Jim Crow, Treme, Iago, Dr. John, and I-and-I

James T Crow, Spiritual Advisor

James T Crow, Spiritual Advisor

Last night the shamanic JT Crow, one of my spiritual advisors, came over for pizza, and we started yapping about the HBO series Treme, which chronicles the travails of (perhaps too many) characters trying to get their lives together in those wretched days just after Katrina wasted New Orleans.

Although Mr. Crow, who goes by Jim (and, by the way, voted for Obama), and I agree that New Orleans itself is the protagonist of the narrative and that the music [cue James Brown] is bam BAM BAM BAM BAM! – OUT-OF-SIGHT!!!! – we mildly disagree about the overall quality of the production.

For one thing,, I think some of the acting sucks — the Hindenburg of my disbelief has crashed a few times.  For example, the Davis McAlary character’s parents don’t seem like the decadent uptown parents of a wastrel son but like actors playing the decadent uptown parents of a wastrel son. I start wondering where they’re really from, if they get along off the set, etc.

Even Declan MacManus doesn’t do a very good job of playing Elvis Costello.

Davis McAlary played by Steve Zahn

Davis McAlary played by Steve Zahn

Anyway, the most interesting difference of opinion between Crow and me concerns the above-mentioned character Davis McAlary, whom Jim likes but whom I’d like to see sporting orange overalls and a leg shackles while gigging trash amid swarms of mosquitoes on the side of a desolate Louisiana road.*

Do I need mention that Jim’s nicer than I am**?

Jim considers Davis a good person at heart, but to me his picture should appear next to asshole in the American Heritage Dictionary of Vulgarity.*** Because of some sort of megalomaniac disorder, Davis feels entitled to ignore the playlist of the radio station where he works because the playlist isn’t authentic enough, never mind that it’s during a Beg-O-Rama (aka Pledge Drive) and the station is teetering on the edge of financial collapse.   Davis feels entitled to steal a bottle of $200 wine from a lover’s restaurant even though it’s teetering on the edge of financial collapse (though he does leave her as compensation some vintage out-of-print music he looted from a record store). He also aims his speakers outwards from his windows towards his neighbors’ house and blasts them with New Orleans’ hip hop. Working as a concierge, he sends young Mormon volunteers to authentic but dangerously located clubs so they can experience the real New Orleans, etc.

The would-be cat ain’t got no clue about existentialism. He’s about as tolerant as Boko Haram.

 *Obviously, Zahn is going a terrific job of acting if I’ve developed such an animus towards his character.
** E.g., I was sitting on Jim’s couch one evening getting machine-gun blasted with hate tweets from a disgruntled former colleague, and when I started punching in a retaliation, Jim stopped me and said, “Don’t do that.  The poor man is suffering.”
Also, Jim has seen two seasons as opposed to my two episodes.  Maybe Davis changes as the narrative progresses (but it seems to me to be dramatically viable it would take a road-to-Damascus Jesus-hurled thunderbolt).
***Aaron James’s definition from Assholes, A Theory: n., a person who “allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically” because of “an entrenched sense of entitlement,” and who “is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.”

But then, sitting there with Crow, I had to concede that if Davis lived on Folly Beach, my little slice of purgatory, it would be fun to hang with him on a casual basis, given his passion, knowledge, and exquisite taste in music. That got me to thinking about some less than noble characters I hung with in my troubled youth, which, of course, got me thinking about Shakespeare’s Othello.

[Feared reader response: WTF! Huh? Time to click out of this joint].

Sample Page from Shakespeare Insult Generator

Sample Page from Shakespeare Insult Generator

As it happened, Jim’s Xmas present to me, a Shakespeare Insult Generator, was on the table next to us, and it got me to thinking.

A SIG allows you to randomly select two adjectives from any play in the canon and affix them to a Shakespearean noun to create curses for, as PEE WEE GASKINS might say, “them what we love to hate.” For example, flipping through the kit with my left hand as I type, I see I could call Davis a “churlish, beef-witted braggart” or a “mammering, hollowed geck.”

One of the adjectives in the kit is “swag-bellied,” which I actually recognize from 2.3 of Othello. In the scene, Iago, as sociopathic a character in all of literature, is regaling his comrades with descriptions of the English’s domination in the consumption of alcohol over formidable but lesser rivals:

Cassio: Fore God, an excellent song!

Iago: I learned it in England, where indeed they are most potent in potting. Your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander – drink, ho! – are nothing to your English.

Cassio: Is your Englishman so exquisite in his drinking?

Iago: Why he drinks with facility your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled.

Let’s face it, if you were on Iago’s good side, i.e., if he’s not robbing you blind or plotting to bring about your total destruction, he’d be an entertaining drinking buddy, much more clever than pretty boy Cassio.

Ah, but here’s the rub. Shakespeare inserts this true-to-life comic skit in the infernal machinery of a tragedy, the skit underscoring dimensions of character, e.g., Cassio’s naivety and Iago’s verbal cleverness.

Shit, then, why am I watching Treme when I could be watching Henry IV, Episodes 1 and 2?

Because, for one thing, Falstaff can’t rip up a piano and sing like Dr. John.

Oh yeah, Mac Rebennak does an Emmy-deserving job of playing Dr. John in Treme.



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