'Treme' Music Roundup: Shame And Gun Fire On The Second Line

By Ben Collins

The primary complaint amongst "Treme" watchers is that, lost in all of the culture-documenting and dense symbolism, there hasn't been the kind of action that captivated viewers of director David Simon's previous hit "The Wire." That argument can't be made for "Shame, Shame, Shame," the series' fifth episode. But even with all of that action, it still had a telling and foreboding soundtrack.

"Shame, Shame, Shame (Redux)" by Steve Zahn (as Davis) on vocals, Kermit Ruffins on trumpet, Ben Ellman on sax, et. al. (Originally by Smiley Lewis)

There's been a lot of trepidation for many viewers to get behind Zahn's character Davis. Reviews of the show call him too bumbling to be as well-respected as he is viewed in the community, or too patently unlikable to be the only character who actively bridges the show's cavernous race gap (and doesn't just talk about it). The first part of the episode does little to dispel this notion. It seems relatively believable — albeit a stretch — that Davis could traipse around Treme and collect trusty and respected jazz musicians. Even if it's for little money. Even if it's for a blind "good cause" that Davis doesn't specify until he has the umpteen people shacked up in a studio — and that cause ends up being a somewhat self-righteous campaign to run for a seat in the city's government.

But a guy who paid for a bottle of wine with a stolen, rare CD a few weeks ago now has the money to compile a band in a week — along with the requisite 15 or so microphones — that can nail a track in one take? And he has a mixer to get all of this down? No wonder he's not relatable: He's impossibly unreal. But then, finally, he's seen as human. His fall back down to Earth is tangibly shameful, and how he deals with it will shine some light on how deep his character is capable of being.

After a mammoth second line had run its course, Davis gets plastered in a bar. He learns on the local TV news that several people had been shot behind him in the parade. He didn't even hear the gunshots, never mind the ensuing commotion, and writes it off as the media trying to paint a predominantly black New Orleans tradition as a typically violent event. Had he said just that, he would've been fine. Instead, in a bar filled with only black men, he decided said this: "To quote Antoine Batiste, 'New Orleans n---as will f--k up a wet dream.'" He's immediately confronted by a black patron and inevitably punched out of his chair.

When the show returns to Davis, he awakens on his neighbors' couch. These are the same neighbors whom he had accused of trying to clamp down on second lines and loud music played in the neighborhood, but the contentiousness stemmed almost solely from Davis' petulance. When he asks how he got there, the neighbors say he had been passed out in front of his home. "We're your neighbors," they said, and when he returns home, he turns his speakers inwards on his window sill, finally pointing away from their well-trimmed garden. Davis' first real test of character will finally come next week. When finally confronted with shame, how will he react? Especially since that shame was thrust upon him from the community he ascribes to, and the ones who literally picked him up were members of a community he blindly distrusted.

Solo from "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" by Wendell Pierce (as Antoine Batiste) (Originally by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five's Kid Ory)

The significance of the solo is pivotal. Antoine plays Kid Ory's solo in "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," a Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five song. Kid Ory and Antoine live almost parallel lives. Ory had caught a break playing with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five (and subsequently Hot Seven) in New Orleans and developed a following. But the Depression eventually hit, leaving Ory desperate for gigs and with no other option than to work on his brother's chicken farm. Jazz's popularity boomed during Prohibition at speakeasies in northern cities like Chicago and New York, however, and Ory redeveloped his status as a legendary jazz trombonist as the economy began to pick back up in the 1940s.

Katrina was Antoine's Depression. He had been an internationally-known trombonist before the floods destroyed the city. He was so well-known, in fact, that a Japanese benefactor had heard that Antoine had fallen on hard times and has come to New Orleans to buy him a new trombone. When Antoine decides to pay the benefactor back for the purchase of his new, top-of-the-line trombone, he plays the solo from "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." The song includes this line that symbolizes Antoine's renaissance, cocky enough to drag anyone out of a lower-class lifestyle, at long last: "Hear that ol' trombone/ And the trumpet ad lib/ Love to hear the lick/ While I do my pickin' on a juicy rib."

Second Line Fare

Almost all of the main characters converge on the largest second line that David Simon has allowed the Treme to see so far. The second line is massive and noisy and ambling. Throngs of people take up the entire frame throughout the whole sequence. The music is so loud it overtakes the dialogue at points. The scene creates a sense of organized chaos in which, through almost five full episodes, Simon has made us feel secure.

Quickly, that security for the viewer and the characters is completely destroyed. Gunshots pierce through the sound of horns and the music stops abruptly. Three people are shot in the area of Sonny and Annie. They flee petrified, and don't reappear until Annie is crying in Sonny's arms. Sonny's friend, who had temporarily expatriated to New Orleans in hopes of making it in jazz, is seen leaving New Orleans. If a second line can't be safe, he doesn't know what can be. And, truth is, if there's no safety in jazz for Sonny, he can't tell Annie what's safe anymore either.

Movie & TV Awards 2018