The Day the Music Died

Santa Fe Reporter | September 14, 2005
Alan Kapulski has pictures. There is more than a decade of memories captured in three photo albums on the table in front of him. For now, they are all that remains of his home—and his life—back in New Orleans.

He flips through the pages with a pained smile. There is his daughter Sofia playing slide guitar at a school talent show. His daughter Vivian weighed down with Mardi Gras beads. His wife Alexis mugging for the camera at the family’s home in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans.

Kapulski points to faces and takes an informal roll call of friends and family. “He is stranded in Savannah…I haven’t been able to reach him…Nobody has seen her…He is stranded in Baton Rouge.” And so on. Kapulski pauses on a photo of an alligator exhibit taken during a family trip to the zoo.

“These guys are probably swimming down the streets of New Orleans right now,” Kapulski smiles grimly. “It’s not hype, man. This is for real.”

Or as real as it can be from 1,158 miles away. Kapulski and his family left New Orleans and came to Santa Fe six months ago to take care of his ailing mother-in-law. They had planned to return, back when they knew they had something to return to.

“It’s a very tangible thing for us,” Kapulski says. “Our house is two blocks from the river. We don’t know how bad it is. But we obviously can’t go back there right now.”

Instead, Kapulski watches helplessly from his adopted home as the disturbing images and reports continue to filter out to the civilized world.

“We had illusions of going back, but we’re not going back anytime soon,” Kapulski says. “So we’re trying our hardest to put roots down here.”

It hasn’t exactly been easy. Kapulski is a career musician, a standard profession in the Big Easy but less so in the City Different. And given New Mexico’s comparatively puritan atmosphere, Kapulski isn’t entirely surprised that the prediction of 6,000 New Orleans evacuees flocking to the Land of Enchantment hasn’t panned out. To exiles like Kapulski—whose New Orleans band Son del Pantano, which specializes in Cuban music from the ’30s, has all but been disbanded by Katrina—the eerie silence of New Orleans streets is almost as alarming as the debris floating down them.

“Music is central to everything that goes on in New Orleans,” Kapulski says. “You walk down the street and it’s everywhere. I don’t know what’s going to happen there now. I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around it yet. But if those musicians don’t come back I think it will have a catastrophic effect on the culture of that city.”

Brian Mayhall concurs. The bassist for the Santa Fe bands Ray Charles Ives and D Numbers grew up in Mandeville, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, before moving to New Mexico in 1997.

“New Orleans is really a magical place for musicians,” Mayhall says. “I’ve seen so many amazing performers there. It’s so sad to see all those old buildings on Frenchman Street—where a lot of the music is—just completely underwater.

It’s heartbreaking.”

Like Kapulski and anyone gawking at the devastation from afar, Mayhall feels virtually powerless to come to the aid of his hometown.

“I went to Whole Foods the other day to buy juice or something and the Red Cross guys had a booth set up,” Mayhall says. “I gave them $40 and it just felt so weird. It was like ‘take this to my people.’ I just felt really useless. But there really isn’t all that much that I can do to help my family right now.”

Mayhall says his family is safe, even if their world has been twisted inside out. The future of the cultural landscape in New Orleans is less certain.

“If and when they rebuild these old historic neighborhoods, I think it could change the whole vibe of the city,” Mayhall says. “It’s looking bleak. I’m not sure it will ever be the same.”

Kapulski is doing what he can to keep the culture of New Orleans on life support by helping local musician Nacha Mendez organize a Sept. 30 benefit show and art auction at the Santa Fe Women’s Club. The proceeds will benefit the New Orleans Musician’s Clinic, an organization dedicated to the health care of the Crescent City’s large musician population.

The NOMC has temporarily relocated its operations to Lafayette, in southwest Louisiana, and is working in conjunction with Healthcare for Musicians and Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center to take care of hundreds, if not thousands, of the displaced and ailing musicians who are the cultural lifeblood of New Orleans.

“I wanted to do something,” Mendez says. “We’re trying to help out in any way that we can…And the response to this has been very positive because people want to help but they also want to know their help is going directly to the people that need it.”

With the home in his photos ruined and some of the friends in his pictures still unaccounted for, Kapulski—who will perform at the benefit—says the show is one small step toward keeping the sounds—if not the spirit—of New Orleans alive.

“At the very least this [benefit] is something that we can do on an immediate level,” Kapulski says. “The best thing that I can do—in lieu of trying to go back and maybe risk my life—is to represent what I’ve learned from my years being in New Orleans here in northern New Mexico, for whatever it’s worth.”

Santa Fe Reporter

When it was founded in 1974, the Santa Fe Reporter's mission was to create lively competition for a stodgy and timid daily press. That tradition continues today. The Reporter investigates beneath the surface, presenting in-depth stories often overlooked or uninvestigated...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 132 E. Marcy St., Santa Fe, NM 87501
  • Phone: (505) 988-5541