I don’t spend a lot of time following celebrities, just ask my daughters. Hand me a copy of People Magazine, show me an episode of Entertainment Tonight, or tune the radio to a commercial music station, and I’m usually the one to ask, “Who’s this again? What did she do?” The Kardashians, The Real Housewives, The Bachelorette–as far as I’m concerned, they’re all one big blur of disposable plastic faces and boob jobs. Give me a good book about real life and a cast of sloppy characters any day.
I do make one exception, though. I’m a huge David Simon fan. He’s the reason we have HBO. I watched The Wire from the very beginning, and counted the days till the first episode of Treme. So, you can imagine my disappointment last week when, sweaty and spent after my workout, I saw a sign at the Jewish Community Center announcing that his interview with TV critic Tim Goodman was sold out. SOLD OUT??? What do you mean, SOLD OUT? I’m on the JCC mailing list. How could I have missed the announcement? I walked over to the box office window. The young woman sitting at the desk had a friendly face.
Excuse me. When did you start advertising the David Simon interview?
Two months ago.
When did it sell out?
Two months ago.
Is there a waiting list?
I’m sorry, no.
As I started to turn away, the young woman called after me. She said that if I showed up an hour before the show, someone might sell me a ticket.
Needless to say, Monday night, I was at the JCC at 6 o’clock on the dot. Not only did I have $40 bucks (double the ticket price) tucked into my pocket, I’d printed a sign that read, “Desperate David Simon fan looking for 1 ticket.” I approached the box office window. The same young woman was sitting there. I asked if she’d had any cancellations.
Actually, we added an extra row, she said. How many tickets do you need?
Most people in the audience had come to hear Simon talk about The Wire. I was curious, but the series is ten years old, and I’d pretty much heard or read everything he had to say on the subject. I really wanted to hear him talk about Treme, a show which in some respects, is richer, with its delicious blend of music, food, politics and race, but is somehow harder to grasp. Like The Wire, Treme unfolds slowly. It’s possible to watch the first season and only have a vague idea what the show is about. You can’t even say, “Well, it’s about drugs in the inner city, or the white working-class, or the state of education, or the erosion of journalism”–all of which were themes in The Wire. Treme is sort of like New Orleans–you have to take your time and let it seep in. If you look too hard, you’ll only see what’s on the surface: Bourbon Street, voodoo, and blackend fish. In other words, you’ll only see the cliche. The real New Orleans, just like the real Southern Louisiana, is down below and in the air. You have to relax into it, breath it in.
I won’t attempt to paraphrase all the brilliant things David Simon said about Treme. I simply won’t do the conversation justice. Let’s just says, he gets it. But I did appreciate what he said about writing: that story telling should be unrushed; that there should be dense backstory; that the soundtrack should go against a character’s emotions and must be evocative of, or fight the mood; and that as writers, we should always find something new to say. Wow. That alone was worth the price of admission. He said New Orleans was one of the great American cities, the source of the only true American cultural export– Afro-American music–which has influenced every other type of music in the world. Sure, the U.S. dominates the film industry, but film is originally a European art form. He understood that New Orleans is uniquely American, yet totally different form any other American city–separate somehow. And he made an observation I thought was particularly profound. He said that because New Orleans is simultaneously idiosyncratic and universal, writers have a difficult time writing about it. So much of New Orleans doesn’t translate–which makes me a little bit afraid, since it’s the place I want to write about–but I’m looking forward to the challenge. But I understand what he means. My friends in Louisiana are different from any other people I know. They are wholly unique, absolute originals. They embody the best aspects of Louisiana.
Seeing David Simon in conversation reminded me, once again, why I feel so fortunate to be able to claim Louisiana as part of me. There’s no place like it.
Eventually, the JCC will broadcast the interview on the radio. When they do, I’ll include it here so you all can listen for yourselves. I know I’ll be listening.