Second-line Living


By Jason Berry

Published October 22, 2004, issue of October 22, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

New Orleans serenaded L. J. Goldstein.The brass band funerals and street parades, called second lines, that wind through the town of Treme, outside the French Quarter, were far from his comfortable Manhattan, N.Y., upbringing, but close to his heart.

“I used to dream of moving to New Orleans,” Goldstein said. “I was drawn to the music, and the Storyville photographs of E.J. Bellocq. One day I got on the bus.”

That was in 1993, and since then Goldstein has become one of the neighborhood’s leading chroniclers. Goldstein’s pictures explore a culture to which he felt a magnetic pull. A 1999 image shows a line of men in coordinated hats and striped shirts. They stand or kneel in neat rows behind a hedge of matching striped umbrellas that look like big blossoms. Their sign reads: “Black Men of Labor’s Labor Day Parade… Please Leave Your Guns, Dogs and Snakes at Home. Come and Have Some Fun!!”

In early August, as he talked about his photographs, Treme was reeling from the death of a trombone player who was on his way to play in a jazz funeral, driving a car that someone else owned, when he went down, unarmed, in a hail of police bullets — for failing to stop on their orders. The death sparked an uproar in the neighborhood and is still under investigation by the New Orleans Police Department. Treme is a study in the resilience of culture amid decay. In the early 1960s, the last all-white administration at City Hall demolished 12 square blocks of Treme, including Victorian and shotgun houses worth preserving, displacing thousands of people as the first step in an envisioned Lincoln Center of the South. The plan ran out of money; the space was belatedly named Louis Armstrong Park. Meanwhile, the city razed two miles of beautiful oak trees on the grassy neutral ground of nearby North Claiborne Avenue to build an overhead artery to Interstate-10. Dozens of black businesses succumbed in the process.

Since then, Treme has lost 15% of its population. Despite some restoration of architectural gems (like Goldstein’s house, which he bought for a song), the neighborhood already was on a downward slide when a crack epidemic hit it in the 1980s — doubling the pain. And much of the community today is left out of the neighborhood’s best offering.

“People in the social and pleasure clubs who sponsor the parades are on the upper edge of the working class,” Goldstein said. “They’re putting away 20 or 30 dollars a week for decorations on the shirts and shoes. Each club spends a year preparing for a four-hour parade.”

A 1996 photograph shows Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews — back arched against a wooden building, his instrument tilted upward next to his much older brother, James, on trumpet — with two other trombones creating diagonal cross-lines into the frame. “I waited to get those trombones when they crossed,” Goldstein said. “The picture hints at the greatness we hope Troy will achieve.”

Troy Andrews, now a strapping 18-year-old, has moved to trumpet, with two CDs to his name. Thanks to James’s success his family moved out of Treme, though the brothers return to play the second lines.

“All photographs are about relationships,” Goldstein said. “On a visual level, they are about the subjects with each other, and the edges of the frame. On a spiritual level, they are about the viewer’s relationship with this visual arrangement. The best photographs speak to something true and beautiful outside the frame, something metaphorical — like in music — that cannot be expressed with words. I’m trying to make photographs of the triumph of the spirit.”

To see or buy L.J. Goldstein’s work, please visit

Find us on Facebook!
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.