Review of Louis CK’s New Orleans show (Book & Film Globe, Feb 2020)

A few hours before Louis CK’s scheduled 7:30 show on Saturday night, the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans sent me an urgent text: “Due to heightened security, please arrive an hour early.”

Oh shit, I thought, they’re worried someone will assassinate Louis CK. But no, Louis himself had heightened security, scared we’d make recordings and leak his jokes. He also had a no note-taking rule in effect. Which meant I really had to hide my pen and pad.

At 6:30 I got into a line that wrapped around the building. It was mostly white guys, but at least half brought their lady dates. I did not see even one of my friends–a rare thing at a huge show in tiny New Orleans. I was sort of embarrassed to be there myself. I’d really loved Louis CK back before, as Dave Chappelle put it, “He died in that terrible masturbation accident.” I’d planned to boycott Louis for at least a few years, but got free tickets at the last moment. Now, I’d reduced my boycott to just not putting money in his pocket (unless the theater gave him a cut of the $12 I paid for a cup of wine). I felt as if I was on my way to rendezvous with a shitty ex that I knew I should avoid, but for whom I secretly longed.

A Giant Line To Pee

The heightened security and the massive line (Louis CK had quickly sold out two nights at the 1,500-seat Orpheum) made it seem as if something big was happening.  Yet I could not for the life of me sell my partner’s abandoned ticket. No one was even looking for tickets. Not only that, but because I left my cell phone in my car like a civilized human being, and didn’t have to have it locked in a Yondr pouch, I somehow walked right in and got my hand stamped without anyone checking either of my tickets.

In the lobby, I immediately saw something I’d never seen before in my life: a giant line for the men’s room and absolutely no line for the women’s. I imagine Rush concerts were probably like this, but standing in line to pee was definitely a new experience for me. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this review at BOOK & FILM GLOBE…

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Obit of Geoff Douville, guitarist of Egg Yolk Jubilee (OffBeat, Feb. 2020)

I can’t write a regular obituary in this case, because I was just too close to Geoff Douville, 48-year-old guitarist for Egg Yolk Jubilee, who died last Saturday. An irreplaceable friend, Geoff represented most everything I love about New Orleans.

Early last Wednesday, I’d texted his bandmates, asking the status on Geoff’s battle with a rare form of cancer. He’d fought for his life for over a year, and seemed to be winning for a while, but after the cancer got the upper hand, he took a road trip to a special hospital in Houston, Texas. “I bet that was the worst part, being in Houston,” I didn’t get the chance to joke to him, because this week Geoff returned home to New Orleans, to pass away in his sweet little house in Gentilly.

I was surprised to receive texts back from Egg Yolk, inviting me to come with them to visit Geoff Wednesday night. Geoff and I were as close as busy adults could be, but in my previous experience with friends dying of cancer, at a certain point the ranks are closed, and visitation limited to only relatives. And bandmates. I was honored to be included, but still spent the whole day steeped in dread; I didn’t want to see Geoff that way. The terrible image of a gaunt and suffering friend can become the primary one you remember when they are gone. Geoff was so bright and alive, I did not want him eclipsed, in my mind, by his suffering.

I first met Geoff when I lived across the street from CC’s coffee shop on Esplanade in 2001. We just sort of gravitated to each other, both of us artists, both guitarists, both of us cynical but with a great love of people and life. Back before we really knew each other, I remember telling Geoff—an accomplished videographer—about a music video I’d filmed but couldn’t finish. Everyone talks shit about New Orleans transplants nowadays (as if that’s not what the city’s always partially been made of) but Geoff, who was born here and graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School, immediately invited me to his house, and for some reason spent over six hours editing my whole video project, without asking for anything in return. I think I bought him some beer.

As I got to know Geoff, I found out that he almost never let any friend want for anything if he could help it: When a mutual buddy lost his front teeth in an accident, Geoff immediately offered a benefit concert. When another friend’s band lost their guitarist, Geoff immediately stepped in, despite there being no money in the gig. His example taught me that I needed to be that way too, if I was to ever call myself a New Orleanian.

I went on to write a lot about New Orleans, often in a very opinionated manner that earned me a lot of shut-up-you’re-not-from-here type criticism, but what the haters didn’t know was that I ran almost everything by Geoff. He was whip smart, facts-based, and “from here” like a motherfucker, and so I’d offer to buy him drinks in exchange for advice (silly, since we’d meet at Lost Love Lounge, which he owned from 2009 to 2016). Geoff would gladly suggest how I should think about the important local issues that I wanted to write about–whether that was post-Katrina gentrification, or racist radio duo Walton and Johnson–and tell me who I needed to interview. And if my finished product passed Douville’s smell test, then no one else could shake my confidence.  CLICK HERE to read the rest of this obituary at OFFBEAT MAGAZINE…

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LA Wildlife and Fisheries stocks ponds with non-native rainbow trout (Louisiana Weekly, January 2020)

A legendary sportsman’s paradise, Louisiana can now count rainbow trout among the fish available to catch and eat – at least during the wintertime.

On Tuesday, January 21, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Get Out and Fish! program released some 2,300 pounds of rainbow trout in freshwater lakes in Jennings, Youngsville, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Walker, Hammond, and Joe Brown Park in New Orleans. An additional 2,100 pounds of live rainbow trout were released into state ponds on January 14, for a total of 4,400 pounds of fresh food, available now for families to catch and eat.

“A truck backed up to the water and dumped a bunch of fish into the lake, from like a big tube,” said fisherman Robert Smith, who was out at Joe Brown park on Tuesday afternoon to partake of the new rainbow trout, which are not native to Louisiana, because they can only survive in cold water. Within an hour of hitting the lake though, said Smith, “They’re already jumpin’. The ones that are jumpin’ are about half a pound.”

Rainbow trout are different in many ways from Louisiana’s coveted saltwater speckled trout, which are not really trout at all, but members of the drum family. And unlike wild rainbow trout, which eat bugs and other live food, Louisiana’s new rainbow trout were raised in springwater at Crystal Lake Fisheries in Boone Township, Missouri. All the fishermen on the lake Tuesday used little plastic lures and spinnerbaits, even though these rainbow trout aren’t used to eating live food. “They’ve been raised on pellets – that’s what they feed ‘em with at the hatchery – so that’s what you use to catch them with: corn, or pellets. But in a few days they’ll be hungry, and then they’ll eat just about anything.”

Fish delivery truck driver Dan Kidderman says the trout are ready to be caught much quicker than even that: “When we deliver them, they have been kept off of feed for a few days,” he explains. “So, give ‘em just an hour to acclimate and they will bite, cause they are hungry. Guys fish ‘em out almost as fast as they hit the water. Rainbow trout are an adaptive species. They’re used to eating pellets, but when they get into the ponds and streams, left to their own devices they will go after the bugs and whatever. But really they will go after anything, even Velveeta cheese.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article at LOUISIANA WEEKLY…

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Review of Leslie Jones’s “Time Machine” special (Book & Film Globe, January 2020)

Leslie Jones never fit in on Saturday Night Live. Both her personality and her look–six-feet tall with another six inches of spiked up, punk rock hair–were both so big, she never seemed meant to blend in and play characters from real life. And so, like the far less skilled and less interesting Pete Davidson, SNL relegated Jones to monologues on Weekend Update, where her boisterous delivery even then could feel sort of out-of-place. She lasted five seasons before leaving.

With her new standup special, Time MachineJones proves that she was just too funny for SNL.

I was surprised to learn Leslie Jones began doing standup in the late 80s, encouraged by personal guidance from masters like Dave Chappelle, Jamie Foxx, and Chris Rock (who reportedly had a hand in getting her hired at Saturday Night Live). All of that shows in Time Machine.

Jones’s histrionic physical comedy on Time Machine is pretty masterful. She struts around the stage in constant motion, un-cynically working her ass off, moving around so much that she wears a knee brace while executing several extended dance segments. At one point she turns into a beautiful angel fluttering out of a young woman’s vagina.

Most of Jones’s set loudly dissects the differences between her experiences of being in her 20s, and her current life in her 50s. Every new bit she begins seem to eventually twist back around to comparing youth and middle age. She dances on imaginary fresh snow to illustrate the freshness of a 20-year-old vagina, then bends over a stool and does an excruciatingly long impersonation of how her aged vagina sounds now during intercourse. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this review at BOOK & FILM GLOBE…

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Why Louisiana is the canary in the climate change coal mine (Vice, Nov. 2019)

On especially nice days, I walk with a cocktail out the door of the Old Point Bar in the sleepy Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans and head up the tall grass levee. At the top, as I sip, I look down the Mississippi River side of the levee, down the long angle of cement that leads to the wide grass batture where we often host my daughters’ birthday parties. Sometimes, when the river is extra low, I walk down the sand beachhead that pokes out another 30 feet into the rushing Mississippi. For much of 2019, all of that was under water. For more than six months, I’d climb the levee to drink in peace and arrive at the top to find the river just three feet down from my shoes—the water higher than the first floor of the Old Point Bar.

Especially in recent years, heavier rainfall has combined with melting snow to cause frequent and intense floods along the banks of the Mississippi River. While many experts avoid blaming this phenomenon directly on climate change, coastal scientist John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation was fairly blunt on the phone with me. Lopez referenced a study released in March by the National Weather Service for the Army Corps of Engineers. “It found that in the last [three to five decades] that the watershed precipitation on the Mississippi River has increased, and also the frequency and intensity of rain events all along the river,” Lopez told me. “The river’s levels this year derive from flooding outside of Louisiana. Climate change happening in, say, Illinois is affecting what happens in Louisiana.”

Much is made about the perilous state of America’s coasts in the age of climate change, but rising water also threatens the 10 states that lie along the Mississippi River, as well as the 31 states that make up the massive Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin. The Mississippi has topped many a levee just in the last couple decades, including in 2011 when it simultaneously flooded Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. This past summer, Iowa flooded again, and the river crumbled some unofficial levees near St Louis.

Louisiana is lucky and unlucky enough to sit both on the river and near the Gulf of Mexico—making our state both an ecological wonder and a laboratory for climate change problems. “Louisiana is the most vulnerable state in the country when it comes to climate change,” Louisiana State University climatologist Barry Keim told me, “and maybe in the world.”

Though Louisiana is already surreally hot in the summers, according to the States at Riskresearch project completed by the Climate Central science news organization in 2014, the number of days with an over 105-degree heat index in Louisiana will increase from 24 “danger days” in 2000 to 126 in 2030 to 151 by 2050. Research released in 2015 from Louisiana State University determined that, since the 1950s, Louisiana has seen a 62 percent uptick in extreme rain events, the sort of deluges that brought us the massive Baton Rouge floods in 2016 and the summer 2017 flood. If the rain doesn’t wash us out, the sea level is also set to rise around us by almost two feet by 2050, which will also mean ungodly amounts of land loss. Because of climate change, Louisiana could double in its number of droughtswildfires, and heat-related diseases over the next 30 years.

Climate change will cause damage around the world, but it will hit some places harder and sooner than others. The water rushing by my feet as I sip my drink atop the levee reminds me I live in such a place. And as worried as I am for myself and my neighbors, I know that rising water, heat, and storms—the diseases and other harms those things bring—will spread. What is happening in Louisiana is similar to what will happen to so many other states. Including yours. CLICK HERE to continue reading this story at VICE…

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Review of Dave Chappelle’s “Stick and Stones” special (Book & Film Globe, Sept. 2019)

Dave Chappelle opens his newest Netflix special, Sticks and Stoneswith a bit about how Anthony Bourdain killed himself despite having “the best job that show business ever produced.” He compares Bourdain to an underemployed friend of Dave’s, who Dave believes should consider suicide. Chappelle then quickly moves on to the special’s theme: He says he feels like the world is not just changing but closing in on him, and threatening to take away his right to joke about whatever he likes. He tells the audience directly, “Y’all niggas is the WORST motherfuckers I’ve ever tried to entertain in my FUCKING life!”

The fact that Netflix has paid Chappelle close to $100 million to make four new comedy specials in one year for the world’s biggest streaming platform renders mute any question of comic oppression. In fact, it makes all of Chappelle’s grousing on the subject feel like…a joke! Imagine that.

Chappelle has a different, more serious, more ponderous flow now. He’s transformed into your favorite uncle, whose stories you love listening to even when his logic’s not all the way solid, and he says some shit you might really disagree with if you weren’t so sure unc was joking. In the special, he moves on to both roast and attempt to vindicate a host of “persecuted” celebrities, judging the guilt or innocence of Louis CK, R. Kelly, Kevin Hart, Jussie Smollett—a bunch of people and controversies that most people likely will not remember 20 years from now.

He ribs the latest Michael Jackson molestation documentary (“I felt like HBO was sticking baby dicks in my ears for two hours.”), and though even the joke’s premise (that kids should be honored to receive fellatio from the King of Pop) is groan-worthy, and though it’s very hard to hear Chappelle even jokingly say, “I do not believe these [accusers],” he does land a string of solid, tasteless pedo jokes, including: “Someone needed to teach these kids that’s there’s no such thing as a free trip to Hawaii.”

My laughing at that joke doesn’t diminish my disdain for pedophiles. It’s not the world’s smartest joke; Dave could stand to take his own advice and leave MJ buried.  But it’s just a wild, wrong-ass thing for someone to say out loud. And because of that, I laughed. CLICK HERE to read the rest of this review at “BOOK AND FILM GLOBE”…

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On Louisiana’s spillways as tourist attractions (Atlas Obscura, July 2019)

READ THE WORDS “FLOODED FRIES” on a restaurant menu, and what comes to mind? An image of soupy cheese drowning a plate of fried potatoes? Skinny tater tots topped with sausage gravy?

At the Spillway Café in Morganza, Louisiana, the “Flooded Fries” are named for actual flooding—specifically, the trillions of gallons of dirty Mississippi River water pressing against a nearby flood-control levee called the Morganza Spillway, ready to drown acres and acres of farmland.

“The scarier it gets, the more people come,” says Traci Ewing, owner of the Spillway Café (attached to a La Express gas station) and one of about 600 Morganza residents. “We drive over the spillway every single day. It’s not that big of a deal to us, but it does seem to draw tourists … We don’t really understand it, but we embrace it.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at ATLAS OBSCURA…

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