Friday, December 27, 2013

The Big Easy Deconstructed

     (Takes a local writer to get to the nub of it.)                                
        A veteran journalist and historian who lives in New Orleans, Carolyn Kolb, researched the history of the phrase, “the Big Easy,” in the course of assembling her own book, New Orleans Memories: One Writer’s City (University Press of Mississippi). Carolyn interviewed me earlier this year and concluded in a chapter entitled Deconstructing The Big Easy: “There doesn’t seem to be any reference to ‘the Big Easy’ prior to 1970... the year author James Conaway published his novel
     "The book follows the adventures of a police reporter (which Conaway had been at the Times-Picayune) through the underside of New Orleans, with crime, drugs, and racial disturbances... Did the name exist before Conaway’s book?”
Kolb cites various researchers who found the name on dance halls “but none as a nickname for the city.” A digital search of 156 years of the New York Times finally finds Conaway’s The Big Easy mentioned in a review of [the Times’s] top crime novels on December 6, 1970... So where did Jim Conaway get the phrase ‘the Big Easy’?
“Well, like any good reporter, Conaway just made note of something he heard on the street... a Wallace Stegner fellow in creative writing at Stanford University, he... arrived in town two days before hurricane Betsy in September, 1965... his first day at work began the morning after... Conaway soon became a police reporter.
        "‘It was a noir experience - real life noir - although I didn’t realize it when I was having it,‘ he said. The world of criminal court at Tulane and Broad was fascinating. ‘Bigger-than-life characters, a lot of corruption but a lot of freedom... People could do exactly what they wanted.’
        “He often rode the bus and walked from Claiborne Avenue to the courthouse, an adventurous route... It was while walking that he overheard two black men use the phrase ‘the big easy,’ perhaps describing the city as a place where any musician should be able to succeed with ease. ‘I was really struck by the phrase... It was only later that it came back to me.’”

No comments:

Post a Comment