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<< Keeping Up With the Beat

Examining HBO's "Tremé"

This week I'm taking a look at the show "Tremé", and it's opening theme, known simply as "Tremé Song" by John Boutté.

Now, I know what you're saying. You're saying "Jasper! You're a music journalist! Why are you focusing on the opening credits of a television show?"

To that, I would simply respond "shut up worm, crawl on your belly, and lick my boot until your master has released the clamp of agony from around your nethers!" And of course, I would need to remind myself that we are not in Madame Greasefist's House of Forbidden Pleasures, and you are merely asking me the question as an inquisitive reader and not a fellow participant in the brand of erotic role-play that I indulge in every evening.

"Tremé" can be considered "Glee for Grown-Ups", as each episode is rich with live musical numbers that thematically weave into the episode, but stand on their own as incredible interludes. What distinguishes it from "Glee", aside from the age of its cast and about 50 IQ points is that the music works into the story naturally, as opposed to the alternate-reality that your typical musical switches over to when the first bars begin to play. There is no suspension of disbelief required in "Tremé".

In the sub-basement of Madame Greasefist's, I often enjoy prolonged sessions of being held upside-down and punched in the solar plexus by Mitch, my heterosexual homeless companion whom I often employ to provide such beatings.  Mitch had spent some time in Tremé. As he had begun to work my ribcage with a double set of brass knuckles, we struck up a conversation about the show, and he expressed his admiration for the opening credits. I hadn't given it another thought until the next night, when divine providence seemingly brought our conversation full circle.

A routine torso beating, of which I make my enjoyment quite public, has the occasional side effect on the digestive workings of the recipient. And so it was that I sat down for an evening of HBO and the latest episode of "Tremé". As the opening credits began, the opening of the theme song seemed to work my lower intestine like plucking the strings of a stand-up base. Bum-bum-bu-bum-bum....

The gurgle began, and subsided momentarily, until the rat-tat-tat-tat of the snare drum kicked in, and on the screen we witness the swirling vortex of hurricane Katrina, in all its fury. And just as the water is shown consuming the city, so too did my bowels decide that they were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers and as such would soon burst forth with the swelling contents which had heretofore been held at bay.

The genius of the opening credits is in its simple juxtapositions. Images and footage of older, drier times are mixed with shots of the flooded areas, the spray-painted markings around town hastily applied while trying to achieve some kind of order, and the water damage. So much water damage. Mold spores creep half-way up the screen. Paint bubbled and peeling. Even as the title is displayed, looking like lettering on a sign or side of a building that is swelling with polluted seawater, a single dirty-brown drop trickles down its face.

Speaking of brown-dirty water, I spent the remainder of that evening on the toilet. After four emergency sprints and a pulled hamstring in the process, it just seemed to make more sense to bring the TV into the bathroom with me to watch a few episodes and call it a night. But before I did drift into a gentle slumber on my porcelain perch, one final aspect of the credits stuck out in my mind.

A brief shot of Michael Brown. "Heckuva Job Brownie", as he came to be known. And it suddenly became clear to me what this brilliant show is truly about. It's not a sob story about how the Bush Administration screwed up. Sure, that's stated here and there. And make no mistake; Bush & Co. really fucked the puppy with Katrina. That one shot of Brownie, taking his oath as he testified about how terrible the people of New Orleans were for wanting their government to help, was a perfect personification of the anger that flows in the undercurrents of this show. Here is all of this destruction, and all of this glorious celebration, and then we see the man who symbolizes the lack of understanding of this place. He came in as an outsider, as we all are watching the show, but unlike us he came in thinking this was just like any other city and their by-the-numbers playbook would apply.

And that's what the show is about. It's about a place that can only be truly understood by those who live in it. Through subtle, solid storytelling it can at least offer the viewer more than just the guided tour. It offers the shared anguish of the failures of Katrina, but also the importance that it be overcome. It seems to be the most American city of all, because in the face of disaster, they truly just want to be "jumpin' and havin' fun". And it’s music is the language it uses. If you can understand that language, it welcomes you to the conversation.

For the record, I've only been to New Orleans once, because I was banned from the city limits following an unfortunate incident with a ball python and a t-shirt cannon. Don't let the "Erotic Travelers Guide to New Orleans" fool you. It may seem like anything goes during Mardis Gras, but there are rules. Good Lord, how there are rules.