New Orleans

Fats Domino

Little Richard

In the New Orleans movie, The Big Easy an attractive (seemingly always bare-legged) investigaor comes down to New Orleans to try to ferret out police corruption. Her New Orleans colleague, though, sees things differently. When she sees him take a bribe, he explains:

"But Honey, it's the Big Easy."

When he takes a drink on duty, and she rebukes him, he responds:

"But Honey, it's the Big Easy."

When he makes a pass at her and she resists, he says:

"But Honey, it's the Big Easy."

While, of course, he finally has to do a little work to solve the case, the message he gives throughout the movie (which may even win her heart) resolves to this: In New Orleans, you can get away almost any immoral behavior simply because:

"Oh, Honey, it's the big easy."

Well, New Orleans' very climate encourages this. Until the advent of air-conditioning, the days, especially in the summer, tend towards the hot and sweaty. This makes people most active at night.

Then, add in the French. While the French in Quebec really had to work hard simply to survive the cold, the French in New Orleans always had it easier. After the local Natchez Indians (an interesting civilization with a well-studied social system) bit the dust, the French remained in New Orleans unopposed. Slaves made living easy. A short interlude of the Spanish (whose fading imperials provided few models of ambition) did little to change this. Literally, trade simply stopped at the doorway to New Orleans, a natural port, and early America chafed but paid the New Orleanites tolls just to pass.

American rule, after the Louisiana purchase, brought new immigrants, but French culture, language, and laxness survived the arrival of Uncle Sam. While Twain had to work in Life on the Mississippi to pilot his steamboat, New Orleans, again, simply had to sit there to collect the tolls from the boats and let the slaves offload them. Hence, New Orleans always remained something of a lax place where people could get away with more, and even immigrated with that in mind.

Two wars almost effected New Orleans, but not so much. The War of 1812 briefly made the citizens of all types, including pirates, join together under Jackson to defeat the British invaders. During the Civil War, the Federals captured the city, and General Butler did something that no New Orleans gentleman could condone, he actually talked rudely to upper class ladies! In many ways, the dashing General Bureaugard best presented the attributes of upper class New Orleans in the war.

One bi-product of this attitude was a whole complex caste system involving slaves of mixed blood. Whereas elsewhere in the South, mixed raced children (at least in theory) didn't exist, New Orleans invented a whole vocabulary to deal with different graduations, including quadroons (1/4), octaroons (1/8), the latter reputed to include the most beautiful women. Put these people together, and you get the Creoles (literally colored), an entire race who shared their culture with whites but at least some of their blood with African ancestors.

This class resisted post-war efforts to lump them in with their "uncivilized" black brethen. Eventually, however, most ended up receiving the same discrimination and mistreatment. However, proud Creoles, such as jazzman Jellyroll Morton insisted on their separate privileges to the end of their lives, and persisted in names such as the "______ Creole" jazz band.

The Creoles, during World War I, congregated around Storeyville. In typical New Orleans fashion, this served as a red-light district simply ignored by the authorities ("Aw, Honey, it's the Big Easy) where visiting soldiers could find their pleasure and spend their money. Here, arguably, jazz began, and Creoles, in particular, claim to have had a major influence on that. The major figure here is Louis Armstrong though he quickly left the Crescent City.

An aside here on New Orleans jazz requires some explanation. In early jazz, all musicians improvisized simultaneously, as they still do in the best traditional jazz. Elsewhere, the system quickly changed to one in which each soloist took a turn. One might compare one to soccer, and the other to baseball, with the New Orleans form, sure enough, closer to the continental.

Creoles and New Orleans also played an important role in the invention of rock and roll. Fats Domino and Little Richard, along with Memphians, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley dominated record sales. While Little Richard clearly came from another planet (with strong gospel influences), Fat's music crosses over, easily into New Orleans jazz.

Before leaving the musical heritage of New Orleans, note that New Orleans also, strangely enough, started reggae. The Jamaican stations could only get New Orleans stations so that remained their strongest influence.

New Orleans ties to the Carribean in other ways, including voodoo. You can find many a shop that sells "gris-gris" just as you can buy jambalaya and gumbo. Uncle John the Night Tripper, the ultimate New Orleans rocker, exploited this in album titles like Gris-Gris and in his strange voodoo, witch-doctor costumes.

I visited New Orleans in the summer of 1994 at the invitation of my friend Steve Brown, to whom I dedicate this page. Steve tended bar on New Orlean's modern "Storeyville," Bourbon Street, in 1980s, and there he met his wife, Barbara. I never did visit them because I didn't have the correct phone number. Imagine how many Steve Browns (black and white) a city of New Orlean's size might have, and you'll see why a day at the phone didn't find him. Some day, I hope to see his stories in print, maybe on this website?

Instead, I spent a half week touring around and seeing the sites and realizing that, more than the short-skirted girl in the movie, I couldn't really fit much into this culture. I felt guilty, a bit, about spending a little more money than usual, particularly on that Black Voodoo Beer, but then again:

"Oh, honey, it was the Big Easy!"

Below is an essay written by Noufah Al Sabah, one of my students in Kuwait after taking my course on New Orleans. It's a good summary of New Orleans.

New Orleans Essay

New Orleans is a mixed and diverse state that is full of different aspects and perspectives. New Orleans had a strategic position that contributed to a lot of its aspects like its culture, the type of people in it, and its fame as a state. New Orleans is located at the exit path of the Mississippi river. This brought a positive economical interest and power to New Orleans because of its control of the waterway. It also resulted in a vast immigration of all kinds of people from different ethnic backgrounds to New Orleans. New Orleans was a diverse and mixed state.

New Orleans was like a mixed salad, with a lot of different vegetables or in this case different kinds of people. First of all came the French who took over the state, then were overthrown by the British armies. The French went to live in the swamps and called themselves Cajuns. They had their own food, music, language, and culture and depended on their selves. Then came the English or the Whites in this case and they brought their slaves, the black people, with them. The whites and blacks did not live in peace, there was always violence and fights between them. So they all lived on separate sides of New Orleans. There was the Black neighborhood that was full of violence and crimes and was really a slum, and there was the rich White neighborhood. In between the 2 neighborhoods there was the “Creole”” part of the city, it was where the results of the black and white marriages lived. The Creoles weren’t black or white. They had mixed light brown skin that resembles both the Whites and the Blacks. They weren’t as high as the Whites or as low in class as the Blacks; they were more like in between. New Orleans had a variety of people, all whom came from different backgrounds.

New Orleans had its own culture that was really a mix of all the cultures of the people who lived in it. Its culture was part African, part British, part French, etc. there was no specific culture and everyone followed whatever they believed in. no one objected to the different kinds of cultures cause no one really cared and those who did were only few. Examples of these cultures and beliefs that are still found in New Orleans are the Hoodoo, Voodoo, Buddhism, Christianity, etc. The varieties of cultures in New Orleans were uncountable.

New Orleans made a kind of advertisement to itself and therefore its own fame. It had its own music that was Jazz, Creole, Cajun, etc. But the most famous New Orleans musicians were almost all Black, and they all lived in the violent part of the City that was called “Storyville”. This part of the city was famous for the many illegal acts such as murder, rape, etc in New Orleans and was the toughest neighborhood. The Creoles on the other hand were the most intelligent music readers, and writers. These New Orleans musicians created their own fame and their own type of music which was called Jazz and was love worldwide. They topped the music charts with singers such as, “Louise Armstrong”, “Little Richard, “The Dixie Cup Girls”, etc. Everyone came to New Orleans to hear those musicians play. It was the most famous state back then, the Las Vegas of its time.

New Orleans was a magnificent state that was full of varied properties and aspects. It had a mixed culture, type of people, and was famous. It was the Las Vegas of its time. Everyone wanted to go to New Orleans and live in it. If you wanted any entertainment you would find it in New Orleans. New Orleans was a state like no other , it was the best.

If these pictures all seem a bit washed out, it's not an effect. It's a bad roll of film.

The Big Easy

The harbor, of course, drew the French here.

No, New Orleans is not this old but pretty old for an American city.

Only at Jax brewery can you buy Jax Beer,
but Black Voodoo is available throughout.

St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest in the US.

Boubon Street practically means jazz.

These Creole dolls show the costume of upper class ladies of the past.

General Jackson saved the city in the War of 1812. He even used
pirate Jean La Fitte and armed slaves to help defeat the British.

You might find this place on the cover of Southern Living.

Another historical home in the garden district

Meanwhile, poor Cajuns might live in a Bayou Shack, like the bad guys
in James Dickey's novel and movie Deliverance.

Storeyville once housed the "pleasure quarter" where jazz began. The money
came from soldiers on their way to France to fight in World War I.

A higher view

New Orleans must've invented more drinks than any city in America.
Have you tried the hand grenade, the hurricane...

They filmed a movie here during my visit, with stars so big they wouldn't tell me their names.

This shows Tulane University, home of the Green Wave.

These apes seem happy enough with New Orleans.

The zoo, fittingly, ends this tour.


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