Sunday is a highly significant day of the week in New Orleans' living. Throughout each calendar year there is no season as potent in its swagger than that of the New Orleans Labor Day week-end. It has been told of, and reported but... truthfully, you must experience it.
Some people say that the Southern Decadence Parade, and the Black Men of Labor Parade have met each other... or at least, encountered each other... in passing on North Rampart Street – in between the Vieux Carre and Congo Square. I am still waiting for a closer walk... a more structured choreography to manifest between the two characteristic New Orleans celebrations. Perhaps a spontaneous street ball circling in ecstatic tolerance and competitive beauty under the arc of Armstrong Park.
With that, I whole-heartedly turn the post over to Mr. Danny Barker – whose legacy was so delightfully lifted up, like the tail of a peacock in this the 16th annual BMOL parade, September 6th, 2009. I intend to allow Mr. Barker to have the last word in today's discussion (and see just how the Comments flesh out.) I hope that you are ready for this; from a tape annotated: Lecture #10 Mr. Barker 2-26-76 XU – Old Danny states the truth emphatically: “There's a gang of 'em...!”
Danny is reading from an unnamed article on race relations and Jazz wherein Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz are the principles. That he specifically states that Stan's insertion is not the real story, Mr. Barker is no-less unequivocal, “a gang of gay fellows.”
In my studies, I have never encountered more material from any historian, or musician, on the relationship of homosexuality and Jazz, than what Danny Barker – a renown heterosexual – offers. Danny seems to be sincerely intrigued, as if it was a phenomenon; which in actuality was (and is) more prevalent as bisexuality.
That it dare not speak its name, Danny himself is somewhat unsure of how to speak to these students from Xavier – a historic Black Catholic university. Of course, Danny so freely does offer his perspectives, which were informed early on in his Jazz life and undoubtedly were enhanced as the 20th century coursed over his vast mind.
Smack dab in the middle of, Buddy Bolden and the Last Days of Storyville, Danny gives great detail of the characters and the environments that found a home in The Red Light District. In a so-entitled chapter focused on his times playing music in this notorious area of New Orleans, Danny tells all.
Titanic was gay. He was the District's most famous homosexual. He had a whole lot of homosexual friends who dressed as women and hustled as women, even back in the twenties.
These are Danny's eye-witness, first-hand accounts.
There was a tonk in the District where I was playing once called the Boudoir, and that was famous as the hangout of all the queers and faggots who lived in the District.
I first met a young man called Dejan there...
Dejan was one of the most fearless fellows I ever saw in a fracas. He was a nice looking man when I met him, of about twenty five years and he weighed about one hundred and fifty pounds. Amongst the gamblers about town he was highly respected. Among the smart boys it was an accepted fact that Dejan knew all the tricks at cheating with dice, cards, pool and billiards. Dejan was not a big man but he was reputed to have fought and whipped a few bad men.
The Boudoir was a new scene and experience to me. These people were something to see. I had heard and seen grown men and boys who were feminine, who acted girlish and womanish, but I had never seen a compact group of such people all together at the same time.
The few week-ends that I worked at the Boudoir, the people were crammed and jammed like sardines in a can. Each night there were present about two hundred sissies, faggots, punks, moffydice, she-men and she-boys – all colors, all sizes, and all ages (from sixteen to sixty.) They were high-classed, low-class, well-dressed, ragged, dignified, loud-mouthed – all talking at the same time, running to and fro, hither and yon.
This is not even half of what Danny documents, nevertheless the story heats up considerably when Dejan proceeds to brutally beat a gambling colleague in a back room. Danny so cooly observes the entire dynamic.
I just sat on the stool looking at this mad scene and noticed that not one of the sissies ran out into the street; they just stood and screamed like a bunch of hens in a barnyard...
Dejan heard all this screaming and jumped up on the bar. He grabbed two bottles of whisky from the back of the bar and reared back wildly as if to throw them at the crowd. He loudly yelled, “You b******! Shut up this mother so-and-so noise!”
Suddenly there was quiet. Everybody calmed down and resumed their gossiping and drinking as if nothing ever happened.
Thus, Danny Barker is the one participant of the evening who placed the events in 'the book.' Here in this lecture excerpt, a comparison of New Orleans attitudes and New York attitudes, he gives the fruit of his keen observations and sums up: “You have a friend... when one of those people are your friend.”
a particular loyalty among the outcasts. The down-pressed. The people on the margins of, or if you will, on the bottom of society. Much of the Jazz world of previous generations was so marginalized; anyone living in the daily milieu of the Red Light District and other bohemian communities of artists and entertainers eventually learned how to depend on each other for the sake of survival. Is it any wonder? These tenuous environments sometimes resulted in, “a violent love.”
Peace & Pops,
Maison Musique, New Orleans
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Love is... dangerous stuff.