Brown Study

the altarTo achieve the state of deep focus in which I do the writing that means the most to me, I have found I need a physical space separate from that space in which I "live" or anyway sleep-- a space, no matter how modest, dank or sweltering, that's dedicated only to my writing. Callooh, callay: I have one again. It's a little room I call The Brown Study, in a friend's basement the merest mile-and-a-half from my house. It underwent renovations the last several months, temporarily evicting me, but now it's back and I'm back in it.

I'm a princess, but not a prima donna; most things I can write as necessary under almost any circumstances. The exception is fiction. When it comes to my novels, I only seem able to get where I want to go via long sojourns in deep focus. Quidditatively, deep focus is very similar to the depths of depression, with the important difference that in one state I do the only thing I ever do of any positive value, and in the other I pray to die. In both, I "feel" myself emptied of nearly all consciousness; I visit interior abysses unfamiliar enough to seem ontologically external, and as with a napkin touching water, what those deep wells contain absorbs up into me and saturates me. The hollowness where self might more healthily reside becomes a vessel or conduit for this other, be it a story about people doing things or the roaring void of unlife. It is exhaustingly intense.

Laying this out, the mode I describe strikes me as hokey-- the "muse moves me" school of creative process-- but it really is how my best writing emerges. When I'm out of practice with serious writing, I use various combinations of drugs to pry open the trapdoors and silence the interior peanut gallery, but when I'm in a good creative run, the process of descent to deep focus becomes more routine; rather than taking pills to dull the distracting parts of my consciousness, I just play loud music on my headphones.

erin-wilson_mutton-bustingThe output from these sustained spells of deep focus is so important to me that I ascribe supernatural significance to the production. Ritual brings into existence something I uncomprehendingly revere: it's sorcery. I burn incense, I light a special candle, I pull the curtains against the cheerful sun. There are parts of me that laugh at this, but if taking my writing seriously is what doing the writing I care most about requires, then it's a price I will pay without complaint.

I visited the childhood pain trough to bring back a brimming bucket of encomium for Macho Man Randy Savage, which appeared in Vice's online iteration, as did my more recent reportback on the Houston Rodeo. The former piece was illustrated by my longtime visual collaborator Ben Passmore, the latter by my marvelous comrade Erin Katherine Wilson.

The Gambit's blog ran a few of my interviews: with a zinester who wrote about Palestine, a filmmaker who documented the daily lives of North Louisiana born-agains, a tree-sit protestor trying to save New Orleans parkland from becoming golf course, and a pair of dudes who opened an undaground record store Uptown. A look at the pieces' respective Facebook "shares" -- 55 : 88 : 730 : 1877 -- makes clear which of these subjects the readership find more compelling, but I urge you to reach your own conclusions.

otto-splotch-carnivalI also did some writing for Antigravity I'm quite proud of. First, my off-kilter attempt at food writing, a roundup of lesser-known suburban eateries for which I let my prose run even more playfully purple than usual. Secondly, a piece on the emerging cybernetic era of New Orleans Carnival, which draws on a lot of sources to make a historical and philosophical argument about how evolving Mardi Gras ritual expresses different constitutions of power. Thirdly, I spoke with three dynamic young women involved in local protests against police murdering people of color. There are a bunch of what I consider provocative ideas in those last two pieces; the first seeks mostly to entertain.

In service to my undimmed fanaticism for professional wrestling, I wrote an in-depth essay on the phenomenon of "heel heat" in rasslin's big league & indies for the twelfth issue of Classical Magazine, bolstered by lots of anecdote, including the time I got kicked out of the New Orleans Arena. My fave tag-team partner "Big" Benny Passmore drew a bunch of jerkface bad-guy wrestlers to go with this passionate polemic.


Now that I have a space in which to tackle a novel, I may excrete less of the shorter sort of writing, although one does need money, and this non-fiction shit does pay...

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A Tramp Abroad

boys will be boys My big news of the last several weeks was a trip I took overseas-- crossing an ocean, flying in an airplane, all of it. I presented a paper at the first ever Anna Kavan Symposium in London, applying my cocktail-conversation-caliber post-structuralist feminist analysis to a few of Kavan's books.

I don't leave the Gulf Coast often, and anticipating the journey I felt, if not precisely a worry, at least a strong sense of possibility that removed from the familiar context of New Orleans I would completely unravel, either in the psychological sense or in a more excitingly literal, special-effects-laden way, like stripping the mummy wrappings off the invisible man. We all define ourselves relative to externals, and at this point most of my own sense of self is so tightly conjugated with the city I love-- the place that is a religion to me-- that it wasn't clear how well I'd be able to function at a cultural and continental remove.

My worries were unfounded; the symposium was a terrific experience, and people were very kind to me. I made some new friends, and thanks to their kindness was able to visit a nice slice of Northern Europe. I found Brussels and Amsterdam convivial, though being surrounded by bicyclists who obey traffic laws is something I could never get used to. I wandered the cobblestone streets, did the good drugs, and found that what I'd considered a dangerously tenuous "self," the me that is me, persisted in those distant climes at least as reliably as it does here in South Louisiana.

Among many highlights was visiting the British Library and, despite being an under-laundered foreign pleb, being given access to a rare Kavan manuscript in their magnificent reading room-- the same reading room (institutionally, if not geographically) where Marian Yule toiled in Gissing's New Grub Street. And there I sat at a nice hardwood table, being treated like a legit researcher! I tend to bullshit my way around life as if I'm due everything, but it's merely pragmatic; the tactic doesn't correspond to an actual belief. Whatever my other delusions, I enjoy a reasonably clear sense of my social position-- marginal, penniless, largely self-educated, published only because a few key people find me amusing-- so being shown such hospitality by the staff of the Library was powerfully and unforgettably legitimizing.

Now to the more careerist updates. My unhealthy obsession with local politics led me to compile a voting guide for the November elections, as well as a website for it and other anti-establishment guides. I had the pleasure of passing an afternoon with two marvelous writers, one a longtime heroine of mine, one a new acquaintance, and conducting an interview with the former for the Gambit's blog. More recently, I managed to cover a lot of occupied ground in what was ostensibly coverage of the first annual New Orleans Comics and Zine Festival.

jules-bentley-ben-passmore-halloween-377x402I've reviewed a couple more books for the Brooklyn Paper-- a novel about artists in Paris and a really high-grade bunch of short stories by Hester Kaplan.

I also did a piece about Halloween for Antigravity that got decent traction, including a discussion on local TV news (WGNO's "News with a Twist"). I wish video of it was available!

...finally, how could I have forgotten this? Late in the summer, Jules Bentley made his debut as a boldfaced name in the Times-Picayune's formerly exclusive society pages. This is fun because the Times-Pic's society section is traditionally for these kinds of exquisite occasions. The event I attended was bereft of "a plume-orb encrusted with twinkle lights hanging above piles of shrimp, stone crab claws and gravlax," (seriously, go read that article if you haven't-- it's among my all-time favorite pieces of New Orleans journalism) but did have great DJs, good barbecue and my wonderful niece.

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Cover Boy

I am giddily delighted to present the "official" "launch" of the website for my novel Fuck or Swim. As with most even moderately successful things I produce, it also reflects selfless contributions from some of this city's shiny starz-- marverlous visualz by artists Erin Wilson & Ben Passmore and an in-depth Q&A by the author Michael Patrick Welch.

Fuck or Swim is a hell of a good book. If you're a publisher or an agent, holler at me:

I've recently published a couple more book reviews for the Brooklyn Paper-- of a sex thriller and an esoteric philosophical treatise.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of seeing a piece of my writing become the cover story for an issue of Gambit Magazine. I didn't think positing that sobriety is a challenge and New Orleans is a drinking town would attract so much argument, but jeez, what a firestorm ensued. Gambit blogged and published multiple follow-ups to give vent to some of the dissenting opinions.

There were whispers-- murmurs, even-- that my piece as published didn't give due weight to sobriety's many positives. I will admit, my writing rarely succeeds in equally arguing all sides of an issue. Especially with bigger, broader topics, my own considerable circumference and the vehemence with which I argue generally constrain me to visiting at most two or three sides of an issue before I have to sit down and drink a soda.

I don't consider myself a controversialist or contrarian, but on the sides of an issue where the sun shines brightest, the glare hurts my weak eyes, and the crowds of sun-baskers who sometimes gather there render me socially anxious. I'm more comfortable on the shadier, less crowded facets of an argument, those cool, relatively quiet expanses where I can let my hyperbole wander off-leash and there's enough space to stretch my often painful analogies.

Make no mistake: there are very good things about being sober.

The statistics tell me I have some readers outside of New Orleans. That being the case, let me provide them-- you? -- with context. This city's former, soon-to-be-incarcerated Mayor Ray Nagin often accused those investigating or calling attention to his shenanigans of "hurting the recovery," meaning the recovery of New Orleans from the failure of the federal levees.

This brings us to what is surely the greatest gift of sobriety: anyone who criticizes me or anything I do-- shit, anyone who disagrees with me or denies me something I want-- can be accused of hurting the recovery, i.e. imperiling my sobriety. It's a beautiful golden trump that I find is only burnished brighter each time it's played. After all, what kind of monster would knowingly cause someone's relapse into problem drinking? My god... even if you don't care about me personally, please think about the numberless innocents who'll be imperiled by the wild orgy of destruction YOU will cause if you dare to challenge my ideas or conduct in even the smallest way.

This awesome cudgel-- this gleaming bejewelled scepter of piety I now wield-- is, though the chiefest, only one among sobriety's many positive aspects. And, although I still often experience sobriety as being tied down, naked and helpless as Prometheus upon the rock, while winged raptors embodying "the reasons I started drinking in the first place" flap down and rip my hot, miserable guts out day after day, humans are creatures of habit, and one does gradually become accustomed to not drinking. After a while your sobriety gains its own momentum. It begins to seem separate from you, something abstract and exterior. In a world of compromises and near-enough, sobriety's absoluteness and perfection, its flawless, gold-star quality, make it seem supernatural. Every moment I don't drink accumulates in my wake, joining the others in an ever-expanding reef.

On a good day, this exteriorized version of sobriety looms like a deepening sand-storm, filling the sky behind me. Its majestic heft is intimidating, and fear keeps me scuttling along, fleeing my shadow. It feels like if I stumble, this sandy, floating sky-castle built of empty, dry days and weeks will overtake and collapse atop me, drowning me in a mountain of dust.

On a bad day, the accumulation of sobriety seems like a delicate burden, an ever-weightier conglomeration of crystal borne on my back. Its immensity and fragility, the reverence demanded by this brittle, glittering non-achievement-- this somber, interest-compounding crystal cathedral built around a virtue of omission-- all make it perversely tempting to chuck a brick through.

But enough on that. Please go read the first thirty-or-so pages of Fuck or Swim!

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Perthonal Growth

Coming soon-- the website for my novel Fuck or Swim, with exquisite art by Erin Wilson...

Coming soon-- the website for my novel Fuck or Swim, with exquisite art by Erin Wilson...

Sobriety changes you. It's true-- peering through clearer eyes, I've become someone with a better understanding of what's possible and reasonable. When I consider my dreams and goals, I see, if not precisely a maturity, a refinement-- a grounding.

I used to wish I could wake up a teenage surfer girl in Hawaii, more or less exactly as seen in the 2002 film Blue Crush. At some level I knew the lifestyle that movie depicted -- look amazing in a bikini while subsisting on junk food, live in bohemian communalism with my sexy friends, date a quarterback, surf all day and party all night -- wasn't quote-unquote real, but it was what I wanted for my life.

Now, twelve years after my first revelatory viewing of Blue Crush and closing in on five years sober, that PG-13 surfer-girl daydream, while losing none of its luster, has perhaps rotated a little ways in the Lazy Susan of my mind's eye. Newer, more serious and rational desires are to the fore. I would certainly be delighted to wake up a beautiful surfer girl, but there's a more pragmatic, realistic side of me that instead aspires to wake up a teenage Vietnamese-American gangster kid on the Mississippi's Westbank. I'd have gelled-up nineteen-fifties hair, a scooter, and a tight long-sleeved shirt even in hot weather. My hoodlum friends and I would buzz around the coffeeshops of Gretna and Harvey, reading magazines about car stereo systems and scowling when our Aunties repeatedly called our cellphones.

I'm not saying that aspiring to be a teenage Asian-American hoodlum is a superior or "better" goal than aspiring to be a teenage surfer girl, but I do feel my recalibrated aspirations represent a more hardheaded, veridical outlook that I credit in large part to my long years of abstaining from alcohol.

Meanwhile, what have I been up to? I remain proud of the writing I did for the Gambit on Wrestlemania, particularly this piece on the Undertaker's stunning loss.

I had the rewarding experience of being invited onto the Ringside Review podcast for an interview. As someone more used to conducting interviews, it was novel to be the subject of one. Those interested in hearing my affected, adenoidal speaking voice can now do so on-demand.

I was also interviewed by the New Orleans Advocate alongside Gulf Coast pro wrestling ubermensch Luke Hawx for their piece on New Orleans pro wrestling and WrestleMania. I am a big Luke Hawx fan, so being quoted in the same article as him made me feel great.

The June (10th anniversary!) issue of Antigravity has a piece I wrote about pro wrestler and civil rights warrior Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd, illustrated by the extraordinary Ben Passmore. The Brooklyn Paper ran my first (and if I had my druthers, last) negative book review, as well as their idiosyncratically edited adaptation of a positive one. What else?

Oh yes!

I'm beyond excited to announce I will be attending the September 2014 Anna Kavan Symposium in London. I've been invited to present a paper there in which I endeavor to apply Judith Butler's ideas about control & subjection to Kavan's distinctive, dream-like physical geographies. Can't wait!

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Bell to Bell

Art by Ben Passmore

Art by Ben Passmore

I don't like being "busy." On an ideal day I work a few hours on my fiction, cook a few meals, spend time sitting under a tree with a book, pet my cat, admire my garden and go to bed with my sweetheart. Ambition's not my most prominent characteristic; I'd call myself lazy.

...all of which said, the breakneck pace at which I've been chewing through paid work since Carnival season has been more fun than I'd have expected. I've been very fortunate lately in terms of writing opportunities, most of them connected with the upcoming WrestleMania XXX. I can't wait for the big WrestleMania weekend, and then I can't wait to resume what I anticpate will be a more leisurely lifestyle.

In the meantime, I've been in the Gambit's blog a bunch: writing about my passion for pro wrestling itself, earnestly discussing the WWE's relationship to labor, and exhaustively compiling & characterising the numerous events taking place during WrestleMania week.

Most recently, I had the privilege of interviewing legendary WWE broadcaster-- and podcaster, and BBQ magnate, and writer, and live performer-- Jim Ross about his upcoming one-man show. There is, I hope, more to come; you can stay up-to-the-moment apprised of my Gambit writing through my author link on their site.

The Brooklyn Paper has another one of my book reviews, and I co-wrote a piece about AirBnB in New Orleans for Antigravity Magazine that attracted a lot of attention from all over. While I have friends who voted Obama, the fact of the matter is nobody does self-serving outrage as energetically as liberals, and the Airbnb shoe fit a lot of yuppies less comfortably than they liked. I daresay few folks of any caste enjoy having their pieties poked at, but when you challenge the comfortable choices of people whose entire sense of self is founded on condescension, the result is a figurative firestorm. They excoriated me on Reddit, they inveighed against me on Facebook, and they flung Prius-purchaser poo all over the article's comment section. Hilarious!

Writing the piece itself, in collaboration with another anarchist writer I only recently got to know, was a cool experience, notwithstanding the unpleasantness of working late nights during Carnival's final weekend. I do a few things well enough, and a lot of things half-assedly; teaming with someone whose areas of strength encompass some of my more glaring weaknesses was rewarding.

My novel, now titled Fuck or Swim, is in the hands of a potential publisher... I've got my fingers, toes and Singapore canes crossed.

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My Special Interest

WrestleMania XXX coming to New Orleans (April 6!) has brought me a lot of opportunities to write about pro wrestlers and pro wrestling. As a lifelong fan, I'm very grateful.


I love pro wrestling as a fan. I've never aspired to be "behind the scenes" or be a wrestler or make money off wrestling. I just like sitting in the audience, yelling encouragement at my favorites, insults at the jerks, and maybe occasionally throwing my soda if a loudmouth bad guy really gets under my skin. I'm happy being a fan... but of course, I have opinions.

I watch wrestling for hours every week, listen to hours of podcasts about it, and discuss it, largely via long chains of e-mail, with friends. I wondered, when I recently began trying to do "serious" writing about wrestling, if in doing so I would finally hit the limits of this obsession. That doesn't seem to be the case. I'm enjoying writing about wrestling and thinking about it in different ways.

I still find talking to professional wrestlers, whether well-known stars or less well-known ones, intimidating. Very few other categories of people intimidate me that way. While I will always regard pro wrestlers and the sacrifices they make for our entertainment with the utmost respect, I am slowly, through meeting and speaking with more of them, becoming (I hope) a little less foolishly tongue-tied and starstruck-seeming.

For better or worse, I do have other obsessions. I'm not a casual person; almost everything I'm into, I'm very, very into. But at least until WrestleMania is over, I seem to be eating, sleeping & dreaming pro wrestling, which is abso-fucking-lutely fine with me.

While much of my recent wrestling writing has been for the Gambit's blog, my profile of Luke Hawx and Wildkat Sports, a local indie wrestling promotion, made it into the Gambit's print edition.

I had the supreme honor of interviewing Sergeant Slaughter. I have a lot of tape from this interview. We discussed a ton of interesting stuff-- including details of his career history-- that didn't make it into this article. Sarge was hugely generous with his time and patient with my questions.

I contributed blog pieces on the fallout from two pay-per-views, the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber, as well as on the announcement that Hulk Hogan will host 'Mania here in New Orleans.

Finally, on a non-wrestling note, I contributed what I think is my best book review yet to the Brooklyn Paper.

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When It Rains, It Pairs

Art by Ben Passmore

Art by Ben Passmore

It's a busy time. I'm looking forward to next week, when I should finish what I expect is the final rewrite of my novel Fuckboys before I submit it for publication.

In the meantime, I continue to churn out what a generous heart might call "journalism." Since my last blog post, I've written two cover stories for Antigravity-- one an interview with anti-capitalist rapper Truth Universal, the other a lengthy disquisition on surveillance in New Orleans.

The surveillance piece is something I'm particularly proud of; a lot went into it.

Jules Bentley February Houses Brooklyn Paper

I've also published two more li'l book reviews for the Brooklyn Paper. The Paper's given me my own monthly small-press review column, complete with an author caricature that, though I am fond of it, makes me look both more aryan & more emo than I am. I reviewed a graphic novel, Iron Bound, and A Long Day in November, a short, unforgettable book by Louisiana author Ernest J Gaines.

I meant to mention this previously, but I was grateful & gratified that my six-part essay about the destruction of the Times Picayune was quoted twice & cited in the footnotes of a new and authoritative account by Rebecca Theim of the paper's dismantling, Hell and High Water: The Battle to Save the Daily New Orleans Times-Picayune.

In further long-tail news, my 2012 piece on the wrestler Junkyard Dog, an interview with the author of The King of New Orleans: How the Junkyard Dog Became Professional Wrestling’s First Black Superhero, was recently discussed on Metafilter, and made that site's front page.

Jules Bentley on the front page of metafilter


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Fresh Embassies and Suits

illustration by Ashlee Arceneaux for Antigravity

illustration by Ashlee Arceneaux for Antigravity

While my novel, Fuckboys, slithers slowly through revision, I've been busy getting my nonfiction into some new places. This week's Brooklyn Paper has the first of what I hope will be many book reviews by Jules Bentley and here at home, my account of a New Orleans Wrestlemania ticket "On-Sale Party" is up at the Gambit's blog.

It feels great to be writing literary criticism. I love reading interesting books, and teasing out what makes them interesting is an exercise that enhances my enjoyment rather than diminishing it. I'm not as well-read as some, but my catholic tastes have given me a breadth of comparison that I think is useful.

Also, as those who've endured me interpersonally for any length of time know, I love professional wrestling. I have been following, watching, attending and thinking about pro wrestling for decades. I love the small-town deep-South indie shows with 20 attendees, the giant slick spectacle of a WWE pay-per-view and everything inbetween. I love how crazy it is, how magical it is, and even how corny it can be. Wrestlemania, the biggest pro wrestling event of the year, is coming to New Orleans, so it's time I upped my game a little and tried sharing my enthusiasm for this art form with as broad an audience as possible.

Back on more familiar territory, I'm very pleased with my piece in October's Antigravity Magazine, in which I hunt Vampires in 2013 New Orleans. Beware!!!

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Hashtag #Douchebag

Here, here, hereI'm gonna totally overhaul this website real-soon-now. So: a few months back, I woke up not just with a hard-on but very specifically with a hard-on for Hackathons.

New Orleans is lately awash in undersunned messianic dweebs who seem to genuinely believe their post-flood fortune-hunting is somehow doing New Orleans a favor. There's a long history of people coming from elsewhere to make a buck in New Orleans; what bothers me about the App schmucks is not their fortune-hunting as such, but their inexplicable self-congratulatory attitude.

They somehow think by rolling into town, taking advantage of tax breaks and venture-capital rent subsidies, and starting software-related businesses that exclusively hire other white people from elsewhere, they're doing New Orleans a favor. It's crazy. Compounding their cluelessness, they inhabit an echo chamber: there's a new-minted media stratum, including a dedicated reporter at, that exists entirely to run unedited (and unread!) these newcomers' masturbatory press releases and their announcements of the latest in an infinite overlapping series of conferences, panels and hackathons to do with #Innovation and #Startups and #Disruption and #Entrepreneurship.

You think I'm joking about their arrogance, or about the delusional bubble they inhabit? "What the Dalai Lama and New Orleans Entrepreneurs Have in Common."

These kids are smug, rich, boorishly unselfaware... and, down to the last man-child, thin-skinned. All those elements combined in the southern heat make for a raw batch of San Francisco tech-sector sourdough I just can't resist punching the lumps out of.

What pushed me over the edge was a particular loudly-touted June "hackathon." "Hackathons" are where these geniuses gather for a 24-hour period during which they code up solutions to various problems other, lesser humans have wrestled unsuccessfully with. They're all fucking ridiculous, but the Hackathon that raised my hackles above what I could endure was "Hack the New Orleans Murder Rate." They were going to gather and develop iPhone Apps that would somehow remedy our impoverished, historically oppressed and significantly illiterate city's horrifically high incidence of homicide. Wish I was joking!

Anyone who's read this far in will likely be unsurprised to learn that there are at any given time a number of things ambiently aggrieving me-- a cloud of annoyances, hovering like horseflies around my greasy head. Mostly I go about my days without squandering much time swatting at them, but every so often the cloud coalesces sufficiently to become a target, and however fleetingly, my wroth overtops my sloth.

Thus it was one morning I woke up, registered the URL, and built a website there. It was a day's work, and a means of expressing-- in the medical sense of forcing out-- some of my accumulated disgust towards these creepy god-complex freaks. I'd figured the site would be an inside joke at best, but my critique resonated with a far wider audience. It "went viral," as even people like myself say of such things. In its first ten-or-so hours of existence, drew thousands of visitors from all over the world, thanks in large part to the URL being tweeted by some prominent techno-critics, as well as, it must be said, some techno-evangelists with senses of humor. Then, late in the afternoon, Wikileaks itself promoted (which it described as "delightfully viscsious" [sic]) to its more than 2,000,000 twitter followers. At that point, the visitor numbers went fucking bonkers.

They think I'm delightful!I hate technology, science, all that shit. Basically, everything since penicillin I think we'd be better off without, and I'm open to arguments going back way further. Having said that, it's pretty remarkable that some words I wrote upon waking up in a bad mood can be in front of the eyes of hundreds of thousands of strangers within a single orbit of the sun around the earth, or whatever.

So that's my post about It was initially unsigned, but eventually people locally started to ask me if I was behind it (although I think most knew from the get-go, since the trail of tweets mentioning it began with me), so I copped to it. And hey: if you don't think I take a savage, ugly & unwholesome satisfaction in seeing some shit I wrote critiquing the social-media-obsessed NOLA technology economy garner more attention and more readership, via social-media technology, than anything ever produced by the social-media-obsessed NOLA technology economy, then you must have mistaken me for a far, far less venal person than I am.

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Culture and Conquest

The cover story of April's Antigravity Magazine was my interview with New Orleans bounce rap legend Ricky B. He and Bigalow were great company, and rather than type up the interview as we talked (as I usually do) I recorded the audio of the conversation, and then transcribed it.

This entailed hearing a recording of my own voice for the first time in a while, and it was humbling to say the least. Whether it's cause or effect, part of being a writer is that I express myself best in writing, ideally after two or three drafts. I don't like public speaking (listening to it or doing it), I'm not a live performer as such-- I like to be at my desk, at a keyboard, writing. I know this is not an experience unique to me, but hearing how I sounded on that recording was horrific. Stammering, adenoidal, ineloquent to the point of incoherence... it was one long wince. What I'd remembered as a very natural, comfortable and informal conversation sounded on tape more like a Sasha Baron Cohen skit, where the tension is just how terrible the interviewer can get before the interview subjects catch on they're being pranked.

Regardless, since the bulk of my recent non-fiction entails savaging people and things I find terrible, it was rewarding to write something positive, and try to help elevate the profile of a musician I admire.

The bigger reward, though, was seeing Ricky B perform later that month at the Blue Nile, joined onstage by the Stooges Brass Band... and Big Chief Brian Harrison Nelson of the Guardians of the Flame. In a time when culture is treated as a disposable commodity, seeing the love and respect that the Stooges had for local hip-hop pioneer Ricky B-- a man many of them had grown up listening to-- was a reminder of why New Orleans is worth fighting for. This is a city that values culture, that respects and celebrates its history. Then, when Big Chief Nelson emerged onto the already crowded stage, resplendent in his feathered suit and attended by a retinue of other Indians, an already awesome moment crossed the threshold into something transcendent.

It is moments such as those that allow me to believe New Orleans can survive the onslaughts of capitalism and modernity, just as she's survived poverty, exploitation, centuries of occupation by various imperial powers as well as the disasters-- floods, oil, destruction of affordable housing-- that those powers have wrought. I'm a New Orleans exceptionalist: I really do believe this city is different.

Many have thought they knew the secret to resisting the crushing homogenizing superforce of global capitalism, and history has so far proved all of them wrong, with a couple notable exceptions (mostly in the mountains of Afghanistan), but my belief in New Orleans is not rational. It's a religious conviction, grounded in the power she seems to have over those who live here, grounded in the feelings I experience in a good second line or at the Blue Nile that night in April. It's a belief that exists outside of economics, outside of politics. I believe she cannot be conquered.

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