HBO's Treme Doesn't Miss A Beat

The weathered walls of the Crescent City color Treme

Gumbo has many elements in small amounts, right? HBO’s Treme, a drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans, which just completed its first season, used music to bring authenticity to the show, and it did so in JazzFest-sized amounts (huge/never enough). It seems people from the great WWOZ, central to the musical identity of the most musical city on earth, also dig the show. If it’s good for WWOZ, it’s good for all of us.

It was so loaded with music that the only question might be, “what did they leave out?” In an early episode, Elvis Costello tolerates being rolled up on by part-time musician and WWOZ dj Davis, and it didn’t stop there. Kermit Ruffins played himself and was key to the Antoine Batiste plot line. Every episode had a few great cameos, culminating with Irma Thomas playing poker backstage and Allen Toussaint in the studio.

My favorite Treme references:

Zatarain’s Creole Mustard
“Darnell” from WWOZ
The Subdudes “All the Time in the World” used as a theme song, since I worked the single
Allen Toussaint, Cassandra Wilson, Elvis Costello, Kermit Ruffins, John Cleary and all the musicians, clubs and restaurants that played themselves.

I especially liked the simulation of Allen Toussaint leading the band. Mr. Toussaint is really soft spoken in person, but he took on a tone when he was leading the band that showed why he is a giant of music. He knew what he wanted and had an efficient and stern way of communicating it to the band. Not to mention his songwriting and arranging are some of the best in American history. As Cyndi Lauper recently remarked to Howard Stern, “Allen Toussaint is a gem of this country.”

Steve Earle was interesting in an ongoing role but not as himself. ┬áIt was strange to hear his character speak about Lucinda Williams (who is sort of a musical descendent of his) as some sort of icon, but Earle has set himself up for a more longterm presence. Considering he is not a New Orleans-oriented musician, that probably isn’t a bad compromise. What if he played himself? He’d have to be railing against W and performing benefit shows (maybe with his partner Allison Moorer, a Gulf coaster from Alabama). That wouldn’t fit in as smoothly as mentoring the young musician who weaves into one of the romantic plot lines of the show.

I’ve seen Willie in New Orleans a few times. How can they work him into the plot? We also need an appearance by ‘OZ’s famous Mango Freeze. I hope WWOZ gets a lot of listeners and contributors as a result of Treme, and that its local fans are also into the show. They really went over and beyond to include real life FACTS and celebrities from New Orleans in the show.

Treme will create a lot of interest in New Orleans, coincidentally at a time of crisis. Every little bit helps.

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