Raw Q&A with Slick Rick (St. Petersburg Times. 2000).

Hello, am I speaking to the Ruler? [laughs]What’s up guy?

What are you doing today? I am just laying back today. We did a couple shows with Lauryn Hill and I am having a day off.

Everyone’s happy to see you back! Which is saying something since hip-hop fans are not known for their continuous loyalty. What’s your trick? I guess you gotta spark some kind of interest in the public’s mind. I was known for humorous stories, brining humor into people’s life. That element shines through to today. It’s not like the everyday rap stuff. It’s a different avenue.

Now that you are back do you find yourself being pegged as an “old school” artist? That doesn’t bother me because when you do an interview they’re always gonna run down your whole rap credentials. It’s part of the job. Slick Rick comes with a history that goes back to 85.

Is the industry being good to you upon your return? Or are they trying to angle you? You gotta create your own angle. I never had an angle. I was just being myself, enjoying my craft. My wife Mandy handles the business [via their company Slick Rick Entertainment] and I handle the entertainment. She does the paperwork and makes sure the artists are where they need to be. She’s a more professional person than I am.

You met Mandy right before you went into jail. How did you meet her?  At a club in New York called the Supper Club right before I was abruptly brought back in. I was brought back in for immigration, not like I did anything wrong. It came out of nowhere, an immigration case, my status changed from minimum to medium, and at medium you have to be incarcerated until the case is resolved. So I had to go back in for two more years as the court dragged on. My case wasn’t really called for two years after that. So half of our relationship was visits.

And I hear you are a landlord now? I am the landlord of two three-family buildings in the Bronx. We live in one of the apartments.

You’re playing in Tampa with Nas and Foxy Brown and Ja Rule soon. That’s an interesting bill. A younger generation bill. Nas has that strong skillful thug rap, and Foxy brings her own ra ra, know what I’m sayin? And I bring the new and the old-school humor. So it’s a variety show.

How does the eye of Slick Rick see the current hip-hop landscape? It’s as it’s always been: rappers acting cool in whatever part of the country they’re from, emphasizing the environment that they grew up in. I guess that’s what it’s always been. Everyone wants to demonstrate that they can survive in their neighborhood, and they bring their lil skills to the table.

What type of show are you putting on these days? It’s just me and a DJ — I haven’t confirmed which DJ yet. And I do some skits here and there. My wife comes out in one skit dressed as a maid, stuff like that, to give the public something to look at. You gotta do a lot more if you’re from the old-school [laughs]. I like to dress. My thing has always been to dress anyway. I try to use the jewelry as an eye-catcher, you know what I mean? I try to make the show oriented around little pictorial skits. Like me and the DJ might have little conversations between us to highlight the rap. I have everybody dress coordinated so the color schemes look pretty.

Tell me about your new record. Great Adventures was my best album, then the second and third albums were not good at all. They didn’t reach their potential. I can make excuses about how I was busy at the time going to jail, but I will just say that they are not good albums. This album is a continuation of the first album. This is the real second album. You can tell I am laid back and having fun with my craft. Each record on the album paints its own story, it’s own visual picture. The CD is almost like cable: you turn the channel and you’ll see a different picture. It’s got different mental avenues.

You really think two of your records were straight up failures? They could have been at least 75% better. They was rushed. A lot of the raps and the music didn’t have chemistry. A lot of the raps were too fast. A lot of songs did have potential to be great but the time wasn’t able to be spent. They were made while I was out on bail. After eight or nine months I came out on bail for like three weeks. So it was pressure to make both of those two albums in a three-week span—mostly just to keep my name alive. A lot of the music was put onto the raps afterwards. And it wasn’t like I could go back and fix anything.

When you were in jail did people know who you were? And was that good or bad for you? Yeah man, you can’t miss the patch. Even if you never heard a song, you’d think, I’ve seen that guy on TV or something. But it goes both ways: there are the people who admire you, and then the people who want to make a name for themselves by picking on you, making your bid a little harder than it needed to be. Mostly though if you’re in a confinement with a certain amount of people you’re gonna bond, just like how you might not like all your cousins and relatives but you’re gonna bond.

How did your stint change you? It just makes you more grounded and mature. You see you can’t really depend on nobody, you have to depend on your own self. When you’re younger you’re moving fast and not thinking. When you’re older you see reality for what it is and that you’re responsible for your own destiny and you need to take responsibility and be more mature and grounded.

How does that come through in your new music? One of the elements I always had was I’m more grounded, so people can relate to me. I basically talk how anyone would talk. It’s not hard, gritty, complicated raps where you need to figure it out; it’s easy to fall into, you can visualize where I’m coming from, and that helps. My strongpoint is to make people visualize stuff. You can follow a story all the way through. It makes it more interesting when you have something to do with your mind. I’m just on a more mature rap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Raw Q&A with Ronnie James Dio (St. Petersburg Times. 2000)

In 2000, arguably the greatest heavy metal singer of all time, Ronnie James Dio (then 58 years old), called my desk at the newspaper from his tour bus in Cleveland, Ohio, but at that moment I was in the bathroom. So my colleagues put him on hold. The tape starts with me scolding them, “You don’t put Dio on hold!” I then pick up the phone and tell him what an honor it is to speak with him. It really was. R.I.P. Dio. To read the original article (which includes quotes from Swedish guitar “virtuoso” Yngwei Malmsteen) CLICK HERE. Or read the raw Q&A with Dio, below this video of Dio performing live in Tampa: 

So, you have been on the road a lot lately?

Yes, I just finished eight weeks on the road with Deep Purple and a 90 piece orchestra. It was incredible. First we did it for the anniversary at Albert Hall. Each guy in the band did 15 minutes of whatever they’d been doing 30 years on their own, and the keyboardist of Deep Purple, John Lord, wanted to do his orchestrated pieces and he asked me to sing on them. It went so well they wanted to take it to South America for three weeks,  then five weeks in Europe, and we finished in Poland three weeks ago. Now Dio is about to do Russia, England, South America, etc.

Did the Deep Purple gig make you want a string section? Seems like the orchestra would lend itself to a certain heaviness.

No. No. It was wonderful, magnificent and I especially enjoyed meeting the orchestra as people. They were actually the Transylvanian Orchestra. So there was a little consternation after 12 o’clock, everyone would lock their doors and put garlic around their necks. A wonderful orchestra. But for the kind of music I’ve always made I can do without the orchestra. We do that kind of thing with synthesizers. I think you can also get trapped in it. Metallica did it recently, I think the Scorpions are attempting to do it now. It’s like, have you forgotten how to write songs so now you’re putting strings to your old stuff? I think everything I have been involved in, Dio and Rainbow and Sabbath, they were done right the first time, without strings, and that’s how they should remain.

Tell me about the visuals for the upcoming show.

It would be nice if it were the old days where we could bring dragons and pyramids and knights in shining armor and lasers and everything else, but unfortunately bands in the genre we play haven’t been given a lot of attention lately, and you have to earn a lot of money to spend a lot of money, so we aren’t bringing any stage props this time. But we will have great lighting which in some ways circumvents the need for dragons. And the most important thing is always the music that you play, of course. And our new album, Magica, is a concept, a real story in itself, and we do it from beginning to the end, plus with the bulk of old songs we also do, so it’s about a two-hour show. The show looks great and the band plays great – it’s a total musical package, really.

I read somewhere you said you prefer small venues because people don’t like to go to big venues anymore.

I think that might have been misquoted. I’d rather play at a big venue because you get to bring the props. And when you play a bigger place, people have the feeling that it’s a bigger event. What I might have said was that I love playing the smaller places because that’s where you prove how good you are, where you can’t hide behind anything and you have to look ‘em in the eye. I take great pride that my bands were all great live bands, and in the small venues we proved what we were really worth.

Do you have any other artistic habits or hobbies aside from music?

Well, not to encroach upon your field Michael, but I’ve started quite a bit of writing. In the university I was a history major but actually minored in English so I have a little bit of expertise in that field, though I haven’t done it since college. I am going back to my roots – writing the novella for Magica made me realize I could still write, so I have begun an autobiography. I am about a third of the way through. But you have to focus to write at the level of what you consider real art. You can’t be watching a hockey game and think you’re going to write the next Jurassic Park or 2001. I’m hoping it becomes a bit of a side career for me – this music thing won’t last forever, though I wish it would. I’m also an extremely avid sports fan – I’m a New Yorker by upbringing so any NY teams, but any kind of sports because I equate it so much with music. Athletes play sports, musicians play music. Here we are, little children in our minds doing what everyone wants to do, which is get paid to play. So I feel a kinship to athletes, and actually had wanted to be an athlete more than a musician but unfortunately my stature didn’t get big enough for me to be what I wanted to be, which was a basketball player. But I was lucky I had music to complete my life.

Freud wrote some interesting things about how art is just childhood playtime taken seriously.

He was very right about that. But I am afraid to read Freud. I’m afraid to find out things about myself that I don’t want to know.

Is anyone helping you write your biography?

No. I am the kind of person who never asks anyone for help. I haven’t even taken any vocal lessons. I started when I was five years old as a trumpet player and was lucky enough to play a lot of classical music, which is more my love than anything outside the genre that I am in. But I have always avoided lessons because what a vocal teacher teaches you is how to sound like they want to sound, and in the end that’s taking all your naturalness away – especially when you’re talking about rock-n-roll. It’s not the same when you’re talking about operatic movement, where you have to learn technique and you must have an instructor. But rock-n-roll is such a natural medium, and once you’ve got it too polished that takes away what you really have to offer. The same goes for writing with me: I feel that I am good enough at it that someone else would dilute [my story].

Good answer. I read you chose your stage name. What does “Dio” mean to you?

Well, literally it means God, which I had no idea when I chose it. I took it from afamous Floridian, a man named Johnny Dio who was a…a pretty well known…I guess you’d have to say a mafia man… I’m trying to be gentle with this. He wasn’t one of my heroes or anything but I am proud to be of Italian extraction, and I didn’t want to lose that in my stage name. I was reading something at the time about “underground figures” and the Italian name “Dio” popped out at me, and it seemed very concise. And maybe if I need any “help” I could give somebody a call… No. I just loved the name. And the number of coincidences that have followed, and when I was in Black Sabbath people really started playing with it as a word game, and and then other people assumed that I thought I was God or something, which of course I don’t.

Another great coincidence was when we picked the font style for “Dio” which has become very well known. Someone came to me one time and said, “It was very clever of you…we know what you did…” and I’m like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” “You know, if you turn Dio logo upside down it says, “devil.” I wish I could take credit for that. But that was purely a coincidence. People construe what they want to construe. When we were in Black Sabbath if people thought we were sacrificing children and sheep on stage, then we couldn’t change their mind.”

Are people less caught up in religion nowadays?

I do believe that. You have ends of the spectrum: there are people who need to cling to religion because of the life that been put in front of us, and then there are those who, because of the life in front of us, believe there could be a God letting such cruelty happen – and I think more people are gravitating toward that end. And a lot of people are just saying they don’t have to go church because [god is] inside of them. I am actually a Taoist in that I believe that God and the Devil are both inside us and we have the choice to be evil or good.

Wouldn’t a loss of religion—or the loss of the crazy religious groups who’ve given heavy metal such great free advertising over the years– be bad for the heavy metal business?

I don’t think so. The “good” people – meaning, the religious people – read too much into it. They point and our music and say ‘Look what these people are saying!’ But what have we ever said? I have never said anything in praise of the devil. A great example is Black Sabbath; that name conjures up images of real demonic presence. And never ever did we defend ourselves and say, ‘No we’re actually good Catholic boys who grew up in good families,’ which was true [laughs]. Our music is not about evil, it’s about warning about evil. When we talk about the devil it’s saying, ‘There is a bad presence there, a…a devil if you want to think of it that way. And just beware of it because it’s gonna put you down the wrong path. But it’s being taken out of context…

Well your new greatest hits record is called “The Very Beast of Dio.” What is the “beast” that you’re referring to?

You’ll have to ask someone else about that because it’s nothing to do with me. I didn’t put this together, it wasn’t my idea to do it, it was done by people who thought it would be nice at this time to put out a greatest hits CD. It was just a play on words because, as you suggested, I’ve been associated more with the darker side. I think they wanted to make a connection between the darkness of heavy metal music and this particular project. They thought it would tease fans. I am happy they put it out but it wasn’t for me to say how they did it.

Musicians from your generation of metal talk about how they’re winning new fans and I read something about how that’s not a concern of yours, that you realize your fans are just people who grew up with you. Your attitude is almost refreshing.

I just don’t think it can happen. Rock-n-roll is such a generational thing, and each generation has to embrace its own music. For my generation it was rock-n-roll, it was rebellious and it was ours to wave in the face of parents and the establishment. Of course you’re going to have some young people who like the music you make, because good music transcends all age boundaries. But I don’t see how anyone could delude themselves into thinking they’re out there changing the world where they are older than these people’s brothers and sisters and in some case older than their folks. We’ve never tried to do anything but make great music and be progressive and not get caught up in generational issues. Kids don’t want to see their moms and dads leaping about on stage, they want someone of their own ilk. I remember Bing Crosby said in 1857, “It looks like this rock-n-roll stuff has run its course.” And I am sure people in the Glenn Miller Band said it, and all those dissatisfied old farts who thought only big band music was the coolest – and I never wanted to be one of them. The reality is that if you’re good at what you do, you’ll have a fanbase, but don’t fool yourself that you’re out there winning new fans.

You get to meet your younger fans? What do they say?

I just ask them if they liked what they heard and they say “Wow, we love it” and I ask where they heard our music and they say, “My brother played it for me I thought, ‘Wow, I love it, this is really opening up something for me.’” Of course there are a lot of classic rock stations now too that will turn kids on to old music. Good product is good product.

Do your younger fans talk to you about the other bands they like?

They sometimes ask me if I like Disturbed, or Pantera. They respect me and want to know what my perspective of their music is, and they hope I don’t say, ‘Well I think this rock-n-roll stuff has run its course” [laughs]. I don’t. And they are really pleased that I understand where they come from. We talked about “play” before, and we must stay very young inside of us, as artists. The body gets older but I’ve never gotten older than 18 or 21 inside of me, and young people equate with that, and feel that I understand that. I’ve always been more of a champion of younger people than people my own age, because they’re who we’re leaving our legacy to, and there is a hell of a broader scope of problems out there now that I didn’t have to deal with as a kid. So I feel strongly for them.

New bands don’t seem to have as much appreciation of their fans as say, people of you and Ozzy’s age?

The fans are the most important thing. Otherwise we’d be playing music in our homes. I learned really early on when I was treated badly as a fan, that I never wanted to be that way. I once went to get an autograph – and I won’t say from who cause that wouldn’t be fair — and I was told ‘get out of here you little prick.’ That really hurt me an awful lot. So, I have always given myself to the audience. At the end of the show we always stay and sign every autograph, whether it’s cold or stifling hot, whether I am ill or don’t feel like it. They deserve this from me. I don’t ever want to see that hurt on one of my fan’s faces, because I remember what it’s like. They are the ones who suffer to work and save money and buy this product and put us on this pedestal – and if you forget that you’re a real jerk. I may be a jerk in a lot of ways but certainly not when it comes to that.

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Profile of ‘Sunken City’ web comedy (The Advocate. March 2014).

Every New Orleans resident and visitor defines the city’s central mythologies differently. In the Web comedy “Sunken City,” three couples — ghost tour guides, a wannabe Mardi Gras king and queen, and two Internet startup kids — strive to push their own questionable definitions of New Orleans onto the world, with mixed results.

“Sunken City” was created in a thoroughly modern manner: A Web-only pilot was filmed on spec, which led to a successful Kickstarter campaign that paid for nine episodes.

A new episode is posted on the crew’s website, OurSunkenCity.com, each Monday.

The character Warlock and his mousy “dark queen,” Anne, see New Orleans as the haunted place Warlock sells to tourists via his Spooky Tours business. Warlock longs to convey what he feels is the “real” story of haunted New Orleans, but might throw in some oversexed lies when business falters.

“I don’t remember who said that ‘comedy is built on hurt,’” said Sunken City writer and director Jonathan Evans, “but we wanted to pull back the layers on the stereotypical tour guide, to see what his life’s like in those quiet moments. What happens when you go home? What happens when you lose, and you have to get up and put back on the same costume?” CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at The New Orleans Advocate…

Or CLICK HERE to watch all the episodes of Sunken City.

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Interview with Public Enemy’s Chuck D. PT 2 (AntiGravity. 2007).

CLICK HERE to read the first half of my interview with my hero Chuck D, conducted just after Hurricane Katrina.

In PART TWO we discuss Ray Nagin, hip-hop concert technology, sampling as illegal artform, the racial implications of guitar distortion, and House of Blues versus local clubs.

Have you ever met Nagin?

I have not met Nagin yet.

What would you tell him?

I’d tell him I admire his courage in the heat of chaos.

He’s not getting very good reviews around town these days. Rumor has it he is living mostly in Houston.

It’s easy to attack someone when they’re put up on the shelf like that. I look at it this way: Native Americans never built on the coastline, they built inland, but this Western way, this Manifest Destiny, developers making so much money right on the water, as if just because it hasn’t happened means it’s not gonna happen. The retro pundit finger-pointing can go a million different ways, but it can’t be pointed at Ray Nagin.

Honestly, I think if you lived here you’d be mad at him. He seems to be gone, and crime is getting worse…

He’s overwhelmed. New Orleans was, like, blindsided, and the only thing that can fix it is to have super government intervention and care. New Orleans can’t fix itself. How come corporations are allowed to build casionos right on the coastline and spend millions of dollars on gambling when no one can protect the fact that New Orleans is under sea level? Someone needs to stabilize and protect the city before the casinos can do all that. It seems like a twisted sense of priorities. What happens in the next ten years of the storms happen to keep hitting New Orleans?

It could have happened this summer! All they did was bring the levees back up to the level they didn’t work at before.

It’s a patch up situation. I’ve been to Amsterdam and Holland, and their levee systems are like, they know they can’t afford a mistake. I had friends in New Orleans that would and show me the levees and I was like, “How the fuck is that gonna stop a disaster? That’s all there is?” And they’re like, “Yeah, that’s all there is, but it ain’t happened yet. People who’ve had families there for 50, 60 years living on “It ain’t happened yet…”

You don’t have much love for ClearChannel, I assume?

No, not at all, why?

But you know that ClearChannel’s “Live Nation” company owns the House of Blues where you will be playing in New Orleans.

Corporations are buying up everything. Any corporations I work with – I ain’t working for them.

I feel like ClearChannel is the thing that killed rap music as an intelligent mainstream voice. How can you feel comfortable getting into bed with them? Especially in New Orleans where House of Blues is competing with truly local clubs…

I do the best I can. I have to go with House of Blues and not pay attention to who they’re owned by, and still do what I got to do. I got acts on my label that I would love to come play New Orleans, but you know what? Small clubs say they can’t come because they won’t pull no people because nobody knows them. Why? Probably because ClearChannel won’t play them on the radio.

So then why not find a local club to play at?

The only dynamic in that, in all fairness, is that only works for one particular date, isolated itself. You can’t come up with a structure that’s gonna string along a whole tour. A tour is a blizzard, a blanket of dates, and it’s a routing thing. And if you decide to do it a different way it takes a certain amount of energy, you know what I am saying?

It seems it would be worth that energy.

Not if I gotta be in Paris on April 3rd and in Houston the day before. There’s no grassroots touring structure. I want to bring my SlamJamz tour down here to New Orleans but the small clubs ain’t helpin me. So to do that I gotta spend 100 days just to secure one date. But yeah, we got a ways to go.

So tell me about the live band you have now.

It’s been a part of Public Enemy for years. It’s Rage Against the Machine meets the Roots meets Run DMC. And that’s because everyone in the group besides me is a musician. They add flexibility to the Public Enemy shows beyond the records.

Are you still using backing records with the vocals on them?

The records that we have from back in the day, but…the vocals sound better now. The records are always EQ’d low, and that’s not the majority of the show these days. It goes in and out. You might be able to catch a backing track way in the back sometimes.

Have you all always performed over a copy of your own album or do you have dub plates of the instrumentals.

You can’t have dub plates because they jump onstage. If we just walked around on stage or stayed in one place and didn’t jump around—that was one of Public Enemy’s biggest problems up to the year 1999. A live DJ and MC element is a cool thing, but you got S1Ws moving, myself and Flav are really active – and once the record jumps you can’t pick it back up if you can’t hear a vocal. It may work for tracks without choruses…but when it jumps to the chorus, what do you do then? But that’s irrelevant, because we’ve got the live band, and also new instrumentals, all kinds of things coming at you, so it’s not Milli Vanilli. You just sometimes need vocal references to let you know where you’re at.

These days, does Professor Griff play do drum solos at your shows?

He does a lot of solos and in fact both he and Flav play drums.

I’ve seen clips of Flav playing drums. So Public Enemy has never broken up, technically?

Never. Americans only hear what’s on the radio. Black people only listen to black radio and BET. We’re not on the radio because you have to be a slave to a corporation—we’ve been free for nine years and nobody’s enjoyed their freedom more than us. We’ve just gone to the rest of the world – ClearChannel doesn’t operate all over the world. We only do America every four years. We did take hiatus between 95 and 97, but that was just off the road, that’s all. We just had to figure out a new way to do shows. By tour 36 I’d gotten kinda tired of the whole process, and of not being able to give to the show more than the vinyl could give. We had to step it up. Then Griff came back in 97. He’s been back for ten years.

If you hadn’t already been established, could you have pulled off being an international, internet-propelled, independent act?

There are a lot of groups that started out with us in the 80s that aren’t here now, so it’s not that it’s easier for us. We have different combinations that work for us. If we were strictly an American group there might be some problems. Then there are people who understand their local thing going on, so they succeed that way. All we had was a name and a legacy and we built on that. Now, you can be lazy and think that’s gonna work for you when it’s not. We always fight for survival, and that’s what makes us different. When you look at bands like TV on the Radio or Bloc Party, they’ve definitely taken a non-traditional approach to creating a fan base, and rap and hip-hop music could stand to figure out how they do it. You don’t hear TVOTR on black radio stations or on BET, right?

Black people go to their shows though.

Yeah, exactly. And is Zack from Rage Against the Machine a rapper or a singer?

A rapper.

So why are Rage not played on urban stations? Are they not funkier than any group on black stations now?

I am not a fan of Rage Against the Machine.

Well, I am. And if he’s rapping, how come he’s not on black radio?

Maybe because of the guitar? Or just the distortion pedal, it often seems like a tool of racial divide.

There’s not much distortion in Rage. And Tom Morello plays the guitar like a turntable! Though when’s the last time you heard a turntable on urban stations either?

I’ve always been interested in sampling legalities. From an art history perspective, collage-type music like you made on Nation of Millions was more or less made extinct by capitalism. Has that ever happened before where an artform was made sort of…illegal?

I know exactly what you mean. As close as you can get is like Lenny Bruce’s blue comedy, political comedy…

But all of that has pushed its way back into society…

Mm hm. Same thing with dirty rap like 2Live Crew. That’s been able to recover.

But sampling records is almost a dead artform.

They could never differentiate between us doing it and somebody like, say, EPMD doing it. We made it an art, but EPMD would just take a track and put a killer vocal on top of it. To the court one second might as well be 20 seconds. [Chuckles] They put that whole “one drop of black blood” mentality into the sampling case: “If you took even one second then you took a composition”. That’s bullshit.

Do you have a studio in your house where you make beats now? And if so, where do your source sounds come from nowdays?

We have five studios and we’re wired to as many as 20 studios worldwide. The Bomb Squad is actually 25 producers who contribute. They come up with different techniques. That’s why we were able to make four albums in the last few years. But I don’t do none of that no more; with 25 guys I’d rather navigate their production. I’m a wordsmith, and I’ve stayed that way. I’ve got a little Zoom box that makes beats I can get on top of. I collect a lot of classic 60s and 70s CDs and enjoy my personal collection.

Do you feel a certain resentment that your collage method you’d perfected was taken out of your artistic arsenal, so to speak?

No, I don’t get upset at that. Our thing is to innovate and create new methods. Now we have guys like DJ Sharpie who really can take a track apart second-by-second and spend the time to make a very intricate sonic layout. My thing is to come up with a complete song. I feel like Duke Ellington, who was writing songs on matchbook covers til the day he died. And it’s much easier to make our music now in the underground shadows, underneath the radar of lawyers and accountants. I think this is a brilliant time.

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The story of evacuating Katrina with our pet goat, PT 1-3 (Houston Press. September 2005).

Between Is And Was

A satellite map claims that our corner of the Ninth Ward, back by the naval base 200 feet from the Mississippi River, is somehow dry. Four of five friends who remained — and say they’ll fight to stay — concur. Our house survived: our huge, gorgeous, rented house. We own nothing, except Chauncey, our pygmy goat, who is with us now in Florida.

For $800 a month, Chauncey had a thousand-square-foot backyard behind a huge double shotgun with an attic renovated into a comfortable hardwood bedroom in what was the most enigmatic, creative neighborhood in the United States. It hurts to say was, but the present tense sounds wrong now.

We moved off Esplanade Avenue a year ago, when that idyllic area began turning from a neighborhood into a Monopoly board. The Bywater’s laid-back neighbors remained its big draw. Nobody would rat you out for selling food out of your bedroom window, or hosting a noise music festival in your backyard. Or harboring a farm animal. Chauncey, in fact, was a beloved Bywater celebrity. Walking down Royal Street, munching tropical plants and cigarette butts on his way to Sugar Park Tavern and past Vaughn’s, Chauncey brought down racial barriers and introduced us to every one of our neighbors.

Our favorite old, loud neighbor, who sold Viagra from his apartment, would, like many black New Orleanians, make barbecue jokes whenever he saw Chauncey. On the morning we fled Katrina, the old man laughed and told us no way was he leaving New Orleans for no hurricane. Most of our old black neighbors stayed. Months ago, when the oldest Mardi Gras Indian, 89-year-old Big Chief “Tootie” Montana, died, the papers loudly mourned the loss of the man and the vast historic knowledge he took with him, and it is old-timers like Montana who did not flee the storm, and thus, Katrina peeled the epidermis off the city’s history.

My girlfriend and I wouldn’t have left, either. We almost chose to tough out Katrina inside our huge, wonderful house. But another neighbor forced his car keys on us. I grew up in Florida and the false alarms, the stockpiling of canned goods, the window-taping every year all for naught, had steeled me against panic. It only happens to the other guy. Then last year, after we bought Chauncey for $75 from a farm on New Orleans’ West Bank, Hurricane Ivan threatened, and I evacuated, for the first time ever. We drove eight hours to Baton Rouge with Chauncey in our laps — normally a 45-minute trip, but I-10 from New Orleans is not suited for mass panic. And then, Ivan turned away.

Still this time we grabbed our neighbor’s car keys and crept along I-10 to Tallahassee, where we sat with friends of friends, eating pulled pork and roast beef and fried chicken like some inverted Thanksgiving, and watching our favorite thing in the world drown on live TV.

Chauncey, despite living in a carrier, remained a peppy prince. Our friends of friends loved him, squealing with laughter as we punched Chauncey in the head. (It’s how goats play. He loves it.) We are refugees, sir. Take us in, please. Our goat will do tricks for your amusement.

After five days in Tallahassee, Chauncey’s transport instinct kept him calm for another 15-hour drive: My girlfriend lost the argument, so we drove through the wounded South all the way to Texas, rather than flying over it, which to me would have seemed very wrong. We filled the tiny gas tank in Florida and hung north of the disaster areas, but still witnessed enough downed power lines, uprooted trees, brick buildings knocked off their bases — but not another drop of gas until Natchez, Mississippi. When our only cell phone died, she lost her cool and yelled at me. Chauncey kept quiet all the way to Conroe, to my parents’ gated community.

After three days in Conroe, Texas, Chauncey’s ears are drooping. By now, our initial shock has worn off. I think of all our supposedly dead neighbors in Bywater, and somehow I see and feel it all less clearly than I did at first. Shock almost felt better. There was electricity running through us then, at least, even if it was a negative charge. Now we’ve deflated. We’re puddles. And we’re in Conroe: the exact opposite of New Orleans. Chauncey doesn’t like the manicured grass, the sterile uniformity of my parents’ neighborhood — located somewhere along the 15-mile stretch between Wal-Mart and Super Wal-Mart — any more than we do. His movements have visibly slowed. He seems as lost and despondent as his owners.

PART 2

Everywhere we’ve landed since the evacuation has been another attempt to accommodate the goat. As if just being New Orleanians hasn’t gotten us enough free meals and drinks, Chauncey has been, as always, the Great Ambassador. He’s finally led us here, to this goat farm! An older, hippyish couple own the whole neighborhood: a large clump of houses and small farms – and on a bayou! The area is called the Fifth Ward (I hadn’t known the world outside New Orleans divided itself into wards). “Fifth Ward also has Houston’s highest crime rate,” informed my new editor at Houston Press, who found us this situation. “It’s where I figure you’ll feel most at home.”

The farm’s owners will arrive home in three days. We’ve yet to meet them. Their goats are not here either but at a separate location while their owners vacation in Colorado. As I type on their computer, however, two huge prehistoric sheep stare

in at me through the window, a chicken resting atop one’s back. I don’t see Chauncey anywhere underhoof. He’s closer in size to the chickens; a clean little toy compared to the sheep; no balls, no horns. The breeders sawed off then cauterized Chauncey’s horns at birth, without asking our preference. We snipped his nuts later.

My girlfriend, Mizzy, has been at her parents’ in D.C. all week while I’ve holed up alone in this big house as if in a writer’s colony, an artist’s retreat, an insane asylum. Mizzy and I have little responsibility. Nothing is expected of us refugees, for now. Our boundless cell phones roam free of charge; our rich, kindly landlords will have bigger concerns; Entergy will have stopped knocking on our door (painted with its big orange X) about that past-due $300. And all this while our bank accounts are stuffed with FEMA and Red Cross money. When this couple return, they want us to rent a two-bedroom house across from the goat farm for just $475. No lease. Month-to-month refugee special. With a Jacuzzi. And cable Internet. On a goat farm. The exact situation Mizzy and I have often dreamt of, aloud.

But though Chauncey is meant for a farm, he looks small and lost in that vast gray pen built for beasts four times his size. The currently absent goats have eaten every stitch of green, mowed the pen down to just gray, so I have to take Chauncey on eating walks around the neighborhood — like taking a dog to pee, except eating takes more time. I lead Chauncey down to the thickest roadside weeds and hide in the shade reading The Bonfire of the Vanities (drawing my own comparisons to the recent governmental reaction in New Orleans) and watching Chauncey munch for the length of one chapter before walking him back “home.”

But even a Tom Wolfe chapter’s never long enough to give a goat his fill. And so, hungry and small, Chauncey slips out of his new pen, evacuates the gray in search of green. Goats are famous masters of escape that learn to work latches with their tongues. We shifted Chauncey into a smaller chicken-wire enclosure within the big gray pen, but still, every morning when I step outside, Chauncey comes trotting up the road on hooves like tiny high heels, like he’s been out all night.

What can I do? Just hope he doesn’t get mugged.

 

*

 

One Jack-and-Coke into another slow refugee afternoon, I heard a shriek like a hawk. “Chauncey!” I sprinted through the big house and out to the pens. “Chauncey!” My simultaneous first sights were a medium-sized black dog rushing away along the fence, and Chauncey scrambling toward me, squealing, bleeding. I snatched up all of his 27 pounds and gripped his muscular throat to plug the pencil-thick red stream. “No, no, no!” I shouted in response to Chauncey’s hot tragic screams in my face. And suddenly, not having a car didn’t seem so bohemian, so cute. I could only carry this bloody armful out onto the dirt streets, bleating, “Help me! Help me!” The farmers were all gone. Chauncey’s legs straightened out, back at an angle like he was diving — like death throes. “Chauncey’s dying! Help!” I cannot imagine the first impression my teary, red, anguished face and shirt and shorts painted with blood and the screaming goat in my arms, made on the pale young man who finally piled us into his Mustang.

Our young driver didn’t know of any animal hospital. His Mustang idled as I watched him rack his brain, calmly, but with his fists up on either side of his head, like thought conductors revving and revving and: “Okay! Yes! An emergency vet!”

“A close one?” I asked, knowing that in Texas anything “close” is still far away — another reason to miss New Orleans. After 20 minutes on the freeway, Chauncey’s transport instinct kicked in and he lay still, squealing only when I released the pressure on his throat — the bleeding had stopped. Chauncey remained a civilized beast, while in my panic I harassed our driver: “He’s gonna bleed to death!” I shook Chauncey to keep him from falling sleep. “Is the vet actually close yet?” Our driver’s continual Shh, shh, shh, shhhh was meant as much for me. But I couldn’t help believing that Chauncey was about to become another of Katrina‘s after-the-fact fatalities. I couldn’t stop blaming myself: Why did I let them cut off his horns! Why wasn’t I out there spending time with him? I spend more time writing about Chauncey, and talking about him at parties with strangers…

 

By the time we reached the other side of Houston, I realized Chauncey would have already died if he was going to die. He breathed through his nose, normally, relaxed. He probably would have eaten a branch, if offered (goats are so hardwired to just eat, eat, eat that as Chauncey’s mother lay on her back screaming, giving birth, I saw her lips stretch back over her shoulder to nibble hay). I was slightly less worried by the time our young driver parked outside a strip mall under red block letters: VET EMERGENCY.

Which I immediately realized was some sort of Vietnam veterans health insurance place. “No!” I cried. “NO! AH! This isn’t a…a real…”

“I know,” our driver sighed, gripping his temples. “I can’t think of anywhere else. They can at least stop the bleeding here.”

I froze. Is he right? “They can? Okay, I’ll, uh, just…take Chauncey in, and uh…”

Chauncey squealed when I lifted his head, and our driver studied the building more closely and suddenly realized: “Oh, shit! Veterans?”

“Yes! See? They can’t help us at all! Oh, Christ! Christ! Christ!” I climbed back into his Mustang and looked across and down the street: “A cat hospital!” We skidded directly over.

The calm doctor shaved Chauncey’s throat and found four puncture wounds. She said I’d done an excellent job of stopping the blood and sewed no stitches, just thoroughly cleaned the holes, suggested we buy a spiked collar to protect his throat, and after some goat research, administered a fat white penicillin shot over which Chauncey did not cry — all on the house, since we’re from New Orleans. Chauncey slept clumsily in my arms on the way out, as the doctor assured me he would be fine but that his neck would become very sore from the bites, in that particular way a puncture wound stiffens and spreads out after its first piercing pain. “Like how this whole Katrina experience has been,” I testified.

Twenty-four hours later, Chauncey is back living in his carrier. He stands stone-still behind bars, semicatatonic. We are befuddled. Even this ideal world is not ours, we’ve decided before we’ve even met its owners. Alone now in their big empty house we wait, and wait, wondering, What now? What next?

 

PART 3

 

Weeks into our Houston “evacu-cation,” our New Orleans landlords call, wanting to know if we’re coming back. Their phone messages (we haven’t been brave enough to answer) claim that since their properties didn’t flood, their values have doubled, and though they won’t raise our rent, if we are coming back to New Orleans, they need money for October.

This Fifth Ward Houston goat farm has been paradise (I’ve also made more money writing in one month in Houston than I would’ve all summer in Louisiana), but Mizzy and I don’t want to lose our huge, gorgeous, cheap house in New Orleans, with its elaborate pygmy goat pen.

Hoping to further avoid this hard decision, we take Chauncey for a walk through a Houston park (so much cleaner than anywhere back home) and end up answering the same old goat questions from interested passersby. In our depressed state we’re not really in the mood. We’ve always joked about typing up an FAQ pamphlet.

Q: Oh, my God, a goat! How did you end up with a pet goat?

A: Our wonderful rented house in New Orleans had a giant yard, so Mizzy wanted a dog. But I love animals too much to want to be in control of when one can and can’t poop. So we joked about getting a goat, who would live outside all the time, pooping little odorless black beans wherever and whenever he pleased. We then jokingly found the Web site of Rosedale Farms on New Orleans’s West Bank, and drove out to visit the goats. When the pygmies, like fat, knee-high seals with stubby legs, all silently approached us, questioning us with many calm, kind-seeming eyes, urban goat husbandry suddenly didn’t seem so esoteric. “And with a yard y’all’s size,” the married farmer couple promised, “y’all wouldn’t even have to feed him.” Then moments into our visit, a mother goat gave birth. After witnessing the miracle of life for the first time ever (and after the lady farmer said she would have to find homes for the two newborn boys quick, before her husband sold them for food), we put down a $75 payment on a baby boy goat, to be picked up one week later.

Q: Goats eat anything, right?

A: We’re not sure if it’s because Chauncey’s so small, or so spoiled, but I’ve never seen him glance twice at an aluminum can. He eats only what will give him sustenance — and also anything that is flat, thin and crinkly like leaves, paper, plastic bags. Also cigarette butts from New Orleans’s dirty streets. Sometimes we give him handfuls of sweet feed even though our vet ordered, “Don’t feed him anything. Just let him eat the yard.” This same vet also claimed the cigarettes were actually good for cleaning out the internal parasites goats inevitably contract from always eating off the ground. Chauncey’s diet, like ours, has been much cleaner in Houston.

Q: Does he live indoors with you?

A: We might bring Chauncey in when he’s tired enough to pass out in Mizzy’s lap. But because God wired goats to never stop eating — and because many important things are made out of paper — Chauncey is not a very fun houseguest. He lives outside all the time here, in Houston, with a dozen chickens, two spooky sheep and a trio of female Nubian goats five times his size, who treated him as Santa’s reindeer did Rudolph.

These floppy-eared Houston girls — Lisa, Latte and Mocha — rammed and butted and bullied tiny Chauncey. The one time he stood up for himself (literally stood up on his back hooves, to a full height of two and a half feet), lanky Latte reared up in response and towered nearly seven feet above Chauncey. Still, Chauncey remains as close to the ladies as they will allow him.

The farmers who, like so many Houstonians, have been more parental to us than my parents, returned home finally to find a pack of five more wild dogs sniffing around outside their house. Though Hurricane Rita has shaken enough leaves onto the ground to keep Chauncey round as a globe, Houston hasn’t been as paradisiacal for him.

The farmers moved us into our own cute little house directly across the street; they own 16 houses in the neighborhood. Our house is smaller but almost nicer than our New Orleans home, with its own diminutive fenced-in yard.

Unfortunately, the first memory Mizzy and I created there was an argument, when I did not approve of her “trapping” Chauncey in our new yard. I vehemently believed that, though he didn’t get along with the other goats, he nonetheless felt safer around them. But Mizzy wanted him closer to her. “Despite what he wants!” I shouted for all our new neighbors to hear. We ended up crying on opposite ends of our new cute house.

It was just that neither of us had freaked out since Katrina. Not once. Our sadness has been mellow. But now our New Orleans landlords are pressuring us with ultimatums, and Mizzy’s been offered a temporary job in Rhode Island placing Katrina victims in artists’ residencies — they would pay her rent, plus 20-something dollars an hour (unheard of in New Orleans!), and though it’s only a nine-month job, I fear I might never see her or Chauncey again.

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Five-year-old New Orleans genius (LA Weekly. Feb 2014).

New Orleans native Anala Beevers possesses an IQ over 145 at just five years old. Her natural genius helped her learn the alphabet at just four months old. “When she was born I’d say the ABCs to her and she would mouth the ABCs along with me,” says Anala’s mother Sabrina Beevers. “Then by 10 months old she could identify and point to each letter when I’d say it, before she could even talk.”

By 18 months Anala was reciting numbers in both Spanish and English. By her fifth birthday – which she celebrated this month—she could recite the name of every North American state on the map, plus every capital. Recent YouTube clips show Anala also naming the capitals of countries worldwide.

With an IQ higher than 145, 5-year-old Anala Beevers of New Orleans has been accepted into the Mensa Society. The exclusive high-IQ club accepts only those who score at the 98th percentile on an IQ test.

“We finally had to look at her and ask ‘Is this normal for a baby to do?’” says her father Landon Beevers.

When the Beevers finally put Anala together with other kids, the couple could really tell their daughter was strikingly different. So this year Anala Beevers skipped pre-K and was enrolled directly into Kindergarten at the Marrero Academy for Advanced Studies in Jefferson Parish. “They do have advanced study classes there,” says Landon, who expresses worry about Anala’s limited local education choices going forward. ”But her current school is not challenging enough for her; their resources are limited. We don’t know what we’ll do next for her, school-wise.”

At home though, “We are doing everything we can to maximize her potential. Anything she wants to explore we put it out there for her,” says her father, who plans to provide Anala with as normal a childhood as a genius can have. “We don’t have to push her or make her do anything, we don’t even make her sit down and read books,” he says, “she comes to us with all of that, tells us what she wants to learn.”

Though he has joked that his daughter “needs a reality show,” Landon claims he’s turned down “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” to keep his little one’s life as simple as possible. Anala has nonetheless been written about extensively. In 2013, Landon Beevers told People magazine that his daughter’s smarts make her harder to deal with. Anala has publicly claimed she’s smarter than her parents (they publicly agreed) and even corrects their grammar.

“She’s more aware, her mind works faster, and she doesn’t just take things at face value,” says Landon. “She’s always gonna look deeper into it, which means she does challenge us a lot. We talk to her and respond to her like she’s an adult, and we get in a debate with her and then realize we’re debating a four-year-old! But the thing is, her arguments are valid – juvenile but intelligent.”

“Like the other day,” her mother recalls, “she asked why blue soap makes white bubbles—things that never crossed our minds.”

Beevers was recently invited to become one of 2,800 MENSA members under the age of 18 (the current youngest being 2 years old). The exclusive high-IQ club accepts only those who score at the 98th percentile on an IQ test – whereas young Alana Beevers placed in the 99th percentile range, putting her intelligence in the top one percent of all humanity.

Her parents say little Anala always has a new pursuit. The little genius is currently studying every book she can about volcanoes and astronomy; she can name planets and dinosaurs. “Though most recently now she’s on an artistic tip,” says her father. “She’s doing a lot of creative things right now. But it’s never just one thing. She’s a multi-tasker. Her mind never stops.”

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Riding on a parade float with Mardi Gras’s first rock band (VICE. March 2014).

In 1987, singer and guitarist Sue Ford moved from Boston to New Orleans and became firmly entrenched in the city’s rock scene. She’s currently married to Jimmy Ford, a drummer, former bar owner, and one-time manager for acts like the dB’s and Richard Hell. The couple plays together in the heavy rock band DiNOLA, but Sue is perhaps best known as the woman who first injected rock ’n’ roll into the city’s traditional Mardi Gras parades.

Sue rightfully felt the parades didn’t reflect the wide variety of music New Orleans offers, and so she did her damnedest to get her all-female rock band Pink Slip onto a float. Her idea to screw with traditions stretching back hundreds of years met with resistance until 2000, when New Orleans’s first all-female parade krewe, the Muses, put out a call for female musicians and bands outside of the jazz and blues genres, which normally dominate the festivities.

A man prepares a float—loaded with beads—for the Mardi Gras parade in Chalmette Lousiana, on February 22.

Nowadays, Pink Slip rocks several parades every Mardi Gras season. On the more crowded routes, fans hold signs demanding “Show Us Your Pink!” Police officers occassionally request the DiNOLA song “I Wanna Die in New Orleans,” which the Fords wrote with Dave Catching, who owns the famed Rancho de la Luna studios in Joshua Tree and who often joins Pink Slip on the parade route. Other frequent special guests include former White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult, Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu, and New Orleans’s legendary singer-songwriter Susan Cowsill, of the Cowsill family band.

Over the years, all the other female musicians who were in Pink Slip have dropped out or been, well, given the pink slip. Eric Laws of DiNOLA now plays lead guitar, and Eddie Payne plays bass. After serving as Pink Slip’s roadie for six years, Sue’s husband Jimmy plays drums on the float while simultaneously running sound.

When I talked to her for a 2012 OffBeat magazine piece I wrote about her role in Mardi Gras, Sue told me about the process of selecting companions for this annual adventure: “When picking my krewe, it’s like going on a canoe trip. First, you’re thinking about all the great friends you want to bring. Then it starts raining and the canoe gets stuck, and you think, ‘OK, who would not deal with this well?’ and you start crossing people off that list.”

So I was honored to be chosen as Pink Slip’s guest bartender for the Knights of Nemesis parade, on the afternoon of February 22 in outlying Chalmette, beyond the Lower Ninth Ward. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the story at VICE.com…

Or check out this truly killer video of Pink Slip playing the Muses parade in 2014: 

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