For everything that has already been written and said about Hurricane Harvey, not a lot of art has come out of it yet. Maybe it’s too soon. It’s tough to spare much consideration for aesthetics when the highways are choked with gridlock, FEMA is in town, ruined furniture lines street after street, apartment complexes are awash in raw sewage, or neighbors and loved ones remain missing.
Despite the brave efforts of local creatives, many of whom have already marshaled their talents to help victims of the storm, the city’s live-music and theater scenes have been severely hobbled. That won’t last much longer, though. A handful of Harvey-related songs are already out; one is “Because of the Storm,” an ode to compassion that Walter Suhr, leader of H-Town salsa veterans Mango Punch, released on Thursday.
But nothing has gone viral as of yet, and it could be years before a novel or film based around the events of the past few weeks is released. We’ve seen dozens of stirring photographs showing both nature’s devastation and human kindness, but not one painting. Those memes of Steve Harvey’s face barreling toward the Texas coast don’t seem nearly as cute after the fact.
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Still, if you believe art happens whenever people attempt to make sense of the world around them by expressing themselves — especially when it doesn’t seem to make much sense otherwise — take a listen to “Harvey,” the 59th episode of Clint Broussard’s A Day In the Life podcast. As the rains fell harder and the first of many rescue efforts began flickering across Houstonians’ TV screens late last month, Broussard began playing records that, one by one, amount to a hell of a story.
“I thought it might be a rare opportunity to document and seize a moment with what has always been my passion: music, cultural references, a bit of humor and the ability to share my record collection from my living room,” says Broussard, who also hosts KPFT's Blues In Hi-Fi Monday afternoons and DJs Poison Girl the second Monday of each month. “It was an attempt to go through it all with the listener.”
“Harvey” begins perhaps the only way it could: the world-weary but matter-of-fact voice of Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins from 1959's "Rainy Day Blues." 'Rainy day in Houston…if it keeps on rainin’ I believe I will lose my mind,” Hopkins sighs, well-chosen words an entire city could sympathize with. Johnny Cash's “Five Feet High and Rising" ruefully cracks “looks like we’ll be blessed with a little more rain." Carole King’s buoyant “Might as Well Rain Until September” grins in the face of adversity; the Replacements’ “Dose of Thunder” shakes a defiant fist at the heavens. Los Lobos sound determined rather than defeated on “Can’t Stop the Rain,” which Broussard notes he chose for its explicit resemblance to ZZ Top.
“You gotta keep it in the family,” he says. “Which is something [the city] illustrated proudly during and after Hurricane Harvey.”
Song by song, the program logs the artistic heights rain has inspired in some of the past century’s greatest musicians, celebrating nature's fearsome power at times but neutralizing it at others: The Beatles’ psychedelic bliss (“Rain”), Peter Gabriel’s awestruck wonder (“Red Rain”), the Grateful Dead’s stoned serenity (“Box of Rain”), Sir Douglas Quintet’s Tex-Mex groove (“The Rains Came”). Not that it’s always quite so heavy. The cast opens with American Splendor’s ultra-snide greeting “Hello, Joyce…is Harvey home?”; every so often Broussard slips in ephemera like the Caddyshack clip of Bishop Fred’s “greatest game of my life!” in which Bill Murray says, "I don't think the heavy stuff's gonna come down for a while."
By the time Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” ushers this episode into the hereafter, Broussard has completed a compelling musical reconstruction of what experiencing the storm felt like in real time — to him, surely, but perhaps his listeners as well: a kaleidoscope of emotions, moods and reactions. The only difference is the actual storm lasted a lot longer than 80 minutes. (Now seems like a good time to mention the Houston Press gave A Day In the Life a 2016 Best of Houston award for, well, Best Podcast.)
Relatively early on, the music fades and Broussard brings up the Doors’ “Riders On the Storm” in the background. He begins describing what he’s been seeing on TV. “People in boats are out in flooded neighborhoods, rescuing families and people throughout the city. It’s humbling to see; it really is,” he says. “I’ve always been really proud to be a Houstonian, but what I’m seeing in regards to those in need from people capable of helping makes me so proud of this city. It’s really something.”
It really was. Harvey may be done with Houston now, thank God, but Broussard still has more to say on the subject. He’s already planning episode 60, a continuation of “Harvey” he figures will start with the tribute song Coldplay wrote for Houston, move on to new music by Bill Withers and JD McPherson, go into his post-hurricane visit to his folks in the Golden Triangle (they’re okay) and maybe slip in a song or two he wasn’t able to squeeze into “Harvey,” something like Tom Waits’s “Rains On Me” or Willie Nelson’s version of “Rainy Day Blues.”
He’s hoping it’ll be online by Monday.
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Listen to "Harvey" and Broussard's previous 58 chapters at adayinthelifepodcast.com.