July 27th, 2020
Beneath the dark of the night, a few of my neighbours and I casually gathered together in clusters upon the damp of Burgundy Street, sprawled out upon the front porch. And there, against the magnetic magenta hue of the Purple House, there was a quiet feeling of confinement within the group.
A sort of unspoken restlessness that was made up of two parts, permeated the air around us: One part of the confined equation equated to the fact that once again, the entire city, minus certain places of businesses that were deemed to be essential, had been completely shut down again due to the virus. All over the world, cities opened and closed, pulsing back to life like a beating heart and then flat lining once again into hopelessness. The world and our movements within it, felt fractured, contorted, suffocated even, and very much restricted.
The other part of the prickly residue was due to the persistently rainy weather conditions that we had been experiencing in New Orleans. It was summer time after all and that meant that we were very much in the thick of hurricane season. It had thunder stormed quite heavily in NOLA all week long, confining us even further to our little cardboard boxes. Luckily enough for me however, I was thoroughly enjoying my new blue-cottage abode quite nicely and, for the most part, reveled in my privacy and space for artistic explorations. Yet, upon that evening, as I looked down upon the soft glimmer of the streetlights as they romantically reflected through the puddle-stained street, a similar sense of restlessness struck a chord within me just the same as everybody else.
Going out anywhere at all has become a kind of chaotic endeavour. Whilst shopping for groceries, most everyone is guarded and/or slightly hostile. In turn, I have tried to keep my outings down to a bare minimum. With people afraid to stand too close to one another, our community’s communications have become distorted and forced through a fabricated hand over mouth. Some people have even taken to wearing full protective helmets and with it, there is a strange sense of alienation lingering around in the air, pushing us all forward with footsteps of disassociation; a collectively primal kind of feeling even sometimes makes us act as though we are out hunting for our meals in the planes of Africa, rather than on isle four of Wall Mart shopping centre.
And whilst the mainstream media continues to implement deep currents of fear into the racing hearts of us all, some news reports have alternatively begun to remind us that there isn’t a single thread of scientific evidence to prove that masks can even stop the spread of airborne viruses. Instead, some doctors are even claiming that, if anything, masks actually trap the bacteria within them for longer periods of time, causing a greater chance of sickness. Some medical professionals have even gone on to state that the implementation of forced facial coverings, whilst helpful, was never a scientific proposal, but instead, a forced political one.
“But what is the harm done?” We ask, whilst quietly complying with all that has been asked of us with as little fuss as we can muster. For no matter how strange and potentially scandalous it all may seem, we each know that discomfort won’t kill us quite yet. And willingly or unwillingly, we are all forced to play out the hands that we are dealt… for now.
As I sat in the safety of my van floor well that evening, watching the pavement shimmer beneath the soft street lights and enjoying the respite of a rainless evening, I thought over these things. I played with the feelings of restriction that was sitting upon my chest, twirling their sticky components around into nothingness and then I tried to make that feeling disappear with the rains, if only for the night. Looking upon my mandatory face mask as it hung lazily beside my door, ready for a journey that may take me past my home Street, I wondered just how much longer this could and would go on for. However, four months into this viral experience, just like everybody else, I hadn't a single answer to give.
In remedy to this implemented time of restriction and stagnation, the Burgundy Street Peeps and I had, over the week’s bygone, begun to formulate quite the little alliance with one another. Just last week, my demo album, (of which I had stumbled through the production process quite independently) had been delivered to mine and my bass player, Twiggmans door step in New Orleans. Since producing the album during the first phase of shutdown back in March, it is safe to say that I have spiralled back and forth over the albums worthiness or lack thereof: side-winding in between moments of great pride and accomplishment before tumbling back down into the dark abyss of unworthiness and straight towards the sharp shards of embarrassment.
As I sat upon my living room floor the morning that the CD’s had arrived in New Orleans, I had turned over the physical album in my hand for the very first time. There it was, Steeped in Story & Song.
With the gentle assistance of my bass player, Twiggman, the album had transitioned from the figments of our imagination and become a real live thing. Paying tribute to the obvious DIY recordings and media artwork upon the album, I compared the art to my own DIY artist’s life out here in NOLA: with its rough edges, its inability to conform to a certain standard of living and its true beauty through authenticity. And in that comparison, I felt that my ratty demo album mirrored my ratty ghetto life here in New Orleans quite perfectly.
Therefore, I pushed the respected suggestion of ‘never releasing the album to the world,’
deep down inside of me and, before I had the chance to convince myself otherwise, I drew up a few Crayola inspired party invitations and stuck them upon a select few front doors of Burgundy Street. A small house warming & album drop party, it appeared, was in order to get to the bottom of how I truly felt about Steeped in Story & Song.
The party had been, despite a few small bumps in the road, a sweet success. The guests each bathed in the gentle art of being asked over to somebody else’s space and showed up as their very best selves. As encouraged, most of the neighbours arrived dressed up in suites and ties, gowns and frocks, taking the now-rare opportunity to rock out with their very best dressed foot forward. That night, we had each transitioned from pyjama wearying ratty street kids into snazzy-as-fuck adults who each revelled in the opportunity to look our very best. It had been a magical evening.
Burgundy Street is deeply steeped in artists; musicians, photographers, painters, performers, poets, and dancers, as well as those who are in comradery with the arts and the artists. And while the shutdown has been particularly difficult in its own isolating ways, whenever I have desired a small escape, I need simply walk out past the comfort of my little blue Burgundy Street retreat, down along the long alleyway of disassociation and go outside to meet with the likes of my new temporary-tribe family.
Robert-the bringer of the beats & Estee-his gospel queen are usually always at their purple thrones with an ear to lend. Their sons; the Hyena Brothers, Lil Rob and Babylon, are always laughing and spilling silly secrets out from the browns of their
brotherly lips whilst also perpetually spitting sweet lyrical verses out into the universe. Kyle, like a romantic scene from an Anne Rice novel, can be found playing sweet symphonies upon the violin, further bewitching me with the sultry magic of New Orleans. Michael, with his blue beating heart and pink puffed skunk afro, can be found strumming away the stress of the world with the King Strangs of his guitar. His girlfriend Kit, beautiful, rough & all the in betweens, is the embodiment of abstract art. Stumps duh Clown has been known to drown a sorrow or two upon the purple steeps, strumming his banjo strings as if they could heal a thing or two inside of him. Whilst his lover, Jenny, a tall and creamy elegant whisper of a once-familiar dream that nobody can quite seem to remember, has also been known to share an affinity for the writing of and witnessing of sad, yet beautiful poetry. Together, we were a form of familial alchemy; a loosely gathered tribe of wonderful weirdos who had collectively come to find the simple pleasure, if not the only actual option, of enjoying one another’s eclectic company.
During the evening of the album release party, after feasting on a wonderful dinner that I had tenderly prepared for the usual suspects, I lowered the lights and allowed the small crowd to settle into the living room, gathering upon chairs and cushions alike. And there, as our bellies took refuge in the restfulness of digestion, we listened to my new album, Steeped in Story & Song.
As we sat encircled upon my living room floor, each guest listening attentively to mine and Twiggmans potentially crap, spoken word album, and, with it, I felt an essence of respect about the room: A respect, I assume, that is born from a true appreciation of overall musicianship. It warmed me up.
The feedback that I received that night was solid. And it came from some solid sources. It
gave me confirmation that the production side of things certainly needed some more work done, however, it promised that the actual body of work-the poetry fused with songs- was a worthy body of work and enjoyed by all: The punks, the suave pimps, the hyenas, the cool clowns and the ethereal beauties alike.
Most of the feedback I received from each of the artists of Burgundy Street that night, whilst very much invaluable, unfortunately deteriorated out of my memory box just a few hours later after a small cluster of us had partied the night away across the road at Jenny’s place. The only memories left with me now are the ones felt in the red raw evidence of me power sliding across the carpet at 5am with Kit, Jenny, Kim, Lil Rob & Babylon at my side. All that seriousness has got to be washed away somehow. And we were wild with the wonders of collective artistry; dancing like lightning bolts in an apartment sized thunderstorm.
What I do recall quite clearly, however, was the feeling of not only being accepted for my artistic contribution, but also respected for it. That night, as I had howled and writhed beneath the moon, blurting out fragmented lyrics with my crazy companions, hooting and hollering, riding and fighting & eating a red neck tie as if it were spaghetti, amongst all of that early morning chaos, I do specifically remember the feeling that these people, my new friends of Burgundy Street, were appreciated. They also now treated me a little differently. Perhaps simply because they had been grateful for the opportunity to get debonair and gulp down some homemade spaghetti... or perhaps because the album drop party had been the first right opportunity to show the real light within. Either way, as my knees were bleeding from being taken over by the bounce of the beats, I knew that whatever it was that I was feeling, was certainly a good.
Each of these moments passed through the freight train of my memories whilst I sat there upon the floor of my van that night, leaning up against the soft of Melody’s silken bed with my head tilted towards the non-fabricated scenes transpiring from within and without of that big Purple House.
“Whatchu doin?” Babylon playfully pried, shooting, like a comet, into the empty space in the van beside me, looking me up and down with his bright brown eyes.
“Not a lot.” I replied. My voice, as dull as the day that had surrounded me. “Just thinking.”
“Well… Let’s go somewhere.” Babylon demanded with a playful pop of his muscular body. “I mean, you got deh van, so… let’s go!” His tongue, dipped in the melody of New Orleans, rolled around wetly in his mouth like wild salmon swimming upstream.
“Where to?” I asked, casually attempting to brush off the stale sound of my own voice.
“Anywhere.” Babylon promised. His voice, in comparison, like a roller-coaster of sound.
“We can go to The Ends of the Earth if we wanna’… ya heard me?” His question, rhetorical.
Set against the soft hush of my fairly lights, Babylon’s eyes glimmered wildly like two shooting stars that would always cross the night sky together. Looking cautiously into Babylon’s baby face as it glowed against the serenity of Melody, I soon realised that he was right… we could actually go anywhere that we pleased. Life was ours for the taking and it certainly wasn’t confined to shopping malls and restaurants. It seemed that I had temporarily forgotten that simple truth and just needed a little reminding that there was actually a whole world just waiting outside, far enough away from the Great Car Pile-Up of Humanity, 2020.
We were, in fact, each in charge; the masters to our own personal destinies. And I was personally responsible for navigating forward and creating my very own ways of life… my fate. And yet I had been temporarily, yet quite heavily, focused only upon the collectively damp derangement of our common destiny, if only for the night.
So, “To the Ends of the Earth.” I agreed.
Twiggman and I had previously been invited to The End of the Earth back when first we had arrived in Louisiana: Kyle, in his unwavering enthusiasm for adventure, had spoken of a place just the other side of the levy that held a spectacular views of the entire city: A place that overlooked the water and felt as though it really could be the ends of the Earth. Yet, for one reason or another, back then we hadn’t taken Kyle up on his offer and it hadn’t again been mentioned … until now.
So, with no time more tender than the present moment, we began sending message out of the impending adventure. Then, in a fashion that had become second nature to us on Burgundy Street, we each gathered our respective belongings, (of which-mostly consisted of sweltering alcoholic beverages) loaded up in my van, Melody, (the new transporter of all the street kids) and we all travelled to The Ends of the Earth like a tribe. Because, in the same way that it has always been, and will continue to be so, travelling as a tribe was safe, dope and above all, fucking fun.
Twiggman, in his usual fashion, claimed shotgun in the front seat. Estee and Rob lapped up
on the single grey chair. Jason perched on a cooler in between us. Whilst Lil Rob and Babylon, without being asked, respectfully removed their shoes and took to resting upon the bed in the back like dark pillows. And as we took off into the deep mystery of the night like a swell of cartoon characters travelling inside of their Mystery Machine, Michael and Kyle, all the while, peddled behind us upon their doomsday bicycles. The evening air was so thick with the sweet nectar of adventure that you could taste it.
After crossing a bumpy bridge and making a few casual turns, the crew and I then followed the river along into a gravel parking lot and, to my bewilderment-as well as wonderment, we landed right in front of a building that was cast in shadows called, the ‘MUSIC BOX’. Glancing away from the sign, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. The Music Box had been one of the particular places of interest that I had researched when previously attempting to book what was supposed to have been our 'summer tour.' Its description had been titillating: an outdoor musical venue, full of bespoke instruments that have been completely constructed with recycled materials. The Music Box was certainly top upon the list of places that I wanted to familiarize myself with in New Orleans and even though everything was still temporarily closed, there we were, living but a stone’s throw away from the venue. That night, we had washed up upon the shore of its closed doors yet Destiny spoke to us in many tongues.
With yet another subtle confirmation of my proper pathway placed in front of me, the crew and I grabbed the cooler-full of treats, put one foot in front of the other and began walking the few miles alongside of the riverside. The night was peaceful and still. And after passing by a huge and deserted military warehouse, through dense swells of wet grass and squelching mud that was as thick as the evening air itself, we eventually came to the end of the trail… To the Ends of the Earth.
It was there, beneath the bright light of a half moon, whilst a weathered picnic bench awaited our varied shaped buttocks,’ and a lone tower stood stoically awaiting our many ascensions, that some pretty incredible views of the city sparkled themselves into existence, laying seductively across the Mississippi river like a Christmas special pin up girl.
That evening, the usual suspects and I passed the time huddled together on the picnic table, drinking and sharing stories of war, politics, lust and love. Some of the boys even ventured beneath muddy bridges like trolls-the toll: adventure. We were thick with mischief and harmless fun and it felt good to exercise an individual sense of collective freedom. Time passed us all by as gently as the warm breeze that surrounded.
As I stood on top of the tower that night with the boys, talking shit, singing, hypothesising, taking photographs and overlooking a city-called-home-as it glowed on in the background like a nightlight, I felt a similar sense of that night-light inspired comfort. I curled my toes up like a kid and as I cast my vision down upon my Burgundy Street peeps… there, at the End of the World, I realised that these people had very much become, even if it was temporary, my very own End of the Earth Tribe.
And as the warm breeze snaked off the river and landed upon my damp skin, and the moon held us all tenderly in a warm embrace, I took comfort from the fact that we were each in this strange time together. The light within ourselves sparkled as softly as the city lights that were cast upon the Mississippi river, lighting up the night sky with promise of another day. And there, at the Ends of the Earth, as we each collectively experienced an unspoken kind of rebirth of society as we know it… anything felt possible.
April Lee Fields
Photography & Media by
April Lee Fields