New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans

New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans

by John Swenson
     
 

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At its most intimate level, music heals our emotional wounds and inspires us. At its most public, it unites people across cultural boundaries. But can it rebuild a city? That's the central question posed in New Atlantis, journalist John Swenson's beautifully detailed account of the musical artists working to save America's most colorful and troubled metropolis:… See more details below

Overview


At its most intimate level, music heals our emotional wounds and inspires us. At its most public, it unites people across cultural boundaries. But can it rebuild a city? That's the central question posed in New Atlantis, journalist John Swenson's beautifully detailed account of the musical artists working to save America's most colorful and troubled metropolis: New Orleans.
The city has been threatened with extinction many times during its three-hundred-plus-year history by fire, pestilence, crime, flood, and oil spills. Working for little money and in spite of having lost their own homes and possessions to Katrina, New Orleans's most gifted musicians--including such figures as Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, "Trombone Shorty," and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux--are fighting back against a tidal wave of problems: the depletion of the wetlands south of the city (which are disappearing at the rate of one acre every hour), the violence that has made New Orleans the murder capitol of the U.S., the waning tourism industry, and above all the continuing calamity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (or, as it is known in New Orleans, the "Federal Flood"). Indeed, most of the neighborhoods that nurtured the indigenous music of New Orleans were destroyed in the flood, and many of the elder statesmen have died or been incapacitated since then, but the musicians profiled here have stepped up to fill their roles. New Atlantis is their story.
Packed with indelible portraits of individual artists, informed by Swenson's encyclopedic knowledge of the city's unique and varied music scene--which includes jazz, R&B, brass band, rock, and hip hop--New Atlantis is a stirring chronicle of the valiant efforts to preserve the culture that gives New Orleans its grace and magic.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Swenson (columnist, United Press International & Reuters; The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide) documents the post-Katrina state of music and culture in New Orleans. The work and the plight of musicians, famous and not so famous alike, are covered in fine detail. Swenson examines the New Orleans jazz, hip-hop, R&B, brass band, and rock scenes and ties each to the culture of this unique city. The author utilizes published sources, informal conversations with musicians, interviews, and insightful musical analysis to weave a compelling narrative. Throughout, Swenson and the musicians also look to the future; a subtext of concern for wetlands preservation pervades the book. VERDICT Readers interested in New Orleans culture and music, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill disaster, and environmentalism will all enjoy and learn much from this book. It is an all-inclusive and engrossing study of New Orleans music and life in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Highly recommended.—James E. Perone, Univ. of Mount Union, Alliance, OH
Kirkus Reviews

A detailed, angry look at the Crescent City's imperiled players and traditions in Hurricane Katrina's wake.

Veteran music journalist Swenson (The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide, 1999, etc.), a New Orleans resident since 1999, surveys the havoc wreaked on his adopted hometown's music scene after the so-called "federal flood" of August 2005. Already threatened by the erosion of southern Louisiana's coastal wetlands, the city was flattened by the massive storm, which scattered its musicians around the country. Swenson details the natives' taxing attempts to reinstate the indigenous musical culture, one of the country's national treasures, within a shattered civic infrastructure. He interviews dozens of locals, ranging from vets like Dr. John, Dr. Michael White and Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers to young lions like Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and his troubled cousin Glen David Andrews. The author excoriates the city fathers, whose thinly veiled racism led to post-Katrina opposition to the Mardi Gras Indian tribes and practitioners of funeral "second lining" (parading). Despite chaos and escalating violence, the music community courageously restored itself. However, after a description of the celebration of the New Orleans Saints' uplifting 2010 Super Bowl victory, the book ends on a downbeat note with a rushed look at the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon pipeline disaster, which wracked the region anew. Readers won't fault Swenson's journalism, comprising on-the-ground observation and interviews, and he is at home with every pertinent musical genre, from jazz and funk to rock, gospel and hip-hop. But the lax organization and editing of the book often slow the narrative's momentum and lose the thread of the tale. Chapters stutter to a halt with lengthy explications of artists' careers, replete with unsifted quotes, or with endless descriptions of performances in clubs or on festival stages. These notebook-clearing exercises too frequently swamp Swenson's powerfully affecting story of New Orleans' monumental cultural tragedy and gutsy rebirth.

A solid, rewarding book that could have been great with some judicious pruning.

From the Publisher
Named the Jazz Book of the Year (2011) by the Jazz Times Critics Poll

"New Atlantis is a fast-moving hybrid of richly detailed journalism and compelling partisan memoir." -David Fricke, Rolling Stone

"A solid, rewarding book."—Kirkus Reviews

"An all-inclusive and engrossing study of New Orleans music and life in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"Intimate, intelligent and passionate...Swenson's concern for the future of the music culture is as personal as it is journalistic—probably more so—and reading him, you can't help but care, too."—The Times-Picayune

"The eloquent central narrative beautifully evokes New Orleans, alongside interviews with those who, like the Neville Brothers and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, lived through the deluge, scraped out the sludge and faced down the National Guard." —Financial Times

"An excellent and well-written book...A great companion read if you're a fan of the HBO series, Treme." —The Nation

"This intimate portrait of a city that lost so much yet still has so much to offer captures the resiliency of its inhabitants and their stubborn determination to never give up."—Booklist

"Swenson nimbly deals with an increase in violence and turf wars, one of the consequences of the town losing most of its inhabitants, while also telling heartrending stories of the irreplaceable memorabilia that was destroyed...anyone who loves New Orleans will find New Atlantis an engaging read." —The Austin Chronicle

"John Swenson's moving book records the story of a city that acted on singer Randy Newman's famous plea, 'Don't let them wash us away.'"—The Independent

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199754526
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
06/06/2011
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,287,647
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

John Swenson has been a syndicated columnist for more than 20 years at UPI and Reauters. His account of musicians returning to New Orleans after Katrina, "The Bands Played On," appeared in Da Capo's Best Music Writing 2007; his "Every Accordionist a King" won the 2008 Best Entertainment Feature award from the Press Club of New Orleans. Swenson has been an editor for Crawdaddy, Rolling Stone, Circus, Rock World, Offbeat, and other publications. He is the author of The Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide (Random House, 1999); Stevie Wonder (Plexus, 1989); and Bill Haley: The Daddy of Rock and Roll (Stein and Day, 1985).

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