In 1984, as National Political Correspondent for NBC News, I came to Louisiana to cover the Democratic presidential primary. At the suggestion of my friend Clancy DuBos, I wandered into George Rodrigue’s studio in Lafayette. We spent a couple of hours shooting pool, drinking beers and talking about his Cajun art. That night he took me to Mulate’s Restaurant in Breaux Bridge and introduced me to Kerry Boutte, the fellow who kicked off the appetite for Cajun cooking all over America.
That trip began friendships and a conversation that has gone on for 30 years, involving art, politics (especially Edwin Edwards), football (especially LSU and the Saints), Cajun cooking and endless Cajun jokes. Let me share a few moments from my memory bank.
In 1988, as Ronald Reagan was preparing to leave office, George called to say he was doing a portrait of Mr. Reagan and asked if I could help get some photos of the President riding his favorite horse. I went to the White House press office, explained my mission, handed over George’s address and they promised to accommodate.
A few days later George called to say a dozen photos had arrived. “Bode, these are no good,” he said. “I can’t paint the leader of the Free World on this pale, short-legged, spindly horse! Can’t you get me some better pictures?” My next visit to the press office was less well received: “Well, you just tell Mr. Rodrigue that is the horse the President rides.”
When I called George to tell him he was out of luck, he exclaimed, “It’s OK. I solved the problem. I went to the library and got a book on Hollywood cowboys. I’m painting Reagan on Hopalong Cassidy’s horse.” That’s the painting and the steed that George personally presented to Mr. Reagan. It was received with no complaints.
Today the art world is mourning the death of Louisiana’s famed “Blue Dog” artist George Rodrigue. Margo and I are mourning the loss of a dear friend. George died Saturday (Dec. 14) in a Houston hospital after a long fight against cancer. He was 69. George leaves behind an extraordinary, four-decade legacy of brilliant (if sometimes misunderstood) art and many, many saddened friends.
I first met George in 1980, when I was a political reporter for The Times-Picayune working on a series about vote fraud in rural Acadiana. I had previously seen his beautiful picture-and-essay book, “The Cajuns of George Rodrigue,” while attending a party in the French Quarter. I was immediately captivated by George’s haunting renditions of bygone Acadians in their culturally distant world. While my friends enjoyed the party, I literally could not put the book down. To this day I remember how George’s paintings affected me in a way that only a great work of art can speak to a total stranger.
When my work took me to the Lafayette area a year or so later, I asked my uncle, an artist himself in that town, if he knew the guy who had painted those remarkable portraits of Cajuns and their culture. A week later, I knocked on George’s door and introduced myself. We spent four hours that afternoon talking about art, artists, Cajuns and life. Thus began our long friendship.
Later that year, I wrote the first major story in New Orleans about George and his work — a cover story in the daily newspaper's Sunday supplement, “Dixie Roto” magazine. The cover photo showed George standing beside one of his iconic works, a six-foot-tall portrait of Huey Long. The next day, George opened his first public exhibit in New Orleans — in the relatively cramped lobby of a savings-and-loan at 301 St. Charles Ave. That was the humble beginning of New Orleans’ long love affair with George and his work.
It was not love at first sight on the part of the local art crowd. Despite the worldwide acclaim that George would ultimately gain, the snoots who then ruled New Orleans’ art roost did not rush to embrace George or his work. Most of them simply did not understand his ghostly Cajun figures, seemingly suspended in the air beneath dark, ominous oak trees. For years, most didn’t even know his name. He was simply “that Cajun artist.” To his great credit, George never begrudged any of those who initially snubbed him. In fact, when former critics finally embraced him, he welcomed them into his world with the same warmth that he extended to the stranger from New Orleans who knocked on his door in 1980. That, to me, was the hallmark of George’s character.
Eyehategod drummer Joey LaCaze died Aug. 23 in New Orleans following a European tour with the long-running, influential New Orleans metal band. In statement from Eyehategod frontman Mike IX Williams posted on the band's website this morning, Williams said LaCaze died of respiratory failure and had suffered from long-term asthma. News of his death circulated late last week among music websites and metal blogs.
LaCaze founded Eyehategod in 1988 with guitarist Jimmy Bower. The band pioneered sludge and helped put New Orleans on the map for heavy metal, inspiring acts from Georgia's Mastodon to Japan's Boris.
The band released only four studio albums, including the landmark debut, 1992's In the Name of Suffering. Last year it released the single "New Orleans Is The New Vietnam," and this year, Eyehategod was finishing a new album, recorded at Phil Anselmo's Housecore Records studio at his home. Its 25th anniversary tour included global dates as well as a headlining slot for Anselmo's Housecore Horror Film & Music Festival in October.
An account has been set up for LaCaze's daughter, Lilith, and checks can be made to Lilith or Joseph LaCaze at any Capital One bank branches.
Here's the band performing "Medicine Noose" at Brooklyn's St. Vitus last year:
New Orleans music pioneer Bill Johnston — who battled throat cancer since January 2012 — died at age 69, according to WWL.
In 1970, Johnston helped open the 30,000 square foot music venue The Warehouse, a former cotton warehouse on Tchoupitoulas Street. After graduating Holy Cross and serving in the Air Force, Johnston worked in Chicago bars and met the band Chicago (then The Big Thing, and then Chicago Transit Authority), then followed the band to New York City's Filmore East — he wanted to bring a venue like that to his hometown.
The Grateful Dead showed up to the venue on opening day — January 30, 1970 — in the band's station wagon. After the show, Warehouse co-founder Bill Simmons busted the band out of jail after a marijuana bust at its Bourbon Street hotel (referenced in the band's song "Truckin'" from American Beauty).
The Allman Brothers, however, served as The Warehouse's unofficial house band, performing no less than twice a month for five years, including three New Year's Eve shows. (The band later dubbed its 1989 Superdome-bound tour The Warehouse Reunion.) The Warehouse became a sort of "Filmore South" to the East and West iterations of the famous venues.
The venue hosted acts such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bob Marley, The Band, Sly & The Family Stone, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Grand Funk, Fleetwood Mac, The Clash, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Thin Lizzy, Foghat, The Police and dozens others, including The Doors' final performance with Jim Morrison, and the venue's last show, featuring the Talking Heads, in September 1982. (Read more about the venue in this 2009 Gambit cover story.)
Johnston left The Warehouse in 1975 and went on to manage Gino Vannelli, as well as Vince Vance and The Neville Brothers. Most recently, he served as entertainment director at Harrah's, where he produced the popular New Orleans revue Joint's Jumpin'. He also helped re-launch the Joy Theater on Canal Street with its initial music bookings.
Filmmaker Jessy Williamson recently finished a comprehensive documentary about the history of The Warehouse and submitted the film to festivals in New Orleans, Austin, Memphis and Asheville, N.C.
Johnston's Mass will be held 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12 at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home Chapel. Visitation begins at 1 p.m.
Graciousness is rare in a politician. Genuine kindness ranks not far behind. Most so-called public servants these days are so focused on themselves and their ambitions that they lose a great deal of their humanity. In the four decades that I’ve covered politics, I’ve known only one elected official who literally embodied the qualities of graciousness and kindness: former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs. In a profession peopled by narcissists and jerks, Lindy stood out like Mother Theresa at a biker rally.
Lindy died on Saturday, July 27, at her home in Chevy Chase, Md. She was 97.
For those who knew her and were touched by her gentle spirit, Lindy’s passing leaves a void that cannot be filled. She had few political adversaries — and no enemies — during her long career.
Those new to New Orleans or too young to have known her will likely never encounter anyone quite like her outside of a convent, which, by the way, is where she was educated before she enrolled in Tulane’s Sophie Newcomb College at age 15. It was at Tulane that she met her husband, T. Hale Boggs.
Lindy was the first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana. She served there for 18 years, retiring in 1990 to care for her daughter, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, the mayor of Princeton, N.J., who died that year of cancer. While in Congress, she leveraged her seat on the House Appropriations Committee to champion the causes of women’s rights and civil rights, as well as the Port of New Orleans and flood protection for southeast Louisiana.
After her retirement, she took a job at Tulane University and became Gambit's New Orleanian of the Year in 1991.
John Raphael, who led a crusade against violence in New Orleans as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church and on the streets where he frequently held days-long vigils, died of cancer at age 60 this morning.
Raphael's father, John Raphael Sr., was the city's first African-American police officer. Raphael also served in the force for 15 years then joined New Hope as its pastor in 1988.
In 2008, Raphael led Yes We Care to push for citywide anti-violence campaigns — which culminated in a March 28, 2009 rally at City Hall with 3,000 attendees. Raphael spent the last week of each year at the intersection of Claiborne Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where he fasted and prayed to end street violence.
In 2011, Raphael told Gambit that New Orleans needs community-wide efforts to help at-risk young men in New Orleans.
We have to encourage them, we have to push them, and there is a lot of grassroots and groundwork that has to be done. I think churches can play a tremendous role. Some people have to get up every morning and look for a way to change their lives. Others will sit and wait — one day something's going to happen. But they'll get up if they have someone giving them a hand, saying, 'Listen, what's going on in your life and what can I do to help?' You have to help them, give them some alternative.
There are those things as a city and as a community we can't hide anymore. We can't shove them under the rug and pretend it's not there. We have to respond to it.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a statement this morning:
I have personally relied on the wisdom and counsel of Pastor Raphael over the years, not just because of what he said, but because of how he lived. Pastor Raphael will be dearly missed.
Whether he was preaching on the corner, fasting for days on MLK, mentoring young people, or challenging us all to do more to end the death and violence on our streets, Pastor Raphael was consistent and responsible in challenging us all to do our part to reflect the love of God and improve our city. May our thoughts and prayers be with the Raphael and New Hope families.
God's speed, Rodrigue
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