The Treme DVD box set is out now. The four-disc set contains the first season of the series as it’s meant to be seen, and it includes a number of bonus features, some of which are more valuable than others. For fans of the show and New Orleans, the documentary shorts on disc four don’t say much you don’t already know or believe, but it’s easy to see how they’d be of value to those who are entering the show’s world and ours through the set. More valuable are the individual show commentaries. John Goodman is particularly charming in his commentary on an episode when he as a viewer reacts as most viewers do to Michiel Huisman’s Sonny. There is also a valuable feature that identifies pieces of music when they appear in the show, no matter how briefly or how far in the background.
The release of the DVD provided an occasion to talk to Steve Earle, who plays street musician Harley Watt on Treme. His song, “This City,” was up for a Grammy in February, and it appears on the Treme Soundtrack and on his new album, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, due out April 26, two days after season two of Treme starts again on HBO.
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Would “Gulf of Mexico” have existed as a song if you weren’t here?
No way. As we were wrapping up the last few episodes, the spill happens.
For someone that grew up going into New Orleans on a fairly regular basis, and then I was there once since the storm about 13 months after the storm and then the next time I was there was to film the first episode I was in the first year of Treme, I was surprised, to tell you the truth. As tough as New Orleans is and as long as it’s been there, politically the way the country has gone, I thought for sure New Orleans would be Disneyland by now. I underestimated her. Since I’ve been there. I realized I was really being stupid because not anyone can live there. Its not for the faint-hearted in any way, shape, or form. You gotta survive summers first. Even before the fucking storm.
Not everybody can live there, and also there’s people that live there because they can’t live anywhere else. It’s a very unique environment. I know of maybe a handful of places like that in the world. New York is that way to a certain extent. You got to really want to live here, you really got to love it to live here. You got to be down for New Orleans to live there on a really cellular level. I considered it more than one time in my life. Before the storm, there was a wave of sort of non-traditional rock musicians that ended up there and a lot of them are friends of mine. I’ve known Peter Holsapple and Susan Cowsill for years, and Susan’s still there. I actually worked on [Daniel] Lanois’ first major post-New Orleans record, which was (Emmylou Harris’) Wrecking Ball, I played on most of that record. It was the first thing I did when I got out of jail.
What blows my mind is it’s smaller than it was, but even before it wasn’t a huge town. And water makes sure that everything’s concentrated within certain boundaries. And it’s not only a music town, but the range of New Orleans music. If anything, in the last decade or two it’s diversified even more than it ever has before. I had somebody ask me once, “Will the people there that are from there welcome musicians from the outside?” I said, “Not necessarily, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t all work.” I think that’s kind of what makes it what it is. You got to really not be paying attention not to learn something there. It couldn’t help but be a big influence on this record I just made. No way “Gulf of Mexico” exists, and no way “Meet Me in the Alleyway” exists. “Meet Me in the Alleyway” is kind of Harley, channeling Harley as much as me.
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