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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Andrew Payne) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The Train to New Orleans / June 2016

LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp

Monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
 on paper at
~ Les Amis de Marigny ~ 
publication of New Orleans' famed 
 by
Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans

Archives: www.LEJ.org

June 2016


* *

The Train to New Orleans

by Leonard Earl Johnson
www.LEJ.org
*
© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
New Orleans is a town with trains, ships, music, food, even a style of literature named after it. If ever you must be awake and weary at daybreak there is no dreamier place to suffer it.


The Sunset Limited bound from Los Angeles to New Orleans, was listed to stop at 5:12pm, Friday, but did not pass through Lafayette -- 140 miles out from Big Swamp City -- until 1:30 Saturday morning.

 
Sunset Limited   /  courtesy Amtrak
It was well into the next day when it finally reached the City of Dreamy Dreams, Big Swamp City, New Orleans.

The passengers were grumpy. The exhausted crew grumbled they were expected to sweep out the train and be up for a 
turnaround scheduled for 9a.m. 
(actually left five hours late). 

The sun was rising when we stepped out of Union Passenger Terminal on Loyola Avenue, next to the Superdome, and climbed in a United Cab headed for a French colonial breakfast of beignets and coffee at Café du Monde, across from Jackson Square, next to the Riverfront flood wall.

L. A. Norma closed the cab door and said, "They
should've re-named her the 'Sun-rise Un-limited.' " 

Our cab driver nodded but said nothing.  We had seen him before. And he had seen us.

click image for information  /  Parish Ink
 He was wearing his T-shirt that read: "My Parents Went to New Orleans and All I Got Is This Lousy I.Q."

There had been a derailment two days before, way out West.  For the next two days Amtrak could not tell us anything.  Except that the "Incident" was not an "Amtrak Incident."  

We did not know what that meant, because the only part of the "what-ever incident" that concerned us was clearly Amtrak's part ~ the delay. 

"If that isn't an Amtrak-incident," Norma bellowed, "Ray Nagin is an honest man." The cabbie pulled up to the curb and turned around and stared at her.

* *

Furtherless the daily, The Times-Picayunevenerated grey old lady of New Orleans letters has lifted her skirts  and shown us she has only enough petticoats left for three days a week. The Times-Picayune has not exactly folded, but she ain't goin' dancing any more. 

Since Katrina, The T-P has been pushing her faithful scribes out the door. Now, she is pushing them out windows, too, and breaking our hearts all over again with news of more lashes from the Demon Change.

New Orleans Item, circa 1900,  precursor to The Times~Picayune / Wikipedia

On the decadently optimistic side, however, she has given us yet another forget-me-not theme for fundraiser dinners, parties and coffee shop chatter for years, nay, centuries to come.  

"That will fill our T-P-less days," Norma said, standing beside the cab lighting a cigarette.  She blew smoke in the cabbie's face and handed him a large bill, "Keep the change."

  * *
We awaited an early strong storm from the Gulf of Mexico. 

"Debby's the name, flooding's the game," Norma said through a cloud of cigarette smoke. "She's headed for Florida." 

We prayed for Florida, but worried the storm might slip past the point of our prayers and come here.

"Thank Gott, we have a flood wall sturdy as the one that failed last time,"  L. A. Norma told the checkout clerk at Rouses on Baronne Street. 

On our way back to Faubourg Marigny we reminisced over storm preparations of long, long ago. When the effort was no more than stocking up on Camel Cigarettes (for Norma), Chocolate Ice Cream (for me), and batteries for a little transistor radio that had traceable DNA directly back to the 1950s.

Norma called Amtrak and found out the normally morning train West would not be leaving until the afternoon.  She booked two sleepers to Lafayette.

 We phoned for our cabby and told him during the ride to the station that Italy was playing in the European Cup. The game would be on TV, "In forty-feet-up, twenty-miles-in Lafayette," L. A. Norma said.

He said, "But is it worth it?"  We shrugged. 

"We will be back in a couple weeks for 

Somewhere in Louisiana       /        courtesy Amtrak

Hemingway's Pamplona-NOLa running-of-the-bulls party," Norma said to the ticket-taker at the Sunset Limited's platform gate. The ticket-taker closed her eyes and handed us back our ticket stubs. We closed the curtains and dozed off as the train slipped out past the Arena and the Superdome.  

"The big one looks like the box the little one came in," Norma said, before snoring.

Superdome and Arena  /  courtesy New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau 
* *
Copyright, 2016, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments


For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to 
w w w . L E J . o r g


Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...


You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, LEJ's Louisiana unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org

(Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). 

Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

Lagniappe du Jour: 

Bastille Day, July 14, 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution,
which was inspired by the American Revolution,
which was financed by the French 
and opposed (in three wars if you count the American Civil War) by the English.  

 LEJ at Henry and Sonya Boudreaux dinner party,  Laughingyette  /  Conni Castille
Cabildo, awaiting the trowel             /         Mark Tullos

~ above and below ~
Michalopoulos Fest  2016              /                 Frank Stansbury
Grace Wilson               and               LEJ
© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
* * *

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Pete Seeger in New Orleans and Lafayette / May 2016

May's column is dedicated to the heroic efforts of Bernie Sanders, a democratic-socialist who changed America's political dialog to what America can do for Americans.
*


LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp, 
Monthly e-column 
on paper at
~ Les Amis de Marigny ~
publication of New Orleans' famed Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association
 by
Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans

Archives: www.LEJ.org

May 2016

Pete Seeger's 1983 images by
 Leonard Earl Johnson
Bernie Sanders image courtesy of San Francisco Gate

Pete Seeger in New Orleans and Lafayette 
by Leonard Earl Johnson
www.LEJ.org
*
© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

Pete Seeger appeared on stage the first week of the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival ~ and turned ninety the next week.  

He passed away in 2014, at ninety-four.  I meant to make mention of his death earlier but other funerals and weddings, Summer parties, heart attacks and Hurricane remembrances littered the path. Seeger was a friend of mine and two, three million others.

*

He opened back in 2009 on the Acura Stage, with Midnight Special, a song written by Louisiana native, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, of Mooringsport, and the Louisiana State Prison at Angola.  Leadbelly was a man who literally sang his way out of both Louisiana and Texas state prisons. 

Seeger told a story as we walked across festival grounds, about an invitation to sing at "A little music festival in Lafayette," back in the daze of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, circa 1955. 

HUAC was a witch-hunting committee born in the heady afterglow of World War Two, and fed by politicians driven to keep on fighting and throwing themselves victory parades. Thought was regulated by these politicians, and poet/troubadour Pete Seeger became their natural HUAC prey.

Offended at being forced to appear before HUAC, Seeger testified to the tune of his Constitutional right to think anything he wanted without telling them what those thoughts might be. 

This was in the middle-late 1950s, remember, when Seeger was a very popular figure in the burgeoning American folk music revival of the day. His group, The Weavers, recorded such huge Louisiana hits as Shrimp Boats are Coming, on the back-side of their Billboard bestselling 45-RPM, On Top of Old Smokey. "On the old DECCA label," Seeger said, pausing to great a young Mother with a boy in her arms. "This is why we do it."  Everyone smiled and kept walking.

He was a famous artist with famous principles that caused him to hold Congress in contempt for, he said, such un-American activities as HUAC. They indicted him for his contempt, and smeared his reputation. His exact sentence was soft.  He served no time, and paid no fine.  

("He was convicted in a jury trial of contempt of Congress in March 1961, and sentenced to ten one-year terms in jail -- to be served simultaneously, but in May 1962 an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and overturned his conviction." ~  Wikipedia)

"Who wouldn't be locked up today?" L. A. Norma asked. "Even our scrub woman holds Congress Critters in contempt!"

*

Seeger got fewer gigs after HUAC. And less radio time. Television was new and mattered little.  Ironically it later played a huge role in bringing Seeger back on stage ~ more on that in a moment.

The next few years he spent almost camping in a log cabin without running water or electricity that he built near Beacon, in New York's Hudson Valley.

For Every Season 
few generations later, Seeger lost his signature instrument, a long-neck banjo he had designed and built in 1945. It was made to accommodate his long arms and vast voice and set a new standard for banjos that came to be known as The Pete Seeger Banjo.

The lost banjo was found near Seeger's upstate home ~ the home he had built with his own hands during the blackballing years.  It was in the case he'd painted with his name and phone number. It had fallen from the roof of his car and was sitting poetically alongside a state roadway. 

"Waiting for Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to catch up," 
L. A. Norma said.

The young man who found and returned it told reporters that he did not know who Seeger was.

Some years before that, Pete and his wife, Toshi were in New Orleans for an earlier Jazz Fest, and staying in the Faubourg Marigny home of the late Shirley Jensen, across from Washington Square Park on Frenchmen Street. It was my good fortune to interview and photograph him and his long-neck twelve-string guitar.

Afterwards, we walked back to Squalor Heights, my garret apartment, to hear Sweet Emma Barrett records. Seeger loved her cover of Jelly Roll Blues, "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll," available through George H. Buck Records ("Sweet Emma Barrett and Her New Orleans Music," GHB-141). Later Seeger wrote about her in Sing Out!, the sixty-year-plus folk song magazine publishing still today, where he wrote the column, "Appleseed."

That day, on our way to Squalor Heights, Seeger wore a Medieval looking cap with a long peacock feather that dipped and bobbed behind us as he stepped his long body across Faubourg Marigny curbs and stoops. I was thrilled and wondered if anyone seeing us would recognize I was walking in the company of the great Pete Seeger.

*

OUR SAILS GROW DISTANT
In New York City that following Fall, a New York University student on a downtown subway listened to my gush about lunch with Pete Seeger ~ we met on Fifty Seventh Street for crab cakes and tofu ice cream!  I was on my way back to the East Village, and the student was showing this out-of-towner where to get off.  He listened politely to our boast of touching greatness, then said, "I don't know who Pete Seeger is."

One thing Seeger is/was is political, in the candid way of a troubadour. His early days were spent roaming America with Woody Guthrie, whose own guitar famously boasted his slogan: "This Machine Kills Fascists." Guthrie wrote and sang significant songs, like This Land Is Your Land. Both men were union supporters and candidates to someday lock horns with reactionary Washington Congress Critters.

In the 1950s, Seeger's group, The Weavers, had enormous record sales and radio play.  Their first Billboard hit, On Top of Old Smoky with Shrimp Boats are Coming on the backside, was followed by GoodnightIrene, written by Texas / Louisiana prisoner, "Leadbelly." The Weavers' cover of "Irene" stood as the nation's number-one Billboard hit for thirteen weeks.  Seeger is also said by many -- though not by him -- to have written the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome.

"All that I did was change 'will' to 'shall,' "  he told us, that early Jazz Fest day in New Orleans.

*

In Washington, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee charged Seeger with contempt of congress for not telling them his thoughts. An odd situation, given that Seeger was a man who spent his entire life telling the world what he thought.

Pete Seeger in NOLa, 1983 / © LEJ.org
The resulting smear led Seeger to being banned from music clubs and over the air.  Fear spread worry that the smear might smudge them, too, and their clubs and media might themselves be pushed off the national stage.

Seeger made his living during those days doing small gigs at mostly upstate New York camps for mostly New York City children. At our lunch, years later in Manhattan, we were stopped in every block by middle-aged handshakes from grateful former camp kids.

Seeger's media ban was lifted in 1967 with his appearance on the sometimes brave, sometimes compromised but always cutting-edge, trend-setting and important CBS Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Pete Seeger singing "Waist Deep," CBS Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour 
*

The Lafayette Story

Pete Seeger: "It was 1955, The House Committee on Un-American Activities had questioned me about my political beliefs, and I said,
Pete Seeger, Faubourg Marigny, NOLa, 1983      /     ©  LEJ.org

'It's America, I have a right to think anything I want, but I don't have to discuss it unless I want to.'

"They said, 'That's not sufficient.'
"I had been asked to come down (to Lafayette) and sing some songs at a new little festival. They (festival organizers) said, 'Mr. Seeger, this evening we're going to have a little party, so you can hear some of our local music.'
"Well, at the door, they said, 'Pete Seeger, meet Congressman Edwin E. Willis.' "
(Edwin Edwards Willis was the Louisiana Democrat, from nearby Arnaudville, who served as chair of the Un-American Activities Committee, 1963-69.)
"Well, he did a double-take, and I did, too.

"They said, 'Let's get some singing going,' and Willis glowered in the corner.
"Later, he (Willis) said, 'Mr. Seeger, it's a small world. How did you get here?'
"I said, 'Well, I was invited.'
"He said, 'Who invited you?'
"I said, 'The Chamber of Commerce.'
"Willis was not amused, or appeased. He said, 'Well, you're not welcome.'
"I went on to California. I didn't want to make trouble for anybody."
Your comments are welcome, click here

Copyright, 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson

all Rights Reserved
*

Lagniappe du jour:
L. A. Norma, "I see Seeger on a Heavenly Cloud singing to a convocation that Edwen Edwards Willis is required to attend.  Both Heaven's rewards and Hell's punishment in one location!"

I could not find a link to Shrimp Boats by Seeger and The Weavers,
 but I did find this 1951 Jo Stafford hit: Shrimp Boats

Studs Terkel narrates and a gaggle of Folk icons do the rest.

Second Carnegie Hall reunion concert

For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to 
w w w . L E J . o r g


Go here For T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...


You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, LEJ's Louisiana unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org

(Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). 

Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column they are archived at www.LEJ.org. Each new column is posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.