Ned Sublette was born in Lubbock, Texas, but the heart of this author, composer, and musician really belongs to New Orleans. Ever since his first contacts with the city in the segregationist '50s, he has been fascinated by its varied musical traditions, its shadowy cafes and bustling street life. He wrote movingly on the city's complex cultural inheritance in The World That Made New Orleans, which was named the Louisiana Endowment's 2009 Humanities Book of the Year. Now, in his most personal book yet, he wanders lovingly through the Crescent City "before the flood," before Hurricane Katrina changed it irreparably. More than a history, more than a memoir, The Year Before the Flood is an affectionate tribute to a city that shouldn't be allowed to go down the drain.
Musician, musicologist and longtime New York resident, Sublette revisits his Southern roots and recounts a 2004-2005 pre-Katrina research sojourn in New Orleans in this blunt, eloquently humane and musically astute memoir-a worthy companion to his acclaimed The World That Made New Orleans, a music-laden cultural history of the city to 1819. Sublette delves into some quintessential dynamics of modern American popular culture-including racism and poverty as well as restive imagination and invention-through the prism of his childhood in virulently segregated, early rock 'n' rolling Natchitoches, La., and the fraught but idiosyncratic culture he finds in pre-flood New Orleans. If discussions of Elvis, early rock 'n' roll and hip-hop millionaires straight out of New Orleans's projects inevitably rehearse familiar narratives, Sublette carefully marks them out as part of a larger personal and social landscape. Sublette's sensitivity to the precariousness of a system that collapsed completely after he returned to New York is more than mere hindsight; his worldview dovetails movingly with his turbulent and alluring subject and its dogged rebirth. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The memoir is interesting for Sublette's acknowledgment of his privilege in New Orleans as a white man, and his frank descriptions of the heated, complicated, and notorious race relations in the city.
Sublette's first-person narrative captures the Big Easy before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, and subtly hints at the surreal dysfunction that would take place immediately afterward.
A musician and musicologist, Sublette writes with passion and precision of New Orleans' music and Mardi Gras, violence and racism, and its uniqueand now perhaps permanently damagedculture.
He writes with a keen eye for the subleties and complexities, and can summon unapologetic outrage when the moment calls for it.
Sublette is a musical archeologist at heart ... Part memoir, part history lesson, it's a scrapbook of the bustling port city at its most joyful, boisterous and deadly.
Part memoir, part history, it's a profile of the rich New Orleans music culture that Katrina nearly erased.
Musician and "Afropop Worldwide" radio producer Sublette delivers an intense and thoughtful "companion volume" to The World that Made New Orleans (2008). Where that book was more an examination of the city's cultural heritage, here the author skillfully synthesizes his personal history, his passion for music and an account of his fellowship as an independent scholar at Tulane, which concluded in the portentous summer of 2005. First, Sublette recalls his childhood in Natchitoches, which revealed to him the true horror of the Jim Crow South. The author contrasts this with the amazing African-American music culture that grew in opposition to this dehumanization. A true obsessive, he writes expertly of the intricate cross-pollination of blues, funk, soul and other genres. When he arrived for his fellowship, Sublette was made nervous by the racial tension, the prospect of violence and the possibility of a catastrophic hurricane, as evoked by the near-miss of Ivan following his arrival. He finds "The Big Easy" to be a "thoroughly ironic nickname" for this city, which in that pre-Katrina year was stressed and physically decrepit. Sublette has many experiences both good (music, food, local people) and bad (close calls with crime and violence, including the revelation that a notorious murder occurred in their rented house two years before he moved in). But even as he enjoys himself and conducts extensive research on the New Orleans music scene-creating numerous interesting, entertaining narrative tangents, like his examination of the city's raunchy hip-hop culture-the author remains aware of the city's fragility: "I knew I was seeing something imperiled."A powerful, heartfelt and sometimes angrytake on a great American city.
"An intense and thoughtful 'companion volume' to The World that Made New Orleans . . . A powerful, heartfelt and sometimes angry take on a great American city." —Kirkus Reviews
"Ned Sublette is a literary Spirit Master, and The Year Before the Flood is his most personal and astounding work, full of mad knowledge and unorthodox insights about race, crime, history, politics, music and all the other ingredients that flavor the righteous roux that is New Orleans." —T.J. English, author, Havana Nocturne and Paddy Whacked
"Ned Sublette is the rarest of writers. The Year Before The Flood—his third tour de force work on music, race, history, and conscience—is his most personal and memorable yet." —Jeff Chang, author, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
"Ned Sublette sees the edgy magic of New Orleans with the eyes of both an insider and outsider. From race to music, from Parasol’s bar to the Mardi Gras Indians, he really gets it. His feel for the sources of jazz and funk flavor the book and make it a delight." —Walter Isaacson, author, Einstein: His Life and Universe
"Sublette is a musical archeologist at heart . . . Part memoir, part history lesson, it's a scrapbook of the bustling port city at its most joyful, boisterous and deadly." —Los Angeles Times
"Part memoir, part history, it's a profile of the rich New Orleans music culture that Katrina nearly erased." —The Dallas Morning News
"A musician and musicologist, Sublette writes with passion and precision of New Orleans' music and Mardi Gras, violence and racism, and its unique—and now perhaps permanently damaged—culture." —St. Petersburg Times
"Sublette's first-person narrative captures the Big Easy before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, and subtly hints at the surreal dysfunction that would take place immediately afterward." —Time Out New York