Monday, September 1, 2008

Louisiana 1927, Randy Newman (1975)

Louisiana ... Louisiana ... they're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away ...

As inconceivable as it is, New Orleans and the surrounding area is again in the eye of a storm that threatens destruction of such magnitude that almost 2 million people have been evacuated to avoid a repeat of the unspeakable catastrophe Hurricane Katrina left in its wake.

Our hearts are in our throats for people whose choices come down to, as one resident put it, "Do you leave it and worry about it, or do you stay and worry about living?" (According to today's paper, this person picked option 1, taking one of the last buses out of town.)

The last time this happened, Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927 became the unofficial anthem of those fellow citizens who were ravaged by Mother Nature and poor civil engineering - left to their own devices by every public official who could have lifted a finger and didn't. It appears that won't be the case this time; we won't watch in horror as the government "... sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes," as Barack Obama observed in his acceptance speech Thursday night. Amazing what can happen when indifference is replaced with competence, or at the very least, determination to do the right thing.

Newman's mother was from the city, and he found himself researching its history, including the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River that followed months of heavy rain - and the disgraceful, racist handling of that relief effort. I didn't know this song in 1975, only becoming aware of it when New Orleans native Aaron Neville recorded his deeply affecting version for the 1991 Warm Your Heart album and performed it live after he was driven from his home 15 years later by Katrina and another disgraceful, racist relief effort.

As pointed out in a New York Times article from earlier this year, Louisiana has become a folk song in that it has been adapted by other artists to make it more relevant to current events. References to President Coolidge changed to Bush, Evangeline morphed into Lower Nine, river became levee, and Newman's original acerbic lyric "cracker" is sometimes Creole, farmer or people ... However it's tweaked, it is vintage Randy Newman - simple, mournful, packing a huge punch.

Godspeed to all who are facing the trials and tribulations of the upheaval, and to all who decided to stay.


cornbread hell said...

poignant, timely selection. good job.

karmaSartre said...

Fantastic and heartfelt write-up, thank you. I didn't know the song had been used so, uhh, usefully.

cornbread hell said...

not blogging these days? me either.

but i miss you.