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."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In the 'Hood.

Katrina has taught me a great deal about the illusory nature of modern life. You think you're safe and secure, cruising through life, snug in your house or walking in the business district of a large, modern city with highrise office buildings and streetcars and electricity and WiFi access. But in reality you are skating on the thinnest of ice, and when you break through you fall and fall. We in New Orleans now join that special fraternity of humans who have seen the veil pierced; by earthquake or tsunami, war or famine. We can never look at that cityscape again without seeing it reduced to a scene from Goya or Bosch; fire and flood, the apocalypso with a boogie beat.
We also understand that the illusion is necessary. You need it. You need to be able to feel 'safe as houses,' even if it's just whistling past the graveyard. And I don't employ that cliche lightly, because at the bottom of all fear lies the fear of death. That's why New Orleanians dance at funerals. We know that horse-drawn carriage from D.W. Rhodes is waiting, literally or figuratively, for all of us someday. So as long as we're here, let's shake a tail feather.
This is the duality of conciousness that allows me to enjoy a day like today. On one level I know, for instance, that young Anthony Placide was shot dead just four blocks from here last spring. I heard the shot that killed him. I also know that around the same time a fine young woman (I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten her name, but I recall many people speaking well of her) was minding her own business sitting on a bar stool at Pal's lounge, just a block from where I'm sitting, at the corner of St. Philip and North Rendon (so close I can walk out on my porch and read the sign out front) when some alien being in human form slit her throat from ear to ear for no reason at all.
But today is...a beautiful day. It's sunny, in the mid seventies (low twenties for you Celsius worshippers) and the air smells of sweet olive and confederate jasmine. A little earlier, as I was sitting out on the porch talking with neighbors, we thought we heard music from a parade; the thud of a drum, the spangle of a trumpet. I even walked down to the corner to see if I could figure out which direction it was coming from, but no soap. While I was down there I said hello to the lady who lives in the house on the downtown, riverside corner of Hagan and Dumaine. It's an unremarkable looking house made remarkable by the odd, sculture-like ironwork constructions that adorn it's doors and windows. On the Dumain street side there's one that looks like a giant eye.
Two weeks ago, this same woman stopped Darlene and I to tell us that her mother had passed. Her mother was a tiny, bird-like African-American lady who always told us to "have a blessed day" when we walked by. We expressed our condolences, and the woman said, "my moms always commented on how good you two looked together." On my way back to the house, the bells at Our Lady of Holy Rosary on Esplanade Avenue began to peal.
I'm sure some of you are thinking I'm nuts, or deluded, or avoiding the tough realities of urban life. Maybe you're thinking I'm a fool for living in a place like this and that I should move somewhere 'safer.' But you know what? There ain't no such place. You can move to Kansas and live in a subterranian bunker, or even someplace with universal health care and politicians who don't try to steal the fillings out of your teeth, and you could still slip getting out of the tub and crack your skull. And even if you somehow avoid that, eventually, you're gonna die motherfucker, and that's a natural fact.
Me, I'm taking my wife to see Taj Mahal at Tipitina's tonight, and we're gonna cut some steps.

Comments on "In the 'Hood."


Blogger Varia said ... (6:00 PM) : 

Ah, ooh, Taj Mahal. I'm glad to hear that Tipitina's is still standing. I've never been, only heard. I am here because you were over at Crooks & Liars talking about health insurance. I'm a musician too, in the Lou. Without health insurance, of course.


Blogger Varia said ... (6:05 PM) : 

But--me too, I say:
I scare up in the wee hours
Over the same things.


Blogger David said ... (10:51 PM) : 

Re: "...eventually, you're gonna die motherfucker, and that's a natural fact."
Gosh, thanks for reminding me. Us ordinary people keep forgetting this.
You have a nice day too.


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