Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Little Touch of Homelessness by Peter Reum

There is a stigma about being homeless that I feel the need to write about this week. In late February 2016, the home our family was living in and thought we were buying was hit by a devastating sewer backup that flooded the entire basement. The people that were holding the title to the house were angry, stating that we were negligent in the care of the house. They asked us to move out on very short notice despite the fact that we had what we thought was a $25000 equity in the home.

We had always had the people who open the sewer line out 12 previous times, costing us over $4200. We believed that the people who held the title to the home did not follow the agreement we thought we had.

Suffice to say,  under our state's law, which grossly favors the title holder of a rental home, we had no leegal rights. Upon consulting an attorney specializing in home ownership disputes, we were advised that we should not fight for the money we supposedly had put into the home.

We did not contest the title holder's case, and we were slapped with a $67000 judgement. We had bought the home on a rent to own basis, and when one of the two owners sold his interest in the home to the folks who sued us, we thought the agreement we had with the two owners would be honored.

Instead, the owner who bought out the other owner terminated the contract and said he would apply the money we thought was  building  equity toward a reduction in the price of the home in the sale of the home to us. Instead, the owner used the sewage flood to ask us to leave. Never mind that we had spoken to the couple several times about the sewage backups and the mold in the basement that was emerging after the repeated problems with sewage backups.

We left the house as required by the owner. We had two kids who, fortunately never entered the basement and obeyed our instructions to stay out. The result of this action by the title holders was that we had to find a place quickly to live in and work out of until we could find a new home to rent.

The stigma of having a large judgement against us made other landlords and apartment managers refuse to consider us for an apartment. We ended up in a motel in a part of our city we wouldn't have even considered from March 4 of 2016 until today, July 14 of 2017. Almost everything we had went into storage.

We went to another attorney to see how we could deal with this harrowing situation. He recommended filing chapter 7 bankruptcy to remove this financial judgement obligation.  We filed, and were successful in removing this onerous pile of excrement from our list of debts.

We lived in a small hotel room for 17 months, taking kids to school, my wife to work, and eating anything a hot plate, microwave, or crock pot could handle. We kept fairly quiet about our situation, informing only people who needed to know about our long hotel stay. After the bankruptcy was discharged in June of 2017, we felt free to begin looking for somewhere to live, having learned the hard way about rent to own agreements.

The property management firms in our small city took one look at our wounded credit situation and accepted money for our apartment applications, and then never returned our calls, most likely due to our financially horrible history with the house we lived in just before we entered the hotel. This problem of low credit scores caused many companies and individual owners just to act upon the papers of the very few applicants who had clean credit histories. Many individuals made great efforts to make improvements of  their credit scores. These people often were rejected due to them being poor and working class people finding very few property managers willing to take applications and to seriously looking at the scores without rejecting the applications.

Our family was treated fairly by a couple who had invested in dicey applicants to give them a chance to realize their potential instead of ignoring them or turning them down. The folks were independent owners who gave our family the chance to explain our history honestly.

We move in today, and I can say that while we were technically homeless for almost 18 months, our experiences were nothing like the chronically homeless people in our town. We have developed empathy for people living in their cars while perhaps struggling with some form of post traumatic stress disorder. These are folks who need our support and our town's support to get back on their feet in all domains of their lives. Please consider helping such folks by supporting the nonprofits that serve homeless families or individuals in your community.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Down on Bourbon Street: The Wild Magnolias-Life Is a Carnival by Peter Reum

When I began this blog in 2012, I wanted to cover a variety of topics that appeal to me, and hopefully, to you-my reader. Sometimes issues take a lead over music, but music for me is the force that reveals what is divine and beautiful about this world. I have always loved the music of New Orleans. From funk, to jazz, to blues, and so forth, music is an art that soothes, heals, inspires, and surprises me. Sometimes there is a song or album, or performance that is too great to ignore, and The Wild Magnolias Life Is a Carnival is that sort of album for me.

Early on in this blog, I highlighted the music of the Wild Tchoupitulas, a proud group of musicians that gathered on Mardis Gras, wearing incredibly decorated costumes to signify their high regard for the Native Americans who were the first humans to settle near New Orleans. There are a number of "tribes" that unite the day before Ash Wednesday on that day special to the region. My admiration for the sheer funkiness of these tribes' music is infinitely high. When I graduated from college, I worked in the music field, and there was somewhat of an underground fanaticism for these tribes' music. The Wild Tchoupitulas were honored with an underground t-shirt that many of us wore with pride.

Fast forward to 1999, and through Capitol Records, The Wild Magnolias are back in the studio 25 years after their first album, still creating that amazing call and response funk which characterizes the tribes of  African Americans who still admire the dress of the various indigenous tribes that called Louisiana and Mississippi home. In fact, the Wild Magnolia's costumes with brilliant feathers, colorful beads, and beautiful headdresses are not unlike some of the amazing regalia worn by various indigenous tribal dancers who attend pow-wows in North America.

The Wild Magnolias in their Carnival Clothing

Example of Pow Wow Dancers at the Navajo Gathering
note the elaborate clothes indigenous people wear to a pow wow dance

The Wild Magnolias have come to symbolize the culture of Carnival for the various groups that dance and sing during Carnival. They were led by Big Chief Bo Dollis from 1969 until his death in 2015. He was succeeded by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in 2015,upon the passing of Big Chief Dollis. The other positions of note for the Magnolias are Second Chief, Spy Boy, Flag Boy, and Wild Man. Some tribes have Queens who are usually wives of members.Navajo Pow Wow Tribal Dancers

The Magnolias are only one of several groups who constitute the various "tribes" in New Orleans. Their 1999 Life Is a Carnival album was a chance for them to show their funky side as only they can. The album was recorded at Sound Services in New Orleans with several other studios also included. The Magnolias were blessed with several guest stars on Life Is a Carnival, including Dr. John, June Yamagashi, Cyril and Gaynielle Neville (and the Neville Brothers), Robbie Robertson, Bruce Hornsby and the late Allen Toussaint. Cyril Neville was a producer on Life Is A Carnival, as was June Yamagashi.

The album begins with the Dr. John song  Pock-a-Nae. Some of the musicians on this tune are June Yamagasi, guitar, and Michael Ward on congas. Dr. John sings lead. The tune may be found on youtube here: Pock-a-Nae Wild Magnolias  The next tune is a hopping version of the Mardi Gras favorite Coochie Molly. The Wild Magnolias remind listeners what funk really sounds like: The Wild Magnolias Coochie Molly  Dr. John is a frequent contributer on the Life Is a Carnival album. He sings lead and plays a rarely used guitar instead of his usual keyboard. The third track on the album is Who Knows, a new song by Dr. John who wrote or co-wrote  a few songs on the album. This song may be found here: Dr. John with the Wild Magnolias Who Knows 

As may be heard by these three examples, The Wild Magnolias bring an intensity rhythmically to the songs here on Life Is a Carnival. The only music I see that is as funky rhythmically is Pow Wow Music. The reader is referred to the link above offering an example of Pow Wow Music. Both styles use the drums as the heart of the tune or chant, and instruments that add color to the rhythm can be a flute or a rainstick for Indigenous Pow Wow music, and keyboards, rhythm guitars and so forth for New Orleans Tribe Music.

Track four is the Band's Life Is a Carnival, as adapted for the Magnolias. Robbie Robertson, who is half Indigenous, contributes guitar here. In addition, Bruce Hornsby and Cyril Neville offer their talents, as well as June Yamagashi and Michael Ward. It obviously is the title track of the album. Track 5 is Party by Winton Turbinton and the Wild Magnolias. Party here is a live version: The Wild Magnolias - Party  The sixth selection is Old Time Indian, written to honor Cyril Neville, who performs this song with the Magnolias: Cyril Neville  Old Time Indian: Cyril Neville with The Wild Magnolias - Old Time Indian 

Track 7 is All On a Mardi Gras Day, done by the Wild Magnolias with Dr. John. An interesting group of contributers were the members of the Black Bottom Brass Band from Osaka, Japan. They can be heard easily, and their contribution is excellent. Track 8 is Shanda Handa, a signature song of the Wild Magnolias. This song written by Chief Bo Dollis, was originally a single from the late Sixties by the Wild Magnolias. The song is a Magnolias evergreen,and can be found here: Shanda Handa by The Wild Magnolias

By now, the persistent beat of the Wild Magnolias may have drawn you in. The rhythm patterns are common to most of the "Tribes" who play in New Orleans. While the Wild Magnolias are not the most famous group from New Orleans, their presence is contagious. The effort that they put into their music reflects the proud heritage of African Americans in  New Orleans. Despite being from New Orleans, some archetypes from other places have been shared in their music. Cowboys and Indians is a tune that addresses myths from further west. Black Hawk is another tribute to Chief Black Hawk, one of the powerful leaders from indigenous tribes who resisted the overrun of what is now Illinois. The lead vocal duties are shared with Dr. John. Black Hawk was produced by Wardell Quezerque.The song may be found here: The Wild Magnolias Black Hawk

Track 11 is a Carnival standard called Pocket Change. Written by the late Michael Ward, the song is a catchy song about a guy who is broke and goes down a long list of potential loaners, only to realize he has burned too many people to even think about borrowing money. Herc-Jolly-John is a tune that features a parade of famous New Orleans vocalists. The tune begins with Dr. John, 2017 Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Cyril Neville, Rockin' Dopsie Jr., Norwood "Geechie" Johnson, Robert Parker, Dr. John again, and finishes with Darell Crawford. Next the Wild Magnolias revive a Carnival standard called Battlefield. Battlefield concerns the importance of the numerous "tribes" protecting their neighborhoods and the annual Carnival battle for who is the most colorful in "Indian" regalia. The tune has Meters member Russell Baptiste drumming.

Hang Tough is a collaboration between "Mr. New Orleans," the late, great, Allen Toussaint and Marva Wright. The band behind them is Wardell  Quezerque's band. The tune is musically simple sounding, but has a complex rhythm structure. Tootie Ma, the next to last song, is in essence a dance tune. The tune has the complex rhythm pattern endemic to New Orleans. The song features Russell Baptiste drumming and Michael Ward on congas drums. A close listen will reveal Norwood  "Ceechie" Johnson beating a bass drum. The last track, Peacepipe, returns to the "Indian" theme that is the ever present background color on which these beautiful pictures in sound rest. It also could be about the friendly competition between "tribes" during Carnival.

The temptation is to look at this tradition and to approach the whole scene as a mockery of Indigenous culture.....but, as with the various Indigenous tribes in the Americas  and elsewhere, the very heart of the New Orleans "Indians" is the sacred drum, the heart of these peoples' spirituality. Besides that, at least half of the New Orleans Indians' heritage contains Indigenous blood. In truth, the Sacred Drum absorbed so much pain and anger toward European Americans that it tied together both peoples sorrow and anguish. Today, it seems different. The drums bring people together in spiritual expression just as the drummers and dancers in Congo Square Park did long ago.

Copyright 2017 by Peter Reum - All Rights Reserved