Tab Benoit— “Government Needs to Tell People the Truth”
Series by keith harmon snow and Georgianne Nienaber
Voice of the Wetlands All Stars: Cyril Neville and Tab Benoit Front and Center
The soul of Louisiana is calling to us through her artists, musicians and writers. As this series on Louisiana unfolds, people have written to us asking what they can do to help. Perhaps a way to begin is to listen to the soul of Louisiana. Cyril Neville asked that Tab Benoit give us a copy of some music he and Benoit produced for a Voice of the Wetlands CD compilation. The music gives “voice to the water and land, to the swamps and marshes.” The songs are all about how to fight to keep what is about to be lost.
“Louisiana Sunrise,” a song by Cyril Neville and Rusty Kershaw, was recorded during the first week of January 2005. Katrina hit on August 29, 2005. The prescient soul of Louisiana was crying for help months before the wreck. Listen
What follows now is Part Two of our interview with Tab Benoit—one of the many important voices of the wetlands. Hear his voice as he mourns the loss of a 200 year-old Cajun culture where English was long a second language—a culture that unfolded with the first French settlers who were later joined by freedom-seeking Acadians from Nova Scotia. Listen as Tab Benoit explains that disaster preparedness meetings organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency prior to Katrina were about saving defense and oil infrastructure and not about saving people. FEMA organized a mock hurricane response program called Hurricane PAM in 2004 in Baton Rouge that cost taxpayers millions of dollars but never had the people’s interests in mind to begin with. Listen as he wonders what happened to the civics lessons he learned as a child in the bayou schools.
Tab Benoit was a central star in the mammoth IMAX theatre film presentation Hurricane on the Bayou, which has been running across the country in IMAX theatres. Listen to Tab Benoit’s palpable distress as he tries to distance himself from the IMAX theatre presentation he stars in, which has become a public relations tool for Shell Oil and the bigger oil companies behind it.
The Entergy IMAX Theater in New Orleans was sponsored by the utility company that declared bankruptcy, after years of record profits, and transferred Katrina “losses” to taxpayers, but continues to ignore utility problems in the Ninth Ward and Gentilly. A plaque on the Entergy New Orleans’ IMAX wall listing the sponsors of the Audubon 2000 “Wetlands” Campaign” is a Who’s Who of environmental and social devastation all over the world: Chevron-Texaco; Dow Chemical, Exxon-Mobil, Entergy, Freeport McMoRan, Pepsi, IBM, Shell Oil, Textron, Petroleum Helicopters, McDermott International, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Audubon Nature Institute produced Hurricane on the Bayou in partnership with Chevron, Dow Chemical, Dominion Oil, the Weather Channel, and several “philanthropic” foundations. The film green washes the truth— there is not one word about big oil and defense and not a single image of the vast oil infrastructure that blankets the Gulf onshore, offshore, underground and underwater.
Listen to Tab Benoit and know that he is speaking his truth, and it is an apt truth that resonates with those who are suffering from the multinational corporate structure we call “government.” Tab Benoit loves the land he grew up on, and he speaks from his heart for the plants, the wildlife, the cypress forests and native bayou peoples decimated by our thoughtless consumption of the earth.
“The only reason I got into music is because I knew it was the one talent that I had that I could help others with. It was a bigger, more universal way to help. I don’t just play music to try to sell records or to try to be cool or try to be famous; I would rather not to tell you the truth. I’d rather just be a regular old guy. It was killing me when I was flying for a living… I wasn’t doing the thing that I was supposed to be doing.”
—Tab Benoit, Houma, LA, November, 2007
“The first thing that needs to be done is the government needs to tell people the truth. I thought that the FEMA meetings would be that opportunity. These are public meetings, here’s a chance to tell everybody that lives in the lower ninth ward. It was a good opportunity to get everybody to evacuate and get everybody out of there. They didn’t talk about people. They didn’t mention that there would even be people there. It took me a while to understand it.
“You walk out of these meetings and you hear two hours of jargon, and you really don’t know what you heard, until you walk out and it starts going through in your head. I’d listen to everything they had to say, and reviewed it in my head, and I’m sitting in front of the building talking to people, and it just hit me. They didn’t even talk about people. You wouldn’t have noticed that they didn’t talk about people because they were so involved in all this other stuff that you had to go back and see what they didn’t say to figure out what they were gonna do.