It had a tin roof.  And before it became a music studio it was a post office, built in 1927.  After it was a post office it was a center for retarded citizens.  They still get mail for them there.  Now there’s a “dog park” across the street.  Vintage furniture and junk shops just around the corner.  The décor inside a cross between an elegant Cajun fishing camp mixed with a turn of the century Storyville bordello, or maybe your favourite grandmother’s living room.  Comfort combined with sound quality the goal.  Rough cypress on the playing room walls, and chandeliers hanging thrown out of an old Masonic Temple, the rusted tin ceilings in the big playing room left because they looked good and sounded good.

This is where David’s first recording sessions happened—728 Piety Street.  The signal an analog, not digital.  An analog signal one where at each point in time the value of the signal is significant, while a digital signal is one where at each point in time the value of the signal must be above or below some discrete threshold.  In sound recording, fluctuations in air pressure strike the diaphragm of a microphone which induces corresponding fluctuations in the current produced by a coil in an electromagnetic microphone, or the voltage produced by a condensor microphone. The voltage or the current said to be an “analog” of the sound, and an analog signal has a theoretically infinite resolution.  And that’s how David Threnody’s voice, his guitar, was recorded—on vinyl, his first recordings back in 1945.  Its fidelity, its reproducibility, what I heard years later, over twenty years after his death, on KDHX community radio, waiting on a train at a crossroads in the American Bottom.

But it almost didn’t happen.  Not because of money—David had money saved up from his GI benefits after the war.  He had the money to pay for the recordings.  And he had the songs.  Songs he started writing after meeting Rosie Soledad in Mississippi back in 1937.  Songs he played with other musicians when he lived in tenement housing in East St. Louis before the war.  Songs already part of his repertoire when he played in Soulard during the 1938 Mardi Gras, for which he was first paid, when his mother first came to hear him play.  Songs he practiced with Johnny Tribout, after they met, after his love entanglement in Biloxi the summer of 1941.  Songs they rehearsed in their idle time as prison guards of German POWs before shipping out to England—tunes Schultz whistled along to after Popovitch handed them their dubious assignment following Nina’s mysterious death.  Songs other GI’s heard between Christmas Carols during David and Johnny’s entrapped siege at Bastogne in the winter of 1944.  David Threnody brought these songs to New Orleans, and in the summer of 1945 he was finally ready to record them, but it almost didn’t happen.  And what if?  What if it hadn’t?  Not only would I have not of heard them, thus enticing me to write this story, but the rest of this story wouldn’t have happened.  Because you see Bethany Labeau wouldn’t have heard them, nor Popovitch in his early retirement.  These recordings, these first recordings of David Threnody what brought them all together.  What led Popovitch to find David playing one night in the French Quarter, and what brought Bethany Labeau to sit in with him and sing, and the love entanglement that would ensue involving Bethany’s husband and Johnny Tribout and Popovitch in a drug deal gone bad with some young toughs from Dauphine not far from the Piety Street recording studio where David Threnody first cut these songs.  It almost didn’t happen, and not from anything David did wrong, but from what he did right—the jealousy of a sound engineer friends with a fellow musician, a competitor, who didn’t want these songs to hit the air because he was afraid of what they might do.

You shouldn’t be afraid when someone acts superior.  You shouldn’t be angered or dismayed.  You should be flattered.  For when someone acts superior to you they’re obviously afraid they aren’t.  You’ve struck a chord with them for them to act this way, and it happens in various situations.  In this case it was David Threnody’s art, his music.  His music threatened those who also played music, but they knew their music wasn’t as good.  They were no match to his voice, his skilled guitar playing, and they knew it…

Advertisements