Partly because I’m at the age where I know more people who are dead and partly because the pandemic is helping to increase that number for all of us, the Day of the Dead holds more meaning now. While the playlist for this show is similar to past Day of the Dead (Halloween) shows, the vibe (my vibe) has definitely changed.
The show kicks off with a riff on “St. James Infirmary” by Wendell Pierce playing the character of Antoine Batiste in the HBO series Treme. Batiste is waiting in the Touro Emergency Room when he does his impromptu singing, accompanied by an anonymous slap beat on a tin waste can.
What follows is music about death including a Preservation Hall Jazz Band version of “St. James Infirmary,” King Oliver’s “Dead Man Blues,” Treme Brass Band’s “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead,” Dirty Bourbon River Show’s “All My Friends are Dead” and Spencer Bohren’s “Ghost Train.”
That theme rolls into the next set with Shotgun Jazz Band’s “White Ghost Shivers” and a fascinating song called “Seven Skeletons Found in the Yard.”
After the first hour, its voodoo time with the help of The Neville Brothers, Spider Murphy, Charles Sheffield, Sunpie Barnes, and Benny Turner.
New Orleanians have no trouble remembering their dead — most cemeteries in the city feature above ground crypts creating a daily reminder for those who pass by them. And the city has three centuries of dead to honor. This week’s show celebrates the Day of the Dead .
When I was a kid in New Orleans, I always had the day after Halloween off. I attended Our Lady of Lourdes on Napoleon Avenue and like all Catholic Schools at the time, Lourdes recognized All Saints Day by giving us a school holiday. At the time, I just thought the nuns wanted to give us a break after a night full of knocking on doors and jacking up on candy. Later I learned how religious holidays tend to congregate around earlier non-Christian based celebrations — in this case Samhain is often cited as the genesis for Halloween, All Saints Day and the more populist — All Souls Day. And then there is Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which in Mexican culture is a time to remember friends and family who have died.
This show isn’t just about remembering our dead; several of the songs address preparing for death: Spencer Bohren (who died last year of cancer) sings “Ghost Train,” Tangle Eye’s “O Death,” John Scofield’s New Orleans recorded song “The Angel of Death,” and the jazz standard for mortality “St. James Infirmary” by Ingrid Lucia and James Andrews.
You’ll also hear Coco Robicheaux’s “Walking with the Spirit,” Treme Brass Band’s “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead” and an edited-for-radio version of the Dirty Bourbon River Show song “All My Friends Are Dead.” The song in this show that perhaps best represents the practice of remembering someone who has died, is Yvette Landry’s song about her father “Fishing’s Better Anyway.”
But wait, in a two-hour radio show, you get more – Zombies (Diablo’s Horns), Voodoo (several songs including Dash Rip Rock’s pre-Amazon mail order Voodoo Doll) and, of course, Morgus the Magnificent. Yes, I’ve written a whole post on him and just featured him when Sidney Noel Rideau (the actor who created and portrayed Morgus) died. But its a tradition to include him in this show and this one features a short snippet of an early skit he performed with his sidekick Chopsley.
Thanks for reading all the way to this point. Perhaps you’ll consider subscribing. I do shows every week. My best to you and your loved ones who passed on.