The mob was still charged with electricity. The riot should have ended when the music was cut, but the crowd swirling around One Eyed Jacks continued to buzz against the darkness. They were hungry for more. “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” someone shouted. Let the good times roll.
Drunk and set loose all afternoon, the dancing hoard had torn through the French Quarter, stomping and singing to the beat of living jazz. The townhouses and iron balconies shivered as thousands flooded their tricky streets. Second line funerals were routine to the old, Creole doyen, but these ululations were a new brand of requiem—a dixie-rock, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am blur of brass and drum. This was how New Orleans mourned the death of a star.
The Starman’s passing had been marked by a palpable ripple in the universe, like some super nova had been sucked out of existence. The city of New Orleans felt this flutter sometime before dawn. The fading owls on Bourbon Street saw their smoke rings scatter. The rising larks sensed the morning air rustle on their sleepy faces. The Starman had been a rock god, a rule breaker, an alien cast into the body of a shape shifting minx. His songs had picked up on the quest of every evolving generation. He got everyone while being like no one at all. That was his magic—when people watched him, they saw a relentlessly dazzling version of themselves behind the lipstick and rouge.
Word of his death was met with disbelief and frenzy. Musicians were shaken by the loss. Idols were brought to tears. The holy Vatican lowered its head in prayer. Even physicists saw black holes colliding in space. New Orleans responded big and easy—she would shut down her streets for a second line circus.
Two days after the news broke, an invitation to the French Quarter was beamed out on all channels. “Dress in your best, or something more strange,” it read. At four o’clock, there would be a rendezvous at the Storied Institution for Jazz.
Within hours, lightning bolts and brocade velvet bells were flashing around Faubourg Marigny. Exotic wasps emerged off Royal Street like disco dynamite. Along the river, men were painted up gold from face to feet. Carriage horses had their hooves dipped in glitter. Every crevice was lined with the burble of art and the billow of horn.
Two blocks south of the jazz hall, Jackson Square spread like a grassy mandala. By midafternoon, its resident artists, new agers, and grifters were flowing north. The park was a crop circle pressed into the French Quarter, an extraterrestrial signal: Come. Descend. You are welcome here. No city embraced aliens like New Orleans. Any oddball hellion, jazz fiend, and scallywag could find themselves at home in Mardi Gras City. She was a loose and generous lover. For the Starman, she would bed thousands with open arms.
By the four o’clock launch, a tsunami of painted spacemen were packed into a thick, meaty block on St. Peter Street. Cars were cemented in by bodies. Tourists were torn from Bourbon Street to gawk at the parasols and wigs crowding dangerously close to sparklers. They waved their phones above their heads like an army of drunk geese. Not to be missed! Not to be missed! As if their brains couldn’t contain the chaos as memory. The parade’s grand marshal was a rock star himself. Pimped up in a hot pink suit and peonied panama hat, he hooked every eye as he cued the band into a swing. He sang through a plastic megaphone—Homo sapiens have outgrown their use! The crowd blew their tops.
The French Quarter was shut down by the fat line of followers pressing through its narrow corridors. Thousands shuffled and cheered as brassy covers blossomed into the streets. Tubas, trombones, saxophones, and drums scrambled the guts of the Starman’s songs. They made hand clapping games and buoyed every off-key chorus. You’re a rock ‘n roll suicide, a hero from mars, you take time’s cigarette, and beat them forever and ever.
They were all ravenous to relive the music, stirred up by some undefinable bigness. Every now and then, a druzy face would look around and try to take it all in. That only made them feel like they were on the knife edge at the end of the world. The whole wild spectacle looked like it was rolling into the Mississippi, the horizon, and forever into space.
There’s a wormhole out there where this gang is caught in an infinite loop. The strange, midwinter summer lazes on and on. Magnolia petals hold fast, the muddy river flows nowhere. There, the sun never sets, the sky never darkens, the band never tires, and the candy pink marshal keeps up his pied piper lead around and around a million dead end streets.
But you can’t trace time. Laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll.
After four hours and forever into the madness, night had fallen. The parade route had quit in front of a club called One Eyed Jacks. The marshal, the band, the VIPs, and the lucky had made it inside for the after-party. Most of the crowd had been shut out and were bottlenecking Toulouse Street and the surrounding blocks.
One Eyed Jacks was an exhibitionist. Anyone who craned their neck could see the flash of dancers in a glittering disco rain. Cold juleps were clicking against bourbons in there. It made the outsiders swallow hard. It was dark on the street. The only Starman music left was filtering from the big, glass windows.
The mob was hungry for one last taste. It surged forward to fold itself through the door, but it was like a waterfall trying to pour into a thimble. The thick-armed bouncers pushed back and the current fractured. Heads, shoulders, and elbows were sent jostling back into the crush.
A clean-up crew of New Orleans police arrived and their blue lights glanced over each face. The mob did not disperse. Instead, it condensed. Look out you rock’n rollers. They wanted more song. It couldn’t be over. Every show had an encore. If an audience stomped and clamored long and loud enough, their star would return for another round.
The encore came. Suddenly outdoor speakers crackled and plastic soul sent funk booming into the night. The Starman was coming through from the other side. He was there to hustle heavy bass straight to the root. Mania rumbled through the crowd all over again. A single, zoetic word exploded from the amps—FAME!
But the cops were on it. They jumped at the speakers, ripping out the cables and cords. The music snapped into silence like a trap. A bubble of dismay blew up and broke into a confused uproar. It can’t be over! We can’t let it be over! Prove there is life on Mars!
Force was needed. The police cars were pressing through the human blockade and breaking up the body. People started shoving and shouldering to get away. The whole thing was beginning to disintegrate. It was breaking up in space like a meteor burning in the atmosphere. “Get going!” the police commanded. “It’s all over!”
Everyone was holding hands, because they would be lost if they let go. Released from the spell, the clusters began to pull away and drift apart. People were turning from the haze of One Eyed Jacks. Their voices were hoarse. They could feel tears in their getup and sweat smearing their face paint. Some were headed to beds. Some were moving toward the neon stench of Bourbon Street. Others were headed toward alleys that offered darker pleasures.
They were all headed back to life, back to forgetting. The Starman had disappeared from the speakers, disappeared from the planet. Still, there was something alive lingering in the air and a few were straining, straining to catch it. Some heard it, and those that did, knew—We can be heroes. We can be us. Nothing could ever stop the show.