Inspiration for The New Orleans Song from Or, the Whale

[Artists In Their Own Words]

The Inspiration

behind their New Orleans Song “Call and Response” on
Light Poles and Pines by SF band Or, the Whale

[Excerpted from an email sent to the editor by Alex Robins – Or, the Whale]

You had previously asked what the inspiration for “Call and Response,” or “the New Orleans song” as most people know it, was and I’d love to answer your question. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on the same day I started the long moving drive from Ann Arbor, Michigan (where I previously lived) to San Francisco (where I now live). When I arrived in the city, news and images began coming in of the devastation and chaos that was occurring. Details about racism and poverty were drudged up and most of the pictures from New Orleans only drove these points home.

Being a history major, I have a good amount of background into this country’s history and the repeated offenses and problems that tend to reoccur throughout the decades. It wasn’t just that the storm devastated the region, it actually acted as the hand pulling the curtain on the “secret” (or ignored) problems that this country tries to undermine and underestimate.

With all that said, I thought writing a song about it would put into words some of the feelings that I had about the situation. I have never written a political song before (and haven’t since) and in a lot of ways, it’s not really a political song. I tried to personalize the situation and the voice of the song is the voice of the dead, past and present. “They,” having more to fear than a hurricane, are those in local and federal government that wouldn’t and won’t acknowledge the problems that existed in New Orleans before Katrina and exist there now, over two years later. Using God and piety as a way of judging their own character and yet allowing something like this to happen to poor, black people who are probably just as religious and God-fearing as they (the politicians) are is somewhat ironic.

Basically, the main point is that history doesn’t forget. President Bush and FEMA and local Gulf Coast governments and the mainstream media can all act like nothing happened and we’ll be talking about the rebuilding of New Orleans and it’s thriving tourist economy 5, 10, and 20 years from now. But no one seems to talk about the fact that Katrina wasn’t the problem. Racism, poverty, and trickle-down economics buried New Orleans and much of the South long before the hurricane whipped through Bourbon Street and uncovered the truth. And they still seem to ignore it. I just thought that my viewpoint was as good as anyone elses. I also acknowledge that there’s plenty of great things happening in the rebuilding process of the Gulf Coast region and hopefully there will be a dialogue about the ingrained issues that exist.

Sorry for being so long winded. I guess no one’s really ever asked for the real inspiration behind the song. Short version: pissed off, punk rock-country song about the ghosts of the South rising to get revenge on those that put them there in the first place.

Hope to see you in March.

Alex Robins and Or, the Whale

[Or The Whale plays at The Casbah with the Silent Comedy on Saturday, March 22nd. ~Ed.]

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