“History repeats while the sick machine roars” – “Exiles” by Son Volt
OKLAHOMA CITY – Exactly 12 years after Hurricane Katrina changed countless lives forever, many of us are looking on in shock and horror at the slow-motion catastrophe taking place in Houston, Texas and beyond.
Once a hurricane, Harvey is now a tropical storm, one that really has it in for the Gulf Coast area of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.
. . .
DEATH AT THE WHARF
Barry Cowsill’s date of death is shown as August 29, 2005. Twelve years ago today. Cause of death? Drowning “as a result of the flooding following Hurricane Katrina.”
But there were rumors at the time that Barry’s death was not simply due to drowning, but something more sinister.
That story always stuck with me. So tragic.
It was 50 years ago this September that “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” a number 2 hit on America’s Billboard charts, was released by The Cowsills, the Newport, Rhode Island-based psychedelic-bubblegum-pop band that would inspire the TV show The Partridge Family.
Barry had initially played drums for the family band, having been inspired by The Beatles. But as more members joined, including younger brother John, Barry moved from drums to bass guitar, and singing back-up.
But after The Cowsills broke up in 1972, after another number two hit with the Broadway musical soundtrack title song “Hair,” Barry Cowsill drifted through his 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, battling substance abuse and other problems, as many young pop stars and musicians of his generation endured.
Scrolling through old magazine articles online, one teenybopper mag (late 60’s/early 70’s) interviews Barry Cowsill to get the “real Barry.” And he was an interesting guy. Not necessarily the squeaky-clean, milk-drinking, all-American boy that the media and record label portrayed.
In part, the article notes: “Lately, Barry has become very interested in astrology and anything having to do with the mystic or supernatural! Ouija Boards, séances, and mysterious people are really outside!”
A FAMILY THING
On Saturday, November 23, 1968, the day after The Beatles (who had inspired The Cowsills to form a pop band) released what would become known as “The White Album” (check out "Faces of stone"), the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, NBC aired a musical variety show called “A Family Thing” which also starred Buddy Ebsen (“Jed Clampett” of The Beverly Hillbillies). It bumped the usual airing of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir to the following week.
This may have been the show that gave TV producers the idea to create The Partridge Family, which would premiere two years later on ABC.
Barry, 50, had only been in New Orleans a short while when Hurricane Katrina struck the city on August 29th, something I covered as a reporter in the Louisiana city of Alexandria, and, later, in New Orleans proper. I interviewed people who gave power to the rumor that the levees were deliberately weakened.
A day earlier, Barry had been scheduled to fly to Los Angeles to get help for alcohol addiction, but the oncoming storm prevented a flight out and he decided to wait it out.
But that decision would be to his detriment. Already living on the edges of society, in a city plagued with numerous social ills and inequality, Barry frantically tried to get in touch with his younger sister Susan, who was also in New Orleans at the time.
Calling and leaving messages for Susan (she was the sister who sang and played tambourine), they went unheard, at least until Sept. 2, 2005, but by that time it was too late. Barry was missing in the utter chaos that reigned in New Orleans as much of it was flooded and ruined and peoples lives were turned upside down.
Barry’s final voice message on Susan’s answering machine was: “I don’t know how to get out of town except wait for a bus …” He had allegedly said he was in a dangerous situation with people “looting and shooting.”
It would not be until Dec. 28, 2005, that Barry Cowsill’s body was discovered on the Chartres Street Wharf, being identified through dental records, as this Jan. 6, 2006 Los Angeles Times article reported.
But Barry Cowsill was one of upwards of 2,000 (and perhaps even more) people who died during and in the aftermath of Katrina, which also $108 billion in damage.
And so here we are - exactly 12 years later - and America is in the middle of a "crossfire hurricane." Trying to ford an "impassible river" (sic).
Or, we are just a ship of fools, with a Great Fool as the captain.
Or, put another way, we are at the crossroads.
“As I descended into impassible rivers, I no longer felt guided by the ferrymen …” - Arthur Rimbaud / "The Drunken Boat"