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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 29th, 2006 - 01:33:14

Huey Long and all that jazz -- a tribute to New Orleans
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Aug 29, 2006, 01:29

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Today is the one year anniversary of the bombing and shelling of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, Halliburton and FEMA. So it�s fitting to remember this was the durable town where Huey P. Long came to razz the Big Oil boyz in favor of the little people, saying �every man was a king and he the Kingfish� . . .

Huey P. Long, Jr., was the seventh of nine kids from a middle-class farm family and rose from local schools to top of the class. He won a debating scholarship to LSU, but couldn�t afford the textbooks. So he worked four years as a traveling salesman, selling books, canned goods, patent medicines and learned to be an auctioneer.

On that great wave of the 1927 flood that drowned New Orleans as in 2005, Republican Calvin Coolidge sent his Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, chubby little numbnut, notebook in hand, to check the wreckage, add up the profit and the loss. Also in 1927, the Democrats were in the same leaking boat as now, depression two years away and about to sink America, the Mississippi rising like a tide of anger, and one Franklin Delano Roosevelt preaching a new fiscal fitness for the nation even in his leg braces.

And a Mr. Louie Armstrong, from a very poor black family, sent to reform school at 12 for shooting off a gun on New Year�s Eve, grasped a cornet like a rope from the flood. By �27, having played every joint and whorehouse in town, he�d taken his self upstream to Chicago on the tide of swinging ragtime, the blues of field slaves, the rhythms of the piston engine, the gospel cries and shouts of the black church that had swept through the soul of America. Amen.

And in Huey (for whom black Panther Huey Newton was named by his daddy), the Kingfish hisself, was a rhythm, a rhetoric, a calling to share the earth and wealth of the nation. His fiery speeches in 1928 opened America�s eyes for a piece of the pie for everyman, like all that jazz, got hands clapping and feet stomping for a whole new way to move in America. Amen.

It was a hellacious, bodacious, ungracious claim to change; to turn the hourglass over and share the wealth, the rich with the poor, the millions with the penniless; to build miles and miles of roads, many bridges over troubled waters, and schools for night and day, with money for free books with which to read and learn, a great undoing of the Euro classic elitism, for this swinging music of Democracy. Everybody, clap your hands, one and all. Amen.

It was an irreverent but religious correction of God�s will delivered by Huey, that taxes must be paid as billions were made, and a fund set up for everyman to have a living, a refrigerator, and some food to fill it, and a motor car, too. And more, the poor folks� votes should be counted as well. And there should be Social Security for old age, and a benefit fund for the poor and unemployed. Amen.

So that in 1928, when the flood backed off and the anger lingered, Huey Long was washed into the governor�s office. And when Big Oil wouldn�t fess up to its taxes, Huey sent the National Guard not to Iraq but to seize the Delta oil fields. He believed the government should protect the people, educate them, shore up the infrastructure, and talk turkey to power and the corporate elite, �the crooks of Wall Street.� Huey�s thinking would become the platform of the Democratic party, the backbone of the New Deal, the new jazz of American Democracy, the one that�s been so hated since by every elite that�s stiffly walked America�s streets. Amen.

What happened to Huey was what happens maybe to any man who proposes democracy, who reaches and preaches for the people. By September 1938 (the year and month I was born), Huey Long, a U.S. senator, who held Louisiana in the palm of his righteous and sometimes severe hand, was shot dead at 42 years of age. And Franklin Roosevelt, whose huge spirit could barely fit in the same room with Huey�s, carried on the agenda of Long�s amazing vision, just as Louis turned Satchmo, crossed the country and later the world with that made in New Orleans, all American music, jazz, jazz, jazz. Lifting it from the brothels to the dancehalls, supper clubs and fine hotels, and one day, like Benny Goodman, to Carnegie Hall, with a group of black and white jazz musicians playing together, astounding the seated tuxedos and aficionados. Amen.

And let it be known that the wave of freedom against the status quo that woke the sleepers from their sleep, shall not be turned by any hurricane of nature, or failure of men to be humane to man, not now, not tomorrow, not ever. Amen.

And as the camera pans over the broken streets and homes and levees of the 17th Street Canal the storm breached August 29, 2005; pans over the sunken houses and cars where London Avenue�s floodwall gave way, unburdening tons of water and sand; pans over the wreckage of the Ninth Ward, the apocalypse lingering, a reflection of human chaos, Huey Long�s vision will stand, the jazz, the energy of America�s people will endure, the voice of an undaunted Roosevelt will haunt the elites in their marble bunkers. Amen.

Nor shall the 5 million citizens who have not scattered, nor the billions of dollars gobbled by �the new thieves� for services half-rendered: mobile homes, lodging, meals, waste management, deter this spirit of New Orleans, America, this great clear singing, swinging spirit. I can hear the words of Randy Newman now . . .

Who built the highway to Baton Rouge?
Who put up the hospital and built you schools?
 Who looks after shit-kickers like you?
 The Kingfish do

Who gave a party at the Roosevelt Hotel?
And invited the whole north half of the state down there for free
The people in the city
Had their eyes bugging out
Cause everyone of you
Looked just like me

Kingfish, Kingfish
Everybody sing
Kingfish, Kingfish
Every man a king

Who took on the Standard Oil men
And whipped their ass
Just like he promised he'd do?
Ain't no Standard Oil men gonna run this state
Gonna be run by little folks like me and you

Kingfish, Kingfish
Friend of the working man
Kingfish, Kingfish
The Kingfish gonna save this land

He and we, all of us who care, who dare, will save the vision, the music, the land, the great people that made it once the envy of the world and will do so again. And that�s a promise. Amen.

P.S. May the soul of the great jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz who was in New Orleans to make a video with a Hurricane Katrina benefit recording rest in peace. Bouncers at a Bourbon street dance club threw the late jazz pianist face-first into heavy wood doors and onto the floor after he was attacked by a club patron, his daughter claims in court papers. But for Hilton�s sake, let death have no dominion. His music will live like New Orleans itself. Amen.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York that has risen from the ashes of attack and will rise from the cloud of perfidy of those same traitors who perpetuated it and know who they are. Reach him at

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