Silencing the Muses

The news that New Orleans is considering yet another “noise” ordinance that everyone knows will be used against music and musicians is hardly welcome news at a time when I have just returned home from one of the most enjoyable weekends I have ever spent in the Crescent City. The proposed ordinance would make no distinction between music and noise, sets an earlier end time of 9 PM for permitted music, sets limits measured in decibels, and would outlaw street performers altogether.

With the naïveté of the outsider, I had always assumed that people who chose to live in the Quarter were aware of what goes on there, and were cool with it. Certainly, if I relocated to somebody else’s neighborhood, I wouldn’t have the arrogance to demand that a hundred years of cultural practices be ended or curbed to please me. And if a certain neighborhood was known for things I didn’t want to be around, I wouldn’t move there in the first place.

That being said, the roots of much of this recurring battle is the war between the city’s African and Caribbean spirit of celebration, spontaneity and serendipity, and an alien, suburban rage for “quiet” and “order”. One wonders why these people moved to New Orleans anyway, as the values they venerate are easily found in Metairie or Mandeville.

They may yet succeed in silencing the notes of trumpets and the boom of bass drums. Then we will see if they enjoy the silent, empty streets, vacant storefronts and half-empty hotels. A middle-class, suburban New Orleans would be no different than staying at home.

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