I wrote this story after Coco died, and handed out copies of it at his Second Line. My friends Monica and Marco did the graphics and it prints out really nice in color. Email me if you would like me to send you a copy of the pdf. (By the way, Coco always wanted everyone to know that no chickens were ever harmed while filming the infamous Treme chicken sacrificing episode. He used to say that he would pet the chicken, “and make it purr.”)
I also read the story at the Gold Mine in the French Quarter.
“Coco Robicheaux and Solomon the Rooster”
by Sara Jacobelli © copyright 2011, 2012
The last time I spoke to Coco? At the Apple Barrel, of course, sitting at the bar on a quiet, uneventful day. “What about the rooster?” he asked, after I said we were moving back to the city, finally, after six years. “Where are you going to put the rooster?” Coco always asked about Solomon the Rooster. (Maybe he felt guilty about that chicken sacrificing scene at WWOZ in the HBO series Treme). I told him that Solomon died of natural causes, and after we buried him in the back yard we brought his grief-stricken bride Jezebel back to the farm where we got her.
Solomon the rooster? Jezebel? Well, after Katrina, Liz and Doug from the Apple Barrel adopted a gorgeous rooster they found wandering near their Bywater home. He promptly moved in and became part of the family. They named him Solomon. But the neighborhood is home to a lot of bartenders, waiters and United cab drivers, who didn’t exactly appreciate Solomon crowing his fool head off at 5:00 am. The SPCA tried, unsuccessfully, to nab him using cat traps.
So Liz called me one day. Since we had relocated to Vacherie six months after the storm, we were the only people she could think of who could take him. Liz asked, “Do you want a rooster?” I was floored. How often does someone ask if you want a rooster? “Well, uh, sure. How does he get along with your cats?” Liz assured me the cats had developed a “healthy respect” for Solomon, no doubt due to those lethal looking spurs.
We lived in the “Back of the back” of Vacherie, on a canal leading to the lake. So our sojourn to a Cajun fishing village on Lac Des Allemands now included a Katrina rooster. He had a string around one leg, so we suspect he had a history as a fighting cock. Mark cut the string off, and we let him have the run of the neighborhood. In this swamp land of fishermen, no one minded his greet-the-day crowing, although they grumbled about the chicken poop. Our cats, especially Boris, got along fine with Solomon. We’d often find Boris and Solomon hanging out together in the garage.
Mark insisted Solomon needed a bride after he spotted him chasing girl ducks and attempting to fool around with the broom in the back of the pick up truck. We visited a local farmer who said “Sure, you can have a hen.” Being a city girl I asked, “Does it matter what kind of chicken she is? I mean, can they, get together, if they’re uh, different chicken brands?” The farmer assured me the chickens would figure it out, and gave us a plain little black and white checkered hen. She was so tiny, we called her a child bride. Her lips were black, so the local kids called her the “Goth chicken.”
Mark came up with the name Jezebel one night, after waking from a dream. Solomon and Jezebel soon became inseparable. They loved scrounging for worms after it rained and sucking the juice out of grapes. Solomon, ever the gentleman, always let Jezebel eat first. I worried that alligators would eat them.
We would bring pictures of Solomon and Jezebel to the Barrel. Doug would beam with pride. “My boy Solomon” he’d say, petting Keely the dog. “Sol is very, very smart” Doug would assure us. “He outsmarted the SPCA,” Liz would chime in. “Doug would talk chicken talk to him,” Liz explained. At this point, everyone in the bar would start clucking.
I’m not sure how smart Solomon was, but he was definitely a survivor, having survived ninth ward cockfights and Katrina.
We had the chickens for a couple of years. All of our friends’ kids loved to feed and chase them. Just watching those two free range chickens come running for their chicken scratch was funny. Solomon died one day, apparently of natural causes. Jezebel was so lonely, she tried to crow in the mornings. We brought her back to the farm, and she was soon lost in a sea of other chickens. We visit her sometimes, but we’re never quite sure which one she is.
Solomon, on the other hand, cut a striking figure of red, green and gold. Photos don’t do him justice, perhaps a brilliant portrait artist could have captured those colors. The green was absolutely iridescent. He greeted each sunrise with a glorious crow.
So in Coco’s mind, and the rest of the Barrel, we became the “people with the rooster.” Solomon and Jezebel, the lighter side of Katrina. A relief from talk of loss and pain, shattered lives and heartbreak. The tale of a handsome, macho rooster strutting his stuff and his worshipful young bride.
Coco was an ordained minister and our spiritual icon. He performed weddings for friends, played music when they died. His smile, mischievous spirit, and wise words are woven into the fabric of our lives. When Coco missed my “almost graduation” party at Vaughan’s due to a bout with the flu, he told me, “But I was there in spirit, babe.”
The loss of Coco Robicheaux is a collective loss to New Orleans. That is how we live here. We share our triumphs and our sorrows, our loves and our losses. We cherish our musicians and our writers and our artists. And our chickens.
Photo Credits: “Solomon the Rooster” and “Coco Robicheaux and John Williams” by the author