the grimace behind armstrong’s grin
they turned my birth place
into jail space—don’t bury
me in new orleans
new orleans can be an extreme case of domestic abuse, like they say, don’t take it, leave, don’t hesitate, ready or not pack your shit, don’t even think about going back, cause they don’t really love you, not them control freaks who think they are kings and you are a feudal peasant in blackface, folk are in denial about new orleans when you hear them say: it’s bad but not that bad, like as if he’s a good man and you know how hard they are to find, nephew just gets a little upset sometimes and smacks you around but he loves you, really, really do, really? don’t believe the hype.
louie knew. from the front gate to the back door armstrong had it straight, he was hip. home was where the heartbreak was. he had seen his father disappear; could have played hamlet looking for a ghost. had seen his mother tricked. had witnessed the best sound of an earlier generation sent across the lake to be housed with the mentally deranged—an enraged black man circa the teens and twenties was not insane, anger was a healthy response to what was being laid down. but anger and seven cents still wouldn’t get you on the front of the bus. behind a screen is where you sat if you were black. louis wasn’t no tom which is why he refused to be their token even after his spirit was gone: “when i die don’t bury my body in new orleans” is what he said and meant, and since louis has passed on and his wishes were fulfilled, i.e. he is buried elsewhere, since then there are some new faces in higher places, a darker hue holds the whip, plots the comings and goings of how the system systematically shits on the unstrong, the unknown, the poor without a pot to piss in and have to pay rent to a landlord for the window out of which they throw it. your eyes may roll, your teeth may grit, but none of the real power will you git. not in new orleans, not until there is some change for truth. it may sound like i’m preaching but i’m not macking, i’m just steady facting about the way she blows down round the gulf coast in a heavenly slice of hell some people call the most fun you can have anywhere in america you go to new orleans you ought to go see the mardi gras cause there ain’t much else hanging heavy in the air except the exhaust of used red beans and ricely yours and mine twenty-four hours at a time, big easy be steady bumping shit to the curb as they hustle every harry, dick and john out of whatever money they got cause the winners down here ain’t no saints and sinning ain’t no crime. and if you don’t know what i mean you better ask somebody cause new orleans may be big and easy but if you want to get ahead you’re better off leaving cause they’re most glad when you’re dead so a funeral they can hold, an image they can unhold uncontradicted by the reality of poverty and exploitation, the bayou is a cesspool and nobody comes through the slaughter without some stank clinging to their clothes.
new orleans may be the cradle of jazz but it’s also the tomb, they bury musicians here. louie knew, that’s why he flew to chi and vowed to be someplace else when he died. don’t bury me in, shit here is so low they got to bury you above ground, even while you still walking around trying to figure out your next move, which is why they razed louie’s pad, made the move to build a bigger jail, it’s called public housing for negro males. and if it sounds like i’m bitter it only means you just got a little taste of the special sauce, stale bread, po-boy seasoning in louie’s red hot wail. but then again, maybe it’s the bitter that makes the sweet so strong. whatever. no matter how you slice it, there ain’t but one way to do it and that’s to do it as best you can. morning, noon, midnight and dawn, can’t we all just get along? hell no, not in new o. where it’s legal to gamble but the majority ain’t got much to bet with or on, except the vicious ways we kicking our rolling songs, crazy cooking our deep-fat fried food, and trying to hit a home run with the slim end of a very short stick. just like in bid whist you got to play the hand you was dealt cause that’s all you got to fan with. some folks have ways and means, other folk got songs and dreams. and that’s the way it comes and goes way down yonder in new orleans. some of you might wonder what all this has to do with jazz, well it’s like louie armstrong says, if you have to ask, you’ll never really know. why was we born so black and blue? well our mamas birthed us black and the white folks made us blue, what else is left but to do what you got to do. throw me something mister they beg in the streets, but if you know like i know you best get your ass in the ring and swing like louie. you’ll never see the forest unless you climb down out of the trees, live your life the way you wanna, just don’t get buried by new orleans.
—kalamu ya salaam