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Hold off on the obit for New Orleans - Bob Paslay

Mark Twain writing to someone who had head that the writer was dead declared, "Reports of my death has been greatly exaggerated." And at the last newspaper I worked at (and I use the term 'newspaper' advisedly since their goal is to see how much news they can keep out of the paper), a writer not thinking made a reference to that town's native son Clement Haynesworth and called him the late Clement Haynesworth.

As you will recall, Haynesworth was a South Carolina judge nominated and rejected for the U.S. Supreme Court and he wrote the paper that normally he celebrated the fact that newspapers are correct, but in this one instance he was happy they were wrong.

And so I echo this sentiment. Don't go having any jazz funerals for that great city just yet. New Orleans is not a place, it is a spirit. It is a state of mind. Is it located in a specific place. Of course it is or else Delta Air Lines wouldn't know where to deposit you. But is it only just a place, a gathering of buildings and streets?

No, it is not. No more than Christmas is a day of the year. Christmas is a spirit that like an eternal flame lives in all of us who believe. When we are depressed its flame flickers momentarily and as we approach the day we have designated for it to light, Dec. 25, the flame grows.

I am writing my third check for the relief effort at home and over my shoulder the great Canjun singer D.L. Menard is singing "Where Ever you are there you be." And by the time I finish this column some serious Cajun and Xydeco is going to be bursting forth in my little apartment in Atlanta. See, New Orleans is too wet to be New Orleans. So it is in exile in my apartment and in apartments across the South and the nation and the World. Each one of us is holding in trust a little piece of it for safe-keeping. And when the waters subside and when the streets are washed clean of mud and when the great fires under the cook stoves across the Great City are stoked again, we will return the little piece of New Orleans we are holding in safe keeping.

Dead you ask. Heck no. Is voodoo queen Marie Leveau dead? Is the Vampire Lestat dead? Is the great Sachmo dead? Is Huey Long dead? In their own ways they are reborn each time a fresh visitor to the City that Care Forgot gets off that Delta and rides by shotgun houses and heat and Caribbean time towards the French Quarter.

Did all the great chefs of New Orleans lose the recipes for a thousand dishes with rice and beans and tomatoes and fresh seafood in the hurricane? Did Jack Daniels issue an order to never ship any more liquor to New Orleans?

You must understand that some Madison Avenue smart guy didn't say years ago: We need a new music form. Could someone please invent jazz or blues or Cajun?

The music of New Orleans and the Canjun land and the entire delta sprang forth, erupting from people who could not contain it in their souls any longer.

My good friend Ann Green and I were visiting New Orleans a few years ago when a homeless woman approached and held out a bead that she had obviously found in the street from a strand of cheap beads. She told Ann it was a 'Magic Bead" and would she buy it. The woman offered it like it was priceless in the palm of her aged hand. My friend Ann is no dummy, but she bought the bead because for a minute the bead was magic. Where else but in New Orleans would someone sell you a bead and where else but in New Orleans would someone like Ann buy it?

Lest you think I am trying to romanticize the city, I am not. It is a city in which way too many are born poor and die that way, where some think a small piece of white crack cocaine is their ticket to bliss, where the haves have and the have-nots survive, a city of some corruption that is kept somehow in check, a place that offends some who are easily offended, a place where some choose to scam and steal rather than work. In short it is like all big cities which hang out their welcome sign for all to come.

As a Christian I believe what you see when you see me walking down the street is a vessel for a spirit, a soul that cannot perish. And likewise as one whose heart deposited itself in New Orleans the first time I visited years ago I believe that the soul of New Orleans laughed at the winds and brushed from its face the heavy rains and dared Mother Nature to kill it.

As long as some guy in need of a few bucks hocks a trumpet and as long as a poor little kid stares in that pawn shop window at that horn and works chores to buy that horn, then New Orleans will live. As long as people of the world believe for a few days you can check your cares and come carefree to a place of magic, New Orleans will live. As long as people will laugh and push and lust for a dollar strand of beeds thrown from a brightly colored float and then prize that catch like it was a strand of real pearls then New Orleans will live and thrive. And as long as downtrodden, misunderstood people and those with music in their souls are looking for a magnet to draw them somewhere the city will be there for them. And as long as people like my friend Ann are willing to buy a dirty little bead from someone who obviously needs the money more than she does, New Orleans will be there.

So put away that obit and pull out that checkbook. We've got some work to do.

Bob Paslay is editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 467-5753 Ext. 257or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .