Sunday, November 20, 2011

Notes from New Atlantis Book tour 2011

The 2011 book tour in support of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, is over for now. Something may come up over the next month but the major events wrapped up with our participation in the National Press Club's Book Fair in Washington D.C. last week. It was a really good way to finish up because the Book Fair really offers hope to those of us us who are still interested in communicating via real paragraphs made up of real sentences containing real words that strive to actually tell a story rather than provide simple social imperatives or instant narcissistic gratification. Of course Twitter, Facebook and Text world (TFT) are incredibly powerful political tools in the right hands, but they can be just as powerful in the wrong hands, especially if content is reduced to simple dog-like commands. I don't wish for their demise, just for a balancing of technological advance with content, and the concentration necessary to keep a reader's attention in place long enough to follow a narrative.

It was great to see some 90 authors signing books for hundreds of readers at the Book Fair. Even better was the chance to interact personally with so many of those readers and potential readers, telling them the story of all the heroic musicians from New Orleans who returned to their stricken city and, against all odds, not only restored their culture but helped with the rebuilding process and created a viable economic engine to drive the city's recovery. It's an ongoing story which I hope to be able to continue to tell. Strangely, some of the biggest resistance I've met along the way is from the editorial hierarchy in New Orleans itself, which seems to be less interested in drawing attention to the small victories of local musicians than basking in the star power of visiting celebrity dignitaries.

I learned a lot in the course of promoting the book. Though it came out in June, we had pre-release copies available at Jazz Fest and the response from that audience was almost astonishing. The New Orleans story resonates profoundly outside of the city. The kind of identification fans of this music have with the hardy souls who continue to play it taps an emotional well that is almost nonexistent elsewhere in millennial America. I was more than a little surprised when people bought the book the first weekend then returned to the signing during the second weekend with tears in their eyes.

The actual release was less stirring but Jesse Paige at the Blue Nile was extremely generous in allowing us to use the upstairs room for our release party and we had a terrific time. Wings from McHardy's, red beans from Captain Sal's and 100 pounds of crawfish prepared by chef Eddie with the assistance of Mr. Massachusetts Mac and Mr. Bronx Brendan provided ample eats for our own party and for a weekend of musicians and staff at the BN. I chose the weekend of the final Radiators shows for the event which was probably a miscalculation because of the disconnect between Frenchmen Street and Uptown. Rads fans, it turned out, had their own crawfish boil, although a few of them did show up at both events (many thanks). The New York book release party was more successful. Many, many friends and colleagues showed up for a Brooklyn barbecue that preceded a terrific free performance from Dr. John at Prospect Park. The great Ned Sublette was on hand to help us celebrate.

Even better was the help we got in Brooklyn from Gerry and Joanna from the Observatory at Proteus Gowanus. They allowed me to present a series of readings/lectures/performances showcasing themes from the book and featuring a great night with Blake Leyh, musical supervisor for the HBO series Treme. This program, New Atlantis 2020, allowed us to highlight some of the most important messages contained in the book and project the narrative forward. As I say this is an ongoing story and we will revive the New Atlantis 2020 series in our 2012 campaign.

By far the most gratifying episodes of the book tour were our collaborations with the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. Tab Benoit, Rueben Williams and Cyril Neville in particular really come through in the book with an important message about how the ongoing eco-catastophe occuring along the Gulf Coast is threatening not just southern Louisiana and New Orleans but the whole country. Readings before VOW performances in Fairfield, Connecticut and New York City provided a great platform for the book's message. But the greatest moments were at the Voice of the Wetlands Festival in Houma. You don't have to look far from the site of the festival to see the Gulf waters encroaching on the land. This kind of disaster politicizes everyone involved and it was incredibly heartening to see people of all political affiliations, and the many families at the festival all uniting against the despoilers who would ruin their homes for short term profit.

Against the backdrop of Occupy Wall Street and the growing paradigm shift away from blaming American workers for the country's economic problems and focusing attention on the wealth disparity between the greedy profiteers who would sacrifice Houma, New Orleans and whatever else stands in their way and the 99 per cent it feels like New Atlantis is part of a broad movement to take America back from the oligarchs. We plan to continue to focus on these ideas in 2012.

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