David Simon’s The Wire remains a masterpiece. His follow-up HBO show, the Katrina drama Treme is, for me, a beautifully-filmed recreation of the worst event I ever hope to experience. The show is perfect for revisiting memories that I wish I did not have. It’s just one long trigger (featuring a lot of my friends). I also think that while Simon’s overflowing love and sympathy for New Orleans did not kill Treme, it reinforced my belief that you shouldn’t write about any place until you also hate it a little.
For instance, Treme early on sets up New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins as a saintly figure who will not leave his beloved New Orleans no matter how wet it gets — when in reality Kermit lived in Houston during that time, rightfully trying to build a new life because, he told me for Houston Press, New Orleans “won’t be coming back for years.”
To be fair, Kermit returned about a year later. And Treme’s still a better show than any other about New Orleans. And the project did put literally millions of dollars directly into the pockets of local musicians. I just add my feelings about the show here, to put into context the Treme reality we lived in at the time, when I briefly met and shaded David Simon.
Biking home one sunset, I spotted the genius writer and director’s bald head among the music clubs on Frenchmen St., and so I quick ran into FAB bookstore, where Otis lent me a copy of my guidebook to New Orleans’s music scene. I ran the book down Chartres St. to Simon, and explained that mine was the only guidebook made for tourists who visit New Orleans specifically to hear live music. Simon thanked me and shook my hand and began reading the book right there.
As I rode away on my bike I said, “It’s full of bands you might not know about yet.”
He shouted back, “We’re gonna have Hurray for the Riff Raff on the show soon!”
“They’re pretty good,” I begrudged, and then because I sometimes can’t stop the wrong asshole thing from falling out of my mouth, added, “But that book goes a little deeper.”
Almost a decade later, a couple weeks after Simon retweeted an article I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review about wild-ass OffBeat magazine publisher, Jan Ramsey, I sat at an outdoor taco restaurant on Magazine St., reeling from the effects of two very strong margaritas, when Simon walked by our bench with some people who looked to be his family. I reflexively stuck out my hand to him in passing, as if we’d just spoken yesterday.
To my surprise he stopped. Responding to my self-assuredness, he sort of stooped down to listen what I had to say. When I said nothing, he asked, “Do I know you?”
“I’m just a journalist, we’ve uh met before…” I didn’t remember the book I’d given him, and didn’t want to explain how he’d just retweeted my article. And so I drunkenly said, “I’m nobody.”
He kind of grimaced at me like Why’d you fucking stop me then? and kept walking.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.