I am sitting in the Zwolle, Louisiana, courthouse, a low-ceilinged fluorescent-lit room with walls covered in posters from Zwolle’s two big festivals (the Loggers and Forestry Festival and the Tamale Fiesta). I’m reading about the town’s history in a big black book titled Zwolle, Louisiana: Our Story: Portrait of a Small Town, when in bursts a black woman in nursing scrubs patterned with butterflies.
2013 is the official “Year of Music” in Louisiana. To kick off this celebration, Louisiana Tourism and the Oxford American have joined together to bring you the Louisiana Soundtrack Experience: five events across the state that will showcase Louisiana's great musical heritage.
The fact of the matter is, Down by Law (1986), which was directed by Jarmusch, might be the finest love letter to Louisiana ever set to celluloid. In his early films, Jarmusch, like most creative types hailing from that great American no man’s land of Ohio, obsessively explores the identities of other storied cities he’s not from. Truly, it could be said that until his comically existential Western, Dead Man (1995), Jarmusch only made films about places, with people in them tottering about as scenery.
1. “Just Gone,” recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, in Richmond, Indiana, on April 5, 1923 (Gennett Records). This is the first recording on which Armstrong appeared. Having worked in Joe “King” Oliver’s shadow since 1919, when he replaced the older musician in Kid Ory’s New Orleans-based band, Armstrong joined Oliver’s Chicago band in 1922, playing second cornet behind Oliver for much of 1923 and appearing with Oliver on recordings for four different record labels.
Music has always been the glue, the shared heritage, the defining gesture and common language of this exotic Bible-thumping/Afro-Caribbean/Euro-redneck/Cajun-Creole mix known as Louisiana, the place where all music comes from.
Amédé Ardoin was born in the spring of 1898, the grandson of slaves. His family worked as sharecroppers at the Rougeau farm in L’Anse des Rougeau, near Basile, Louisiana. Ardoin tried his best to avoid field labor whenever possible, preferring to tote his Monarch accordion to house parties, where he’d team up with like-minded fiddlers and play early iterations of the frenzied dance songs that would eventually constitute the Cajun canon.
Upon arriving at a sharp bend in the river not far from the Gulf of Mexico, LaSalle decided this would be the spot on which the territory would be declared in honor of his illustrious king. On April 9, 1682, a large cross was placed into the fertile soil. Proper papers were prepared naming this vast territory Louisiane. It consisted of all lands adjacent to all the tributaries that flowed into the mighty river. The territory was so vast that not even 120 years later did men realize its full extent. He named it Louisiane in honor of King Louis XIV. The original spelling by the French, as noted, was with an e at the end. Louisiane means "in the realm of Louis."
She shows us a town that seems to be full of the sort of colors and life that we imagine when we conjure an image of the Big Easy. Many of these photographs depict the streets and avenues of New Orleans. But, Sophie intentionally leaves out the people that normally populate these thoroughfares. The true subject of this work seems to be the colors and heavy air that hangs over everything in this city surrounded by so much water.
Ronald Dominique raped and murdered twenty-three men near New Orleans and Houma, Louisiana, between 1997 and 2006. Most of them were poor and black, and many were the wandering type—men Dominique picked up in his truck at night, not ones whose disappearances for a stretch of time would particularly alarm their families. After one of Dominique’s would-be victims escaped and alerted authorities, a task force that had been assembled to investigate the murders matched Dominique’s DNA to DNA found on one of the bodies. Dominique confessed over a period of two days to all of the killings.
The man climbs the stairs after the boy. He wants only to watch the boy play; he will say this later, later he will swear to it. But the watching does something to him, changes something in the man, and from then on it is like he is in a dream. He walks up behind the boy and he hooks his forearm around the boy’s throat. He squeezes. He lifts the boy into the air. The boy goes limp.
There is not enough writing by John Kennedy Toole in this world. Outside of the material available on Amazon.com we know of two other sources for his prose. One, a box discovered in the passenger seat of a car, beside the author’s dead body: Soon thereafter, it was destroyed in a flood which wiped out the building where police had stored it as evidence. Two, the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane: These papers are still safe, however they are tied up in a legal morass that has prevented their reproduction and worldwide availability. They are merely on hand for in-person perusal.
The issue to which Cook turns most frequently, though, affects all the region’s ethnicities—the tension between maintaining a living tradition and treating culture like a museum piece, to protect and coddle while it becomes obsolete. The music Cook seeks—Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop, blues—has been played in the same basic manner for many decades and is attached to sets of customs much older.
The filmmakers attempt to remove themselves as much as possible, letting the content guide the way, but there are so many moments of contact—the burlesque dancer backstage donning her robe, the banter of homeless men—and so many loving panoramas of the city at night, unafraid to appear as vivid as oil paintings.