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When the Levee Breaks, The Conclusion: How readers and lovers of New Orleans music can help Katrina’s victims

Should New Orleans be moved upriver? Should it be rebuilt away from as many of the hazards of flooding as possible?
Should New Orleans be moved upriver? Should it be rebuilt away from as many of the hazards of flooding as possible?  Washington Republicans have been saying yes, if the city is to be rebuilt at all—which is a national disappointment if not exactly a surprise.  What eventually is decided will be, like too much else in this country, way beyond the influence of the average citizen and her puny powers in the voting booth.  (Herbert Marcuse, anyone?) So perhaps these aren’t the questions that should be asked.  Instead, perhaps we should ask ourselves what those of us who are in a position to help the Gulf Coast crisis in some small way should do, given a squabbling government and reports of fraud and thievery extending to the upper ranks of the NOPD, not to mention federal agencies?   Here are three suggestions. Go to the web and check out Consumer Report, where you’ll find articles on charities and how well they handle the money donated to them. The Catholic charities, especially those focused on children’s needs, consistently score highest on scales dealing with efficacy of distribution, or when judged by the proportion of money used to feed and clothe people rather than to pay employees.   Two other, less conventional (if more restricted) funds seem well worth your donation. To make a concrete gesture of help within the artists’ community, go to the Poetry Daily website (www.poetrydaily.com/) or that of the Southern Review and read the impassioned plea from the magazine’s new editor, Bret Lott. Either Lott is a finanical wizard, or he has a damn smart accountant who’s figured out how to offer subscriptions and free copies of the magazine, while at the same time allowing potential subscribers to donate without one cent going to the Southern Review itself. The gesture is ingenious and thoroughly laudable—and surely expensive for a literary magazine which runs on a shoestring budget in the best time. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from writing another check, this time to the magazine itself. You may not think you can do much, but I ask you to remember a wonderful line by the short story writer Amy Hempel: “We do what we can—it’s as far as the heart can go.” Do what you can, and see how far your heart can go. Finally, Rounder will release a fundraising CD entitled A Celebration of New Orleans Music, its stars as various as Brandon Marsalis, Irma Thomas, Jelly Roll Morton, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Harry Connick, Jr., the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and, of course, Professor Longhair and Aaron Neville. All proceeds, declares Rounder, will go directly to the MusiCares relief fund (www.musicares.com), which covers a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies. In this case, they hope to distribute funds for “basic living expenses such as shelter, food, utilities, cell phones and transportation” to musicians and other music-industry people directly affected by Hurricane Katrina. Featuring liner notes by Branford Marsalis, the album is a joyfully unruly collection celebrating America’s greatest musical city, moving from second-line brass band music and R&B to modern jazz, Mardi Gras Indian music and gospel, spanning 65 years of recording. There’s a common thread that connects all of these sounds—the ebullient, funky musical attitude that lets you know this music is from no other place on the planet than New Orleans. Here is the soul and spirit of a city that will never die, even if its wicked, glorious former self remains alive only in the hearts of those who loved her.  New Orleans demanded a high price for her affections, and a certain amount of courage too. But once won, these affections were yours for life. • Book Notes: An addendum to last week’s round-up of New Orleans fiction is French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia, edited by Joshua Clark. This collection features short fictions from writers as diverse as Poppy Z. Brite, the authorized biographer of Courtney Love, and recent Pulitzer winner Robert Olen Butler. Especially worthwhile are the selections by Barry Gifford (of Wild at Heart fame) and by John Biguenet, a longtime faculty member at Loyola. Biguenet is the author of the novel Oysters as well as a collection of short stories called The Torturer’s Apprentice that’s one of the scariest books I’ve read in recent years. Approach with a brave heart.

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