Music is My Mardi Gras


Lately, I’ve been going through one of my Missing New Orleans periods. It’s inevitable for anyone who’s lived there any time at all because, really, there’s no other place like it, and I think the hot weather stirs the memories (cue Louis Armstrong’s “(You Don’t What It Means) To Miss New Orleans” or Tom Waits’ “I wish I was in New Orleans (in the Ninth Ward)”).

Scratching the itch, I watched Les Blank’s documentary “All for Pleasure” about New Orleans and it’s year-round carnival mindset, including a lovely section on how cook crayfish during which the cook pours a shoebox full of cayenne pepper in the boiling pot, and there’s a brief bit where this all-American guy’s looking out his window at a bunch of happy drunks wearing green bowlers for St. Patrick’s Day, and he turns to the camera and says something like, “You know, there ain’t no place in the world where you can do that. Where you can just drink beer in the street and throw your cans in the gutter. It’s a place where you can feel a little bit free.” And he says it with such love that, even though it’s absurd, if you’ve lived there and seen pretty much, well, everything, and accepted it with a shrug, warts and all, you can’t help but feel your heart turn ever so slightly.

Also, nothing ever gets done down there. The place is falling apart. It’s a lousy place for ambition and worse for consistency (excepting certain traditions, for which there are no exceptions…like hangovers for Lent). So, for an ambitious artist who finds himself working harder and harder and sometimes wondering why and why, you have to have a Mardi Gras for the soul. And, coming up on my first-year anniversary of playing guitar, I think I’ve found a little Mardi Gras I can carry with me.

That is, when I play guitar–and granted I still don’t play and probably never will play well–the world just kind of goes away…and can just fuck off, man. The other day, a buddy came over, brought his Ibanez with a Gibson/humbucker set-up, and we tried a couple songs, had some laughs, told some stories (some of which we’d both told before but listened through again), and then at some point we tried playing “Police on My Back” by The Clash, and suddenly, when we hit that chorus (“Monday, Tuesday…”), we both fell into the same rhythm pattern automatically, and it was like…groove. And we both sat back and went, hey! Like good drugs, you immediately want more.

It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t have to be good. Nobody’s starting a band or looking to make money. I’m a professional writer and a semi-professional photographer, and, believe me, that’s enough pro art for anybody. But it’s nice to synch into that moment and feel the flow. Which really is what the blues is all about and what I bought the guitar to learn.

It’s one thing to have music in your ears. It’s another to have it in your hands. It’s your own little Mardi Gras, and it’s all for pleasure.

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

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