Dear New Orleans,

I’ve been worried sick about you all day. I haven’t visited in two years now, and I miss you terribly. The last time was for the second NOLA Book Fair. That weekend R. and I went to Fiorella’s, like we had the year before, to hear Bingo! play. We’d gone originally with J. and H., and I loved everything about them, the whole act, the dingy garish Tom Waits back room smoky David Lynch Weimar sideshow Lotte Lenya cabaret on mushrooms theatricality of it: the scantily clad girls with their feather boas and hand-held spotlights; the gorgeous violinist, with her enormous blond dreadlocks; the bald carny barker with his greasepaint face, reeling along the top of the bar, nearly decapitating himself on the ceiling fan. The local kids we met at the fair said they were sick to death of hearing about Bingo!—it’s a small town, after all—but for R. and myself, it was a must-see.

I was hoping they’d play their Halloween song again, and they did. The chorus began like this: “Halloween!” sung, almost whispered, over the major fourth, the lyric slowly crawling up from the third to the fifth, and then again, “Halloween!” all languorously stretched out, the same climb, but now over the minor fourth. I can’t do it justice, but I swear, having heard this song only twice ever, it sounded like something Cole Porter could have written. The last line, if I heard it right: “New Orleans in the fall is enough to make you cry.” The words look plain written down, but that lyric played in my head all weekend long, from Napoleon House to Mollys at the Market, The John to Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge, the Backstreet Cultural Museum to the Popular Ladies second line parade, the Bywater to the Quarter and back again. I believed the lyric’s sentiment to be completely true. I wrote in my notebook: “How many cities make you love them so badly in such a short span of time?”

Will I ever hear this song again? It’s not on the band’s eponymous album, which I bought at Louisiana Music Factory three years ago. I asked Clint Maedgen (lead vocals, organ, guitar, saxophone) at a party that same weekend at the ARK (small town) if they had plans to record it, and he said it would probably be on their second record. I went so far as to e-mail Clint to suggest that they put live versions of as-yet-unreleased songs on their Web site, and he kindly wrote back to say that sounded like a good idea. But that second record, as far as I can tell, never materialized. And then J. said last year that Bingo! had broken up. And their Web site doesn’t exist anymore either—but then, New Orleans, I suspect your artists and musicians rarely bother tinkering overmuch with something as unreal as the Web. You traffic in much more sublime forms of ephemera.

I’m so sad to read of so much destruction and damage and death today. But I’m relieved to hear that although you’ve been badly battered, New Orleans, you’ve survived. Get well soon. We all need you something awful.

Addendum: I wrote the above late Monday night, during what I’m now sickened to realize was only a brief window of modestly good news—after Katrina had passed, but before floodwaters started breaching levees. Now I fear “badly battered” doesn’t begin to describe the damage, and “survive” (link via Maud) feels like a horribly relative word. New Orleans, as Terry Teachout wrote, our New York hearts are with you.