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Defender Picks


Jazz Historian on Treme Ep3

Deconstructing Treme

Robert “Kingcake” is a well known NOLA Jazz historian and archivist. We kept him out late at Buffa’s to discuss the latest episode of Treme, the NOPD, Big Chiefs, and of course, Davis.

NoDef: Your Katrina experiences are very interesting. Before we get to Treme, do you mind giving us a little background?

RK: I had been mourning a good friend of mine throughout the week, and the days leading up were a bit hazy. So, I wake up Saturday morning and everybody is giving me their keys. (Laughter) So, I say, “I’ll see y’all when y’all get back.” One of the houses I was taking care of was the old Morial house on Bayou Saint John. They have a great wine cellar and at first it’s okay. Then, the levee broke, you know after the worst of the storm.

So, I found an old canoe in the basement, and spent five days floating around MidCity picking up little old ladies from rooftops… and having dumb assholes pull guns on me...

NoDef: You made it out though?

RK:Yeah. So, ultimately, I fly out in a Blackhawk helicopter to I10 Causeway. I stayed up in a Lafayette with an incredibly kind family. They made me watch Fox News, but they were the kindest people you’ll ever meet…

I came back. Stayed in a house down on Hope Street, right by the Maple Leaf. Saw Walter [“Wolfman” Washington] bring music back, at the Maple Leaf, off of a generator. Candles, the whole nine yards, we had a great night. But, a group of crackheads had taken over the house down the street, playing with guns, hoarding stolen goods. Police didn’t respond to our complaints about that, but the same night I called, the same night,they came to the Maple Leaf and tried to shut us down.

NoDef: They shut down the Maple Leaf?

RK: They tried to, but nobody paid any fuckin’ attention. We said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right.” They left and we went on with what we were doing. Couldn’t respond to crackheads with guns and stolen goods, but had time to roll by the Maple Leaf.


NoDef: So, one theme of the show and your experiences seems to be the Police harassing people for minutiae, often brutally?

RK: Absolutely. Frankly, there was a long period of time post Katrina where the people in town that you needed to be most afraid of were the New Orleans Police. They didn’t just stop you, they robbed you. There were New Orleans Police Officers who would stop you, take your wallet, hand it back to you empty, and then let you know that if you did anything about it you would be lucky to live through it. I saw two policemen rip off a truck full of roofers, on Friday, when they just got paid. In uniform, in a cruiser. It was a good thing that the national guard was there to lend a little sanity, because New Orleans police were going fuckin’ nuts, they were the scariest people in town… I’m not the only person to say this; you’ll find a million other people who will tell you this.*

NoDef: So.

RK: And, then there were the helicopters. That’s another thing that they got very right. You know to this day I cringe everytime a helicopter goes by. It’s like I have this insane—

NoDef: PTSD.

RK: It’s like everytime a helicopter goes overhead, I cower.


NoDef: What do you think of Davis’ character?

RK: Davis is a good friend of mine!

NoDef: Why do you think I asked you the question?

RK: I have great love for the character because I have great love for Davis. Frankly, I like the way Steve Zahn plays him, but there’s no way he could play him extreme enough to replicate the real Davis.

(Laughter from around the bar.)

I’m sorry, if you know Davis, he’s a twisted human, and I love him to death! And, I love that in tonight’s episode they had the song, “Strippers Move into my Neighborhood.” I remember the day he told me the story before he wrote the song.

(Singing of the song “Strippers Move into my Neighborhood)

He was also one hell of a music teacher. Kids related to him, and he related to kids. He’s also waited tables. Hell, Davis did what we all did, did what he needs to get by.

NoDef: So, can we expect to hear him back on the OZ soon?

RK: I doubt it. Although at this point, you never know. The real story of why he got fired. He was playing genuine New Orleans music on his New Orleans music show. They told him not to do it, and he came back and did the same thing the next week. He was playing HiHop and Bounce that was from New Orleans and listened to in lots of New Orleans. I listened to those shows and hated every minute, but I’ll defend his right to do so… WWOZ does not have to be defined as old New Orleans music that white people happen to enjoy and nothing else. And god knows there’s this wonderful body of fabulous, flawless works played by thirty, forty artistes across a hundred albums that are admittedly stupendous… But, how long do you ignore modern music?

And, at the end of the day, did Davis have the absolute right, and maybe obligation to do what he did? Yeah!


NoDef: What would you like to see more of in Treme?

RK: So far, I’ve been remarkably satisfied. I like the idea that the first time ever this is a show that portrays us. The dialogue is right. The strip club scenes with a live band are a little ridiculous. But, compared to most— compared to anything else recently— well, there’s a reason that we’re sitting here watching it. First of all, we know everybody in it. New Orleans is so small, and we all know each other anyway. It’s all in the swamp. I find myself wondering how much does the rest of the country understand. Like when Coco was on the show, you can’t understand more than one out of every ten words he says.

(NoDef Laughs)

Come on, now! You can’t understand shit that Coco says. And, you know we got lots of people like that!

NoDef: What about the copper mining?

RK: Not just the copper mining, the Big Chief! Disrespecting a Big Chief, disrespecting his tribe, disrespecting his neighborhood. A Big Chief is one of the true lawgivers to his area. Police ain’t the lawgivers to his neighborhood, Mardi Gras Indians are the lawgivers to the neighborhood. And, when that boy, the copper miner, when that boy crossed that line, he had to pay. He had to pay!

… That scene was about deep social and moral lines, and that boy crossed those lines. The Mardi Gras Indian Tribes and the Big Chiefs are wonderful, impressive, soulful, vibrant human beings, but they are also the lawgivers in their community and if you cross them, you have to expect there to be consequence, especially when you are trying to tear something down as we are trying to build it up. I had no problem with that scene.

NoDef: Thanks for the insight.

RK: Of course.


*NOLA Defender repeatedly attempted to contact the New Orleans Police Department Public Affairs Office; however, NOPD was not available for comment.

Please please please!....

Please please please!.... what is the name of the Jazz book that Davis gives Sofia at her piano lesson in episode three? I want to know what it is. I can't quite make it out on my TV.

Please email me Jazz Historian!

jazz music is so cool

jazz music is so cool

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