By Lolis Eric Elie
Just when you think you’re totally over Davis Rogan, his drunken exploits, his undisciplined rants, his very Davis-ness, he comes up with a lyric, so funny, so on point, that you’re tempted to take back any doubtful thought you ever had about him. Tempted.
Still smarting years after Salt Lake City made off with our basketball team—lock, stock, barrel and mascot—it was Davis Rogan who devised the most brilliant response. On “D.J. Davis in the House,” he suggested we form a new basketball team and call it the New Orleans Tabernacle Choir. The Utah Jazz would be so embarrassed, he predicted, that they would give us back our team name.
But just when you are lulled into pronouncing Davis a wiseass savant, you hear another Davis Rogan story that shocks you back. At d.b.a., a great bar and music club on Frenchmen Street, they posted a sign behind the bar: "If your name is Davis Rogan, please leave."
As one staff member explained, “The staff finally had enough, and he was 86'd. The incident involved him angrily throwing a pint glass full of beer to the ground in the vestibule/entrance to the bar...broken glass and beer everywhere.” (The sign has since been removed because many bartenders were spending too much time explaining it to patrons.)
For fans of ‘Treme,’ Davis Rogan is an important figure. David Simon, co-creator of the show, has called him the “muse” for the Davis McAlary character. In an interview last year with Times-Picayune TV columnist Dave Walker, Simon said, “Here’s what I admire about Davis. I said to him, ‘Look, you know that I love a lot of the aspects of your existence that you’re giving me. It’s great stuff. Steve Zahn [who plays Davis McAlary] is going to have a field day. But you also know the writers are going to write fictional stuff. I’m not saying that the guy’s going to crawl through the sewers and [have sex with] an alligator, but he may end up doing stuff you don’t personally agree with. He certainly will not represent anything close to the reality of your life. If I were you, I’d want a little distance.’
“He wrote some song lyrics about it, basically saying, ‘Anything you can think of that you think would be problematic for me, I’ve probably already done.’ He’s been very brave about it.”
On his new album, ‘The Real Davis,’ Rogan sings about the wages of his ancillary fame. He’s not complaining. You learn from the record that the favored delicacy on the Davis diet is a dish called "the-hand-that-feeds-you."
Davis was an artist-in -residence at the Royal Abbaye de Fontevraud in the Loire Valley from July to October 2006. David Simon was, shall we say, incredulous.
"Davis, are you really calling me from a Chateau in the Loire Valley?" he asked.
"Yeah. Dude, they got Eleanor of Aquitaine buried around here somewhere."
But the thrill of France was short-lived. On the new record, right after rejoicing about leaving France and returning home to the U.S. of A., Davis covers the old reggae standard, “Rivers of Babylon.” In that song, “the wicked” carried our protagonist away and required him to “sing a song of joy in a strange land.” Davis' disappointment with France wasn’t mere jingoism. Later, he sings about how he can’t wait to leave New York and return home to New Orleans.
It’s not just Davis Rogan’s cantankerous humor that makes him so valuable a muse for ‘Treme.’ Davis knows New Orleans music from Armstrong to “Azz Everywhere.” “Low Down Dirty,” on the new record, channels the standard Dave Bartholomew-Fats Domino rhythm and horn line to get back at a music critic who slighted Davis, pre-‘Treme.’ His band, All That, was one of the earliest and best exponents of “sousaphonk,” New Orleans R&B in which bass guitar parts are played on the tuba to funky effect. And Davis is a student of New Orleans bounce, the New Orleans style of rap music that will be a prominently featured in this season of ‘Treme.’ But unlike the story in ‘Treme,’ where Davis McAlary gets fired for allowing Coco Robicheaux to sacrifice a chicken on the air, Davis Rogan contends that he got fired from his volunteer job at WWOZ because he played too much bounce on a station ostensibly dedicated to the music of New Orleans. (Sources at WWOZ say Davis got fired for spilling a giant-sized soda into the sound board and not telling anyone about. That side of the story is also alluded to in a ‘Treme’ episode.)