7 Questions With Alex McMurray
Written by Editors
Friday, 10 April 2009 21:46
Local musician Alex McMurray, a NOLAFugees favorite, offers a brief glimpse into the professional grind, the state of the city, and why you shouldn't request "Rosy Fingered Dawn" at his shows.
1.) Do you sometimes feel, whether you want to or not, like an elder statesman in the local music scene?
2.) Can you pinpoint the moment when you realized that moving to New Orleans was the best decision you ever made? Can you pinpoint the moment when you began to doubt that decision?
I suppose there was a time when I was still in college and playing around town with my college band (we were called the Vince Behrman Trio) and the idea of having a life in music began to look like a possibility. Eventually the Neville Brothers and the Radiators were going to have to make way for a new scene. Things were different in the late eighties, believe me. Certainly there is no other city in the world where one can play music for a (modest) living quite like it's possible here. It's been a very interesting and varied life so far, and i owe most of that to the city and its people. If there was ever a moment when I began to doubt that decision it may have been when I was commuting to Bay St. Louis to dig ditches under a house twelve hours a day for $6 an hour and was considering selling my guitar to buy a plane ticket to Europe. This was about 1994/95. That was a dark winter, but pretty soon I was subbing at the old opera house on B street several times a week and was headed to Germany for a two week tour with a gospel band. With the Bourbon Street gig I was making decent money playing music for the first time and could quit my job making pizza. Once again New Orleans felt like paradise. That was the last straight job I had until I moved to NYC in '04.
3.) Much is made of the post-K influx of bright young people who have migrated to New Orleans. As someone who was part of the 90s influx of bright young people (as were we), what advice do you have for these folks about making a life here?
I got here in '87 to go to Tulane, and even though i was in school until '91, i was already playing out professionally by 1990. I never gave much thought to being part of an "influx". My friends and I were just drifting along mostly. Friends from college eventually disappeared away to other cities and jobs, but a core group of diehards never really left, and if they did there's this inexorable pull back. I was always focused on music so New Orleans always felt like the best place for me. Even when I did make it over to Europe to hang with my friends who went over there for years I felt like I was wasting time that would be better spent gaining more traction in New Orleans. My point is I have no advice other than make sure you really love it here, because it'll be tough if you're on the fence.
4.) From your perspective. what has New Orleans lost in the years you've lived here? What has it gained?
We lost K&B. We gained Harrah's.
5.) In your capacity as a working musician, have you committed any acts you now regret? Are there things you didn't do that you wish you did?
I wish that I'd said to [District E Councilmember] Cynthia Willard Lewis, "yes, but tomorrow I'll be sober, while you'll still be a lying, venal bitch."
6.) You said in Antigravity last year that summers here can be "demoralizing." We agree. Can you share with us the most grim summer you spent in New Orleans?
The grimmest was probably the summer in the mid-nineties ( '95 or so) when I was living on Barracks Street just outside the quarter with Jonathan Freilich. It was so hot I couldn't sleep, which rarely happens to me. The mattress would be soaking wet. We had no a/c but we had several fans around the house, most memorably the small desk fan that Jonathan kept on his bed that would end up in strange places by morning, earning it the nickname "cockfan". The next summer after Jazz Fest we actually had a couple bucks laying around, and I'd noticed these 220 outlets near two windows and we hatched a plan to buy air used conditioners from a place on South Claiborne. I remember we felt quite decadent.
7.) Finally, you hardly ever play "Rosy Fingered Dawn" live. Why is that song such a protected jewel?
That song was dragged through the streets by a chain from the back of a pickup truck back in the [Royal] Fingerbowl days and I got so sick of it that I just left it alone. Also, it only sounds good with a band that knows how to play it. I never play "Fine-Ass Chemise" or "Magnets", either.
Alex McMurray has gigs in the coming weeks with bands too various to list, but NOLAFugees recommends the (3rd by our count) reunion show of Royal Fingerbowl, April 18th at One Eyed Jacks, and, of course, Chaz Fest on April 29th at The Truck Farm. For a list of other gigs, click here.
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