“Extra! Extra! Read All About It!”
Thomas Balzac doesn’t spend all his time with a classical guitar in his lap sketching musical notations onto orchestral score paper, although hundreds of 24-stave notebooks are scattered about his studio located in the heart of the French Quarter.
Each page is inked with stems, flags, note-heads, and often blots of voodoo spirits unconsciously-scribed onto the pages’ five parallel horizontal lines — similar to how some of the local Cathedral Square artists such as JB sketch their oil paintings, nearby.
For inspiration Balzac often walks daily with his shepherd Rosa throughout the French Quarter but most often along the riverfront levee, called the “Moon Walk” (after the nickname of a former Mayor and father of another mayor who followed: Mitch Landrieu).
The colorful atmosphere of Louisiana politics — particularly surrounding New Orleans and Baton Rouge — has also always provided him with a relaxing reprieve from the strains of musicology, particularly to escape the fear & loathing that beset him after composing his latest opus, a collection of jazz funeral dirges for citizens who perished during the 2020 pandemic.
To chill from this lonely, thankless work, for the past few years Balzac has been contributing his own ideas and views of politics, and social events, via the “Comment” section of Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper, “The Advocate” of Baton Rouge (which recently purchased and partially incorporated into it “The Times-Picayune” of New Orleans)….
For example, one recent, late October 2022 headline in The Advocate reads:
“World’s ‘Most endangered’ Whale Under Threat from Gulf Oil Industry, Scientists Say.”
“Whale?” Balzac thought he “knew” the Gulf of Mexico as intimately as the French Quarter. But he did not know the world’s most endangered whale lived in this sea basin. It infuriates the old composer to learn “Big Oil” (e.g., unchecked greed) is endangering the few remaining pods of these whales.
The old man could rant on about saving the whales to anyone interested within the 10-square-blocks of his French Quarter neighborhood. Person-to-person or even through his keyboard — and in this instance he does so via the latter. After re-reading The Advocate’s story, again in disbelief, Balzac clicks the “Comments” button at the bottom:
…. Thomas Balzac: “Wow no comments, nobody cares about extinction, they didn’t about the eagle and alligator 50 years ago, either. This story suspiciously omits the probability that the culprit is the criminal, multibillion-dollar “foreign”-chartered Louisiana-based menhaden industry hidden along the Louisiana coast. The 100-year-old pogy-fish lobby is that powerful.
“Using small-hole trawl nets sometimes miles-long, flotillas of gigantic drag ships daily invade the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana’s coast, scooping-up and capturing millions of the ocean basin’s main source of nourishment: menhaden. Also captured are whales, dolphins, pelicans, sports fish, coral, etc., all of which depend on menhaden for survival.
“Entire schools of menhaden — thousands of tons daily — are captured by monster nets for processing into chickenfeed, fertilizer and perfumes.
“The Gulf of Mexico is being forcibly raped of not only pogy but any aquatic life that gets in the way of the menhaden industry’s stinking, greedy corporate empire. So stop eating chicken and stop using perfumes.
“Also: “Vote Blue No Matter Who!” good citizens, to save Louisiana whales.”
Another headline above another recent editorial reads: “Our Views: The controversial ‘Angola Plan’ for Youth has Been Implemented. Let’s Keep it Short.”
“Keep it short?!” the composer hollers to himself, infuriated over the fact Louisiana allows child criminals to be jailed among adult criminals; a practice the federal court examined and, with feigned reservations, allowed to proceed.
Balzac knows that the State tries to keep kids under age-18 separated from the prisons’ adult population, but it is impossible. Nevertheless, he dashes off a torrential retort to the newspaper’s editorial, as follows:
“I’ll tell The Advocate how ‘short’ it’ll be: — wait until a swamp ‘gator swallows-up one of those pesky juveniles escaping their inhuman captivity, or he drowns, or is shot-dead by an incompetent prison guard (underpaid and overworked) who wasn’t manning one of the dozens of lookout posts not guarded due to hiring problems.
“I can see all the GOP pols, as well as President Biden, chastising the Obama-appointed judge who gave an “A-OK” to America’s barbaric new penal policy of jailing kids under 18 alongside adult murderers and felons, in violation of international child welfare treaties, to which the USA, embarrassingly, is not a signatory.
“Verily, then this federal judge will rake the AG, Governor and Legislature over hot coals; on top of the multimillion-dollar lawsuit payout from State coffers…. That’s how “short” this draconian situation will be.”
Someone named George quickly commented-back in response to Balzac’s tirade: “Who wrote this crap! Their butts should be there because of their horrific crimes!” George protested to the editorial writers. Balzac tries to not name-call or be disrespectful but sometimes people cross the line. George is not one of them, but nevertheless the composer replies:
“Don’t generalize, George, each case must be taken on its own merits, that’s the law. But all these ‘Angola Kids’ cases violate the United Nations’ international convention on children’s rights (which only the USA and Somalia have not ratified; 200 other countries have).
“First-kid murdered by a rogue prison guard will cause a state, then national scandal — and international bad-publicity. Way to go, Louisiana and federal district court judge….”
Here’s another headline about a former Mayor of New Orleans, which disturbed the old music composer so much that he had to put down his classical guitar and set aside his work on a recently-discovered Bach fugue for Oboe, which Balzac is transposing:
The headline reads: “Our views: Poor Ray Nagin, Once Again Trying to Dodge the Consequences of his Theft” — to which the old failed composer replies: “…The day after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, this mayor hit the ground working, to clean-up the disaster, literally and through preaching to Congress in later months.
“However, this local born public servant had his haters — with their ingrained racism and at a time when “criminalizing politics” was all the rage — who managed to allege he “fraudulently” helped his sons get two-bit, petty, work contracts.
“For which Ray was convicted based on later, proven-false, testimony from some sod, a granite subcontractor who pled-out in exchange for false testimony (or, he was obviously trying to cover his own ass). So Ray Nagin copped a plea — to spare his sons from threatened malicious-prosecution by the hate-thirsty US Attorney.
Ray served 4 years in prison before being released early, in April of 2020, due to the pandemic.”
- STAFF EDITORIAL — OCT 24, 2022–3:30 AM
Here’s Balzac’s comment about the story:
Thomas Balzac: “The Advocate needs to STFU with its overt, calculated, hate-baiting racism, you’re not fooling nobody. Citizens know about the “criminalization of politics” — especially when the allegations are against black pols.
“Most citizens remember Mayor Nagin the morning after K, in the murky water helping out, getting his hands dirty, doing what everyone who loves this City does….
“So STFU with your racist headlines; stop stirring-up the few noisy haters in life, it’s obviously calculated to keep your negative-minded subscribers, so just stop it, all you white-centric editors at The Advocate.”
Another platform on which Balzac provides “comments” to their editorial content, is Twitter. This one has him suggesting to Elon Musk that he “should” (he later realizes that was a pompous usage) invest in the writing platform, Medium, and incorporate its “Listen” mode into Twitter. It reads:
“Hey, Elon Musk, you should consider investing in @Medium; they have a cool option that READS to your @Twitter (?) viewers what is written. That’s new to me, at least.”
Balzac knows Elon Musk will not even read his naïve suggestion, he gets thousands of tweets daily. But for the lonely old musician, “commenting” has proven to be a good break from the metronomic time in which the old composer of jazz funeral dirges lives.
His comments disintegrate, for a short while, the precise, mathematically and spiritually possessed measures of music composition — his life — with his erratically-written words on topics he finds important to his friends and society in general.
“Here’s my last story as an example:” Balzac ends his Tweet to Elon.
“You Wonder Why it’s So Dark in the French Quarter?” another headline reads, suggesting the reason is because the street lights do not work properly or at all.
Balzac believes he knows quite a bit about this subject, having had his vehicles towed to the City Car Pound for minor parking infractions more times than he can remember.
So he writes this comment:
“The City streetlights are intentionally kept out so that people parking at night can’t distinguish between the legal and illegal on-street parking spots, in order for City Hall to get rich off the revenues from parking tickets and tow-truck/storage fees.
“The City also, intentionally, allows graffiti to obliterate the wording on no-parking signs, another ploy to collect money from visitors and locals.
“The entire on-street parking situation is a fraud upon citizens that goes way back to “Dixie Parking” when mobsters took over the ‘Quarter and moved their operation to Chicago under the name “Standard Parking” (which has since changed its name, to “SP Plus,” in order to hide their corruption across America.
“This parking space pirate has a monopoly on the municipal parking-meter business here; also Canada, and parts of Europe.
“Former Mayor Landrieu gave Standard Parking, Inc., a multi-year, multimillion dollar no-bid contract — shortly before he left office….”
“Kids in Jail — ‘Nowhere Else to Put Them’” is the subject of another story in The Advocate to which Balzac provides a Comment.
The elderly musicologist had worked many “side” jobs during his younger years in order to support his interest in music. As do many if not most artists, Balzac has a never-ending, over-egoistic, quest to not only be read —but to become rich and well-known — “respected” — for his work.
Of course he forgot, for a moment, that many of life’s artists — nay, most — starved to death, literally. “Van Gogh never sold a painting during his lifetime!” Balzac is fond of informing his extremely artistic grand- daughters, from time to time.
Being young tweenagers, Mi and Zwi still do not grasp its exact meaning. That’s likely because their father — whom Balzac and Flower had named Hijo, three decades ago — today is a wealthy computer scientist. How fortunate that his son “grew up with computers” rather than with the other, archaic, tools of art: the quill, pen, paintbrush…
Balzac’s “day job” at the Canal Street Music Store is transposing ancient musical compositions, so that they can be played on modern instruments. It is similar to how, he imagines, a Sor, Carulli or Carelli long ago translated — for instance — many of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s famous compositions; from the piano, organ, violin, etc., into classical-guitar.
Another 18-point bodoni bold headline reads: “One in Five Federal lawsuits Nationwide Filed in Lake Charles.” The article is about how it takes so long for flood victims — this time, homeowners in southwest Louisiana — to recoup their losses through their often-bankrupt insurance company policies; how they have to always file lawsuits that take years to find justice.
The point of Balzac’s comment is that: “Justice delayed is Justice denied”:
Thomas Balzac: “There’s an old adage amongst the many lawyers I’ve worked with: ‘The one with the most paperwork wins.’
“It applies to everyone (except the trees, of course) because the longer the case lasts, the more money (called “billable hours”) goes into the pockets of lawyers, the court system, the judges (political donations intended — but not admitted — to sway judgments); to even the lowly court clerks at Christmas whom law firms “gift” a bottle of Jameson or Absolut for their help processing the lawsuits over the past year.
“It’s one big happy family playing the litigation or lawsuit game. Even the clients in the end are happy because of the “interest” added onto their eventual monetary award following the “interminable delays” of lawsuits.
“The downside for clients such as old people living in old houses flooded by Ida, is they might die before getting reimbursed. Worse, they may not have left relatives for an eventual distribution.
“In sad truth, that’s what the insurance-defense lawyers hope for: death of the people suing them and no surviving relatives.” ): [frown-face emoticon]
Louisiana’s fragile coastal environment is one of the old composer’s most urgent concerns about which he writes music. It is the subject of many of his opera works that he, even in his advanced age, hawks to Off-Broadway music publishers.
Balzac’s latest work — which he managed to pen on blank orchestral score paper in-between scribing funeral dirges for Covid-19 victims (diminishing in number in Autumn 2022) — is titled: “Oil is Dead!”
The opening stanzas begin with bursts of musical questions to the petrochemical industries that dominate over Louisiana — similar to the ones he poses here in his story-comments to the local newspaper, The Advocate, formerly The Times-Picayune:
Thomas Balzac “It’s been two weeks, Bob [the Pulitzer-winning environmental reporter], since you again reminded us readers of your column, how Big Oil has unraveled — ‘devastated’ — Louisiana’s coastal environment (this time, evidencing it with a fantastic interactive website, titled “Follow The Oil” [one word] .com).
“I don’t know about you, but I’m sickened that nobody here has yet given a thumbs-up or even asked a question.
“We continue to sink into the Gulf as we bleed earth of its black gold; and at the same time, the Gulf rises due to our burning of this oil. Louisiana is getting double-whammy’s, unraveled, and the evidence is right in front of our eyes (see www.followtheoil.com). Yet silence.
“I’m no longer angry — ‘freedom’ means we can remain as dumb as we wish — but I’m getting worried for my grandchildren. Like you, Bob, for a few years I also fought the good fight helping news-reporters, fighting channelization down in Terrebonne.
“We won battles but eventually lost the war. I thought we’d eventually win-out, but I’m not so sure anymore. Ignorance is mankind’s greatest enemy, Nik Tesla once grieved, in 1900. I’m feeling like that today, Bob, but hope springs eternal, right?”