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It all comes back

by Brian Clarey

I’m moving kinda slow today, not exactly dragging my ass along the ground but low enough to it that I could win a limbo contest. And I’m not the only one. All told, six YES! Weekly staffers made the trip down to New Orleans last week for the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, along with about 300 other journalists, designers and sales staff from some of the best papers in the country.

It is worth noting that the host paper, the Gambit out of New Orleans, is where I got my start in this business almost 20 years ago, run by husband-and-wife team Clancy and Margo DuBos.

The Gambit hit some hard times after Hurricane Katrina did its number on that beautiful place, but I’m happy to report that the paper is enjoying the same sort of resurgence as the city it covers like no other.

It takes a few days to make sense out of a trip to New Orleans even in the most general circumstances, but when you throw in three days of intensive programming from some of the smartest and most successful people in the weekly newspaper field it makes the trip take even longer to unpack. Add to that my own personal obligations that any visit to the Crescent City entails, and maybe you can see why my head is still feels a bit like the swamps we drove through to get there.

So I won’t be crapping on with a laundry list of things we learned at the convention, but will say that you will be seeing some of the innovations in our newspaper, our website and our blog in the weeks and months to come.

But I will regale you with some New Orleans stories, if you’re of a mind to hear them.

We’ll start at Igor’s Bar & Laundromat in the Lower Garden District, a place dear to my heart, where I read from my book, The Anxious Hipster and Other Barflies I’ve Known (available at brianclarey.com, amazon.com and select bookstores) to a collection of beloved inebriates while Ted Sheppard, my very first editor, played guitar.

I left for Vaughn’s in the 9 th Ward without my notebook, so from here on out I have to rely on my memory of the episodes.

On Friday night I found a long-lost brother wandering through

Tipitina’s as the Honey Island Swamp Band laid it down and burlesque dancers squirmed onstage. I hadn’t seen Chip in about 15 years, not since we toiled at Madigan’s, a sweet little bar at the Riverbend, in the years after college. I still have a big mouth, and he still has an amazing capacity to infuriate bartenders, which he proved again at Molly’s on the Market after a serendipitous meeting in the French Quarter.

Saturday night was Big Glen’s birthday back at Vaughn’s, where I brought a couple of fellow alt-weekly culture freaks and introduced them to turtle soup.

“Where do they get the turtles?” Erik Cushman, publisher of Monterey County Weekly, wanted to know.

Damned reporters and their questions. Big Glen’s notoriety in New Orleans came when, as general manager, he cleaned up Checkpoint Charlie’s on the corner of Decatur and Esplanade streets in the mid ’90s, turning it from a really sketchy rock club and Laundromat into a moderately sketchy rock club and Laundromat. He proved his mettle later that night when a bar fight broke out at BJ’s — an almost unheard-of occurrence — between a guy in his late fifties and another in his late twenties. The old guy had the young one in a reverse headhold and was applying pressure to his windpipe with his thumb.

“He’s goin’ to sleep!” the old guy declared triumphantly. That’s when Big Glen leaned in and told the dude if he didn’t get his thumb off the kid’s throat, he’d have to tear it off his hand.

On stage was a cat named Guitar Slim Jr., who one summer night in 1993 took me on a rampage through the Lower 9 th , and in return I let him sleep on my couch way uptown in the University District on Broadway. When I woke in the morning, Slim was gone. And so was a television set belonging to my landlady who lived downstairs.

Slim was known both as a musical genius and a miscreant when I knew him back in the day, who carried around a guitar given to him by Stevie Ray Vaughan, or so he said, and crumpled up into the guitar case was a Grammy nomination. It was when I knew him then that he got rolled on the street by a gang of toughs who relieved him of the guitar and its case and painted a nasty scar across his nose. The scar is still there, softened a bit around the edges as is Slim himself, but before he started his last set he told me he got the guitar back.

That’s the way it goes in New Orleans, I guess: Everything always comes back.

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