9th June 2020
After crossing a bumpy bridge that seemed to pass across forever whilst overlooking a glistening lake that sprawled out into a deep sea of eternity, Twiggman and I followed the high-rise of tall city buildings like a compass and then, disappearing into its glistening centre like a ball of rogue, white fluff that was stuck to after shower skin, we rolled into an unsuspecting navel, cautiously following the highways happy trail towards our unified musical dream.
Before long, after winding through a junction of silver spaghetti hoops and tagliatelle terrors, we were soon spat out at a system of desolate railroad tracks. Looking around, it felt as though we were perhaps on the wrong side of town. However, with a moral compass that seemed to have had a recent redirection of purpose, I wasn’t quite certain on what was ‘right’ or what was ‘wrong’ any longer. I was, however, determined to dig deep into my own preconceived dispositions and find out. So, I swallowed down any fear that may have been subconsciously residing within my saliva and, avoiding pot holes that seemed big enough to swallow my van up whole and re-navigating deteriorated roads that a few trains had taken to resting casually upon, unguarded against barriers, we eventually bounced along the bumpy and broken terrain straight into our neighbourhood; the Lower 9th Ward.
Through an assortment of deteriorated shacks, we pressed. Past neighbourhood folk casually gathered upon their front porches, we pressed. Past stray dogs and alley cats that were out roaming just looking for a bone, we pressed. And past further universe swallowing pot holes that were saturated in storm water, we pressed… until we eventually found our way to Burgundy Street.
On tour last year, the crew and I had played at a bar in Alabama with a few various folk-punk, bluegrass, & ragtime bands; of which, the particularly talented King Strang was a part of; his bluesy, ragtime melodies speaking to an ancient part within me. Dressed in my ugly ‘mechanics’ outfit, surrounded by exceptionally talented musicians and performing to a full house of lively patrons that not only loved my shit, but also supported the shit out of my shit, the Coppertop Bar was a definite tour highlight. It was there that King Strang’s partner Kit, an elegant yet bad ass beauty with a short pixie haircut and an affinity for poetry, and myself had connected. Since that day, Kit and I had remained in contact with one another, causally regarding the others poetic contributions to this life with affection. After more recently witnessing the couple’s relocation to New Orleans, a place of which I had personally developed my own affinity for, the correspondence between Kit and I deepened.
Part of that ‘light at the end of the work tunnel’ I had been looking forward to (pre-covid) was the entire month of April being dedicated to the month of poetry, where in which Twiggman and I had planned to perform in the New Orleans Festival of Literature and Poetry. NOLA was certainly calling and the festival, I felt, was the perfect opportunity to introduce and maybe even marry my poetry with the majesty of the city. The event itself was scheduled to fall over my 33rd birthday and couldn’t have been any more synchronistic.
But instead of celebrating my day of birth in a place that was bursting with music, poetry and literature, the festival instead was cancelled due to Corona. And I, instead, spent my birthday combating the sadness of the situation by getting all dressed up in an extravagant aqua-green ball gown and, at home in the garden when I thought about the situation too much and the tears gathered in my peacock painted eyes, Tiffany parted the forest of our friendship with a whisky bottle in hand and a firm shoulder to lean upon. She & Mercedes, (Mercedes-with an ass like a wrecking ball and the heart of Mother Theresa) in the sweetness of their supportive and succulent friendships, had gotten appropriately dressed in
their own respective ball gowns and, chauffeured by Bob and his sexy golden drop-top convertible, we had a ourselves a VIP party at the circus. We then drove around in the drop top until the rain poured down in incredible waves upon us all, dampening and/or enlivening our present moment: Both are subject to review but you may never truly know if they were birthday tears falling upon my face or just the rain reminding me what it felt like to be alive. All the while, however, New Orleans continued to feel like nothing more than a distant dream.
As fate would have it however, Kit’s pathway would eventually temporarily lead her away from NOLA, meaning that she would vacate her room and head further north for a spell. Therefore, quite unexpectedly, the offer to sublet Kit’s room in the couple’s absence became a reality. Rent was reasonable and between Twiggman and I, it didn’t amount to much more than I was paying to live in the Garden of Eden. I knew the time to depart was upon me. I was all twisted up inside of myself and despite having created some incredible friendships in Sebring that will be with me now for the rest of my life, I needed to expand my craft through the act of attaining a larger audience. Sebring simply wasn’t cutting it anymore. I was bitter and jaded and with Covid isolation and racial rioting prevalent all across the world, I even began to feel as though I were trapped in paradise.
Finally ready to leave Sebring behind me in order to fully submerge myself once more in the journey, the plan of moving to New Orleans had quite quietly and very organically solidified.
In my usual fashion of travel however, I had arrived at my destination with littler more than a few pictures of the room that Kit had sent me and, other than the tales that Twiggman recounted of his previous life in Louisiana, very little knowledge of the place. But I had simple desires of life and only wanted arts, community and culture. Those are the simple things of which I was after. And apparently Arts, community and culture-New Orleans certainly had plenty to offer. So, I signed my name on the dotted line.
….……April Lee Fields……….
Back on Burgundy Street, deep in the heart of New Orleans, amongst starburst coloured shacks that have been beat down by a catastrophic history and, beneath a sizzling summer sun that, just like myself, had finally put the torment of the storm far behind itself, Twiggman, Foxy and I pulled up beside a large bright purple, semidetached house.
‘You have reached your destination.’ The Satnav instructed, matter-of-factly.
With prominent steps that ascended towards the purple house, separating it from a flooded future, the large double doored entrance was peppered with people lingering on all sides of the steep. BBQ meats sizzled upon the grill and, from a speaker the size of a small human, the sweet sounds of reggae music blasted out so loudly from within that by the time we inquisitively pulled up, regarding our new whereabouts cautiously and then accepting its
perfect placement within our lives, Twiggman barely heard me above the noise. Looking towards him, then back towards the house, I stated my own truth,
“Boys, I think that we are home.”
Twiggman, whose blood is very much saturated in the true groove of reggae funk, smiled a knowing kind of smile.
“You right girl.” He agreed.
New Orleans style houses themselves are certainly in a league of their very own. And in our own neighbourhood alone, the assortment of houses were astonishing.
On August 2005, fifteen years ago, a category 5 hurricane named Katrina swept across America, reigning its vengeance down, more specifically, upon New Orleans. As the levees failed, releasing tens of billions of gallons of contaminated water, rivers overflowed, residences and businesses flooded, 80% of the structures sustained water damage, 800,000 citizens were displaced and thousands of New Orleans residents died. The city, in all of its unique cultural heritage, was not only facing destruction but also very much on the verge of sinking.
All these years later, evidence of Katrina is all around NOLA; residing in water lines that stain the high of many a wall and lurking deep in the water-rotted wooden panels of many an embarrassed shack; signs of life still peeking out from within their weathered shutters. With the help of various different organisations such as the Red Cross and the Jazz Foundation of America, much of New Orleans was eventually rebuilt, leaving an assortment of starburst coloured ruins, modest reconstructions and lavishly built modern day homes in its wake. Such a strange assortment of homes so closely squashed together in this pulsing and creative place, spoke tenderly to the Lady and the Tramp that resides inside of my own foundations.
Walking up to our very own lilac coloured abode that was raised up by a tall and sturdy set of stairs that served as a steep for casual loungers, I parted the sea of bodies; studded leathers, Rasta dreadlocks, cigarette smoke and pink waves of mermaid coloured hair. I shuffled past ass kicking boots, skipped over beers that sweated beneath the summer sun, and navigating past weapons that peeked out of the garments of strangers, I extended a hand forward. And there on Burgundy Street, in the midst of a viral pandemic and racial rioting that had spread across the world, I approached the ghetto and hoped only for a warm welcome.
The first curious dweller to receive me was a tan skinned, studded leather jacket wearing young man with cheeky features, deep brown eyes and a black and yellow skunk-tail Mohawk that peeked out from beneath his trucker style hat.
“You must be April.” The young man gently yelled above the sounds that were all around, “I’m Kyle.” I nodded in acceptance.
“And I’m Twiggman.” my road partner rasped through the bombastic hall of dance, with a smile that jived and grooved in the same way as the beat.
An older man small in stature but large in heart and personality, stepped away from the sizzling BBQ that he had previously been tending, wiped the sweat away from his dark brown brow and, running his hands through a thick bed of course hair, introduced himself as Rob. Rob: bringer of the reggae beats and chef to the streets.
At Rob’s side was his Queen of his heart, Estee, who, with a smile that was as soft as red velvet cake and eyes that sparkled like the first evening star, also welcomed Twiggman and myself to the neighbourhood. Kids of all ages darted through and around us with pale beads of sweat shining against their dark skin, glimmering with the last light of the afternoon’s sun upon them. Skateboards lay discarded, beer cans; deserted for the substandard liquid that they were. The music travelled down the street, reverberating around, what felt like, the entire neighbourhood.
After mingling on the street for a while, connecting with countless neighbours, meeting a few more room mates and just generally feeling out how the immediate air around me moved, my band mate and I wordlessly decided that the frequency was not only safe, but also welcoming. So, aiming towards the left side of the house, (Rob and Estee’s family occupied the right) Twiggman and I ascended the steps to the punk house and were immediately within our new bedroom.
The room itself was simple and homely: A double mattress with clean bedding already attached to it sat upright, resting against the beige wall, ready to be released and employed at any moment. A black vanity sat quietly in the corner of the room, a piece of lace fabric hanging down across its mirror, gently distorting any reflection. Next to the vanity; an overpopulated desk sat sturdily against the main wall with an assortment of green vines that wrapped themselves around its wooden top and an old school typewriter that was tucked away inside of it. My eyes smiled. A long brown sofa, of which I claimed as my own quiet corner, sat beneath the bedroom window beside yet another vintage chair that Prince Foxworth (Foxy) would come to claim as his own. The bedroom floor was wooden and varnished and above it, a vintage chandelier hung from the ceiling. As I followed the lights bronze chain up to its root, I noticed, with great delight that about twenty soft dried roses had been sporadically pinned to the ceiling, suspended in mid-air, giving the room a creative and feminine feel. The room was simple and perfect and, although Kit was nowhere in sight, I felt a fraction closer to her through such beauty.
New Orleans style houses are often referred to as Shotgun houses, meaning that the house structure, rather than being traditionally square of nature is, instead, that of a very long rectangle; like a long and linear shotgun barrel. This was to be my first introduction to such a style. As I entered through the back door of our bedroom in search of the bathroom, the house opened up into a series of rooms that are were all connected, like a vein, through one very long and totally unenclosed hallway; the rooms, only separated by decorative fabrics that hung from wall to wall in order to offer the resident some small sense of privacy when we each went trundling through to other regions in the house.
Through this fabricated hallway, I walked room by room, through different light settings, various aromas and decorative features, careful not to disturb the occupants, before finding the bathroom; a small and reasonably clean space. Peeking my head into the door that continued on after the bathroom, I gazed into yet another dark bedroom, separated by large hanging sheets and, not wanting to intrude, I quietly closed the door once more. The house seemed to go on forever. It was a few days before I even realised that we had a kitchen at the end of the barrel.
Returning to my new room, I sat there for a moment on my own, dropped into its space and envisioned my new life there as a New Orleans resident. The music pushed through the walls, the murmur of our immediate roommates, Harley and Kim; with their green and pink spiky hair, black clothes, and leather studs, pushed through the thin of the walls and in that moment, I knew that above all, that I had left peace and tranquillity far behind me, back in the Floridian Garden of Eden.
Being a creature of quietude, I knew that this could certainly be challenging for me. However, after having previously enjoyed three months of nothing but quietude and isolation, as I sat surrounded with sounds of precious life on all sides and as I dropped in further and felt what it was to actually be in (what felt like) the heart of something pretty special, I decided that I was happy to be there.
Rejoining the vibrancy of the outside world, I passed by the sticky black leather sofa that sat below our bedroom window (our front porch was the common ground) and was introduced to the sofas permanent fixture, Jason. With a face as rouged as the very blood that flushed his once pale cheeks and orange sunglasses that perched upon his defined nose like a setting sun, a freckled arm casually extended itself unto me and Jason made his introduction. Taking a seat on the ascending steps, I once again inhaled the strange aroma of Burgundy Street. It smelt like BBQ sauce, warm beer, rain and pork chops.
In my absence, the music had transitioned into something more soulful and, with it, I felt a
song resting upon the tip of my tongue. It wasn’t long before my neighbour, Estee, and I were singing together, gently humming sweet melodies at first then her, with a gospel grace, taking the high notes, and myself, claiming the low ones. Then, for variety, we mixed it up. And although I sang ever so gently into the thick air and, although no one other than Estee was in my direct vicinity, Rob, who was proudly tending to his BBQ, below the steps, allowed for his ears to prick up. Through the chaos of the collective, a serious look kidnapped his strong, dark features and a kind of quietude came over him. Rob leaned into his friend; a lanky dark man that was propped up beside him and whispered, “That girl can fuckin’ sang.”
The other man quietened and dropped in for a moment before nodding with Rob in agreement to his observation. With that, an observational smile ran right across my face and, as if protesting against some injustice of the world, the smile laid itself down across my jaw and would not move.
Estee and I bounced back and forth, dipping into various soulful songs. The food causally cooked in the background, Twiggman parleyed with the neighbours, more and more neighbours passed us by and, as the sun set below the bewildered shacks of Burgundy street in chunky orange segments, above the commotion of it all, in a city where locals had certainly heard their fair share of talent, I felt heard.
The neighbours and I went on like this for some time before Twiggman and I called it a night. Back in our bedroom, we fed Kit’s tarantula, Larry, watered the dying plants, pulled down the mattress from the wall, got Foxy all settled into his new city life, plonked on the bed and, tired from the six hour journey, we each starfished across the firm floor mattress; both happy to have a little more room than my little old van could ever offer.
(Excerpt from 'Jitterbug Perfume')
And, as I laid in the dark of the night listening to the sounds of life all around me, as foxy restlessly peered his curious fury little head out of the bedroom window, as Twiggman’s breathing deepened into dreams whilst I silently honoured the safety felt within his friendship, my imagination peered into a window of its very own; a window, if you will, into the future.
And when the sandman finally came to take me away, rising up whispily from within his own dusty ashes, bringing with him a water coloured land of dreams, I sighed out easily, cast my eyes up towards a beige bed of brittle roses, whilst they hung heavy-yet somehow still ever so weightlessly, and I knew that I was finally Home Sweet Home... right here in New Orleans.
April Lee Fields
April Lee Fields