This season of "Treme" deals with the theme of preservation; Pierce made a strong case for it in 2010.
This season of HBO's Treme has dealt explicitly with cultural preservation, whether it's the demolition of the projects that came up this week or the lack of respect for its musical landmarks, highlighted by DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) leading a tour of gated and razed historical sites. When one tourist observes that many historical sites in Chicago were leveled by the wrecking ball, he says, "This is New Orleans. We let it go to hell. Preservation through neglect."
In 2010, I interviewed Wendell Pierce before the first episode aired. He was on a drive to New Orleans from Baton Rouge, so he had time to talk. At one point, the conversation drifted to preservation:
This [show] is going to challenge New Orleanians. There's one moment in the pilot that I think about more than anything else. When that British reporter turns to John Goodman and says, "Your music is a little archaic and not popular anymore, your cuisine is provincial with a lot of sauce on it - why should we save you?" First I got pissed off - "Who the fuck are you?" - but then, "Are we getting too relaxed? Is our music archaic? Is our cuisine provincial?" He made you question it for a minute.
It's going to challenge New Orleanians about the decisions we're making and decisions we've made. We say we love the culture, but some of our behavior doesn't suggest that. You walk around Paris, it's a scenic tour. You can go through every place where Dumas wrote, and even Americans - Richard Wright - wrote, and Sidney Bechet played, and all of that. The average New Orleanian can't walk the path from Central City to Old Storyville to the French Quarter and say, "This is the path of history. This is where Bolden lived, this is Odd Fellows Hall, here's Storyville, here's the French Quarter, all of that.
We have three of the most famous buildings in our musical history sitting on South Rampart and Perdido in shambles. Luckily, they can't be torn down because they're on the National Historic Registry, but they're surrounded by empty parking lots, sitting there empty, and it's where Buddy Bolden played, Lewis Armstrong played, Kid Ory played. Odd Fellows Hall. The grocery store where Pops worked with the family - I can't think of their name - and we have never found the political will to say, "You know something? This is our Notre Dame. These buildings can't sit here in disarray. Let's repair them. Let's have a musical tribute on the hour. Let this place be a Mecca for musical pilgrimage for people who come from around the world and love this music.
We talk about our music, but on the hundredth anniversary of Louis Armstrong's birth, we could do no more than change the name of the airport. We've destroyed all the places where the music developed; we've destroyed his house. Jelly Roll Morton in his Library of Congress tapes talks about specific places in all of this in Central City - it's a harsh neighborhood, but there's something that may actually change things in the neighborhood, a preventative nature against crime and hardcore living. Develop the jewel we have. There should be a trail.
I remember a couple of years ago they wanted to take all the last houses of Jelly Roll Morton and different places where people lived and bring them all to Armstrong Park and put them in there. No. You've missed the whole idea of history. You want to go see the house that's in Central City and go, "Oh, look how close it is to Storyville and the Quarter. Look how around the corner from Park Avenue is St. Charles Avenue, but it's still impoverished. Look how on this corner there's a church and on the other corner is a barroom, so you see all the influences of Saturday night and Sunday morning to the music.
Buddy Bolden worked as a plasterer. A beautiful home on St. Charles right around the corner from Liberty and First. "Oh, okay. I see. A working man from this neighborhood went around the corner and did that.I see he passed his barroom, and here's where his barber shop was. And look how close he was to the Hall."
The show challenges that too.