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Farewell, Treme

Like a hurricane
























A few weeks ago, HBO’s post-Katrina New Orleans drama Treme finished its run (I was on vacation, so the last two episodes were patiently waiting for me on my DVR). It was a remarkable show for many reasons, and the final episode managed to tie up many of the subplots into relatively satisfying bows. I’m always grateful when TV series know when to quit, rather than stringing out season after season long after the bloom is off the rose and things spiral into the annoying (I’m looking at you, Weeds).

Treme was at its strongest in its early seasons, particularly the first season that set up the background of the characters, struggling to rebuild their lives in the immediate post-Katrina world. After the tight focus of this time period ended, the show started to meander a bit. This was a series about stories, with numerous subplots revolving around interconnected characters, many of whom were based on real-life people. The characters were often archetypes: the civil right attorney, the Mardi Gras Indian chief, the jazz radio DJ, the cutting-edge chef, the bar owner, the police detective, the opportunistic developer. And musicians, lots of musicians: the middle-aged musician, the fresh young thing musician, the heroin addict musician, the conflicted about New Orleans musician. Dozens of real-life New Orleans musicians appeared in the series, and some became regulars, playing themselves (Kermit Ruffins) or fictional characters (Steve Earle). The shining light of the series lasted only through the first season, however. John Goodman, as Creighton Bernette, was dazzlingly good as a Tulane University professor and novelist who is unable to deal with his rage and sadness over the abandonment of New Orleans after the hurricane. He begins to record tirades on YouTube, one of which concluded, as a message to incompetent, neglectful politicians, “Fuck you, you fucking fucks.” stolen from Dennis Hopper in “Blue Velvet”.  Goodman’s character spends a perfect day of food and music throughout the city he loves, and then throws himself from a ferry. For me, the show was never the same.

But the true main character of Treme, as realized and vibrant as any other, was the music. It infused every part of the show, from passing shots of buskers on the corners to the biggest names on the stages of Bourbon Street. Characters struggled with writing songs, playing songs, getting songs right, reveled in the ease and natural synergy of playing with others, spoke with music when words failed. Music eased the despair in the wake of the hurricane and its tragic aftermath, an explosion of joy as ebullient as a second line swing. There is so much music to take in, in every episode, that websites sprung up to catalog what we were hearing ( The Times Picayune of New Orleans dedicated a page to the show (, with extremely detailed “Treme Explained” posts to fill the viewer in on the background of each episode’s characters and plotlines. I found this enormously helpful, as I am not really a jazz aficionado and am pretty ignorant of contemporary artists. But I would find myself constantly thinking “Who is that? He/she is GREAT!” as I watched the show, and through these links I was able to discover stunning new (to me) talent.

So thank you, creators of Treme and all the many artists who brought it to life. The show truly opened up a musical world to me, one as big and bold and full of joie de vivre as Mardi Gras morning.

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