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I Hear New Orleans Singing

The varied carols I hear are not only of the New Year, the carnival season, the encouragement of others near and far, the bass line of my own blind belief in a better day ahead.

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Above and beyond this swell of sound, I hear a song of something more.  I hear the tone and tempo of the cultural conversation picking up, moving forward, escalating from “what” and “how” to “when” and “where” and “with whom.” Our generation, the young folks, the doers, the makers, are migrating in droves from as near as Baton Rouge and Lafayette, and out a ways, so much so, and so more so.

They are all headed south in song. Coming to find the future. And down from Nashville. And down from St. Louis. And right after Athens, Atlanta, Charlottesville, and Providence. And back home from New York City, back home from New Haven and New Hampshire. Alive and driven they arrive from Boston and Brooklyn, and Roslyn, and Oakland and the suburbs of Chicago. With purpose and promise they are appearing from the oaks of Pennsylvania, the hills of Los Angeles, and the prairies of Kansas. Others more who have said goodbye to San Francisco, and goodbye to Granite Bay and Tampa Bay, in order to say hello to a new life and a new day.

I hear them singing and pouring in ideas that are diluting down dark unlit streets of the Bywater and then waking up the morning cafe tables of the Marigny and Magazine street, and Mid-City and anywhere else that will have them. Anywhere with ears to listen.

They knock at my door in the afternoon. They shake my hand firm and look me in the eye. And over and over I hear the young men and young women of this town sing, “I want to make things. I can’t afford to get stuck in the rut of getting drunk and getting high, and getting nothing done.”

That isn’t why they are here. That isn’t the part they wish to play. They didn’t come to see the city of their college excess, the lost nights in loud bars, and days wasted pulling coolers up the neutral grounds of St. Charles. They didn’t come here to slow down, roll along, watch 20 turn to 30 with nothing done, no story to tell, and no impact made.

They want to be a part of the “something” happening. They aren’t here to take jobs. They are here to create them. They aren’t here to rebuild this city. They are here to rebuild this country. And first, and foremost, their own lives.

They have left jobs and yesterdays that left them empty and unfulfilled. They cut away from their cubicles, their classrooms, and ran, sprinted from a past and provenance unfit for their ambition, unwelcome to their ideas. But not here.

Here they are singing. Here there is a fire in their eyes, an electricity in their fingertips, a willingness to “do,” to create. So sad and so true that an anxiety, a worry, a measurable fear weighs across their brows. So is the circumstance. So is the time and the crime rate. So is today. So it isn’t enough to idle by. It isn’t enough to keep them inside. Too much is to be done if it isn’t to be our to-morrow.

They know it. It keeps them moving. Keeps them up. Keeps them awake and on task, working and waiting to greet the dawn. And in the morning they feel the need to dig in deeper. Drink more coffee. Take more on. Offer up and ask more of themselves. Put their shoulder into it. Keep pushing. So weary, so thin and so sleep deprived, so riddled with nicotine and caffeine. Unsatisfied and hungry. Hungry to create. Hungry to connect and combine talents. Hungry to build upon and build anew.

You will see them in the street, walking a clip or two faster than the crowd, or pedaling furiously in and around traffic, going somewhere, meeting someone, ravenous for the day, the opportunity. They search for an eye to engage, an ear to listen. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They hold their figurative hats in their hands.

The carpenter on Clouet, the dressmaker off Dauphine, the developer on Dumaine, the baker hiding on North Rampart, the publisher on Constance, the actress on Burgundy, an artist on every avenue, a musician on every block,  and on and on a chorus of creators. Everywhere folks sharing shotguns and studios, stages, stories, and cabs home. Sharing what we should do. Sharing what we can do. Salesmen and saleswomen of a better tomorrow.

And the music, the song they are singing, howling into the night, now most robust on Frenchmen, I hear at my window. It calls for me. It sings in harmony. “To fall in this town is a fate we welcome. Because here we are alive. Here we can hurt and heal and confess our care. Here and now it is okay to aspire again.”

Sing on and sing out, young New Orleans. Sing with open mouths, your “strong melodious songs.” Take my sleep from me. I am begging you for my son’s sake. Lose your lungs in shout. Blunt your pens in toil. Paint the bristles off your brushes. Strum the strings off your guitars.

Sing on and sing out, my friends. I am begging you for my daughter’s sake. Don’t run out of breath. Don’t run out of town. Don’t leave us yet. Not with nothing.


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