UNEDITED Book Review: New Orleans Boom & Blackout by Brian Boyles (New Orleans.me. Jan. 2015).


Below is the unedited version of this review, which is quite a bit longer than the one that was published HERE.

Author Brian Boyles has traversed the CBD daily for the last eight years as an employee of Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. He’s also occupied the DJ booth at Handsome Willie’s, the CBD’s “neighborhood bar without a neighborhood,” spinning tunes at almost every Saints football game since the 2009 Championship Season. Both of these occupations—combined with Boyles’s natural curiosity as a journalist and historian—helped position him to become an expert in the social political drama that was the Super Bowl’s last takeover of New Orleans.

In his new book, New Orleans Boom and Blackout, Boyles combs over the 100 days leading up to the Super Bowl, and finds a concentrated amount of important history within. Like Mayor Landrieu and other politicians did at the time, Boyles frames the Super Bowl as the lens through which America will finally get to see the “new New Orleans.” With a dispassionate eye, Boyles documents the many instances en route, when “the contentious ghosts of the recovery emerged to complicate things.”

Within these 100 days—tucked inside the year of the Saints Bountgate scandal Boyles watched and heard and documented: cabbies blocking Canal Street in protest of being forced to make expensive cab upgrades; Ray Nagin begin his eventual indictment; the “War On Music” when the city suddenly got strict about nightclub permits; the expensive airport renovations that preceded the newer expensive airport renovations; the Federal Government hand the NOPD a challenging consent decree; the ACLU sue the city for free speech inside the NFL’s temporarily oppressive Clean Zone; Tom Benson unveil the Pelicans.

“Right now it seems like journalism,” says Boyles, who earned a Bachelor’s in History from Tulane, of his new book. “I was trying to capture something for posterity—and that’s when it becomes history. Every day now, something comes up that makes us want to argue about the direction the city’s going, and about authenticity—I wanted to step back from all that, removed myself from aspects of it that make me sad or make me happy, and figure out how it was all important, and how did it fit into the flow of New Orleans history.”

Some of the information in Boom and Blackout could seem rote to those who paid attention to this recent history the first time around. But Boyles carefully balances the essentials with street-level knowledge, gained from folks like the To Be Continue Brass band, with whom Boyles checks in every few chapters. The TBC have, over the years, been shuffled down Bourbon Street, block by block, until finally they were battling Canal Street and Super Bowl. When the band ran into Mayor Landrieu on a stage they shared during Super Bowl, TBC trombonist Devin Vance claims the mayor blew them off: “We was like ‘Hey, what’s up with Bourbon Street?’ and he just went through the door.”:

“I don’t like how they could fix everything for Super Bowl but they can’t fix the streets in our neighborhood,” said Vance. “They can spend so much money to make the city look pretty for something big like that, but you drive down my streets [and] they got potholes every block. You can spend that much money for somebody who’s gonna be here a couple of days for the Super Bowl?”

“For most people who live here, these events, you either work at them, or else you have to reroute your life to accommodate,” says Boyles of the special geographic proximity from which he absorbed his book’s subject. “But people tailgate outside of my office. Plus, DJing gave me a really good window into the people following the Saint, and the politics around it. The DJ booth at Handsome Willie’s is ground level, so you interact with people the whole time. I always had up to date information from the service industry about what those folks were going through, what they were expecting. ”

DJing those games, Boyles also learned a lot about Southern music tastes. “I went into that gig thinking I’d be playing classic rock and things. But I found out early on that white people like Southern hip-hop as much as anyone else. I knew Cash Money, but I didn’t know Tim Smooth, or the Bunny Hop. There was a cool period where I was learning through getting a lot of requests. But what struck me immediately is that everyone knew the words to “Nolia Clap.”

New Orleans Book and Blackout has been nominated for One Book New Orleans [http://ylcnola.org/display/one-book-one-new-orleans/].

And here is a video, that never gets old or less hilarious, of the lights going out in the New Orleans Superdome the last time we hosted the SuperBowl (the “Blackout” referenced in Boyles’s book title): 

Boyles will host a book release party on Tuesday, January 27, 5pm at Handsome Willy’s, 218 S. Robertson, featuring DK Maxmillion and DJRQAway

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