Jesus Christ Superstar is a blast from my teen past.
Jesus Christ Superstar
We saw Jesus Christ Superstar at the Saenger Theater last night. It was the first time I’d seen the opera live. That made for some interesting thoughts on my part. Andrew Lloyd Weber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) wrote and scored a wonderful show. I can see these two having drinks or some such, talking about the success The Who had with “Tommy” just a couple of years earlier. The libretto was easy and well-read: The Gospels. It’s no surprise that they couldn’t find financial backing to do their opera as a stage production. Albums are cheaper, so off it goes. Sound familiar? Think Hamilton and oh so many productions in between.
Catholic school teens
By the time I got to Brother Martin as an eighth-grader in 1971, Superstar wasn’t on my radar. New Orleans was one of the cities presenting an unauthorized/unlicensed production of the show. Still, as an thirteen-year old, my focus was on the Fab Four/Wings, and a lot of Mowtown on AM-pop (WTIX). I can’t remember which of the girls from St. Angela made a pitch to base the music for a Mass around Rare Earth’s “Celebrate,” but that was as controversial as things got.
While “Superstar” exploded with the release of the album and opening of the production on the West End, another “Jesus” musical, “Godspell,” opened off-Broadway in 1971. Now, Stephen Schwartz was no slouch, going on to create Pippin and Wicked. Godspell also had the appeal of being “more Christian,” if you will, than Tim Rice’s lyrics. So, you saw Catholic high schools producing Godspell more and more. I bought both albums in the summer of 1974, when I worked at the Breaux Mart on Severn and had disposable income. That was when my Album-Oriented Rock (AOR) phase kicked into high gear, listening to Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer nonstop.
By my UNO years in the late 70s, Superstar was pretty much off the radar for me. Local high school productions of Godspell were commonplace by then, and I knew folks who did that show. That continued all the way to my band-parent days, when Dominican did the show and several of my kiddo’s friends were in the pit. When Superstar came to town, we usually passed, saving the money for other shows.
So, this season for “Broadway Across America” included the 50th anniversary production of Superstar. It’s part of the subscription. Why not? At this point in time, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations or demands from the production. My biggest curiosity going to the theater last night was, how were they going to handle the music? I kept coming back to Yvonne Elliman’s beautiful singing in the original cast album, and the strings kicking in on “Everything’s Alright.” They made it work.
(Side note: For having never seen the show live, this soundtrack stuck with me lo, these fifty years. When the Magdalene sang “Everything’s Alright,” I had to remind myself I wasn’t at a Jimmy Buffett concert, and singing along like a Parrothead wasn’t appropriate.)
“I started the car this morning and the A/C kicked in!” he exclaimed.
“Of course it did the high was 74 yesterday,” she replied.
The pair of investigators walked over to a table at the back of the coffee shop after getting their drinks. They ran through the list of tasks for their current cases as they greeted people passing by. This particular Lakeview coffee shop was popular all day. It was just a few blocks off of an Interstate exit. That made it a good meeting place. Connecting with a colleague? quick hop off the highway for a Jefferson Parish deputy, or someone from the Bureau. The Joint Major Crime Task Force consisted of detectives from the city, Stella was FBI, Marie, NOPD.
One of the baristas brought a just-iced cinnamon roll over to the table for Marie.
“Don’t you guys sit the opposite direction most of the time?” She asked.
“Yeah, but it’s cold, so I get to people-watch. No women in shorts for Stella to ogle,” Marie replied, with a laugh.
“Hey! It’s fair, you can watch the guys in sweatpants on cold days,” Stella said. She resisted the urge to flip Marie off.
“OK, that’s true. But cold weather means you miss the stiffy action on the women, like that one at the counter now,” she said.
Stella whipped around so quickly, her chair squeaked.
Putting the phone down to see the world can be a challenge.
Putting the phone down
I like watching trains. I try to record the Amtrak trains that pass through New Orleans. Social media users enjoy the recordings. So, yesterday, I drove over to Central Avenue in Old Jefferson. Central Avenue is a railroad nexus. The East Bridge Junction switch tower stands a few hundred meters from the street. The tracks heading up to the Huey P. Long Bridge cross Central, as do the tracks of the New Orleans Public Belt RR. The main line for the Canadian National Railroad (formerly the Illinois Central) pass here. That’s the tracks the City of New Orleans trains use. So, there’s a lot of train action here.
Trains lured me Central Avenue as early as the late 1980s. I listened to a radio preacher in the afternoons. Watching the trains provided purpose beyond a guilty pleasure. Trains offer great photo opportunities. My Nikon EM captured the action nicely. Slow moving freights, the City zooming out of town, and the Sunset Limited presented photo challenges. To this day, I am a rank amateur, always learning.
Watching, not recording
The two City of New Orleans trains pass each other daily, just past Kenner. I recorded #58, the northbound train. That’s the video above. A couple of freight trains passed by, one going up the Huey, another heading into the riverfront area. Parking under the Earhart Expressway enables me to move up and down Central Avenue safely. The trains present colorful targets, the silver-blue for Amtrak, red, black, and yellow of Kansas City Southern, and the bright blue of the Public Belt.
When City #59 (Southbound) passed, I watched it with my eyes. The City lacks the “special car” appeal of the Crescent or Sunset Limited. It runs up to Chicago and back. The route rolls along, it’s not scenic like winding up the east coast or out through the western deserts. So, groups chartering private railcars choose other routes. Not so yesterday, as an 11-bedroom Pullman sleeper and a Vistadome car brought up the rear of #59. Charter Wire owns the cars.
The train rolled by. I didn’t record it. The City rolls by fast. To get photos/video of the back, you have to start as soon as you hear the bells of the crossing gate. I didn’t. I let it go, with those green-livery private cars going by.
Is that such a bad thing? I’ve got the memories.
Looking through the viewfinder
I get that the professionals see the world through their cameras. Chris Granger wouldn’t be the wizard he is without taking photos of literally everything. I’m a writer. The memory sticks. Now, I have a visual in my head of private cars going up to Chicago. I can write about that. I’ll show you those cars in a story.
Locals take pride in deflowering New Orleans Newcomers.
Deflowering New Orleans Newcomers
New Orleans locals (I hesitate to say “natives,” so let’s just go with locals) wear their pride for the city up front. We put everything about New Orleans up on the front porch. Like the meme, we take our crazy out front and give it a cocktail. While locals may disagree, this feeling, this sense of pride, isn’t unique. Our perverse ways of showing it aren’t unique.
There’s one thing particularly unique about New Orleanians though. When it comes to our friends experiencing the city, we like to watch. Yes, we’re voyeurs. We take folks out into the wilds of the city and watch as waves of sensations crash over them.
Not just carnival
The most common experience we like to watch is when we take friends to Carnival. That’s only two, maybe three weeks, though. There are so many other opportunities to watch this phonomenon.
That first time walking down Bourbon Street. The whir of a passing streetcar. That roast beef po-boy. Half a muff at Napoleon House. Walking into Snake and Jake’s. Stepping into St. Mary’s Assumption. Walking around the Garden District. Sitting along the river, at The Fly, at The Moonwalk, down in the Bywater.
What all these have in common is the desire of a local to watch. We’ve seen these things. The thrill may not be gone, but there’s a greater thrill in the first-time reaction.
A first-timer’s Mardi Gras ranks high on the list of local voyeurism. We love to see the reactions. That fiber-optic Muses shoe passes by.Indians who Won’t Bow Down come down the street. Elaborate costumes in the French Quarter. Sensory overload! We want to see their face. It’s like watching a lover as pleasure hits them. What’s causing the pleasure becomes less important than seeing, hearing, feeling their reaction.
Nothing is perfect
Whether it’s sex or gumbo, nothing is perfect. We come in with the notion that our newcomer friends will see and feel what we do. It’s not always the case. The perceptive New Orleanian knows this. They move on, from the current sensory experience. We plan the next potential smile. And we always watch.
Yuletide gifts from my boys show that they understand how I think.
The Black Spire statue from Galaxy’s Edge at WDW
My boys (LT Firstborn, USN, Ret, age 33, and CPA Kiddo, age 27) get my reading and fandom interests. Just like kids know their parents’ musical tastes because they heard it so much in the car or in the house, my boys know a lot about Lord of the Rings (LotR), Star Trek, and, naturally, Star Wars. They both consider themselves Star Wars fans over Star Trek. The Firstborn is the serious LotR geek. Both of them are Potter kids, and that’s their fandom.
The bottom of the Black Spire statue from Galaxy’s Edge
So, just before Yuletide, they made a Grand Tour of the theme parks in Orlando. While Kiddo is married, Dr. Branley is in the midst of her first year of Pediatrics residency. So, she didn’t mind terribly if her husband went off for a week. The boys explored just about everything from the Kennedy Space Center to Sea World to Univresal and The Mouse. They even drove over to Busch Gardens in Tampa, being the roller coaster kids they are.
Since Star Wars is one of their things, naturally they did everything there is to do in Galaxy’s Edge at Disney. Of course, they passed through the gift shops, where they encountered the “Black Spire Outpost” statue. What/where is “Black Spire?” From the Wookieepedia:
Black Spire Outpost, commonly known as Black Spire, was an outpost on the planet Batuu on the edge of the Outer Rim Territories. It was one of the last stops before Wild Space and the Unknown Regions. The outpost was named for the giant black trees that towered it.
It’s cool. I’m not up on the canon surrounding Galaxy’s Edge, but I love this spaceship hanger.
Visualizing with miniatures
Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard. Statue from the deluxe box DVD set of the movie, “The Return of the King”
I’m a miniatures person. Messing around with 15mm Napoleonics, LotR, and Traveller RPG miniatures brings me joy. I’ve attempted to paint 54mm figures at various points. N Scale model railroading is a passion. So, the boys bring me home a miniature Millennium Falcon? I’m there. It’s just another part of the passion.
The “secret compartment” in the Minas Tirith statue
But there’s more to the story. Back in 2001, when the movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring” came out, the studio released a “deluxe DVD” set that included a set of statues of the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings. Firstborn was 12 at the time. We were pursuing the nine Burger King figures of the Fellowship. We bought the Argonath. (He still has them.) Two years later, after the release of “The Return of the King,” they released a deluxe DVD set for that movie that included a statue of the city of Minas Tirith. We bought it! We knew what the third statue would be, and agreed he would keep the Argonath and I would get Minas Tirith. (The second movie’s statue was of Gollum. We passed on it.)
So, since 2003, I’ve had Minas Tirith on my desk. It (and the movie version of the city) are based on Alan Lee’s LotR paintings. The detail on both statue sets is incredible. And that’s where I go back to my love of miniatures.
Looking down at the Black Spire statue from Galaxy’s Edge
It’s good to know they get me. No Old Spice. No gift card. They saw this Star Wars statue and figured, this works for Dad. I’ll always be proud of that.
This lady speaks to me! A young woman in a naval uniform, with walking stick and straight sword. The gloves and high boots make this a “walking out” uniform rather than something worn for a social event. The artist is Sergey Gurskiy.
Annabel gives me Steampunk-y vibes. The style is Victorian, rather than Regency. The artist paints the uniform in a Continental style. While she’s clearly not wearing a British uniform, it’s subdued, in the Royal Navy style. Using a French or Russian uniform as the base would mean more gold lace.
I’m interpreting the epaulette in the British style. It rests on her left shoulder. That’s the position for a Master and Commander, rather than a Post Captain. An officer “made post” wore the single epaulette on the right.
Additionally, I don’t think Annabel is a wet-navy officer. I see this and think, she commands an airship. Maybe not a line-of-battle craft, but a small, nimble, patrol ship. Think HMS Hotspur, one of Hornblower’s early commands.
Annabel stands guard on my Google Pixel 4 phone. the portrait orientation fits better with the phone than a landscape monitor. In the style of a “duet” on TikTok, it would be fun to place this officer next to an airship of appropriate size. Then she can wind in and out of the sky, observing enemy positions and forces. She flies in the vanguard.
Of course, I have no idea if Mr. Gurskiy approves of such things. While TikTok’s TOS permits collabs, artists usually prefer to present their art as finished pieces.
My Google Pixel 4 performs well. While Twitter acts up since the latest Android upgrade, other apps do just fine. Additionally, T-Mobile works fine for me, with the exception of Uptown New Orleans. That’s not the phone’s problem. The service just sucks up there. I think it’s one of the reasons I shy away from coffee shops in that neighborhood.
My Charleston Battery hoodie sends a message when I’m traveling.
The Charleston Battery soccer club
Formed in 1993, the Battery were one of the original teams in the A-League. They came to town back in the late 1990s, to play the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers/New Orleans Storm. My firstborn played youth soccer out at Lafreniere Park in those days. We went to Gamblers games at Tad Gormley Stadium, had a blast. One game, the PA announcer made a call for ball boys/girls. My boy ran down, and he did it regularly, from there on out.
After the aforementioned Firstborn was commissioned as a naval officer, his first school assignment was Nuclear Power School in Charleston. I asked him to bring me back something from the Battery that I could wear when traveling, particularly on trips to Europe. He brought me back this hoodie.
Americans in Europe
My day gig, corporate computer training, meant a lot of travel for me. Both EMC and Hitachi offered opportunities for international travel. Hitachi’s European Education Center was located in the Netherlands. I traveled there, as well as other places in Europe for them. Unless I taught in the UK, I usually entered the EU in Amsterdam. So, most of the stereotypes of Americans traveling in Europe are pretty much accurate. I fought against that as best I could. Soccer presented a way to show I wasn’t the typical American. I wore soccer kit from my favorite sides as I passed through Dutch passport control. Arsenal was always the best.
“Good morning!” as I hand over my passport.
“Oh, hi, Arsenal? Van Persie! Good morning!” replies the officer.
Football kit is a shibboleth. It’s a silent statement.
Wearing the right footie kit
One must be careful, though, when wearing football kit in Europe. England is the most problematic. For example, there’s a Premier Inn located in Chelsea, not far from the Earl’s Court tube station. You don’t want to be in Arsenal kit on match day around Earl’s Court, as the Chelsea Football Club faithful make their way to The Bridge.
So, the solution? Wear football gear that’s from the US. US National Team kit is usually safe, except when they’re playing England. The best choice? lower-league gear from American clubs. I have New Orleans Jesters gear, but the home town club doesn’t sell sweatshirts. That’s where my Charleston Battery hoodie comes in. The hoodie offers openings for conversation in a pub. I proclaim my Yank-ness (as if my accent and dress didn’t!) For the most part, Brits don’t mind Americans, so long as we show them some respect. La Joga Bonita sets out common ground.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin reads and signs books! Maurice at Melba’s this Saturday.
See Maurice at Melba’s
This Saturday, November 6th, Author/Professor Maurice Carlos Ruffin will be at Melba’s Po-Boys, 1525 Elysian Fields Avenue, in Gentilly, meeting folks and giving away his latest book, The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You. He’ll be there from 12pm-1pm. If you haven’t met Maurice, you’re in for a treat.
The current incarnation of Melba’s has little to connection to the original, other than the name. While this Melba’s is a po-boy place, the original Melba’s was an ice cream place on Franklin Avenue, a couple of blocks on the lake side of Claiborne. It was right near where Franklin and Almonaster came together. Forgive my memory on this. I first learned about Melba’s in the summer of 1973. The Brother Martin High Debate Team got together once a week or so, that July and August. We had some guys who were good at both Debate and the various individual Speech events. So, we worked on a bunch of different things, ranging from research on the national debate topic to practicing Extemporaneous Speaking.
I was a rising sophomore at the time. Debate broke out into two levels of competition, Junior Division for 9th and 10th grades, Senior Division for 11th and 12th. The team nurtured a culture of helping out the new guys. I made the most of that.
Oh yeah, Melba’s. It wasn’t like we could go out for beers after practice, but ice cream was just fine. We all lived in different parts of the city, but we deferred to the choices made by the seniors. A ride down Elysian Fields, then over to Franklin wasn’t all that complicated. Melba’s hit the spot. For a white kid who lived in Metairie, going down to the Ninth Ward was significant. So many kids from the suburbs don’t get out much. Going to school in Gentilly offered opportunities to understand what New Orleans was all about.
So, I just donated the equivalent of a couple of weeks’ worth of Iced Chai Lattes (my afternoon go-to beverage of late) to the University of New Orleans, for “Give UNO Day.” I’m right proud to do so, because I still believe in my school’s mission. Louisiana State University in New Orleans became a major part of my life when my parents returned to New Orleans from Metro Boston in 1960. For most folks, the university years are a blip on the timeline. For me, UNO is so much more.
Big Ed and LSUNO
My old man learned electronics courtesy of the United States Air Force. After defending Biloxi, Mississippi from the Chinese during the Korean War, Big Ed married his NOLA girl and took a job up in Boston, as an engineer at Raytheon. He worked on the original Hawk missile project for the Army, earning a good salary, with a house in Danvers, the Boston suburb that was the original Salem. His NOLA girl, however, didn’t adjust well to winters in New England. After making two babies, I suspect the combination of spending the days alone in that suburban house (New Englanders don’t socialize much in the snow), along with post-partum depression, momma needed to go home.
Big Ed always did anything he could for Anne. Give up the good job? Go back South? Sure. He landed a job at the then-two year old LSUNO, as manager of its Electronics shop. The College of Science had some fantastic chemists and physicists, even in those early years. They invested in a lot of electronic equipment. It made sense to repair it in-house. Big Ed hired a team to do just that.
Big Ed was an incredible teacher. He ended his time in the USAF as an E-6, teaching electronics. I’m sure he applied those skills at Raytheon. I saw him in action as I got older. It was an absolute blast to go with him to work as a kid. In a way, I had my first “job” at UNO when I was about ten, building Heathkit DC power supplies for the electronics lab daddy and his staff set up for the Physics Department. About the same time, the college invested in a DECSYSTEM 10 mainframe. Computer Science started under Physics, before branching out into an independent department in the college. Daddy kept going with computers. He bought one of the first Motorola integrated circuit learning kids available for the shop. He was always the perfect senior NCO to the officers (professors). I think he was happy with the relationship. It didn’t pay as much as being a “real” engineer, but momma worked as well, so we did OK.
I had two choices for high school. Momma taught many of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart when she was on the Education faculty at Loyola. Being an institution operated by the Society of Jesus, she knew many of the priests and brothers at Jesuit High School. I chose Elysian Fields over Carrollton and Banks. That decision process is an entirely different story that we’ll get to at some point. While LSUNO didn’t fit into that decision, the university’s influence in my life grew.
It was so much more than hitching rides home with daddy. Brother Martin High School operated in the shadow of the university. An example: In Composition II class as a sophomore, Brother Bernie piled us all onto a school bus and took us up to the Earl K. Long Library. The university’s library used Library of Congress rather than Dewey Decimal. We learned where everything was, and that resource was just twenty-five cents away for the rest of my high school years.
The Brother Martin Debate Team competed all over the metro area, but LSUNO’s tournament was special, because a number of the guys running the tournament were BMHS grads. I don’t know if my trophies from the 1974 tournament are the last items branded as LSUNO or not, but the change became official while we were competing. We were still high schoolers, but the excitement was infectious. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I’d go to UNO at that time. Loyola University was quite appealing to me, particularly because debate-team-me harbored that desire to become a lawyer. I got accepted to both schools. My parents would have found the money to pay for Loyola, but given just how much cheaper the state school was, well, that was a no-brainer. Daddy hooked me up with a job in the Chemistry Department my freshman year. I moved on from that to selling suits at Maison Blanche. I made enough money to pay tuition for every other semester.
So, yes, I am right proud to give to my school. While many people were upset when UNO left the Louisiana State University System, becoming part of the University of Louisiana System, I was OK with it. The mission continues.
Knowing what it means to miss New Orleans isn’t about the tourist stuff.
Knowing what it means…
It’s not always about Bourbon Street and Jackson Square. In so many ways, knowing what it means to miss New Orleans isn’t all that different from how others miss home. Bostonians don’t miss their “dirty water” as much as they miss a cannoli from a bakery in the North End, or sitting out on the sidewalk at a cafe in the Back Bay. You can make a list of similar experiences all over.
What struck me after two trips to Colorado over the last two weeks was conversation. I’ve been a denizen of coffee shops since the early aughts. After two-three weeks on the road, I sat down in a local place. I listened. I wrote. I regenerated my NOLA. A friend of mine would say, my New Orleans/Gentilly/Yat speech pattern neutralized when I was away for a couple of weeks, then returned within a couple of days at home.
It’s the best way to pick up a neighborhood vibe. Go to coffee shops in different neighborhoods for contrast. The PJ’s Coffee on Canal Blvd. attracts a different crowd than the CC’s on Esplanade. The former is a nexus of whyte people from Lakeview and cops. The latter is a gathering place for black movers, shakers, and influencers. Both teach you what it means.
Coffee shops in #themetrys also contribute to the whole. Those places are angrier now. With The Former Guy out of office, his voters in Jefferson Parish aren’t happy people. That leaves a dark aura over the coffee shops. While it’s helpful for writers to experience and understand the anger, those vibes also contribute to downward mood swings.
Lakeview and Faubourg St. John are quite different from the Quarter, Marigny, and the “sliver along the river.” Many black writers bring out the less-familiar parts of the city, as they relate experiences from growing up outside the white, middle-class areas that ignored and rejected them. Go sit out at the PJ’s Coffee by Lakefront Arena. Eavesdrop on SUNO faculty and UNO students while there. You’ll find a totally different world than hanging out on Oak Street, Uptown.