Yooooo not sure if I have ever really posted up other peoples work here before, but my man Robert Gabriel came really real with this piece that came out yesterday in the Austin Chronicle on Cyril Neville. Read the story here. It's powerful and should get him some sort of Newsie award. Don't remember what those are called. Props to the Chron for making it a cover story.
There's quite a lot in this article that relates to Houston and the realness of the situation at hand thereof (why did three media outlets contact me this week to ask about the situation between the New Orleans kids and the Houston kids in our schools and the streets? My opinion - Houston needs to stop blaming shit on the New Orleans kids. Problems exist but HISD wasn't exactly magic fairy land pre-Katrina).
Anyway, it's a long one, and you need to read it. So here is the interview presented here in it's entirity. Thanks to Robert Gabriel.
(Interview starts off with a quote from Cyril)
CN: This is an article that was in the Nation titled “Who Is Killing New Orleans”. A lot of the things that I said in the interview that I did in Chicago are in this particular article. The other one is an article that was in the New Yorker that gives an idea of what living in New Orleans was like before the storm hit. Then on top of all of that, this guy here…Michael Eric Dyson, he does his research and he does it well. A lot of what I’ve gotten in trouble for saying can be found in these articles. And the reason why I have these books out, American Theocracy, The Fox and the Hen House, State of War is that these explain that the game being played in New Orleans is going to be played out in a lot more cities if people don’t pay attention to what’s going on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re the canaries in the mine. For years I’ve heard it said that how goes New Orleans, so goes the state of Louisiana. Up until Katrina New Orleans was, they say 68% black. I say it was more like 75 to 80% black, and you could tell at election time because that black vote in New Orleans made the difference.
What happened during Katrina was not an evacuation as much as it was a round-up and a forced displacement. The bottom line to all of this is that it happened in an American city. What happened was that Katrina blew the bullshit out of the way so that everybody in the world could see just exactly how much of a democracy America really has. If that doesn’t wake something up in the average American that says it wasn’t just an insult and a travesty for the people of New Orleans, that it was a travesty for this country. That’s the height of arrogance, greed, conceit, and disdain for people who you think are less human than you are. Because that’s what this brought us down to.
As that wind blew through New Orleans and that forced migration took place, that was the end, or at least a lot of people want it to be the end of African-American political power in New Orleans. So that now New Orleans can have a Republican mayor and a Republican governor and Republican Senators and Republican Congressmen.
AC: They could now turn it into Disneyland.
CN: They could turn it into whatever they want. Or somebody could turn it into an oil slick too as they’ve done in certain other pristine areas. That just shows that the rich folks who run the world don’t give a shit about poor people no way. Kanye West hit the nail on the head and a lot of people got pissed off. But visit Appalachia and rich white people period around the world don’t give a shit about poor people no matter what color they are. For instance do you ever see any poor white people cutting rich white folks’ grass? Or cooking in their kitchens? Or cleaning their things or whatever? It just don’t happen.
What I’m saying about New Orleans was that everybody got to the point where they were saying it’s not time to point fingers, it’s not time to place blame…let’s have a party. That’s that whole thing that they want the world to believe, that like they told everybody when the lights came on in the French Quarter the mayor got on tv…New Orleans is back. Like the French Quarter is what makes New Orleans what it is. But for these people whose faces are all over the covers of these magazines, that’s what made New Orleans what it really was…the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th wards. Matter of fact the 5th ward didn’t exist at one time. That was some more gentrification that went on because that was actually part of the 6th ward in the first place. And we can go back to the building of the Claiborne Avenue Bridge going all the way back to the ‘60’s as to the way the city has been re-gentrified and every administration, city, state, and federal government since the 1920’s has been juggling that hot potato called funding for the wetlands and funding for building levees in New Orleans. So for President Bush or anybody to say that they didn’t know what was going to happen or what could happen is pure bullshit.
AC: I knew as far back as the ‘70’s as a kid because they would tell you in the schools that if a Camille ever happens again, this is what it’s going to look like. And what I saw with Katrina is exactly was I was always told.
CN: You have generational stuff that goes on in New Orleans. The same people who are about to run for office in New Orleans and the same people who hold the purse strings and the strings of control are basically the children and grandchildren of the people who had their foot on my grandpeoples’ necks. Not too long ago, David Duke almost became governor in Louisiana. So that can put you in the frame of mind of how basically the people think. We all know what David Duke stood for and a lot of people voted for him. Thank God enough people voted against that shit.
That frame of mind, like in this book Eric Dyson is explaining that racism and white supremacy is so engrained into this society that sometimes a white person can do or say something that will cause an adverse effect on some black person’s life when they didn’t really say that they were going to leave out of their door that morning thinking I’m going to go out there and mess with me a you-know-what. No, it’s just the reality of being here, living here. WEB Dubois said it in 1903 and here we are in 2006 and the problem in America is still the color line.
And for anybody to say that what happened after that storm didn’t have racial overtones, please. Like the people who didn’t leave, that was one of the most insulting things to me that I heard when this guy Brown said early on that the people who were stuck in New Orleans, they just should have left. The majority of the people who stayed there couldn’t leave. There were a lot of people in New Orleans that lived in the 9th Ward, those homes were passed down from one generation to the next generation, so it’s the same thing with me. The neighborhood that I had been living in when the storm hit, I had been living there for 18 years. But I’ve been in New Orleans all my life. I’m looking at some of these pictures and I used to drive down some of these streets everyday. That was part my daily ritual in New Orleans to drive past the Circle Food Store, down St. Bernard Avenue, through the 7th ward, through the 6th ward, through Treme, and that was recharging my battery because that was just where my people was. For that to be gone, the heart and the soul of New Orleans is gone.
This is America. That’s the other point that a lot of people missed in what I was saying. It is hard to put into words what it was like on a day to day basis living in New Orleans as an African-American because it’s a proven fact in this country, it don’t make no difference how high you climb up the social ladder, how many degrees and how many letters you have behind your name, if you black you are still black and regardless of what you think of your self, basically in this country you can broke down right quick. Just on your way from a great meeting, you just did great thing for your company and everybody is happy. You traded and you got a bunch of money and on your way home in your Porsche, you get pulled over and called the big N, and brought back to reality of where you are and who you are to the society that you’re coming up in.
The force called Katrina, there were several hurricanes going on in people’s lives in that 9th ward and in different parts of that city. They had been written off a long time before the storm named Katrina came. A couple of weeks before that storm hit the oldest masking Mardi Gras Indian, Big Chief Tootie Montana, died at a meeting at the New Orleans City Council protesting how the chief of police and the city itself had been treating our culture which since 1841 had been happening out in the streets from neighborhood to neighborhood. All of a sudden the last 5 or 6 years they’ve been shutting it down. For a long time we’ve been knowing that there is a white Mardi Gras and a black Mardi Gras. Matter of fact Al “Carnival Time” Johnson put it in context because for black folks, it’s carnival and for white people, it’s Mardi Gras. But it’s all happening in the same city so everybody kinda got to enjoy a little taste of everybody’s gumbo which is what life is supposed to be about anyway.
But he died protesting the treatment of the culture along with the re-gentrification of the city by tearing down certain projects in the Uptown area and building supposedly affordable homes for our people. Instead Walmart went up and these mini-mansions went up in that area and it’s all part of the scheme of the convention area having more casinos and high-rises overlooking the river. It was the re-gentrification of the city that had been in motion all the way back to the 1940’s. At one point Claiborne Avenue was one of the richest African-American thoroughfares in the United States. So what they did, they came and put this Claiborne overpass through it. There were two rows of oak trees where you could be walking in the rain and you wouldn’t get wet walking on Claiborne Avenue. People picnicked out there, people had birthday parties, christening parties. Every carnival, that’s where the Mardi Gras Indians would make a straight shoot from Uptown all the way downtown and then a straight shoot back up down Claiborne Avenue. Naturally they tore all of the trees down and put an overpass through there and killed that entrepreneurial area of the city.
The music that people come to New Orleans to hear wasn’t nurtured in the French Quarter. It was nurtured in the lower 9th Ward and in the 8th Ward, and the 7th Ward, and the 6th Ward, uptown in the 13th Ward and places that you would call the ghetto. But it was our ghetto, so we were cool with it.
AC: I went to school in the 9th Ward at Holy Cross. And about a month ago I got online and decided that I wanted to see what the school looked like as well as the surrounding neighborhood. That’s over where the Industrial Canal failed. The school faired alright but they’re going to still have to leave the site since the area is condemned. And that’s what really strikes me as the most horrifying thing about it, that they’re saying that no one could ever live in that neighborhood again. I find that to be ludicrous.
CN: My question is, I just heard from a friend of mine that they had people back in the Iberville Projects but now they’ve moved them out claiming that the ground is contaminated.
AC: Wasn’t it already contaminated?
CN: Please, you know as far as garbage is concerned they pick up more garbage as they do on Earth in New Orelans and that ain’t just around Mardi Gras.
As far as kicking New Orleans when it’s down and all that kind of stuff, I am one of the people of New Orleans. I lost everything too. The bottom line is that everybody should be pissed off but if you want to talk about looting, who looted all that money from the Red Cross? Three days after the storm I had to leave my family in a hotel room to go up to New York and Nashville and LA to raise money for the Red Cross. Every suggestion I gave them as far as information on who to send money to, people who I knew personally, they didn’t want to hear that. So I put a t-shirt on that said “Ethnic Cleansing in New Orleans” because I had to get my voice heard some kind of way. The point I’m making is that the same questions that I asked in the beginning and got shut down for asking, now everybody wants to know. In between the initial raising of the money and the public finding out that we all got ripped off, I asked the councilman at large Oliver Thomas what was going on with the city and how I could get back in and do my house. I had already cleaned up everything. Anyway, in the conversation he asked me if I could get in touch with my brother Aaron to tell him to take his voice off of the PSA’s for the Red Cross because we have seen not one dime. This was months ago before the bullshit hit the fan. I’m talking about millions of dollars. From the Big Apple to the Big Easy was on pay-per-view. I’m looking out and Madison Square Garden is packed to the gills and I know that wasn’t no cheap ticket to get in there. That same night I was driven from there to Radio City Music Hall and did another thing with the Meters and the Wild Magnolias and a bunch of other people, all New Orleans people. And we felt that we were doing something good for the city, but at the same time let’s get some other information involved in this. The Tambourine and Fan Club needs money. The Backstreet Cultural Museum needs money. Miss Antoinette K. Doe needs money for the only club in New Orleans named after an African’ American artist, Ernie K. Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge. So keep that going. Backstreet Museum holds that part of our culture, the Mardi Gras Indians, those Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs like the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club that were put together back in the day because black folks couldn’t get insurance from white folks. So we had to form those Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs to get from one end of year to the other end of the year. So in October everybody got together and partied and second lined. But at the same time, your name was on the roster so that if anything ever happened to you, they’d help take care of your family. The Tambourine and Fan Club with Jerome Smith has been actually taking care and nurturing our kids for years. Big Chief Victor Harris of the Spirit of the Fa Yi Yi for 17 to 18 years, he’s been giving out suppers and things by his house in the 9th Ward to raise money to send our kids back to school with supplies and clothing. So I’m trying to tell them, OK, you’re talking about people who need help, well here I know where they’re at. I know how you can get straight to them. Tambourine, Backstreet Museum, St Augustine Church. That’s our culture. Erase that and you done erased us.
AC: Of course your interests of preserving a culture differ from those who are in control of not only preserving an economy but changing it into a whole other economy.
CN: It’s almost the difference between sharecropping and a straight up plantation. In the article “Who Is Killing New Orleans” the author brought it home on how the powers that be only want a certain element back as far as black people are concerned. As far as our music and our culture, get a few people so you still have sorta the essence. But I guarantee that whatever they do they’re going to have an area of that city that’s in the lower 9th Ward where people will be able to spend money to see somebody else’s despair. They’ve already got people talking about going down there and meanwhile as we speak they’re still finding bodies.
We’re one month from hurricane season. But now they say let’s have a party. Now they’re offering Mardi Gras on to Jazz Fest. Well I remember a few other incidents that happened around Jazz Fest, the May 3rd flood, the May 6th flood, you know.
AC: I remember the May 3rd flood. We had two feet of water in our house on the West Bank.
CN: And that was with the levees. All of this stuff about come back home. But if I can’t come back home and have some say-so in my everyday life down to the fact of who is going to run the city, forget it. That sent the message to me. You’ve got 24 people running for that job. You’ve got people that are going to quit other jobs that have more power and prestige to come down to this. And if you look at some of the other folks who are dealing with all of the land and that kind of stuff, just like you check out the musical families of New Orleans, check out those families. And check out the histories of those families and you’ll see exactly where New Orleans is headed.
As far as the music of New Orleans is concerned, I guarantee that you can take a New Orleans musicians out of New Orleans but you can’t take New Orleans out of me. Let me put it like this…an average New Orleans drummer that’s been displaced from New Orleans where he couldn’t get a gig because they’re were so many other people doing what he was doing, wherever they’re at they are the top of the line. Anywhere you got three or four New Orleans musicians, you know.
And people always come to me with that label stuff about what kind of music do we play, jazz or what. That’s y’all with certain labels in your head and if you hear a certain little sound then you say yes, that’s jazz. But New Orleans is full of musicians. When a cat from New Orleans gets called for a gig, he doesn’t get called for a gig because he’s a jazz drummer. Cat is looking for a drummer that can play drums. Because any New Orleans band on any given night, you gonna play jazz and you’re gonna play blues and you’re gonna play a little bit of anything that comes up.
But without those neighborhood places to nurture that culture and to nurture that music, I don’t know. Without the high school band programs that everybody from the Marsalis family to whoever else you want to name as far back came out of some New Orleans public school band, I’m talking about the cats with the things sitting up on there with the music on the horn, well you don’t see that anymore because nowadays all they do is teach the kids songs that they like and they learn the song.
AC: That was such a powerful image to me as a kid seeing the bass drummers in the school bands splitting a Mardi Gras parade crowd apart with such a resolute power that no one dared to do anything but get out of the way and pay respect.
CN: That’s the same thing when you see Mardi Gras Indians come through. You know to get your ass out of the way. Ain’t nobody gotta tell you that.
That whole thing about music being in the air in New Orleans is like how are you going to do that now? I know how they’re going to do it. They’re going to call in brass bands from Lithuania, brass bands from Sweden, and they’re going to have this European city like they’ve been trying to have for I don’t know how long. But the spirit of New Orleans is African and it ain’t going anywhere. I guarantee that any convention they have in that Convention Center and anything they have in that Dome is haunted. People already don’t understand that the Dome was built on top of a whole neighborhood. They got a whole African-American cemetary up underneath that Dome, a whole neighborhood. Louis Armstrong’s house was taken to the dump, chopped into pieces, and set on fire and a new parish prison was built on where Louis Armstrong grew up at. Now they’re trying to take Jones Home which is Billy DuBois’? Home, they’re trying to get that. They’ve already closed down St. Augustine Church and basically what’s left? People scattered. They’re trying to rush the election to make sure that Chocolate City shit never comes through again.
AC: I always heard about DC being called Chocolate City but I always contended that Chocolate City was actually New Orleans.
CN: Anybody that knows anything about New Orleans knows that. Historically when you talk about gumbo in New Orleans and Creole food in New Orleans, that’s what you think of, you think of a place that became worthy to have a whole tv show done about it, Frank’s Place, Chez Louisiane. New Orleans, when I was growing up you could go from my neighborhood, play a gig at 8 o’clock from 8:00 to 9:30, then you could catch something in the 6th Ward, and that left with integration. I’m serious, the Dew Drop wasn’t the only place in town that nurtured little neighborhood bands. One of the gigs I had when I was like fifteen was playing drums at the Clyo? Tavern behind this lady who danced with this snake. To me, I was at the Apollo as far as I was concerned. First of all, I lived way uptown and the Clyo? Tavern is right before you cross into the Rampart Street area on the black hand side. That was one of the places that my Uncle Jolly hung out at. Matter of fact, how I got the gig was this guy that used to live next door to Aaron played drums. He knew I played and used to let me practice on his set and showed me a bunch of shit, showed me some tunes and brought me to the Clyo? Tavern one night, introduced me to the rest of the cats in the band, slapped me on the back and said I’ll be back and with some chick he walked out the door. I had moved up. I learned not only a lot about music but I learned whole lot of shit about life, period. And that’s what New Orleans was about, it moved quick.
AC: 14 year olds in New Orleans seem to know more than most 20 year olds elsewhere.
CH: I’ve talked to musicians everywhere, Houston, Dallas, here, anywhere you can name, everybody’s doing OK and it’s like this. I was trying to put my finger on what it was about here because basically anywhere you are if you are in your hometown it’s hard to make a living doing this. You’ve got to be able to go out and do things. But when you come home, if you are respected when you come home for who you are, like you’re respected everywhere else you go, you’re cool with it. But if when you come home you’re just cut down as soon as you get off the plane, as soon as you get back home you’re back in the fray. I love playing music in New Orleans. I love the fact that I’m proud to say my brothers and I and my family contributed a lot, my uncle Jolly, you know as far as the Wild Tchoupitoulas record, that and They Call Us Wild by the Wild Magnolias and Willie Tee and the Gators is like for me some of the greatest music that was ever recorded, some of the most cultural stuff that was ever was recorded. And a lot of people at the time wasn’t comfortable with it because it was like something sacred. Mardi Gras Indians was something sacred to black folks in New Orleans. The first people who did that, a lot of people got pissed off with them. Now most Mardi Gras Indians cats want to have a band.
The other part of that is that I used to hear my uncle and a lot of the older guys talking about their desire to connect with Native Americans. We kinda got to fulfill that dream. Along with Victor Harris of the Spirit of the Fa Ya Ya, a brother by the name of Goat Carson started what they call White Buffalo Day, August the 27th, in New Orleans and it celebrates in Congo Square. They got Arvol Looking Horse who is one of the holiest of holy men as far as the Lakota Sioux is concerned and I think most Native Americans feel the same way. He came down and what it was was a rejoining of the spirits of the ancestors because the reason that Mardi Gras Indians exist is because of what went on between Africans and Native Americans during slavery times. For a while when the brothers first started going out with the Wild Tchoupitoulas we got word through other Native people that we knew that a lot of Native people didn’t understand and thought it was a mockery. So we got on a campaign, almost if you will, to dispel that. We went out on a tour with a group called the Songcatchers. There’s a lady by the name of Lara Lavi out of Seattle, Washington and it was different Native American musicians from different tribes that got together and put this band together and the Neville Brothers went on tour with them and we had an eagle dancer and a fancy dancer up on stage with us. And when we’d do the big Mardi Gras Indians things like “Big Chief” and “New Suit” and we’d all be on stage at the same time and that kinda helped mend that. Then when Victor and them went up to Wind River, the idea was to bring kids from New Orleans from the inner city from the concrete reservation to the Wind River Reservation so that both parties could see that we’re both catching hell from the same place with the same reason to join forces. The same thing is going on right now with Mexicans. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t want my grandmother designated as a criminal neither. There are legitimate reasons for us as Americans to really be paying attention to what the folks that call themselves our leaders are doing. If we the people don’t pay attention to what is going on, what we call our democracy, like for instance this book here explains how privatization threatens democracy. If you are on private property the man with a shotgun calls the shots. If you own American soil you’re protected by the Constitution. But if we don’t watch it the 4th Amendment is being chipped away at, the 1st Amendment is being chipped away at.
AC: Capitalism includes a tendency for industries that go from being public to private to form into a monopoly that sees one company that suddenly takes over. And if they have the best product at the best price why wouldn’t anyone want to buy from them?
CN: You just described New Orleans. It’s that same free market thing that the little guy Ross Perot warned everybody about, that loud sucking sound everyone was going to hear when the jobs went out of this country. But everybody made jokes and laughed about that. And here we are. As far as New Orleans is concerned, that’s exactly what the plan for New Orleans is in that they’ve been privatizing this and privatizing that even before the storm came. Answer me this question. If everything was so messed up down there, what was Dick Cheney doing there four days after the storm walking down in the 9th Ward and then the following day we find out that Haliburton got part of the contract to rebuild that particular area? Two or three days later Prince Charles from England, he’s over there walking through the 9th Ward.
AC: He’s probably going to buy it.
CN: He probably bought it years ago.
CN: If anybody’s going to be pissed off about anything, be pissed off that the majority of our national guardsmen from Louisiana was in Iraq. And two years before the storm Kathleen Blanco wrote a letter to the president asking ‘how do you have money to rebuild the wetlands in Iraq when we’ve been asking since 1927?’
People paying attention to what’s going on in New Orleans see something that isn’t just going to affect New Orleans. You can see how when that port got closed for a little a while it affected the rest of the United States.
AC: I don’t sense that people are getting it though. We can bring out these books and we can bring out people like you who have been there and we could still get someone sitting across the table who despite all of the evidence in front of them decides that they don’t want to believe it simply because it messes up their comfort zone.
CN: It comes back to what Brother Dyson is saying in this boo, that certain things as far as race relations and people who have not ever wanted to be one of the have-nots colors everything. I don’t care what it is, politics, daily life, everything in New Orleans. And New Orleans is a microcosm of this nation. It’s just a city, but it isn’t so unlike any other city on this country, especially considering that in any major city if you want to go in and find the black folks, go and find Martin Luther King Boulevard. If you want to find the Mexican people, find Cesar Chavez Street. It’s what America has been doing. It’s in everyone’s face now because of New Orleans. For anybody to say that they didn’t realize the level of poverty in New Orleans, obviously they weren’t paying attention.
AC: All you had to do was drive a few blocks from the Superdome and you could see projects that still looked like a scene from the ‘20’s.
CN: A lot of the houses that you saw on the news after the storm, that shit was like that before the storm.
AC: You look around at some of the places that people lived in New Orleans and you wonder, is that a tool shed or a house?
CN: The quality of life for the majority of the people in New Orleans…I’ll put it like this, we was all, I don’t care who, where I lived, one or two checks from the poor house. I always say I was living ghetto fabulous because I was living in Gentilly. My front door was on Arts Street. My back door was on Music Street. I had a pool in the yard and a basketball court for my kids and all the rest of the kids in the neighborhood was always hanging out at our house. Some of the best rappers in the city, my son being one of them hung out. I’m saying that to say that one of the things that I miss more than anything else is those kids. I see my son missing his friends. He’s going through changes here where he would have had two classes to go to in New Orleans but because of where we’re at he winds up struggling to graduate. And he’s not by himself. This is wherever we are, we’re going through this. The storm is still raging in people’s lives. FEMA’s about to start asking people for money back. I know people who already had FEMA take their money back from. And Red Cross ain’t did jack, not for nobody in New Orleans anyway.
There are a couple of pictures here that sum up what I was trying to say about the mindset of the people in that city before the storm and what the mindset is now. And that’s why they got 24 people running for office. It don’t really matter at this point. Looking at these pictures, does it really matter who they get?
I know this lady right here. I know this little brother right here.
This is never far away from me. I keep the perspective that no matter how far away from the event you get the storm is still raging in a lot of peoples of lives.
AC: I wonder how much the people who contributed aid, and did a great thing by it, maintained enough of an interest in the cause to understand the back-story.
CN: How do those people feel? From the goodness of your heart you did what you did, but now you find out that the money didn’t do the people you was trying to help any good. Now what are people going to do about that? What are people going to say about that?
If we don’t as a people get behind what’s happening with the Mexican kids out in the street. Our kids don’t realize that what they’re fighting for is the same thing we’ve been fighting for. As far as an education is concerned, speaking of the school system of New Orleans, education was non-existent. It is being proven now that all of these kids that’ve been displaced and are at better schools with better teachers. The whole thing is coming out that they weren’t really getting an education.
AC: How long have we known this though? That’s why my parents put me in a private school early on.
CN: My wife and I were talking about that last week, that we had our son in private schools up until his last two years because that’s where he wanted to go. The other part was that I was involved with other organizations that was working behind the scenes trying to do things to help young people. He got involved with that and it was like, how am I going to be part of this fight if I’m over here in nerd school?
There was a picture in one of these magazines where there’s a lady on her knees, a black woman on her knees screaming, and behind her is all of the people at the Convention Center. And at the same time on that same day, a picture was taken uptown in New Orleans and there’s people sipping wine from long stem glasses with big smiles on their faces by candlelight. And basically that is the essence of what that city was like living, in that if you got a few dollars you cool. If you don’t…
There were so many who were trapped in the Dome who had never been in the Dome before. The people that were trapped in the Convention Center, that was probably the only time they had ever been in it.
AC: There’s the account of soldiers who after a long wait delivered relief to the Convention Center by throwing it from a bridge, which of course was causing the water bins to crash open.
CN: First of all, you have to in your mind and in your heart see those people as people. Evidently, they weren’t looked at as people at that point by nobody. It was just disgusting. I wasn’t even in the Dome or any of those places, but I’ve had nightmares from the stories I done heard from people who were there. And the story I heard is that when people came after five days to supposedly rescue them, they put guns in their faces and the first thing they did was separate the men from the women and the children. And then when people asked ‘where are we going?’…shut up and get on the bus.
Some of my other friends survived all of that and were in their house and the door gets kicked in and you gotta leave, it’s a forced evacuation, you gotta leave. And they were talked to like animals, cursed out, hit with the butts of rifles, just treated like less than human beings.
And I got the phone numbers of them. Two of the people I know are two of the happiest people you’ll meet until you start talking about that, and tears just start rolling. It’s sad as far as the children are concerned, if the adults are going through what they’re going through just imagine what the little kids must be going through. I’m looking at my son who just made 18. And I got a nephew here that’s 15. I got a bunch of other little nieces and nephews and grandkids. What we know is that the fact that we know where everybody is and we can look at each other, touch each other, hug each other is one of the saving graces. Because other people, we’ve been trying to reach out to other people from New Orleans to try to get some kind of a sense of community here, so we can help each other help ourselves, help the children have a sense of…I got to put it the way that Martin Luther King put it, a sense of somebodiness. When you are constantly bombarded with things telling you that you ain’t nobody, it’s hard to really do anything else in life.
AC: For you to have come as far as you have from your past troubles with racism and the cops, this must be kicking your ass in that it’s bringing you back to square one.
CN: I think I’m one of those people Chris Rock was talking about when he said that the angriest people in America are black men over 50 because I’m definitely one of them. But I’m not just going to be pissed off, I’m going to say and do something about it. The majority of the songs that I have written through the years had a fuel behind them that I’ve gotta to say something about it. Because at one time I felt totally helpless and hopeless that there was nothing that I was going to say that anybody was going to want to hear because I had internalized a lot of that shit that was being pumped at me.
AC: You couldn’t expect people to be as extreme as you.
CN: The bottom line is that if America doesn’t soon have a dialogue about this stuff then America is going to continue to have the same type of problems it’s having now. As far as the youth is concerned, when I was coming up I could pinpoint exactly who my leaders were. Kids nowadays don’t have that. Well they do, but not in the same sense as what I had when we had Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, you know, just that ilk of people period all across the line who were in that struggle called the Civil Rights Movement which isn’t over because as we speak they’re trying to turn the hands of time back with the voting. Could you imagine that? They’re about to repeal that, it’s going to expire, that black people have the right to vote in America. Meanwhile everybody wants to know who the next American Idol going to be, who’s gonna win the Final 4.
AC: The idea is to just stop buying into America, but how?
CN: It’s magic that you say that because a whole lotta people are buying into America. That’s another thing that we could be paying attention to as we the people, because when stuff like this thing goes down it tells Americans just who we are. That’s what I’m saying, it’s got to affect people now that they realize that all of that money just disappeared. All of those millions and millions of dollars that was raised and all of those people’s hearts that went into donating the money and everything. You know, Red Cross is an American institution, ain’t it?
AC: How much were the people that were doing that good doing it out of a guilty feeling that keeps them detached from whether or not it actually helped anyone.
CN: But that may be a good thing too, because a lot of people really didn’t know until they saw all of the people on tv buying into the bullshit that New Orleans is the French Quarter. And as long as everything was OK with the French Quarter, New Orleans was fine. But when they saw the people, their compassion moved them. And if that was the trigger for their compassion, I’ve got no problem with that. But now that you’ve done that, that maybe what you did didn’t even get to where you were trying to get it to, now where does it go?
Whoever the powers-that-be are in this country are about the dollar. Ultimately they don’t care what color somebody’s skin or what their college pedigree is and all of that. It really doesn’t matter. If the bottom line for most corporations is how to make stockholders rich and getting more stockholders to pitch in money, then that’s the mentality that we’re dealing with as far as the people who are running everything. So when it boils down to if something happens that allows these people to get a bead on something and decide that we want that, they’re coming for it. And if you sit there and you didn’t say nothing when they came for these. And didn’t say nothing when they came for these others. You ain’t going to have nobody left when they come for you. And that’s why I would say to the average American we are definitely all in trouble if at this point we don’t understand what democracy really is. Do you really know what’s in the Constitution? Do you care? As far as the 4th Amendment, do you know what the 4th Amendment says and why it was put there? Do you realize what the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act did to that? And that’s a wonderful name for that the Patriot Act because they’re putting on a good act up there.
AC: How do you pass a bill, carriers and all, that you don’t even have the time to read?
CN: The powers-that-be are playing this along certain guidelines and it’s been proven that if you tell a big enough lie long enough it becomes the truth to most people. Then what you have too in this Western society that we live in, whatever what a particular person or a particular group of people’s perception of things is, that’s reality. If in some people’s frame of mind, you as a human being are less than a human being then there’s really nothing you can do about that. That’s what I call part of the overall sickness that permeates American society or Western society for that matter.
The world is their playground. A lot of stuff on this planet has been privatized.
Democracy and capitalism can’t happen together. First of all with capitalism the people up here have to have somebody to stand on. Let’s put it where it belongs. The slave masters have to have slaves. This whole country could turn into one big, well they’ve already got it. Prisons have become the new private industry where whole farming communities who couldn’t get subsidies to do farming got subsidies to build a prison. So they need a new crop because you got a 680-bed prison that you gotta keep full. Think about it, the amount of money that the federal government, state government, and city government pays to keep a black male youth incarcerated is like ten times the amount they would spend to send a black youth to school. They spend more money on prisons than they spend on decent schools, decent housing, and shit like that. So you gotta have a crop for that. So that’s where the laws come in, zero tolerance and all of that kinda shit, so they can keep our youth going into those places, keeping those beds filled. And as far as education is concerned, we’re being taught how to do nothing but serve a hamburger or flip a hamburger then all of that shit is computerized now too. So the whole dumbing-down of this whole generation of people whether done by the state or not is on purpose and there is a whole plan. They didn’t plan on people like me for instance. I should have died along with Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and Jonathan Jackson and George Jackson and a few other people that they knew of back in those days that was so called militant. But they missed me. They got a few more of us running around too who got a chance to survive the shit and then report on it. Because I was here during COINTELPRO. They might call it something else but it’s the same shit going on right now. They’re just more out and front with it. They don’t gotta lie about it or pick code names. Now they can outright just tap some shit and don’t have to worry about it. When they get somebody to assassinate somebody, they first assassinate his character in the media. That’s the way they did it with Malcolm, that’s the way they did it with Martin Luther King.
AC: Is that something you’re worried about right now for yourself?
CN: Nah, I can’t worry about that. What I worry about moreso than that is I think about Coretta Scott King and how strong she was and how much pain she must have went through, and her children. I think about Medgar Evers’ wife. I think about Malcolm X’s wife and his daughters. I can’t be afraid. I think about my children. I’ve got grandchildren. What the hell do I want to work for a society that’s going to enslave my grandchildren? I’m like that guy, I forget his name, but he said give me liberty or give me no other shit. I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees. Like Martin Luther King said the night before he died, longevity has its place. Anybody can want to live a long life. But I can’t be bothered with that right now because I can’t make a mockery out of my conscious to appease what somebody else might think I’m supposed to be saying because I’m supposed to be in love with New Orleans.
AC: Did you go see Dr. John the other night? Well apparently his drummer Herman Ernest was saying on stage ‘if you see Cyril Neville tell him to shut up.’
CN: Some people have to do shit like that to get a round of applause. I know Herman Ernest well and I’m going to say that I’m not real surprised, but at the same time I don’t really give a shit. And you can print that. Everybody got their opinions and everybody’s entitled to it, and that’s what I’ve been speaking, my opinion. As a human being and an American citizen, as a taxpayer in New Orleans, as somebody who lived in New Orleans for 57 years, my whole life, I think I have a right to say whatever the hell I please and I’m going to continue to do so.
We can’t worry too much about something like this because we as a people have a much bigger battle than arguing with each other about something that somebody said.
The thing about it is that I get up on stage and I entertain the people and if I have anything to say about the politics of the time or whatever current event that I might have written a song about, it’s never in the context of a personal attack on nobody. I didn’t personally attack nobody in what I said. And as far as anybody who would take that as a personal attack, I feel like Bob Marley felt, if the cap fit you go ahead and put it on your head. I hope you look good in it.
And I love Herman. And I love New Orleans. The bottom line is that I’m glad to know that that’s the type of shit that’s going on because I expect that from certain people on the hierarchy in New Orleans but I don’t expect that from people like him and especially in the forum of Dr. John. But if Dr. John is cool with it then I can’t be mad at him because it’s on his ship. But on his behalf, that’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it. If he drew something from what I said that touched him in a way that he felt I was personally speaking about him and that’s his way of relieving himself, fine, I ain’t got no problem with that.
AC: Well it might just come from opposing viewpoints in that you have moved on from New Orleans whereas he’s working on rebuilding New Orleans.
CN: The deal is that they don’t know what I’ve been through. They don’t know what’s in my heart and in my mind as far as my everyday life and what I went through to survive in New Orleans. They don’t understand that a year or so before the storm I had been making plans on leaving. I would have been gone already had my son hadn’t have been in his last year of high school. Me and my family would have been history in New Orleans because it was just like going to hell in a handbasket fast and I don’t care how much music I played or anybody played, it wasn’t doing the city no good. Wasn’t doing me no good personally, so I was in the frame of mind that the New Orleans that I loved and grew up in, they had already murdered it, it was already gone. The bottom line, I tried to take my kids and other places to see the places I used to play, well they’re gone. The majority of them are slabs on the ground where some place used to be. Or it’s a building that’s all boarded up that nobody goes in no more. So the New Orleans that I loved left when the Dew Drop finally closed. It’s really hard to explain. So I’m going to write a book and put it in the book .
I’ll say this, I’m not going to mention his name because he’s been through enough shit already, but a very high ranking officer on the New Orleans police force two weeks before that storm, when me and him were talking because I had his number on speed dial because me and my family were being harassed by the New Orleans Police Department out of the third district, told me that if things didn’t change soon he was thinking about leaving. And I’m not going to mention his name, but if he reads this he’s going to know who I’m talking about. And I’m going to leave it at that but that’s how rough it was in the city for me. And I had already made up my mind to get my family out of New Orleans. I love New Orleans and I love the fact that I grew up in New Orleans, but at the beginning of the film that’s on this record right here, Send Me Back Home, Irma Thomas made a statement that I love that she was the one who made, because if I had said it everybody would be jumping down my throat. But Irma Thomas said ‘New Orleans didn’t make us, we made New Orleans’. That’s truly the way I feel.
AC: It’s gotta be hard that 30-40 years later you have to sing a song such as This Is My Country with the same conviction as its original intent during the Civil Rights era.
CN: It’s right here at this point in time. It’s the same frame of mind in certain places that he was dealing with way back in 1968. This is America but people still don’t want to hear the truth about shit. People can want whatever they think they want as far as New Orleans is concerned and what’s going to be there and that’s fine if that’s what you want for yourself and your family. I choose something different. But that still doesn’t change the fact that I lived in New Orleans for 57 years. You can’t take that from me, I don’t care who you are. You can take me out of New Orleans, but you can’t take New Orleans out of me. Having said that, I didn’t just up and leave. My son was still in school and I was still struggling trying to get along working with different groups trying to help my people.
AC: So what was that harassment you mentioned?
CN: That was just people on that police force that was renegades and did things the way they felt like doing. They’re human beings before they’re cops and envy and jealousy and shit like that just plays havoc with some people’s minds and if you got a little bit of authority you can carry a vendetta really far. And then the other thing about it is that it’s part of the American culture at this point for a young black male to before he gets to be 18 years old to already have been in the system, already to have been incarcerated or on some court supervision or some shit like that. So that was all part of that. As I said, a lot of little kids hung out at my house. And if you’re a black male, once you get past 12 years old to some people they don’t want to see you coming. And God forbid if you have dread locks, you know. It’s just sad.
Like I was saying about leaders. It’s hard for young people nowadays to put their fingers on who their true leaders are, so a lot of them have become leaders themselves in action and I have learned things from them. One of my favorite records is the Black Album by Jay-Z. I love that he’s talking about entrepreneurial expertise. Russell Simmons is another one of those young guys that took the cards they were dealt in life and turned everything around on this society and just flipped the script. Kanye’s another one, and look at Ice T who went from gangsta rap to playing a cop on tv. Those are the true leaders, like Queeen Latifah, and all of these people who when they came into this thing they came into it with a frame of mind of I ain’t getting beat. So my son and my daughters have people like that to look at and emulate, even the Cash Money guys from New Orleans, Master P, the way he did. The whole thing is that it reminds me of what I read about in this book here, for all those years back to Daddy Rice all the way up to Justin Timberlake, and the rest of the stuff that’s going on, Eminem and all of that. These cats got paid for all of the rip-offs all through the years. To see Mary J. Blige, that’s another one, that’s the leaders now in our community and when they talk the young people know that they’re talking on their behalf. Erykah Badu, same thing. When those people speak, they feel about those people what I felt about Malcolm, that I know this ain’t no bullshit, this is the real deal. But that’s about it. You got a lot of icons and a lot of people who have done good and are still doing good. But when it comes down to coming through these neighborhoods and dealing with what got to be dealt with on a daily basis in these neighborhoods, it’s people like Victor Harris. It’s Jerome Smith, Sylvester Francis, Jacque Morial, Diane Prince, that’s the leaders of the people in New Orleans. That’s the voices of the people in New Orleans. And if you ain’t listening to them and heard what they got to say, you ain’t really heard the truth. That’s another reason why I can’t shut up.
I feel invigorated from that. I would like for you to print that as far as that brother is concerned I have the utmost respect for him. At the same time though, I feel that I’m obligated that every time that I have a platform, let me put it like this…if it wasn’t Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers, it was just another person that was stuck in that Dome or got stuck in that Convention Center, who would be coming to talk to me? So if I can say something that can benefit some of the people who got stuck down there, I got an obligation to do that. When I saw that shit on tv, I saw people that I went to school with, people that I grew up with. So whatever voices I could connect with from that, I have to do that because that’s what’s going to wind up on the next record. And I find it ironic that Ivan chose Fortunate Son. It’s the same way as the other song. That shit was going on during the Viet Nam war is happening now.
America is definitely a work in contrasts. The thing about it is dialogue is needed speaking about this, and having people voice their opinions is one of the best things. I noticed on my website, people were just ripping me to pieces. But for every person that came on their to rip me, there were three people that came on there that understood where I was coming from and could actually call up some particular incident or refer to some publication or something that could actually justify what I was saying. Now as far as that article by Mike Davis, “Who Is Killing New Orleans?”, it talks about what types of musicians and what type of people the powers-that-be want back in that city. It talks about what it was actually like in that city before that storm for our people from an economic point of view, how everybody else sees everything in this country as far as when they first start talking about any disaster what’s the first thing they say, before they say anything about whether anybody got killed or anything, it was $24 billion in damage. Oh and by the way, 780 people got killed.
I think that people like Herman who didn’t like what I was saying before, wait until you hear this record. Wait until you hear this shit. And I’ve been doing other things like changing lyrics to songs I’ve been doing. I was doing a song by James Anthony called “Money Back.” We want our money worth or we want our goddamn money back. Now when we do that song it’s dedicated to everyone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Kathleen Blanco, Ray Nagin, the two cats from FEMA, and everybody at Crawford, Texas. This song is on the behalf of all of the displaced people from New Orleans, who are all taxpayers. It’s for the folks at Red Cross. We want our money worth or we want our fuckin money back.
Reading this book here, and learning about what this cat has so well documented in here about the phone calls and the emails that went on before and during and after that storm will show everybody how it was possible for all of those people to get left like that for as long as they were left, because of the frame of mind a lot of people had about them in the first place.
AC: When people think of New Orleans music they are usually willing to identify it as the birthplace of jazz, but they seem to keep it at a distance as some sort of antiquated thing.
CN: That’s so they can keep lying to people and telling them that the French Quarter is New Orleans. But jazz musicians are starving to death in New Orleans. Where they going to play out? Ain’t no jazz clubs in New Orleans. There’s one so-called jazz club in New Orleans down on Frenchmen Street where Charmaine plays every Monday night. That’s about the only jazz real club. And now they just opened up another one called Sweet Lorraine’s. But they’re all really small places. And the bottom line is the music that Louis Armstrong played that got named jazz was music that people got off of their asses and danced to and popped handkerchiefs and shit to, not sit down and try to out-cool each other.
AC: There’s always the rhythm and blues element too.
CN: When I was a kid, New Orleans was the home of the blues. Listen to “Night Train” and it’s “don’t forget New Orleans, the home of the blues.” And I heard it even before that. But rhythm and blues was what was being done at Cosmo’s. At the same time I talked to who in my estimation is the father of all of that, Dave Barthalomew, and he was saying that he was a jazz musician and a majority of those that played on those rock-n-roll sessions were jazz musicians, but you couldn’t make no money playing jazz, so he had to do that and he played jazz for fun, went out to cutting sessions and shit like that. But for feeding your family and paying your bills, they went in the studio and did that and then went on the road playing that shit behind Fats and behind Little Richard and whoever else, Larry Williams.
So then there’s gospel. Mahalia Jackson, who up until recently didn’t even have a plaque anywhere in New Orleans suggesting that the greatest gospel singer who ever walked the planet was born and raised in New Orleans.
Where do you think Wynton Marsalis would be playing if he was still living in New Orleans? Why didn’t he just build a jazz club in New Orleans named after his famous jazz family? Because he knows better.
AC: We could probably talk a lot about Wynton Marsalis but you’re in enough trouble already.
CN: That’s good though, that means that the shit is hitting home and I must be telling the truth because I wouldn’t be getting all of this flak if I wasn’t. And all of this stuff is coming out with all of these people, this book, everybody including Herman Ernest…in fact this is what you should put: Herman Ernest knew me before Katrina and he knows me now, and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut then so he knows better. He knows I ain’t gonna shut up.
AC: Many consider “Cold Sweat” by James Brown to be the first funk song. I always say it’s “Big Chief” which came out a little earlier. What do you think?
CN: There’s more funk shit than that that came out before that. The shit Smokey Johnson was playing was funk, before what Zig started playing in the Meters became what it became. So there was funk coming out of New Orleans with Earl Palmer. The early 50’s hits that came out of New Orleans, what is that if that isn’t funk? James Brown included, everybody borrowed from New Orleans. It’s like New Orleans is this big well and everybody came and dipped. Wherever New Orleans musicians are, as soon as people know they’re in town, they’re going to be working or doing sessions or doing something. An element of that that’s been really enjoyable to them as it’s been for me is that you’re going to feel respected. And that’s really important because living in New Orleans and living what I was living in and seeing other people going through shit that I wanted to stand up for and different things, it was hard to create and some kind of way I found a way to do it anyway. Listening back over my stuff as I have for the last couple of weeks or so, the majority of the things that I have that I am most proud of have some socially redeeming quality to it. One of the proudest moments of my life was getting an award from the NAACP and hearing Julian Bond say that that song “Sister Rosa” was one of the reasons that we were standing on the stage. Suppose I hadn’t written that because people told me to shut up way back then. The most critically acclaimed Neville Brothers record is Yellow Moon and the reason is because of “Sister Rosa,” “My Blood,” and “Wake Up” as well as Aaron’s cover of the Bob Dylan song “With God On Our Side.” Those three original songs came out of the repertoire of the Uptown All-Stars.
That is where I come from, my heritage is African and Caribbean rhythms. The other part of it is gospel melodies and harmonies. And the rest of it is spoken word, the truth.
AC: That’s a powerful combination.
CN: “It Ain’t My Fault” by Smokey Johnson, I think came out before “Big Chief.” There was a song called “My Oh My, What a Wedding Day” by I think Earl King and a song by Earl King called “Trick Bag.” You don’t get no funkier than that. “My Oh My, What Wedding Day, I don’t know who it’s by, but that’s the funkiest shit you ever gonna hear. This song by Earl King called “Honey Child” and “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” by Jessie Hill, “There’s a Certain Girl” by Ernie K. Doe, and “Mother in Law,” as far as funk goes.
A lot of people who heard James Brown don’t know who Reverend Utah Smith is and don’t know who Archie Brownlee is, but that’s where he got some of the other shit that was in his bag. Archie Brownlee was one of the Blind Boys or something like that. And then there was Reverend Utah Smith, who was the cat with the cape who flew through the church.
Thanks again Robert.