• ,

How's Bayou? If Millie met Janis

 

Proto-Janis, c. 1972, in an Uptown parlor

Proto-Janis, c. 1972, in an Uptown parlor

My charming wife, Millie, whose father was convinced she wasn't nearly as liberal as she thought she was, has always maintained that if she'd been born a few years later, she'd have been Janis Joplin -- with all the drugs, alcohol abuse and iconic renditions of such hits as "Bobby McGee."

In the early 1970s, Millie sported both flaming red hair cascading down her back and compulsive behavior patterns that made her a great reporter during her time on the City Desk at The Times-Picayune. She'd attended Florida State University -- to get away from Uptown New Orleans -- when songster Rita Coolidge was there, "before she began to explore her Native-American heritage, when she was wearing Madras-plaid shirts and Weejuns to class," Millie recalled.

Back when others were burning bras to espouse radical feminism, Millie shocked her mother by introducing herself to everyone at FSU as Millie, rather than Mildred.

Her father was right.

Several weeks ago, Miss Clio and I were returning to New Orleans one Saturday night when our Uptown neighbor, Tulane and NPR luminary Nick Spitzer, aired an interview on WWNO with Kris Kritofferson, Rita's ex, that brought a new Rita-Janis-Kris-Millie axis to mind.

We'd seen Kristofferson in line at a ramshackle general store on the Hawaiian island of Maui decades ago, guiding his stark-naked 2-year-old daughter by his then-wife through the checkout line. It's what aging hippy Rhodes Scholars do in the islands, we were told.

Spitzer's interview taught me at least one thing I didn't know: Kristofferson and a Nashville buddy had created "Bobby McGee." (I should note that when I Googled the song, the title appeared just above "Bobby Jindal," though I doubt the Governor, another Rhodes Scholar, has ever spent time in the Baton Rouge train station, the starting point of the song. Full disclosure: I have.)

After Millie had moved from City Desk and Dixie Roto (the paper's Sunday rotogravure magazine) to the Living Section at the paper in the 1980s, she received an assignment to interview Coolidge before her performance in the Blue Room of the then-named Fairmont Hotel. Advised by PR folks not to mention Kristofferson in the interview, she was scheming how to sneak him anonymously into the conversation.

"Easy," I told her. "If things aren't going well, just look directly at her, shake your head and sigh, 'Ain't it hell being married to a Rhodes Scholar?' "

An instant bond of friendship and suffering was established between the FSU graduates, and Millie got the responses she'd hoped for.

As we sat at a floor-side table in the Blue Room several nights later, Coolidge began to belt out The Temptation's hit, "The way you do the things you do." After several verses, Coolidge sidled over to our table, placed her hand gently on my shoulder, and, just above a whisper, crooned to me, " And baby, you're so smart / You know you could'a been a schoolbook."

The moment rivaled the day I'd marched proudly into Oxford's Neo-classical 17th-century Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Christopher Wren, for the degree ceremony.

If only Janis could have been there in the Blue Room that night. I know she'd have liked my Millie.

How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.