How much more can I read about David Simon, creator of the Wire, and his new show Treme (pronounced “trih-may”)? The Guardian have been overselling it for weeks with each new article adding on and usually repeating bits and pieces of the previous ones.
Treme is set in New Orleans and is about the music scene and the unique African-American culture that has enriched the rest of the world. The premiere in the United States is tomorrow but those of us in the United Kingdom will have to wait until the end of 2010. I haven’t seen the Wire yet but I have read most of the book Homicide on which it is based. I like it, I said a while ago now, to someone who was also reading it but there’s too much death. I could sense him gritting his teeth and quite specifically not rolling his eyes. Nevertheless, I stand by my obvious judgement. I liked the writing, I liked the style and I kept reading in spite of the murders because I thought that the theme was not what kept me interested.
Is it real? asked a friend, it read real. Yeah it was real, I replied, well as real as a journalist sitting in with a police team for a year and extrapolating his, and projecting their, experiences can be. Yes, yes, he nodded. Obviously. But it’s not that obvious. When Simon describes the Police Chief standing in front of the crime board and worrying about the numbers, I stumble in my disbelief suspension.
How does he know the guy’s thoughts? Did he ask him? Did an interview take place straight afterwards? He can project and assume but he’s not the one holding the gun, not the one who has to live that lifestyle for the rest of his professional life unless he’s injured or killed in the line of duty. He is ultimately, and obviously, a writer.
There’s a scene in the movie The Paper where the publisher Robert Duvall advises Glenn Close that she can write about famous people but she can’t live like them. It doesn’t work.
In the same respect, I read Simon with the thought present that this is a journalist writing about others lives but his perception of their reality is slightly removed. Sometimes less obviously so, but always there.
Simon was present in Baltimore in order to write Homicide but I’m not sure of his presence in New Orleans. He writes with his collaborator Overmyer and there are additions from George Pelecanos and others. Pelecanos’ writing has such an unsentimental dryness that I can’t help but keep reading him to be left with just a little more despair than when I started.
I discovered the Greek-American writer Pelecanos in high school and it brings to mind an old joke from my jazz band days: What’s the difference between a trombonist on the road and a frog on the road? The frog is probably going to a gig.
I told this to a friend today and he was particularly unimpressed. I texted it to a fellow saxophonist and he got it! I find it hilarious, personally, and it’s more of a statement about the niche nature of little groups and inside jokes than it is about humour. Treme promises to deliver all of the inside cultural references to the jazz loving city, according to the Guardian, and there’s even Wendell Pierce as a struggling trombonist (quelle surprise).
I am a big fan of jazz and I suspect that I will be watching Treme and enjoying it but not only to indulge in a favourite musical genre. As with all writing, there’s a feeling of being slightly removed from the action so that it’s still enjoyable but you don’t necessarily feel that you’re watching reality. With David Simon that separation may be a little smaller. I’m happy to wait and see.