Episode 181 – Chris Rose


Virtual Memories Show #181: Chris Rose

“After Katrina, I looked around and saw we had reporters out covering the destruction, but ain’t nobody looking around and what’s left. So that’s what I started to do to. I drove my car around the city until I ran out of gas. I got on my bike and rode around until I got a flat tire. And then I started walking. And I wrote about what was here, rather than what was gone.”

Chris Rose wrote the definitive book of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, 1 Dead in Attic. I caught up with him for his Magical Musical Mystery History walking tour of the French Quarter, and after we sat down in Harry’s Corner bar and talked about his life, his art, his three literary feuds, how he went from winning a Pulitzer Prize to waiting tables, going from celebrity-stalker to the Bard of the Crescent City, the myths and truths of the French Quarter, and a whole lot more. Give it a listen! And buy 1 Dead in Attic and book a walking tour of the French Quarter!

“My tour is like standup comedy, but we keep moving the stage. Drop all the pretension, and just start telling the stories like you do on stage.”


If you can make it through my self-pitying ramble of an intro (just skip to like 6:45), and you’ll hear a great talk about being New Orleans famous and/or infamous, the catharsis of the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, the other walking tours he’d love to run, his literary and journalistic heroes, how he got blackballed by his college newspaper, the time he got a cease-and-desist letter from Richard Ford, and why he’s never leaving the city again. Now go listen to the show!

“I was an ordinary man living in an extraordinary time. . . . All I did was write every day about what it was like trying to live in an unlivable city.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Chris Rose used to be a columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, where he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary. He won a Pulitzer for his contributions to the Times-Picayune‘s Public Service. He was a finalist for the 2006 Michael Kelly Award. His book, 1 Dead in Attic, was a New York Times bestseller. In recent years, he worked as a waiter. Now he’s a licensed tour guide. He lives in New Orleans with his 3 children. Chris Rose reigned as King of the Krewe du Vieux for the 2007 New Orleans Mardi Gras season.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at Harry’s Corner bar on Chartres St. on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue enCORE 200 Microphone feeding into a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. Photos of Mr. Rose by Amy Roth.

Droning on

David Carr has a good piece in the NYTimes today about the public’s lack of interest in the U.S. government’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to assassinate people. You should read it. Drone warfare came up in my podcast interview with Ron Rosenbaum, and will again in next week’s interview with Fred Kaplan. (ADDENDUM: Check out this New Yorker piece by Teju Cole on drone strikes and Obama’s literary habits.)

During the snowstorm this past Friday/Saturday, I watched all 6 hours of the BBC miniseries of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which was remarkably good. It’s left me a bit averse to watching the 2011 remake, although it has a good cast.

Yesterday, I took an old issue of The Paris Review off my shelf, to read the Art of Fiction interview with Mr. Le Carre conducted by George Plimpton in 1997. Here’s a passage that jumped out at me:

INTERVIEWER: But is espionage not different since the end of the cold war? Do you still keep in touch with spies?

JOHN LE CARRE: I have a few people, Americans mainly, some Israelis. The Brits don’t talk to me. It’s necessary to understand what real intelligence work is. It will never cease. It’s absolutely essential that we have it. At its best, it is simply the left arm of healthy governmental curiosity. It brings to a strong government what it needs to know. It’s the collection of information, a journalistic job, if you will, but done in secret. All the rest of it — intervention, destabilization, assassination, all that junk — is in my view not only anticonstitutional but unproductive and silly. You can never foresee the consequences. But it’s a good job as long as intelligence services collect sensible information and report it to their governments, and as long as that intelligence is properly used, thought about and evaluated.

Then you come to the question of targets of intelligence: what are the proper targets of the CIA? That’s a policy problem. For me, they are much more widespread than you would suppose. I think they should be extended to the ecology, to the pollution of rivers and those things. There is, for example, one plant in northern Russia that disseminates more pollution than the whole of Scandinavia. One plant alone. I think things of that sort as so life-threatening that they should be included in the CIA’s brief. And counterterrorism: you cannot make a case for not spying on terrorist organizations. You’ve got to spy the hell out of them.

But countersubversion — that’s a really murky target. That is when a government defines what political thoughts are poisonous to the nation, and I find that a terribly dangerous area. And then of course the maverick weapons — they’ve been left all over the place, partly by us. I mean, where are the Stingers we gave to the Afghans? Also, if you meddle in people’s affairs, you then have to live with the consequences. Look at Afghanistan. We recruited the Muslim extremist movement to assist us in the fight against Russia, and we let loose a demon. Intervention is a very dangerous game, and it always has consequences, and they are almost always embarrassing.

Paris Review, The Art of Fiction Interview CXLIX (issue 143, summer 1997)

The line from the last episode of the miniseries keeps swimming up in my head: “I still believe the secret services are the only real expression of a nation’s character.” Apparently, in the book, it reads, “The secret services were the only real measure of a nation’s political health, the only real expression of its subconscious.”

We have so much we fail to learn.

What It Is: 3/22/10

What I’m reading: Finished The Ask, read West Coast Blues, and started Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis’ biography of Charles Schulz, and The Night of the Gun, David Carr’s memoir of his, um, very bad years. I didn’t mean to have so many books going on at once, but we got hit with a blackout on Saturday night and I decided to read on the Kindle app on my iPhone for a bit. Since the Schulz book isn’t available on the Kindle, I thought I’d start on Carr’s book. Three chapters later, I’m enjoying it immensely. Still, I’d like to read the Schulz book and segue from that into the new memoir by Jules Feiffer, Backing Into Forward (for which Carr wrote a really nice review in the NYTimes this weekend). I guess I’ll stick with the Carr book, since I’m traveling next weekend and don’t want to carry around the Schulz hardcover.

What I’m listening to: Joe Jackson Live 1980-1986, and Born To Run, the latter because it was a gorgeous, sunny weekend in NJ and what else are you supposed to listen to when you’re out driving? It’s in the state constitution fer goshsakes!

What I’m watching: A little TV (Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, The Ricky Gervais Show, the new South Park), but the only movie was a take-the-bad/weird-with-the-good capitulation to one of Amy’s oddball requests: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

What I’m drinking: Death’s Door gin & Q-Tonic, and Domaine de L’Hortus grande cuvee 2007.

What Rufus & Otis are up to: Enjoying the warm weather with long walks. Well, Otis isn’t enjoying them as much as Ru is, because he has a bit of fur to shed, and has been panting by the last third of a 1.5-mile meander.

Where I’m going: St. Louis, for Passover with my family.

What I’m happy about: Assembling a new dining room table (yes, it was Ikea, but it seems sturdy as heck) and getting some new chairs, to replace the cheap-ass set I bought in the winter of 2002.

What I’m sad about: My NCAA brackets falling apart by the end of the weekend. Despite the fact that I watch zero college hoops and filled them out half an hour before the first game, I’d managed to pick a bunch of the upsets and was actually doing just great on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge through Saturday.

What I’m worried about: Getting the April issue out by the end of the week.

What I’m pondering: The weak link on Born To Run. It’s either She’s the One (a somewhat generic rocker to follow the title track?) or Meeting Across the River, which gets extra demerits for that awful David Sanborn horn. But Meeting does segue into Jungleland better than any other song on the album would, and She’s the One does rock pretty hard, albeit eh. It’s pretty amazing to think that one album contains Thunder Road, 10th Avenue Freeze-Out, Night, Backstreets, Born To Run and Jungleland. And that the artist still managed to make songs like Sprit in the Night, Blinded By the Light, Rosalita, NYC Serenade, Incident on 57h St., Badlands, Prove It All Night, The River, etc.. And don’t let ’em take me to the Cadillac Ranch . . .