Streetcar: A Dirge from the Pantheon
At nearly 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, a crowd gathered at the edge of the old Treme neighborhood outside the new Seven Three Distillery, where the locally made products include Gentilly Gin, Bywater Bourbon and Marigny Moonshine. Many in the group were costumed, some as variations of Elvis. They were there to remember Macon Moore. Earlier, good spirits had flowed freely inside as tributes were made to the deceased.
Moore was a native of Richmond, Virginia, but really belonged in New Orleans where he eventually settled. By profession he was a hospital administrator; by passion he lived for Carnival. He belonged to several Carnival groups, but would be best remembered as a founder of the Rolling Elvi, the group that thunders through parades with each member dressed as The King and riding scooters. (There is no obvious connection between Presley and the scooters. Some things, especially on matters of Carnival, just have to be accepted.)
It happened that the gathering was at the corner of North Claiborne and Bienville named after, respectively, the area’s first American governor and the city’s founder. And what a city they created. To a smattering of drum beats the crowd congregated behind a waiting brass band. Only in New Orleans are the departed remembered so sweetly. First, there was the slow dirge as the band moved deliberately and the crowd stepped carefully.
All of this was happening on a weekend when New Orleans experienced an uncanny showering of loss among those who carried the culture. Earlier that day, there had been a visitation for restaurateur Leah Chase. On the day before, bluesman Dr. John climbed the stage into voodoo heaven. Two weeks earlier, writer Ronnie Virgets, who would have been in overdrive writing about all this, signed off.
Macon Moore had been more of a behind-the-scene organizer, but it takes rare ability to, in the final act, pack a street with Elvises. The procession moved down along Bienville with the music building to that special moment when the mourning segues into cutting loose and the followers begin to dance. So too, did the neighbors, one of whom, only moments before was sitting on the porch of his shotgun home drinking a beer and was suddenly transported to the sidewalk, jiving to “Little Liza Jane” while waving a beer can as his goblet.
As a city with so much culture, we always worry about losing it, especially as every second line steps down the old streets. If there is hope, it was in the faces of the band from Young Audiences of Louisiana, a charter school group whose students are experiencing all the quirkiness from the street level.
No one knew it at the time but just that day there had been yet another loss. Spencer Bohren, who specialized in blues and American roots music, left the spotlight due to cancer. Only three weeks earlier he had been interviewed at Jazz Fest. Like Moore, he too was from elsewhere, Wyoming, but would be captivated by New Orleans.
Making several right turns along the route, the procession returned to its starting spot, stepping down Claiborne, back to the distillery whose nectar could help temporarily soothe the sorrow. For all the departed, the eternal question of the second line continues, “didn’t they ramble?” To which the answer is always yes. This moment, though, belonged to Macon Moore.