Sunday, June 19, 2011

Call me Bilbo

It was apparent from the moment the Radiators announced their retirement last November that this band meant a lot more to New Orleans music history than just about all the official chroniclers of same ever allowed. Perhaps that fact alone pushed many of its fans deeper into the cult worship of what has clearly taken on spiritual implications in the wake of the band's existence. The fervor fans brought to the final run of shows -- San Francisco, Florida, Minnesota, the northeast and the Last Watusi at Tipitina's -- was unlike anything I've seen in more than 40 years of covering popular music. Of course these things are beyond any real human measure because they're literally supernatural, but the fact is that now that the Radiators have gone the fans have picked up the torch and created a nascent religious movement. From an almost frenzied speculation about what the last words (last song) would be the fans turned to consideration of the second coming. A mythology is brewing merrily only a week later as the apostles Camile Baudoin and Reggie Scanlan each held successful communion with thirsty Fishheads on New Orleans stages. Radiators fans became rapturous storytellers, poets and philosophers, sharing lengthy anecdotes about personal problems the band helped them to overcome and using quotes from Plato and Schopenhauer to illustrate points. One fan even suggested that the survivng fans were a Fellowship of the Fish, which I guess would make Ed Volker Gandalf the Grey, Tolkein's wizard who sacrificed himself for the survival of the rest. In which case the Fellowship awaits the return from the spirit world of Gandalf the White to rescue them at some undetermined future moment of peril. All of this goes to prove that there's no limit to the power of human imagination, especially when it's animated by the spirit force of music. It's a secret that every New Orleans musician seems to know instinctively. I count myself very lucky to share in that.

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