Mac, aka Dr John
Last Thursday saw the passing of a true New Orleans original, Dr. John. There simply was no one else like him before, and there never will be after - which I consider to be the highest sort of compliment you can pay anyone in our line of work. Consciously or unconsciously, Mac (as he was known around town, a nickname from his given name of Malcolm) took all the little bits he experienced in life, threw ‘em in a pot, stirred ‘em up and created something completely new and fresh. Like I said, a true original.
All the tributes that have come pouring in during the last few days are well earned and completely justified. Though never claiming to be a saint (quite the opposite in fact), he does indeed belong in the section of rock ‘n’ roll heaven reserved for only the New Orleans music greats. Anything I could add here would only be superfluous.
Character or no, he always was who he was without edifice of any sort of practiced veneer. Once when running into him early in my band’s career, I was very surprised when he told me that he saw us and really enjoyed the band. “You guys were fawkin’ hilarious,“ he said with his deep Nola gravel. I took it as a complement knowing that if he hadn’t enjoyed us he wouldn’t have mentioned it at all.
He lived across the street from me for awhile in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans and I used to see him come and go from time to time. Occasionally we would talk but mostly we would just nod in mutual acknowledgment.
While the world seems to be at a time when all of the 20th century musical greats have either passed on or eventually will be in the process of doing so, it’s gratifying to know that the spirit of Mac Rebennack decided to stop in New Orleans for a good number of years and add his particular flavor to our local brand of space. We are all the better for it.
When my time comes to depart this life, I’m personally banking on the Good Lord having a very healthy sense of humor and loving all of His children despite our many missteps. Hearing Mac sing and play the piano, I think, only helps prove my point.