I am going to try to write a post without caricature. If you are bored already, okay, check back later.
Current contenders are not “for” and “against,” which still occasionally turn up in some contexts, usually by people not well acquainted with the history or state of play. All sides recognize that there will be a new sound ordinance; the question is, a good one or a bad one.
I like “rational” v “cult.”
Rationalists favor building an image of the problem by careful investigation, data, and analysis; then refine guidelines of what is to be achieved, and then design the means to get it done with least conflict and confrontation. The objective is inclusiveness. If a new law were skewed against entertainment businesses, the companies would defy it, back their rebellion in court, and tie up progress for years; if slanted against residents, legal protests would continue, including private enforcement attempts through vigilante lawsuits, and after all the Sturm und Drang we would be right where we are now: localized loudness and no management or bad management.
Cultists support the “7 Essentials”/VCPORA approach. Their manifesto is a sort of bullet point bumper sticker. I don’t think Nathan Chapman actually claims to have hiked up a mountain for 40 days to get it from heaven, but it is something like. In their scenario, “residents” are a special, precious category, the righteous, the long-suffering aggrieved; music venues are sinners to be castigated by low decibel limits and law-lashed into compliance. The closest to technical support they could claim was Arno Bommer of CSTI, whose impartiality doesn’t stand up because he is contracted to Stuart Smith, a partisan, as expert witness in his private vigilante litigation against bars and restaurants. Since Bommer has been sidelined, Smith has taken to attacking Woolworth to redress the balance, because it would not be easy to find a new independent acoustician who would support their decibel table. Smith uses the attack technique best named by Bill Maher: he Makes Shit Up.
Pretty soon, we are going to take a look at the long history of the French Quarter, back in ancient history – back before the Harrah’s deal, before Governor Edwin Edwards, enjoying the fate of so many Louisiana pols, was sent to jail. We can unpick the story of continuous genteel, quiet residence. We can explore the differences between a gentrifier, a restorer, a preservationist, and a common-or-garden property value hustler. We can take a look at whether VCPORA’s picture of the FQ is history or another Southern romance.
“7 Essentials” was brought to other neighborhood associations with no experts, no science, just complaint and belief. None of the detail and data that Oxford Acoustics’ several studies of the city have added to the story has altered a word of the revealed manifesto, which still stands pristine, impervious to knowledge, science and fact. If you read it closely, you will see that it is also judgmental, like so many pop puritanical religious beliefs. Saints and sinners.
Cult team heroes are Nathan Chapman, “7 Essentials” preacher-in-chief, and Stuart H. Smith, vigilante lawyer and general sound nut, with lieutenants drawn from VCPORA, FQC and some other neighborhood groups. Like a chorus, Tim Laughlin, Jack Stewart and Deacon John come to the podium at council sessions. Cultists try to give them extra weight because they are musicians, so they must know. In fact, they don’t. Like some other residents of neighborhoods with active night life, probably a minority, unhappy about late and intrusive sound, they don’t like it, but the notion that playing a clarinet makes Tim Laughlin an acoustician is silly.
Most musicians on both sides repeat the same stuff with slightly different slants, without adding much worth serious consideration in the current state of play. I get a feeling some of them want to say, Follow Woolworth, but the message gets lost in the same-old about New Orleans the music city, our great culture, etc., which has now started to obscure the issue at hand. One group says, loud bars are too loud. The other says, maybe, but New Orleans musical culture is holy ground, would you deny us our living, we are culture bearers, etc. Neither is adding significant content to defining the soundscape or developing and implementing the solution. They should think about that as they request serious roles in the next stages of development. If they expect to contribute, they will need to get past the emotional broken record.
If we believe the Neighborhoodies, FQ residential property is Sacred Territory; if we take the musicians at face value, Kulchur is Holy Ground. Under rational scrutiny, both are past sell-by.
An extension of this faith-based expertise thing is that Jonathan Harris, Stacy Head’s executive officer, acquired faux-acoustician chops somehow by working at House of Blues once upon a time. Jonathan is a clever fellow, and I quite like him, in case that matters; but CM Head’s belief that he is in a position to correct or deny Dave Woolworth’s findings is . . . touching. And wrong. Jon signed on to the simplistic program, a recipe for conflict and failure, and the unsavory busted conspiracy, so we have to send him away for re-education in a Chinese labor camp for a few years to un-blot his copy book.
That is basically a snapshot of the soundscape game. Evolution v. Special Creation. Cityscape v. Sacred Ground. Or some, the mean of spirit (like me) might say, Reality v. Bullshit.
Some Holes to Pick
Some unfortunate ideas are bubbling up on the rationalist side of the debate. I will probably be accused of disloyalty for criticizing a few of them, but as I rarely join anything, it is hard to throw me out.
From MaCCNO’s newsletter of yesterday, February 17th:
” . . . backroom scheming undertaken by a small group of wealthy and well-connected residents of the French Quarter . . ”
Similar statements turn up a lot. Previously possibly even from me. We have to watch out for this. There are well-to-do, well-connected people on both sides of the debate, and many of them live in the French Quarter, too. Prosperity, influence and influential friends do not convict one of moral turpitude or acoustic irrationality, and trying to inoculate yourself against them in a political issue in Louisiana is unrealistic. The reductio would be, being poor and friendless makes you a better advocate for or judge of sound management. Let’s condemn the backstairs scheming and dishonorable behavior, and give the bank accounts a break.
Some of this may be because Stuart H. Smith, who is either a VCPORA stalwart or possibly owns the club, is known for having a lot of loot and seems to be a rather unpleasant, bullying sort of person. People look for anything to fight back with. Spare money must help his predatory use of legal action to attack businesses for sound and zoning, but it would be foolish to condemn everybody who has a healthy bank account. We the rationalists should stop this. Let’s appreciate support of all the reasonable people, rich, poor and down the middle.
Another one that has been trying to gather steam is whether Stuart H. Smith lives in New Orleans all the time, which of his properties he elects to homestead, and all that. My reaction is: so what? New Orleans heroes Allen Toussaint and Doctor John Have spent long periods based in New York. If Smith lived in New Orleans part time but did things for the city we liked or respected like Brad Pitt; if he set up arts funding or supported a modern music orchestra, the same people would be saying he is wonderful. No, it’s not how many weeks a year he is on vacation, or whether he owns or rents the places he stays in. It is the choices he makes. They would be as bad if a zero or two came off the back of his money.
I want to be careful about criticizing MaCCNO because they have been a great force for good in this, identifying the nature of the attack early, rooting out and standing up against the immorality of some of the Council’s and neighborhood associations’ actions in this process, for advocating fair law and transparent process. Nevertheless, another questionable idea is MaCCNO’s advocacy of a working group made up of 1/3 each of musicians, businesses and residents. It sounds nice, but who is appointing it? What is its status? Why do we need another “working group”?
There is a working group in place. David Woolworth is leader. FQMD Government Committee has provided a public, transparent support forum. They have the credentials, the intellectual weight and character. VCPORA and FQC might have used their seats to try to derail progress, but they are on strike for the moment. Do we need another group to appoint itself caretaker of the soundscape?
Businesses, musicians and residents are not distinct species. Musicians live somewhere, and some manage businesses. Business managers live somewhere, and some play music. Residents do things for a living, and some play music. The idea does not stand up to logic.
I am going to get into some hot water with the next point, but have to do it, for truth and reality: MaCCNO has contributed enormously to the struggle against the bullying neighborhood associations, but musicians do not have the same stake in this as residents and the entertainment businesses. Both sides – or at least CM Head – say they will protect street music. Stacy Head had even added a protective amendment to the awful December ‘VCPORA’ bill. Most versions of a new ordinance would be likely to protect the street bands from aggressive police and complaints.
Club bands might possibly be slightly affected if the ordinance shut down some venues, but that is unlikely. The bands are not legally liable for sound ordinance infraction. They do not have to pay the lawyers or the fines. That is probably why so few of the working club musicians are active in the battle. They know they are not on the hook or automatically going to lose work because bars have to put in some management measures, like sound proofing or even turning the volume down. Even with the rational Woolworth process, bars that do not already manage sound well are not going to get off scot-free. There will be adjustments.
What a “working committee” needs is motivation and wisdom, not quotas. I suggest that FQMD Government Committee has both, that its open meeting policy trumps quotas, and we should all support it.
The mixed use neighborhood is going to be made of entertainment businesses and residences. Musicians count, but they are not a different caste. They should join in, understand the process, and not ask to be treated as an endangered species. That is the way of VCPORA. Let’s not encourage it. Are there musicians willing to engage with and follow through the exploration, research and recommendation process to get this right? Some musicians at MaCCNO meetings express beliefs as irrational as the ‘7 Essentials’ cultists. Do we need extra paranoia in the process just because they are musicians, not advertising agents or lawyers?
Don’t forget that Dave Woolworth is also a serious musician. Important entertainment businesses and FQ residents have now engaged in the rational process, following the lead of an experienced, highly qualified professional. Don’t mess it up.
FQMD Government Committee is a well managed, reasonable, transparent, state-sanctioned group which is now sponsoring the Woolworth process, which has been sanctioned by city Council. There is nothing to oppose here. Let’s stick with them.
VCPORA and FQC stepped aside and want to negotiate FQMD’s capitulation to their terms. I suggest the re-negotiation should be turned around the other way. The Hoodies must agree to subscribe to rational thought and engage with the process. Unfortunately, a head has to roll. Change entails sacrifice. They should show evidence of a new direction by replacing Meg Lousteau as delegate to Government Committee. Her stance has been full frontal Horse Feathers:
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I’m against it.
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