I’m really starting to dislike that term. They are funerals. They are about death. They are about mourning. They are about understanding that all things must pass. And, that we in New Orleans accept that death as part of life. We mourn. We celebrate.
If you are visiting and want to see our culture for real — not in the “neon zone” on Bourbon Street — you might consider yourself lucky if you learn about a jazz funeral and attend. Most are fairly small and uncrowded. For the most part they are in public view. On the street. If you decide to go inside, please remember to dress appropriately. I cringe when I see some guy in shorts, a flowered shirt and flip-flops wandering around sticking a camera in front of mourners faces during the formal ceremony.
Yesterday’s funeral was not small. Instead, it was huge. I’ll tell you why. It’s going to be a little hard so bear with me if I ramble around. Just know that almost every tribe, gang, club and krewe was represented.
This wasn’t one funeral. It was two. It probably should have been three. One day about a week or so ago, there was a shooting. A killing. That’s common in this city. Hell, there were four shootings and five victims on Christmas Day. One of those people died.
The shooting I’m talking about took three lives. Twenty bullets were fired. It was no drive by shooting. It was a hit. The shooter or shooters killed a young man, Big Chief Lionel Delpit III. He was 25 years old. His companion, Breon Stewart, was also killed. She was 23. That’s sad enough. But, their unborn child, Lionel Delpit IV was killed in utero. He would have been born last week or early this week.
I’m not exactly sure what more to say.
So, I’ll tell you about what I saw, heard and what the day felt like.
Everybody was exceptionally kind. The above picture of the unsuited and unmasked big chiefs was made because they pulled me into their circle. We don’t all know each other, but we recognize each other from the street. And, I have a helluva rhythm when they start playing and singing. I believe you can’t shoot pictures without really feeling what you are seeing.
“What I saw” is a weird phrase. You would think that if I saw it, you will see it. Not yesterday. The crowd was huge. I couldn’t physically drift from one place to another like I usually do. So, sometimes I saw things that I couldn’t photograph. I saw a lot of sadness. The way that a jazz funeral usually works is that it starts with a dirge and ends in celebration. Not so much yesterday. Sure. There were hugs, smiles and even a little laughter as Uptown indians found their friends in Downtown tribes. I saw a friend of mine who is a Baby Doll (the female counterpart to an indian). She smiled at me through her tears. I could have taken that picture. I didn’t. That was our moment.
Then there was the weather. The temperature broke all sort of records. It was 83 yesterday in Treme. It was steamy. Very humid. When the sun broke through the clouds, it was downright hot. And, when it didn’t, rain fell lightly. It was December 26th, but it felt like early summer.
It felt right.
This picture is just plain old hard to look at. He was the very first Mardi Gras Indian I photographed when I returned to New Orleans after my time in New Mexico. If you go to my Twitter feed and actually look at my page, you’ll see him as the background image. I was going to change that with the turn of the year. I don’t think that I will.
I was going to show these pictures to you one or two at a time like I usually do. I can’t this week. There is a big second line today. It’s the 20th Anniversary of The Lady & Men Rollers. I want to show you a few of those pictures on Monday. Then, like just about everybody else, I want to show you my best pictures of the year. There are three days of that. The culture. Stuff falling down. And, stuff I just saw. 12 pictures each day. 36. That’s pretty good year if you consider that Ansel Adams said that if you took ten great pictures in a year then you had an exceptional year. I doubt my year was as good as that. But, still…
And, finally. This year ends as it started. With a big, huge jazz funeral. The first one was for Bo Dollis. He lived a life. A good life. He brought the music of the Mardi Gras Indians to the world. The last one, as I wrote, was for two young people. And, one yet to be born. They never had a chance.
That, my friends, has to change.