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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The only music I listened to after Katrina was a New Orleans punk band

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 4:00 PM

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I packed two clear Sterilite boxes full of CDs in the trunk of my two-toned "Champagne" Toyota Camry. That's the most 2005 sentence I can think of, but I wish daily that I had used that space to pack something that wasn't completely obsolete (and mostly unimportant — no, I did not need to bring every badly scratched mix CD with Bad Company and Foghat songs that live on the radio until the end of time). I made a last-minute decision to take my car with me to Mississippi instead of leaving it in my parents' driveway in Slidell. I also packed sweaters. In August. (All of this is a lot funnier if you consider that, for most of us, we thought we'd be gone for a week at most, so in that sense, I was way over prepared. Something I learned over the last 10 years is "how to pack like a human being.")

The CDs never left my trunk, and my car didn't leave a friend's driveway in Mississippi. My 1996 Camry wasn't likely to make the drive to Birmingham, Alabama, where I'd stay for the next month or so. I took one CD with me: The Ghostwood's Development. If my car stayed in Slidell, it would've floated to the other side of town or onto a brown pile of everything from inside the house where I grew up.

The Ghostwood released its simple, melodic, snotty, sarcastic pop-punk debut in January 2005. A few months later, a friend bought a copy and a shirt at a show. I "borrowed" it (and the shirt). The songs were immediately memorable — it didn't sound like it was made in a trashcan, a marvel of engineering for a New Orleans punk band, and it even had massive shout-along choruses ("I don't hate you!" "You're done!" "Useless and educated!"). Jonathan West wrote the kind of biting, cynical and smart lyrics nobody in a local punk band could dare to sing, willing to be vulnerable and a complete asshole. They were the best band in New Orleans.


Members of The Ghostwood wound up all over the U.S. following Hurricane Katrina. (Incidentally, while they were away, West, Bryan Funck, later of Thou, and several other musicians formed the hardcore band Path of Daggers Crown of Swords, with the best Katrina song of all: "Everyone Who Abandoned New Orleans Is Dead.") Meanwhile, I drove my mom's Volvo around Alabama, blasting Development, foot heavy on the accelerator, never going too far but pretending like I was driving home or anywhere else so I didn't feel so stuck and useless.

I'd cling to lines, out of context, and throw a fist in the air and sing along — "I know I'm probably right, but I hope to God I'm wrong" (from the suburban-phobia of "Excited") and, particularly, album opener "Back There Again": "Why can't / why can't I be / back there again." That one I put on repeat.

The band eventually came back to New Orleans. The shows were sweaty, 20-minute triumphant bursts of catharsis — everyone knew the words, having spent months after the storm clinging to every line, anticipating every air guitar move or chance to scream the lyrics into a microphone stand that somehow started crowdsurfing. In 2013, the band released Empty Cosmic Gloom, its first album since Development. I never gave the shirt back.

What were you listening to during Katrina? Let me know in the comments.

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