Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Prayer From The Conquered.

Since Darlene is out of town (a business trip took her to Toronto and she decided to extend a bit with a visit to her family's farm near Van Kleek Hill, Ontario) I'll be enjoying my traditional thanksgiving routine of practise in the empty bandroom (so nice to be able to really get with the horn without all those pesky students and teaching obligations interrupting me) and a feast of spaghetti-sauce-in-a-jar.

I've spent a lot of holidays alone or on the road with bands. The trick is to avoid feeling sorry for yourself or hard done by, and to do your best to maintain a sense of connectedness to the larger family that is the human race, which is really the only 'home' we have. Connecting your sense of 'home' to any physical place is a mugs game, since the physical can be swept away in a heartbeat. New Orleans isn't suffering right now so much because the buildings are damaged (although that aspect of this catastrophe is no fucking joke, believe me) but because so many of the city's people are still displaced. It's the people of New Orleans who summon, like a hologram, the spirit of this place. People from here carry that with them wherever they go.

I guess what I'm saying is that while the possible death of New Orleans would mark something precious and irreplacable going out of the world, the spirit will live on in the diaspora of her citizens. (And I use the feminine case deliberately. If ever a city was a woman, New Orleans is. Think Blanche Duboise crossed with Courtney Love).

I hope the city survives. On my good days I'm sure that it will. But this conviction is based entirely on observation of the enormous effort and personal sacrifice that the people here put forward every day of their lives. The rest of the country, I sometimes feel, couldn't care less. The things that are important in New Orleans, culture, tradition, connectedness of spirit, family and community (real family and community, not the false faces and fake piety that impersonates these things in public discourse) are not part of the economic system that defines serious value in this country. And as long as those values run the discussion, New Orleans is in serious trouble.

Anyhoo, since it's thanksgiving, and doubtless most of you are bunged up securely with family and friends in cities with working traffic lights, functional criminal justice systems, reliable electricity and municiple budgets that can actually afford to do things like repair infrastructure, I thought I'd offer up this prayer from the First Americans. It's actually from Wabanaki Algonquin writer Bedagi (Big Thunder), and dates from the 19th century.

Give us hearts to understand;Never to take from creation's beauty more than we give;never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed;
Never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth's beauty;never to take from her what we cannot use.
Give us hearts to understandThat to destroy earth's music is to create confusion;that to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty;
That to callously pollute her fragrance is to make a house of stench;that as we care for her she will care for us.
We have forgotten who we are.We have sought only our own security.We have exploited simply for our own ends.We have distorted our knowledge.We have abused our power.
Great Spirit, whose dry lands thirst,Help us to find the way to refresh your lands.Great Spirit, whose waters are choked with debris and pollution,help us to find the way to cleanse your waters.
Great Spirit, whose beautiful earth grows ugly with misuse,help us to find the way to restore beauty to your handiwork.Great Spirit, whose creatures are being destroyed, help us to find a way to replenish them.
Great Spirit, whose gifts to us are being lost in selfishness and corruption,help us to find the way to restore our humanity.
Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to the world,hear me; I need your strength and wisdom. May I walk in Beauty.

So give thanks today, and enjoy yourselves. But please spare a thought to us folks down here, and remember that when trouble comes in this great country of ours, you can always count on government and your fellow citizens...to tell you to fuck off and die.

Comments on "A Prayer From The Conquered."


Blogger Steve Bagnell said ... (12:46 PM) : 

Beautifully put, as ever, John.

On my first visit to New Orleans a dozen years ago, I immediately thought of the city as being Liz Taylor with a touch of mildew around the edges, in a state of glorious decay. But maybe that was just my room a the Hilton.

I really wasn't there for any length of time, so I can't profess any deep understanding of the city. It's just more of a vivid and lasting first impression.


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