My first time in New Orleans was in the spring of 2006, six months to the day after Katrina hit. A couple of my dear friends had made plans a year before to get married in the Crescent City, and, despite logic and all good sense, they remained undeterred. Even after hell and high water had come to Louisiana.
Now, I am from Florida, i have seen Hurricanes, but i have never seen anything like that, even six months after the storm had come and gone. Beyond the simple difficulty of trying to navigate and city with no street signs or stop lights (without a GPS or a smart phone), there was far more shocking scenes of destruction, none more shocking than the miles and miles of destroyed cars that had been intentionally deposited, and organized under the elevated highway of interstate 10. Cop cars crushed flat, a stretch limousine filled with mud, and ambulances with high water marks. It was a truly overwhelming, and unsettling symbol for everything that city had been dealing with. Yet, through all of this destruction, you saw people working, struggling, and fighting to get their lives back, to build their homes back, and in the case of the happy couple, start their life together, despite the forces outside themselves, working against them.
Years later, i found myself in an old Slovak mining town called Čadca, which didn't need a hurricane to bring it to it's knees. The mines took care of that when they went bust years before. But, when i got a Facebook message from some guy named "Twiggy" asking me to play a show there, I, of course, said yes. They cleared out the top floor of a coffee shop, set up a little PA, and folks packed into that little sweat box and got the fuck down! This isn't the kind of show you take for the money, prospects are low in rural Slovakia, and folks are more inclined to scrape their euros together for Beer and Tatransky Caj (a local liquor made of herbs)...not merch. And who could blame them? And still, despite an economy collapsing under them, and a town declining around them, people came out, danced, drank, sang, made out, made do, and made the best of what they had.
Later, on that same tour, (or perhaps the next one? They blur together sometimes) we were booked to play a show in a really legendary squat in Bern, Switzerland called the "Dachstock". The Dachstock has been putting on shows in it's main room (which holds 2000 people) since 1987, in addition to the small room, the cultural center, the restaurant, and the artist housing, it is quite an astounding compound...and it is entirely illegal. Think of the nicest big venue in your town, and the Dachstock probably has better sound, a better paid staff, and takes far better care of their artists, and again, IS ENTIRELY ILLEGAL. To an American, this seems impossible to conceive, and so naturally i was full of questions. Which i dumped on the club's front of house engineer after soundcheck was finished. I asked her if the government has ever tried to shut them down, to which she casually replied, "Ja, every few years, some politician will send the cops to try and stop us".
"Well, what do you do?!" I asked, naively.
"We lock them out", she responded, as plain as can be.
Realizing, i was already looking like a dumb American, and there was no point in trying to cover my tracks, i doubled down, and asked, "Well what do they do, when you lock them out?"
"Most of the time, they get bored, and they go home, sometimes they try to come in"
"And when they try to come in?"
"We fight them!", she said in a tone, that translated in any language as "DUH!"
Coming from America, at a time when established, iconic venues in Seattle, and Austin, where getting shut down because of gentrification and condo expansion, the idea that a club would not only ignore the protests of the city officials, but repeatedly fight the cops to keep their doors open, and WIN?! All of this because they want to keep outsider music and art thriving in an otherwise, very conservative city. This is was nothing short of mind-blowing.
The more i tour, the more I travel, the more i see things like this, people working against, or around, the large forces pushing them down. People sidestepping the rules, ignoring their kings, killing their masters, and instead of running to the arms of their gods for help or comfort, they are running away. They don't let the size of the storm drown them, or the depth of the void swallow them whole, and the cops don't have weapons strong enough to crush them. Everywhere i go, i see people who are undeterred, unwavering, and in turn unstoppable in their relentless pursuit of a full and happy life.
And that is the most inspiring thing i have ever seen.