Thursday, August 27, 2015

Justice For New Orleans - Ten Years Later

I can't believe that it's already been ten years - TEN - since the awful crime of Katrina in New Orleans. I remember feeling as affected (sobbing-wise) as 9/11, if not more so, because WE were doing this to our own People. I still can't believe THAT. Ugh.

Three years after the Katrina nightmare first happened, I went to New Orleans with Tom Morello's Justice Tour to help out with Sweet Home New Orleans. Three years had passed, but you'd think maybe three months, as so little had been done, and what had been done was so shoddy and toxic (on the government's/FIMA's part) that it barely counted. The little time we spent there changed me for good (and not only because I have a scar on my ass from where I was bitten by a brown recluse and almost died!), as I saw how people who had so little left still gave of themselves more than anyone else did. We helped them clean up their yards, sure, but they helped us to see what truly matters in this life, and to never, ever give up doing what you love and playing the music of your heart.

Ten years later, they still need our help. It's back to being fun times Mardi Gras zone in the French Quarter, but there are still whole neighborhoods boarded up, with former residents far too traumatized to ever return. I don't blame them one bit after what we all saw go down. But the People that stayed and played their music through it all ... that will never go away. Nor will the demand for Justice in this country.

I'm re-posting the story of our time there, so you can feel it too. We love you, New Orleans!


Justice: Sweet Home New Orleans/Amnesty International

The Justice Tour 2008's third stop was New Orleans, Louisiana! We arrived late at night, had a bunch of lost guitars and gear (found, fret not), dropped off our stuff at the hotel and walked down Bourbon Street to get a bite, which we ate mutely. The waitress asked what we were drinking (this was Bourbon Street, after all) and we all ordered bottles of water. You could see her thinking, "What kind of rock stars are these?" Tired ones, lady.  The CBGB's night before in NYC was full throttle. Trudge back to the hotel, and sleep, sweet sleep, finally.

It felt like a blink and the alarm was going off, signaling time to go to our breakfast meeting. Everyone in town for the show (The Nightwatchman, Perry and Etty Farrell, Wayne Kramer, The Freedom Fighter Orchestra - Carl Restivo, Dave Gibbs, Breckin Meyer) arrived one by one, a few wearing shades, including The DAYwatchman (Tom).  We went around the table introducing ourselves to the fine people from Sweet Home New Orleans and Amnesty International, the beneficiaries of this stop's show. When it got to Mr. Morello's turn, he said, "I am the lion tamer of the Justice Tour", which was perfect, as it really is a traveling circus of sorts.

Joe and James from Sweet Home New Orleans ( told us about their organization, whose mission it is to revitalize the music and cultural community within the neighborhoods of New Orleans by helping their tradition bearers (Mardi Gras Indians, Musicians and Social/Pleasure Club Members) access resources and secure stable, affordable housing. We are now 31 months post-Katrina ... people are still living in unsafe trailers (thanks, FEMA), many are still out of state, 40% of musicians are out of work, and people are not getting their insurance or their "Road Home" funds, so can't afford to fix their houses. We saw many parallels between the war in Iraq and Katrina in New Orleans. Both need to see the government officials tried for the crimes they've committed against humanity, both situations see outsourced (by Blackwater!) profiteering by the ones who are supposed to be "helping", Patriot Act type laws enforced on people who just want to get their lives and stuff back, and when you here about all the Trillions (capital T) being spent in Iraq, and see the almost NOTHING done here in nearly three years ... it simply makes the blood boil. It is "The Big HARD" here, not The Big Easy at all.

We also heard from Monica from Amnesty International ( They are people from across the globe standing up for human rights, and they work to keep International rights standards in place. Monica stressed that the victims of Katrina should not be called "refugees" and that they are "IDP's" (Internally Displaced Persons). She passionately told us about people returning to New Orleans only to find their homes boarded up and denied entry - to their OWN HOMES. They are not even being allowed to participate in the process!  Enter Amnesty International.  These people have a RIGHT to return to their city, their homes, their lives. They've already been traumatized by the whole thing, why is the government making it worse for them? Oh, and by being displace, they're also being purged from the voting lists.  Interesting.  Shady. The social fabric of New Orleans basically disintegrated ... and our government doesn't seem to care - at all.

We met Jeffrey and Patricia Hill, a couple who were displaced after Katrina.  Jeffrey is a musician and plays at the historic Preservation Hall. He told their story and it was all you could do not sob out loud listening to it. You saw flashes of anger in his eyes, but also grace and gratitude for what they do have. They evacuated with 15 family members, the adults swimming with their children held up over their heads. They spent a few days in the horrific Convention Center, an experience he said he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy. They couldn't take that any longer, so they walked until they were turned around at gun point. Yes, gun point. OUR OWN Countrymen, who had just been through the heaviest thing of their lives. It is sick.

They stayed in Mississippi for a time, then a church group brought them out to Arizona.  But they wanted to be home. So Sweet Home New Orleans brought them back. They got a new apartment with SHNO's help, but were not allowed back in to their old one. It had been sealed with metal over the doors and windows, so entry to get cherished items was out of the question. The answer was just "No." They could not enter their own place to get their own things.

And then it was time to go see that place. We all boarded a bus to take us to the Lafitte Housing Project, where the Hills used to live. Row after row of brick buildings, all of them with metal boxes over the windows and doors. We met up with the guys from State Radio there, and met the Hill's little kids too. The family seems very close, and all you could think was "at least they have each other". Ugh.

We traveled on from there to our next stop, the home of Alonzo McAlpine, another New Orleans musician. On the way, we passed miles and miles of abandoned homes in the Lower 9th Ward, and all over really. Spray painted on the front of one, "Don't Demo! Work in progress!" - this is a world where you have to ask to not have your own house bulldozed out from under you. Giant fields where all you see left is cinder-blocks left over from foundations, the only thing changed since the disaster (I mean, CRIME!) is that tall weeds have grown in. We saw a chair still on a roof! Almost THREE years later! The X things you saw spray-painted on houses on the news after the storm are still there: dates, numbers of bodies found (if any), pets. It gave you the chills on a hot Southern day.

The bus was very quiet as we all stared out the windows, not really wanting to believe it.  WHY aren't we still talking about this on the news? WHY aren't we all, as a country, more outraged, and DOING SOMETHING about it for them? Tom broke the silence and said what I'm sure we were all thinking, "It doesn't look like help is coming". Our guide Joe from SHNO said, "Any more government help is doubtful." Again Tom mind-read, "I wonder if it would still look like this if it was Beverly Hills?" In two words, No Way.  Here, even the nice houses in Bernard Parish were all boarded up, no one home, no one coming back. People ... you need to know, it is NOT OK here.  They still NEED OUR HELP!

So help is what we offered to the McAlpine family. Alonzo McAlpine is a real cool big guy with long dreads, a New Orleans music maker. His wife is the beautiful epitome of warmth, Mama Efuru. They met us as the bus pulled up, standing in front of their FEMA trailer parked in the front yard of their home. They've been living in Atlanta since the storm, and are going back and forth while trying to rebuild their house. They walked us through their house, nowhere near being habitable. A pile of rusted and moldy instruments was on the patio, a gut-wrenching sight for all the musicians present. Yet you saw nothing but smiles coming from the McAlpines. The human spirit is capable of so much good and so much bad, and they've all collided together in New Orleans. 

{In that vein, I could title this piece "War and Peace" ... it will be about that long ... we've got MUCH to talk about here}

The project for the day at the McAlpine house was to clean up their backyard, and give them a place to chill outside of their tiny trailer (TINY!  Mama Efuru told me she could use the bathroom and cook at the same time ... she was being totally honest, I saw for myself) and gutted out house. Everyone jumped right in, putting on work gloves and going for it. Some raked, some hoed, some pulled weeds, some swept and held open the garbage bags. Tom "Dustpan" Morello was pulling out weeds and upset a fire ant hill, and quite literally got ants in his pants! He was jumping around like he was on stage, only this time the cause was little bites, not the rock. There was some laughter at his dilemma, I'll admit. We all marveled at the HUGE caterpillars (that also bite, we were told) and lizards that came out at every weed pull, and a general paranoia set in about that. The coolest landscaping crew, probably ever, (you've never seen Perry Farrell burlier, whacking away at stuff, wiping his brow with his arm) was sweating in the hot Louisiana afternoon, and in no time flat, that backyard was as gutted as the house, only in a good way.

The work gang was rewarded with Mama Efuru's GREAT cooking (beans and rice, plus Popeye's chicken) for our lunch break, and we all talked and got to know each other a bit more. Tom invited Alonzo to come and play the show at the House of Blues the next day, and then we got a show of our own.

Mama Efuru gave a very special thank you speech ("I pray for you to be empowered, and thank you for sharing your love, and for getting us on the road back home ...") and told us about their Salongo Organization ... "Salongo" meaning, "We come together to create something beautiful out of love". We all went to the backyard to take an "after" photo, and Mama Efuru danced for us and sang "Oh Yeah Yeah!", and we would repeat all her joyful lyrics back to her in song. To have gone through so much and still have nothing but love in your heart is a true miracle of strength and positivity.  BLESS the McAlpines!

We hugged our goodbyes, and headed to our next stop, Mr. Frank Morton's house.  Frank is a man in his 70's, a blues band saxophonist, who now must deal with dialysis three times a week. That bitch Katrina blew a big tree down on to a shed in his backyard, and it was our job to get it out of there. Entering the backyard and seeing the big mess was a little daunting, but with the satisfaction of hard work and results at the McAlpine's in their hearts and minds, the Justice Crew got down to it.

Wayne "Chainsaw" Kramer took charge, climbing up on to the big felled tree.  He revved up the chainsaw ("Uh, should we get a non-guitar player on chainsaw?" - Perry F. "You might GET a non-guitar player." - Wayne K.), and started sawing away at that thing, while the rest of the gang started clearing out all sorts of stuff from the yard.  "Hey Frank, do you have a wheelbarrow?"  "No, but you can use that old Volkswagon."

Tom was upgraded to "Sledgehammer" Morello with some mighty heaves against the old sheet-metal shed, while I worried about all the possible injuries that could put a damper on the show the next night. Perry and Dave "Dumpster" Gibbs actually got up and IN this giant dumpster on the street to manage all the refuse coming in from the backyard. So did many, many roaches. The State Radio guys (and their darling girlfriends) were busting their asses, and the Freedom Fighter guys matched them on every heave and haul.  

Frank's face lit up when an old fishing pole came out of the rubble, "Ahh, there she is!", finding at least one of his old friends back home. I went to check out his trailer in his front yard (a "Deluxe" model, because it had a pop-out) and on the door was a FEMA sign saying it "may" be contaminated with formaldehyde. They use that to embalm dead people and they put it in the trailers to "rescue" people?! Excuse my Cajun French, but that is FUCKED! I asked Frank about that, and he said, "Oh, I can't worry about that, I need somewhere to stay". A 70-something man on dialysis in a poison trailer, that oh yeah, by the way, they're taking away from him in June. Two months from now. His house was stripped down to the studs, and I can tell you right now, that thing is not going to be ready. So where will Frank stay then? This is SO WRONG!!!! So, what are we going to do about it? Well, Frank said, "Sweet Home New Orleans has really helped me out."  So maybe what we can do is help them out .. donate, volunteer, go to the Justice Tour show and pay more than the ridiculously low $10, bust YOUR ass helping someone get back home, and get MAD about this CRIME (that needs to be PROSECUTED!) that is continuing to be committed against your fellow Americans.  It's the very least we can do.


I would be remiss in not reporting about our evening after the work day. 10 minutes after returning the filthy, tired Justice folks back to the hotel, we left again to go see the New Orleans Hornets WIN Game One of their Playoff game against Dallas! Super fun, and the crowd was super into it, on their feet the whole time. Our gang had a second wind, and the hard-earned half-time cocktails were going down easy.

Our van had dropped us off, so after the Hornet victory, we were stumped as to how to get back to the hotel without our trusty tour manager Carlos' help. Ever helpful in all areas Carl Restivo solved it.  He approached some girls and asked for a ride. They said "Sure, hop in". "Well, it's me and my ten friends, is that ok?"  "Sure!"  You hear about Southern Hospitality, but this takes the cake. We squished 13 people into this girls 4-Runner!  It was not super comfortable, but it was complete laughter the whole way back.  It wasn't clear that this girl knew she had ICONS sardined in (with her laundry hampers) her truck until we pulled ourselves out with shoe horns and they asked for a photo.  Their niceness made our day as much as it probably made theirs - Thanks, New Orleans Girls!

From there, it was off to dinner at the FANTASTIC Jacques-Imo's for authentic New Orleans DELICIOUS dishes with the whole gang - go there for sure when visiting and volunteering to help Katrina victims - because I know you will.  In one word, Mmmmm.

Then, and I knew it was coming ... as a first-time visitor to New Orleans, Tom insisted that I indulge (choke down) a "Shark Attack" - a drink famous to the French Quarter.  As he put it, "it's not just a drink, it's a pageant". Yes, Sir.  I won't ruin it for you, again, you can try one when you're down there volunteering.

There was a Pirate Convention in town as well. Pirates everywhere! Perry asked one guy, "Why are you a Pirate?" and he just said, "Arrrr".  Perfect.  Breckin was approached by a man who admired his work who would only talk in Pirate-ese. "Thank Ye". Walking down Bourbon (fittingly named, as everyone is boozed up, and it seems to be the only reason to go there. It is also one of the only areas that doesn't look like anything bad ever happened here) Street, we suddenly heard a band doing a Rage cover! We ran into the joint, and Tom went up to the side of the stage and tapped the guy's leg. He looked down, and the look on his face has brought me laughs all day since. We ran off immediately, so the guy still may be pinching himself. It was excellent. The rest of the night was off the record ... mainly because I can't remember it.  Shark Attack!

Tour: Parish Room, House Of Blues - New Orleans

On the 20th of April, 2008 - The Parish Room at the House of Blues was ROCKED off its foundation, and not from a hurricane ... this time it was The Justice Tour that blew through!

The House of Blues seemed a fitting place for the Justice Tour to play with it's slogans of "Help Ever, Hurt Never" and "Unity In Diversity" all over the place. That kind of feeling was in the air from the beginning, with the sold-out house in the mood for some fun, with more meaning than perhaps they might find a few streets over on Bourbon.

The Sunglasses-at-Nightwatchman took the stage, shades on.  (Remember, we were all still recovering a bit from the night before, so that this wound up being one of the most powerful shows ever is a true testament to the power of good music) Project Noise and Microsoft have generously helped to underwrite this tour, so that 100% of the proceeds from these shows can go to the beneficiaries - tonight, Sweet Home New Orleans and Amnesty International's turns.  The crowd cheered to hear that, as they know better than anyone how much MUCH help is needed here in their own town. 

The Nightwatchman opened with his touching, "St. Isabelle", that played here sounded a little different, the banging of the drum and harmonica kind of reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral. The crowd loved it, and as they were cheering, in walked Alonzo and Mama Efuru! You see, I really don't think they had any idea who was working in their yard the day before, so it was extra-great to see them come and comprehend that it was kind of a big deal. It sounded like a big deal in the room too, when Tom dedicated his next song to Danny Federici, the keyboardist for the E-Street Band, who died last week.  "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" has another patina about it entirely when sung in this town, with so many ghosts and a haunting legacy, thanks to Katrina. The place was almost eerily quiet.

That changed entirely when Tom busted out his acoustic "Guerilla Radio"! The entire room shouted, with the appropriate Rage, "What better place than here, what better time than NOW?!" Indeed. So maybe volunteer here? Tom thanked everyone for not saying that he was a look-alike for Mayor Ray Nagan this time through, which cracked everyone up - and now that he mentions it ...

His last song (for now) was especially for New Orleans, "Midnight In The City Of Destruction". He introduced it by saying, "Katrina was not a disaster, it was a crime", which was met by loud shouts of agreement. The line, "I pray the waters will drown the President if the levees break again", was appreciated more than it could possibly be anywhere else, and the crowd showed it.  

The Nightwatchman then introduced local band, Bonerama. It's not what you think (though it is sort of apt for this tour - not a lot of ladies on board). It's a GREAT band of four trombones, a sousaphone, guitar and drums. Brass Band extraordinaire! One song was called, I think, "Keep On Marching" which is proud advice for the Saints of this city.  They even played Sabbath's "War Pigs", that was crazy metal, or brass, rather. They were the perfect local flavor to add to the mix for this show, and everyone loved them.

Wayne Kramer came on next, winning over a bunch of new (young - it was an all-ages show) fans with "Something's Broken In The Promised Land". Once again, the "Where's Lee Harvey Oswald, now that you really need him?" was everyone's favorite - and especially so seeing that Bush was IN TOWN! If only he'd felt like a House Of Blues photo op (as that's all he ever seems to do in this town, never mind all the VICTIMS, just lower Air Force One a little) this night - he would've gotten an earful ... and maybe been tarred and feathered by some pirates. His second song was his jazzy "So Long, Hank" tribute to Bukowski, only tonight he was joined by Mark from Bonerama to add some N'Awlins style jazz to the poem. The line, "But mostly we were drunk" got the biggest applause - because in this neighborhood, that is one of the main objectives. BIG claps.

Tom came back up to have everyone text "AI" to 5055 to show solidarity with Amnesty International's Tear It Down initiative to get rid of Guantanamo - and the blue glow of everyone doing it should have that blight on our world gone in no time. He then introduced our fantastic new friends, saying, "State Radio is about to rock your asses!" ... and that is exACTly what they did!  The crowd yelled for them before they struck one note - but when they did it was "CIA" and the yells only got louder. There was a real drunk, but very nice, guy hanging on to the wall next to me. He said, "I think he's playing a gas can guitar" And I said, "Yep, he is". That perplexed him for a few seconds and then he said, "Well, it's gonna cost him $4.00 to fill that thing up".  

Chad from State Radio has a charity for kids with physical and mental disabilities that do their own version of the news, "How's Your News?" ( and a bunch of those kids were in the house. It was so happy to see them rocking out to their favorite band, and from the sound of the crowd, LOTS of peoples' favorite band!

They kept the rock building with "Camila" - love it, now own it. Their last song was "Gang Of Thieves", and Chad, Chuck and Mike were joined by Tom on this one, which you could tell fired them up, as well as us. They started it by getting the whole room to fast-clap, and it just kept getting more frenzied from there. Chad said, "What an honor to be on the Justice Tour with Tom Morello" and from the looks of it, the feeling was mutual.  STATE RADIO!!!

Perry and Etty Farrell, with Carl Restivo, (The Satellite Posse) were up next. Perry said, "It's a privilege and an honor to be on the Justice Tour ... because we kick ASS!" - and that's what they proceeded to do. "Nasty Little Perv" was nastily good.  Then Perry told a story about being in a boat with a hole in it, which sank, and he had to swim for four hours ... but it was "Under A Tahitian Moon", so all was ok. A totally acoustic version, it was sublime.

To top that off, the Freedom Fighter Orchestra joined them on stage, along with Tom on electric guitar - plugged IN. The crowd had been pleading for some Jane's .. and they got it.  "Mountain Song"! The opening chords alone made everyone in the place scream their lungs out.  I mean, they went nuts!  More so when Tom freaked them out with a scorching guitar solo. At song's end, Perry went across the stage high-fiving everyone down front, yelling, "The sounds of Freedom!!", with an ecstatic smile that you can only get from that kind of jam.

Throwing a nod to bluesy New Orleans, they played a bar brawler version of The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues", with Perry as Jim. "Let it roll, Baby, Roll!  All night long!"  We would all be totally fine with that.

And then it was time to Kick. Out. The. JAMS! With Wayne reprising his MC5 days, and burning up the stage with Tom, trading guitar licks back and forth.  Wayne was FEELING it tonight, and the smile on HIS face only got bigger. It was just that kind of night.

Tom asked a thrilled guy in front to hold the lyrics sheet, and the gang played CCR's, "Fortunate Son" ... but not before Tom acknowledged Bush's presence (shift in The Force) in town, saying that, "That is an insult.  There should be barricades here to keep him out". At this point I was watching/scribbling/filming on the side of the stage with the McAlpine's and they were both nodding and saying, "That's right!"   It was a blistering performance, and "I Ain't No President's Son (Fuck him!)!" was sung as a matter of pride and relief in this case.

Perry introduced the next one, saying Tom calls him up and he's always ready to hear about songs regarding, "Fuck the oil companies, the military, definitely the War ... so I was pleasantly surprised when it was time to shake the shit!" Yes, the new party anthem, "Shake My Shit" and it was time for Tom to sing - and dance. The entire place was dancing! It was the very best time I've heard it played, with a super-animated Tom yelling, "OH!  OH! OH!" and the shit shakers whooping it up. It was awesome, and Tom said, "Consider your shit shook!"

Wayne Kramer again went off with MC5's "Rama Lama". He got the crowd split in half with one side singing, "Oh Yeah!" and the other, "It's Alright", and then it all came together, as he said, "Unity is Power!" That was more than true, when Alonzo McAlpine and Mike from State Radio joined them on congas, Wayne and Tom again traded crazy guitar conversation, and the audience did their part bringing it all together with their chants. Freedom Party!

Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" with Perry on lead vocals for one verse, and Mama Efuru for another! It was so moving to see the people who had all worked together to bring about some small change for the better in a family's life the day before, now all singing and dancing and celebrating LIFE together on one stage. Etty and Mama grooved together, hips shaking, and every time the band sang, "What's Goin' On?", the fans would repeat it back ... it was so very special. Mama thanked everyone and said she'd had a feeling yesterday that these were good and amazing people, and now she knew for sure.  Perry thanked her again for her cooking that we're all still drooling about.

Tom returned to the stage wearing his Hornets Playoff shirt from the night before, and the home team loved that. "Superstitious" was their next song, and it was another perfect one for a town stuffed with Voodoo shops. Bonerama came back for this one, lending it more local yet. Mama and Alonzo stayed up the rest of the time, and their thrill was tangible. Tom reminded, "$10 to get in, but what are you paying to get out?" The only problem with that was that no one WANTED to get out.  Ever.

My personal favorite jam of the night was Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come", with State Radio back with everyone. It was pure celebration. Everyone on stage that was singing sang with arms around each other in a big circle, the band having almost more fun dancing around than the fans. Oh, and it appeared this was NOT a dry building (duh) with drinks allowed on stage this time, and the reggae beats prompting shouts of "420!"  It was the greatest thing ever, and so good that you wanted to cry again in New Orleans - but this time, tears of joy.

They closed the night with "This Land Is Your Land", and the party of it all continued. Tom directed everyone through the verses, and each time the chorus came along, people were tearing up their throats to sing as loud as they could - it was crazy in there. When the command came for "EVERYONE JUMP UP!!", it was strictly obeyed .. in fact, I think my filming of that is going to be real shaky because you could not resist joining in.  Over the last chords, Tom yelled, "This city deserves to be rebuilt!", and I honestly can't tell you what he said after that, because the cheering was so loud it was lost in it.

That is exactly what Mama Efuru was talking about when she taught us the word, "Salongo".  Tonight, we DID "Come together to create something beautiful out of love" for the city of New Orleans.  And we need to keep doing it until they're back where they belong.  SALONGO!

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