In Steve Earle's cameo during this week's season finale of "Treme," he's playing a guitar that has "This machine floats" written on its body. It's a clever reference to the inscription that Woody Guthrie had on his guitar, which read, "This machine kills fascists."
Earle's message is a wonderful metaphor for the way in which "Treme" over the course of the 10 episodes in Season 1 has illustrated the resiliency of its characters. Countless lives were lost to Hurricane Katrina; billions of dollars worth of property was destroyed; families were torn apart. But music exists above the water, moves around the city in that secret place that can't be touched by the physical world. Yes, instruments can be destroyed, and players can drown. The music itself, however, floats.
Throughout the first season, we've been treated to some memorable musical moments, and none of them were greater than watching genius singer Irma Thomas sidle up to a poker table and start playing cards with Antoine Batiste. After winning most of the money, the trombonist got paid from a session with Allan Toussaint, Thomas, best known for her rendition of Toussaint's lovelorn ballad, "It's Raining," gets onstage to do a fantastic take on "Time Is On My Side," which she first recorded in 1964 (the Rolling Stones' version is perhaps the best known).
Lloyd Price won some money from Batiste too. Price performed a rendition of the classic murder ballad, "Stagger Lee," with which he had a hit in 1959.
Why all the music talk this time around? Well, other than because I stated my opinion on the first season last week and angered a lot of fans of the show, this particular episode was particularly strong music- wise. Plus, what do I know about building narrative? I'm the pop music editor at The Times, not a television critic (although I completely stand by the post).
All that said, this finale opened a window into what's going to happen next season, and it bodes very, very well. We got a flashback to the day before Katrina struck, and it seems as though co-creator David Simon and company are reversing the hands of time for Season 2. Now that we know the characters and have gotten a feel for how they handled themselves in the aftermath of the storm and the flood, Season 2 -- or at least some of it -- is going to shine a light on the events of late August 2005.
It is, quite honestly, the best news that we skeptics could have hoped for, and which I didn't see in the cards. But with the confirmed death of John Goodman's character, Creighton Bernette, in episode 10, it stands to reason. Goodman is listed as a cast member in Season 2, and I was starting to worry that the only way that was feasible is if he came back as a ghost or some such nonsense. Thankfully -- hopefully -- that's not the case.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Allan Toussaint. Credit: Paul Schiraldi