Remembering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 10 Years On
I suppose it’s inevitable: Saturday is the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and I’ve been thinking a lot about the storm and its aftermath. The ten-year anniversary also spurred me to do something I often find challenging – finish a song! My daughter was a Katrina baby. She turned 9 years old recently. As I was reminiscing on 2005 and the years after in New Orleans, it occurred to me that if I don’t finish a version of this song now, it might never get finished. So I battled tooth and nail with the demon of perfectionism all week…and here ya go:
Hurricane Girl Song (Video)
The Buddhist farmer story
You know the one about the farmer? (It’s actually a Taoist story, but still very Zen.) His horse runs away. The neighbors all gather and pronounce it a misfortune. The farmer only replies: “Could be bad, could be good. We’ll see.”
The horse returns bringing three wild horses with it. The neighbors say: “What good fortune!”
The farmer replies: “Could be bad, could be good. We’ll see.”
Trying to tame one of the wild horses, the farmer’s oldest son breaks his leg. It will soon be harvest time and the farmer will be shorthanded. “What a terrible misfortune!” the neighbors say.
“Could be bad, could be good. We’ll see,” says the farmer.
The army comes to draft the young men of the region into service. They leave the son on the farm because of his broken leg. “How lucky!” the neighbors enthuse.
To which the farmer replies….
Looking Back at Katrina 10 Years After The Storm
I was very fortunate to be out of town with Shannon on our first short trip together when the storm hit. I almost certainly would have ended up living with fellow survivors in the 9th Ward or – like my construction boss Pete – spending days in a rowboat rescuing people trapped in their houses. And that’s if I hadn’t ended up in the Superdome or the Conference Center.
Shannon and I got back into town before the city was closed. I remember driving in on I-10 in a seemingly endless cavalcade of police cars and army vehicles. We had driven all night back from Santa Fe, New Mexico and we were wondering if we would be turned away by the military. But we made it in. This was maybe the fourth day after the storm (?) – even then, the energy of destruction and despair was overwhelming. By the end of that first day I was so completely drained by what I had seen and felt I went into an almost-catatonic stupor.
After rescuing what we could carry from Shannon’s house, we tracked down her kitten at the fairgrounds in Baton Rouge and went into exile together. (Shannon had boarded her kitty at a veterinarian clinic Uptown before we left for Santa Fe. We had no idea the storm was coming.)
We spent the next four months on the road and when we came back to New Orleans, Shannon was pregnant. And I was freaking out at the imminent prospect of becoming a father. They say you’re never ready to become a parent until you become a parent. But man….I needed to grow up in a hurry and I didn’t know if I could do it.
I remember stopping in my tracks one day about a year after the storm and realizing with that lightning bolt clarity: everyone in this city who lived here before Katrina is suffering from some degree of post-tramautic stress disorder.
Funny story: The Bywater, our neighborhood in the 9th Ward, escaped the worst of the flooding. At the house where I lived before the storm, the water level came up to within about three inches of the door sill and then receded. But for the first year, very few people came back to live in the Bywater. The power went out any time it rained, there were no streetlights, and there were so few inhabited houses in the entire 9th Ward that you could actually see a sky full of stars at night.
One day, Shannon decided that the giant tree limbs that had fallen into her back yard had to go. Like, today! (I think they call this “nesting”.) I’m trudging down Burgundy street dragging a bi twenty-five foot branch behind me when a fire truck pulls up. The firemen jump out on full alert and confront me. Remember, everyone had some degree of untreated PTSD at this point. And I probably looked like a hobo – skinny, unshaven, ratty clothes and sunken eyes…
“What do you think you’re doing,” the chief demanded sternly.
I stopped in the middle of the street, let the thick end of the branch drop, and looked at him wearily. Probably emitted a huge sigh.
“Officer,” I said. “My girlfriend is six months pregnant. This branch was in the back yard. She told me it couldn’t be in the back yard anymore. So I’m dragging it down to…”
The fireman held up his hand to stop me. I could see the other two firemen exchanging knowing glances.
“I understand, son,” he said. “Carry on. And – good luck!”
When Misfortune Comes Bearing Gifts
My heart goes out to all the people on the Gulf Coast who lost a loved one or who were forced to see things one hopes never to have to see. May we all be healed and be able to release the pain of the past.
I also think it’s powerful to meditate on the good that came from the storm. I saw so many people’s lives improve dramatically as a direct result of Katrina. I literally find it almost impossible to image who I would be now if my daughter hadn’t come along. She changed my life in such profound ways. Becoming a father forced me to grow up (to some extent, anyway) and take responsibility for my life. And the love you feel as a parent for your child – well, you can’t describe that unless you’ve been fortunate enough to experience it.
Performance Notes – Hurricane Girl
Hurricane Girl wrote itself pretty quickly. Since demoing the original version on acoustic guitar, I’ve created so many versions of it – but I could never get it to sound even close to what I was hearing in my head.
Then, on Monday, the Muse gave me a spanking and shot me full of energy while showing me that:
(a) There must be other Katrina survivors (and parents of Katrina babies) who are looking back and wanting to feel good and give thanks for the gifts they received as a result of the storm; and
(b) There will never be a better time to buckle down and finish it than this week.
Everything was done in my home studio, first in Royal Oak, Michigan and lately in Atlanta. I started Hurricane Girl in Pro Tools and finished it in Ableton Live. I created the drums in Kontakt, starting with some grooves in Studio Drummer. (I learned more about drum programming working on this song than probably all the other songs I’ve done put together.) I recorded the bass using a Peavey 5-string I borrowed from my Detroit homeboy Frank Vesprini by way of my Stand & Deliver guitarist and cowriter Jeff Lupo – thanks Lupo and Frank!
The producer of Stand & Deliver’s first record (as Mystery Train, back in 1999) was a cat by the name of John Nielsen. Great engineer, funny guy – he passed away a few years back. He told us something that’s always stayed with me, though it’s hard to give it the credence it deserves when I’m obsessing about the details. He said, “An album is just a snapshot of where you are at this point in your journey as a musician and as a person, man. It’s never going to be finished. It’s never going to be perfect. But at some point you just have to take the picture and move on.”
I want to record a version of the song with a New Orleans brass band. I wrote this really fun outro part that name-checks people and places in my old New Orleans stomping grounds. And my daughter practically grew up at Preservation Hall – Shannon spent years photographing shows at the Hall and created a beautiful coffee table book that you can buy here.)
But the clock is ticking towards tomorrow’s Pisces Full Moon that hits right on the charts for both the City of New Orleans and the Hurricane Katrina landfall. So time to let the song get out and wander the digital byways in its current incarnation. I hope you enjoy it.