn't comprehend what really happened, what grim horrors thousands faced. Thousands wading and waiting in water. Thousands more that could've been saved sufficiently. The birthplace of jazz, the Big Easy, the land of Mardi Gras, is now a graveyard, soggy and damp, with corpses floating down Bourbon Street. We've seen it on the news . . . The Hurricanes that whopped the shit out of the southern states . . . The thousands that died . . . The millions in dollars lost . . . The billions it will take for repairs . . . The dozens at the top that did nothing . . . This kind of thing only happens in third world countries, where the evil dictators in command shit on the heads of the people and line their pockets with tax dollars. This kind of thing does not happen in America . . . But it did. And we looked. And we saw. And some of us with a conscious wanted to tear our own eyes out of their sockets. And this was only a few days into the whole goddamn mess . . .

Here comes the story of the Hurricane
- Bob Dylan, "The Hurricane"

When the levee breaks, mama you gotta move
- Led Zeppelin, "When the Levee Breaks"

Sunday, Aug. 28. The Levee near New Orleans begins to give away. Water begins to flood the streets. 30,000 people are sent to the Superdome for coverage. There is 36 hours worth of food there. The National Guard requests that FEMA send 700 buses to get the trapped and dying citizens of New Orleans out. FEMA only sends 100 buses.

Monday, Aug. 29. The Levee breaks. Bush shares a photo-op with John McCain in Arizona. Later in the day, Donald Rumsfeld attends a baseball game. About 11 days later, the Daily Mail from the U.K. publishes an article that cites nurses and doctors in a New Orleans hospital giving morphine overdoses to terminally ill patients. One emergency official, William 'Forest' McQueen, said: "Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die."

Tuesday, Aug. 30. Mass looting is reported in the news. In many instances (some of which were cited on "Real Time with Bill Mahr"), when a black family is shown taking things from stores the media would refer to it as looting. When the media showed a white family, it was referred to as "surviving." In the early afternoon, Bush strummed a guitar with country singer Mark Willis.

Wednesday, Aug. 31. The people that were moved to the Superdome become desperate. Food runs out. The plumbing system doesn't work. People begin urinating and defecating on the floor. There are three reported deaths that day (one of which was a suicide of a man that jumped off a 50 foot ledge). There are also two reported rapes, one of which occurred to a child. 3,000 more are stranded in a convention center without food or water. More National Guard troops arrive . . . two days after they were requested. Governor Blanco again requests help from Bush. Head of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff claims he is "pleased" with the way the government is reacting to the crisis. Condoleezza Rice takes in a Broadway production of Monty Python's "Spamalot" later that evening. Some of the fans in the crowd boo her and ask her why she isn't in New Orleans doing her job, proving that Python fans are the upper echelon of humanity.

Thursday, Sept. 1. Bush claims no one expected the levee to break, even though there was ample warning. FEMA director Michael Brown (whose only prior experience was organizing horse shows) claims that he never received reports of violence or looting, even though there was ample evidence of both. No control is regained in New Orleans, even though there may have been ample times to do so. Condoleezza Rice visits the U.S. Open, goes shopping for shoes, is asked once more by some passers-by why her black ass isn't in the Big Easy helping out.

Friday, Sept. 2. Bush says to Michael Brown, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," proving once more that our commander-in-chief has the mind of a retarded three-year-old and the attitude of an old Labrador resting on a porch. Also three tons of food that were being sent to New Orleans was halted because of Bush's visit to the city. There is no clear reason for this. 1,000 firefighters from across the nation assembled in Atlanta to help out with relief efforts. Of these 1,000, 50 firefighters were quickly whisked away to Louisiana. Their first order of business? Pose in a photo-op with Bush. Their second order of business? Pose for more photos.

Monday, Sept. 5. Many by this point are moved out of New Orleans to places such as the Houston Astrodome, and places throughout Ohio and Michigan. According to the website, talkingpointsmemo.com: "While touring the Astrodome, Former First Lady Barbara Bush, tells American Public Media's Marketplace program, 'Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.'" Apparently, in the Bush family, the apple (or the hanged slave) doesn't fall far from the family tree.

Wednesday, Sept. 7. Senator Bill Frist says he will conduct a bi-partisan investigation as to why so many failures happened in the hurricane response effort. He announces this at a meeting in which no Democrats were invited.

Monday, Sept. 12. Michael Brown is canned.

Tuesday, Sept. 13. Bush takes responsibility for the federal government screwing things up. A collective gasp is heard across the nation.

Tuesday, Sept. 20. God is apparently pissed off at the Gulf Region and sends another hurricane to shake things up a bit.

Wednesday, Sept. 21. With another hurricane barring down, ready to blow the shit out of many cities, the official death toll at this time is 1,036. Mississippi, however, keeps their state's death toll at 218, even though there is proof that many more people have died in the hurricane. Mississippi does not give a reason as to why they are under-cutting their citizen's deaths.

Thursday, Sept. 22 and Friday, Sept. 23. The millions that followed the instructions of their government and fled Houston and most parts on the Texas southwest region are caught in gridlock on the highway, running out of gas, trapped on the road, with hardly any political officials helping out. Once again, the government, that high institution that is supposed to take care of its citizens, fails.

I am angry with my government, embarrassed of my country, and enraged at my leaders. This is not a Right Wing thing. This is not a Left Wing thing. This is a ruling-class-versus-the-working-class thing. This is about opportunists taking advantage of the privileges that come along with being in government, yet not taking any responsibility for their actions, not giving back to the communities that voted them in, not providing for the citizens or the children. Poverty was plastered across CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, Headline News, C-SPAN, MSNBC, and local news organizations. Some people, admittedly, are in poverty because of their own actions or lack thereof. Most, however, are in it because of lack of leadership, government, example, education, know-how, family support, or assistance.

But you can't talk of helping the underclass, not in this country anyway. You can't speak about free health care, or free education, for everyone no matter what their social standing. This borderlines on Socialism. And when you slowly explain the tenants of socialism to a capitalist their ears start to bleed and their heads explode.

Work to get yours before he gets his!
He who dies with the most toys wins!
Work your ass off, scrimp and save!
And die fat in a suburb in the home of the brave!

I dread allegiance to the flag
Of the United Snakes of Amerikkka
And to the Republicans for which they scam
One nation, under Gog the invisible
Without liberty, but injustice for all

We need a change of the guard, otherwise we're all going to Hell faster than Hitler and Charlie Manson combined. Do I have all the answers? No. It is very easy to sit back and criticize when you're not the one in charge, I admit. But, like Dylan said, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." Especially when you're in the middle of a hurricane.

I was pondering this the other night while talking to myself and punching holes in my wall. Who could lead us? Who could be a noble, brave, upstanding person? Who is pure and wise enough to take this wrecked nation and set it back on its hind legs? And then, like a piano being dropped on a cartoon character from a skyscraper, the answer hit me. It was obvious who could be our savior: Willie Nelson.

Think about it. Willie's wise. Willie's talented. Willie had his share of IRS troubles so he knows what its like to be close to being poor. He's a hard worker. He's an artist. And best of all, Willie can strum a G chord no problem.

One nation under Willie would be a happy nation. The working class people would more than likely be taken care of, a statue of Johnny Cash will be erected next to the Lincoln Memorial, and our National Anthem will be "On the Road Again." And, really, when you look at Willie, do you feel disdain? Do feel as if you want to hurt the man? Hell, no! See, there will be no threat of terrorists attacking us if Willie was in charge. How could you look at that happy old coot and want to attack him?! It just ain't possible!

If Willie were in charge, shit would've gotten done a lot quicker in New Orleans. It's a musical hotbed, and Willie wouldn't let Fats Domino be stranded for two full days.

And if Willie were in charge, the obvious would take place: legalized weed. There we would be, one giant happy nation, living in peace and harmony with each other and the rest of the world, stoned out of our gourds, with the only people really rushing to do anything are the pizza delivery drivers hurrying to make their deliveries on time. The only battles that will be waged are over the last Twinkie in the box, and "High Times" would be required reading material in school. Every child would have a guitar. And grown men can finally braid their hair and not feel weird about it.

Well, that's a bit of wishful thinking.

As Lennon said, "You may say I'm dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
As Springsteen said, "Every cloud has a silver lining."
But as the Grateful Dead said, "Every silver lining's got a touch of grey."
But as the Nuge said, "There's hope for tomorrow, if we wake up today."

And we're all gonna shine a light together
All shine a light to light the way
Brothers and sisters in every little part
Let our love shine a light in every corner of our hearts

- Katrina and the Waves, "Love Shine a Light"

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