Larry Blumenfeld



""Treme" and the Abstract Truth: Fact and Fiction in New Orleans"

In Sidney Bechet’s memoir, “Treat It Gentle,” the late clarinetist’s real grandfather is supplanted by Omar, a made-up figure based on a folk tale, to convey truths about jazz in New Orleans. David Simon’s HBO series “Treme” is fiction, drawn from fact. That approach best serves the surreality of New Orleans, especially since the 2005 flood. Whereas Simon’s “The Wire” referenced a police wiretap on a drug ring, “Treme” plugs into an indigenous music culture that is a lifeline for a traumatized city. The show’s fiction has made for real music that sounds true. A sendup of Smiley Lewis’s “Shame, Shame, Shame,” found Steve Zahn’s fictional Davis MacAlary ranting about injustices to promote his made-up city-council bid. Davis Rogan, the pianist who inspired that character, once did run for public office on the strength of a song.

“Treme” often reveals what’s false about supposed truths surrounding New Orleans music, as when fictional trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux told real-life Trombone Shorty: “In New Orleans, they hype the music but they don’t love the musicians.” Cut to 2011, real life, when the tourism board hires brass bands to play conventions even as the police shut them down on the streets. Drawing on six years of extensive reporting from New Orleans—including a Village Voice cover story on “Treme”— I will use “Treme” clips and tracks excerpts from the “Season One” compilation CD (and from others) to deconstruct fictional moments and distill facts about the city and its sound.


My Speakers Sessions

Sunday, March 25

4:00pm EDT