This is a hard story to put into words since it’s not mine to tell, but Susan Cowsill has a way of giving you a window into the heart of what she’s lived through. Yesterday she encouraged the French Quarter Festival audience to wave to Barry. We waved to her brother Barry Cowsill, those of us who knew him. He was found in the Mississippi River months after Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaks. The tugboats that started spraying water in circles behind her riverfront stage felt like Barry waving back. Susan thought so too, she pointed at the arcs of water and said, “Barry did that,” while singing Dragonfly. Then she sang Barry’s anthem,River of Love. I’ve never known anyone who was more consistantly brilliant at writing his own epitaph.
I only have windows into this story, like the way Barry would jump onto a stage and there was no getting him off of it without pliars. One night Jeff and I were singing Elvis’ Suspicious Minds at Carrolton Station and Barry, who had jumped up midway through, kept singing the bridge that brings you back into the chorus. Finally we improvised, “We’re caught in this song. It’s gone on way too long. Because you won’t stop singing, Barry.” Even that didn’t stop the song. He and Susan were in the chart-topping family band The Cowsills, whose life story was turned into The Partridge Family, a blessing and a curse as Barry was never comfortable with the former child star stigma. If you ever heard him perform you know, he was meant to be a rock star.
There’s an oil spill anniversary coming up, events planned all over town. The public grew weary of Katrina anniversaries, and I’m sure the same thing will happen with the oil. But just because it’s hard to hear doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. After Katrina we lost friends, many lost family, and it doesn’t take an anniversary to remember it. New Orleans is raising hundreds of thousands through the NOLA Japan Quake Fund because this city remembers what it feels like to wonder if you could really have been forgotten so soon.
HBO’s Treme debuts in a few weeks, and not to break the fourth wall but Susan and her husband Russ Broussard invited us to be extras in her episode. It was worth standing with a warm bottle of not-beer for hours at Carrolton Station to hear Susan sing and pretend it was four years ago. I kept wondering, would we go back if we could? And is this what I wore in ’07? What was I thinking? Wait, I’m still wearing it.
Susan expresses where we are and where we were perfectly in her song Crescent City Snow. So did Barry, with River of Love. R.E.M. just gave us the New Orleans tribute Oh My Heart, recorded here with New Orleans musicians including Shamarr Allen who played the French Quarter Festival and is in Kazakhstan as a musical ambassador for the State Department this week. This is him teaching his free music clinic through Silence is Violence last week. You should probably buy all of their CD’s, since this story is theirs to tell.
At best I’m an extra, and I have been blessed to be one.
–Karen Dalton-Beninato, www.twitter.com/kbeninato
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