Monday, August 30, 2010

I Wouldn't Give A Blind Pig...

According to H.L. Mencken, an astute student of American English, the term "blind pig" was first used in 1887 America and referred to lower class establishments that sold alcoholic beverages illegally. An upscale version of such an establishment was known as a speakeasy. The proprietor of such an establishment, or "Blind pigger," was in use by 1894. At such a place there would be a charge for customers to see an attraction (such as an animal) and then one would be served a “complimentary” alcoholic beverage, thus circumventing the law.

Blind pig is said to have American and Scottish roots with the roots of "blind" coming from covering the windows of such establishments so people couldn't look in. This "blinding" may still be on the law books in some states to discourage you from looking in on folks enjoying a drink or maybe getting blind drunk.

The difference between a speakeasy and a blind pig (sometimes called a "blind tiger") was that a speakeasy was usually a higher class establishment that offered food and entertainment. In large cities, some speakeasies even required a coat and tie for men, and evening dress for women. But a blind pig was usually a low class dive where only beer and liquor were offered.

Blind pigs still exist in the United States. Some sell alcohol for off site consumption from their homes (often at double the retail price, or more) during hours when legal sellers are closed by law, and others are illegally operated bars. Here in New Orleans there used to be such an establishment open one night a week with a well known password which doubled as the proprietesses' nickname to get in the door.

Blind pig also shows up as part of a piece of folk advice with an old Russian saying, "Even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in awhile." In the deep south it was little changed to, "Even a blind hog roots up a few acorns."

Another use of blind pig shows up in a lyric by New Orleans songwriter and singer Cousin Joe in his 1946 song called, "You Ain't So Such A Much." "I wouldn't give a blind sow an acorn, I wouldn't give a crippled crab a crutch, " certainly refers to a man who wouldn't offer his hand at a time of need. The song was also covered by Baton Rouge pianist Henry Gray and rerecorded in 2004 on Dr. John's album "Dis Dat or D'udda" as "Such A Much" featuring a duet with Dr. John and Willie Nelson that turns a blind sow back into a blind pig.

Another folk term is "like stealing acorns from a blind pig," which is something that might be easily achieved. A web site also turns up called Blind Pig and The Acorn which contains oral histories of Appalachian culture. There is also a major blues record label called Blind Pig which got its name from a club in Ann Arbor.

This leads us back to the opening picture in this blog which is a 1908 song, "Bl_nd P_G spells Blind Pig" by Junie McCrea and Albert Von Tilzer. Considering the times, the song was probably written by McCrea; since Von Tilzer was also a publisher, he added his name to the credits.

Certainly a blind pig is many things and deserves a place in the study of popular American culture.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

10 Places For Cheap Good Eats In New Orleans

Felipe's Taqueria @ 301 N. Peters St., New Orleans, LA 504 - 267 - 4406.

You get in line at Felipe's and tell them what you want and they make right there in front of you. I had a beef burrito for about $7 that was excellent and it is right around the corner from the Louisiana Music Factory so on Saturday afternoon you can catch a couple of free performances, then have a quick cheap meal.

Liuzza's By the Track - 1518 N. Lopez St., 504.943.8667
This place is a zoo during Jazz Fest but is just a normal neighborhood joint the rest of the year. I love their spicy seafood gumbo though I admit it was better before Katrina when they used to put an oyster or two into it. Their Reuben is the best on this side of town and their garlicky shrimp stuffed po-boy is a winner also. Lunch for two is normally below $25.

We love the Middle Eastern food at Mona's. They own a number of places around the city; our local is on Frenchmen. The grilled Chicken Salad for about $8 is a healthy favorite. My wife likes the kibby appetizer, which is less than $5.

Sammy's Deli on Elysian Fields just before the 610.
Sammy's does a kickin' business and you should arrive before 11:30 or after 1 as they have a tremendous take out business.  As busy as they are, their special menu changes daily, and the food is fresh and  abundant. One of my favorites is the Grilled Red Fish for about $11 or $13 for two pieces, which will easily fill up two people. Oh, yeah, and you get  two sides; the mac n cheese is wonderful. We normally split a drink becuase you can refill it,  but they don't serve glasses of water. Most of their entrees easily serve two. If it's just for you, plan to get a doggie bag: they are the Rocky and Carlo's of Elysian Fields.

Zimmer's @ the corner of Mirabeau and St. Anthony (lake side)
This place is a neighborhood joint. It is very popular for lunch and right now all of their shrimp and crabs are coming from the Lake. My favorite is their Shrimp Po-boy $8.95. I also love their crawfish when they are in season. They are always a favorite at my Jazz Fest party. That $8.95 can easily supply two for lunch.

Yummy Yummy's buffet on Carrolton near Brocato's
This is not like the mile long stale buffet that has become the in thing at mediocre Chinese restaurants. The buffet is small but has many choices including 2 or 3 soups ( hot n sour is my favorite), and many entrees. I like the tempura shrimp, the spicy chicken wings, pork and mushrooms and the steamed dumplings. Total $6 tax included and $1 tip.

R&O's near Bucktown
Their small shrimp salad is a winner and will easily work for two. The shrimp are fresh and they have a very interesting dressing for the salad featuring iceberg lettuce. I love the oyster po-boys. I ate an oyster po-boy from this place once a week for a year. They also have wonderful crawfish pies which a home cook makes for them to sell. I haven't been in a while so am not sure of the prices, but they are reasonable.

Walker's BBQ
They are probably the furthest away as they are out near the lake on Hayne Blvd. (10828), but their couchon de lait poboys are wonderful. They have a booth at a number of festivals including Jazz Fest but their prices are more reasonable at their home store. Also if your mate doesn't want barbecue, then Castnet (10826) is right next door with wonderful shrimp and oyster po boys as well as seafood to go. Price, one whole couchon de lait is enough for two and they also do some great greens. Get everything to go, then go over to Lakeshore Drive and sit, eat and watch the fish jump.

West Bank

Pho Tau Bay in Gretna just off the expressway
Before the storm, this Vietnamese place had a couple of locations in New Orleans; now you have to go over to Gretna to the original to get your Pho fix. The Pho is wonderful, though too much in the summer. I love their half fried Cornish game hen with a wonderful mustard sauce. The spring rolls are good, too, as is their Bun Bo Hue a noodle dish with fresh cut veggies and sliced pork. Price for two is around $20.

Gretna Farmer's Market
The market is held every Saturday morning. You can't plan what goodies will be available but you won't be disappointed. A recent sampling was 16 oz of corn and crab bisque for $7 and home made jambalaya, also for $7. (Note, I rarely eat jambalaya in a restaurant as I find the rice to be gummy and there isn't a good mix of ingredients. I try and get it from home cooks as that extra love and small batches make it so much better.) Result: lunch for two with soup and jambalaya for $14. No tax and no tip. Left-over soup will provide at least two more meals.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Does the Sphinx have boobs?

Some of the time I look at the world through the images drawn on the covers of old sheet music. I started collecting sheet music about 25 years ago while sitting in an antique store waiting for my wife to finish shopping. I discovered a pile of sheets and started looking through, quickly discovering a sheet from an early African American musical called "Blackbirds of 1928." I quickly fell in love with the graphics on the covers and realized how much sheet music reflected what was popular in popular culture in any specific year. My love of sheet music led to my in-depth research of African American songwriters and thus to my award winning first book, "From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African American Popular Music, From 1895-1930."

Sheet music collecting has grown easier over the years with the advent of eBay, the large on-line auction house. Everyday there are thousands of sheets for sale, with new ones arriving all the time. I have used eBay as a way to not only keep up with the prices of some of my rarer sheets but also to buy ones that were previously hard to get. I have also used eBay as a way to collect the images of sheets that I am interested in just for just the covers and don't want to plunk down the cash to buy. Over the years, as I examined sheet after sheet, trends in popular culture became more evident.

The world's attention turned to Egypt in 1922 when Harry Burton discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen, thus bringing the Golden Age of the Pharaohs to life. Sheet music and Americans were interested in Egypt before this, particularly the most visible long-lived monuments of the pyramids and the Sphinx. After King Tut made the scene, there was an explosion of musical tributes to the exotic African country. This happened again when the first major exhibit of material from King Tut's tomb toured America in the late seventies. I went to Washington to see the exhibit and was blown away, like others, by the riches recovered from the burial site. Just like in the early twenties, America went Egypt crazy, with the most visible sign being an American comic, Steve Martin, making his living for a few months with a song and skit dedicated to the noble boy king.

Recently I have turned up some sheets of this earlier era that I have never seen before and in the process have discovered that the Sphinx has boobs, or at least is portrayed as such in a sheet from that time. Now I know that the Sphinx has its origins in sculpted figures of lionesses with female human heads but I never knew it went below the neck line. So here is the proof below; take it with a grain of salt as many times illustrators of sheet music never really saw their subjects.

I wonder, since a new exhibit of King Tut is now touring a few select cities in the US, what its effect will be on American culture or whether has America grown too blase to care. There could be a new line of Sphinx inspired bras: only time will tell.