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Editorial — Coming home: Echoes over the generations

 

Deep in a corner of the Museum of the Gulf Coast last Thursday, with dusk gone to night and a packed house leaning forward, C.J. Chenier gave those crowded into his induction ceremony his own version of his daddy’s song, “I’m Coming Home.”

C.J.’s father, “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, had written the song to lament missing that “one woman, I know she loves me, I know she do, I know she do” — his mama in Opelousas, Louisiana.

It was his father’s favorite song, C.J. Chenier said. It’s his, too.

In American Songwriter, Rick Moore wrote that the elder Chenier wrote the song as a “musical letter to his mother,” years after he began leading a musician’s nomadic life around the world. She never heard it, Moore wrote; Chenier’s album, “King of the Bayous,” was released in 1970 after her death.

That Clifton Chenier shot to fame after moving to Port Arthur is a point of pride for this city, which needs them and, through the museum, is collecting them for all to absorb and appreciate. That his son, C.J., born and reared in this city, joined his father in the museum’s Music Hall of Fame, only demonstrates the emotional hold that Port Arthur has on its sons and daughters, one generation to the next.

Imagine the son singing these words by the father, and imagine their effect on others who might have returned to Port Arthur to hear them sung in their own, personal context last week:

 

“You know, all of my friends

“They all saying it’s not a bad choice for me

“I’m coming home, yes I’m coming home

“’Cause that’s where I belong.”

 

There’s much to commend the museum, in that it reminds patrons this city and the coast have launched brilliant careers in music, art, science, sports, industry, military. Director Tom Neal said he routinely tells those who tour the museum that part of its purpose is to remind young people from here that those bright lights that originated here walked the same streets, gazed over the same waterways, peered up at the same stars — and dreamed big.

But the museum is not Greater Port Arthur’s sole source for inspiration, not the only thing that makes this coastal corner of the universe special. One might draw his or her inspiration by gazing over Sabine Pass, by digging one’s feet into McFaddin Beach sand, by standing before the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, by driving over Veterans Memorial Bridge. All of those sites speak to a sense of place, of time, of connection.

Those who feel such connections can hear the echoes, one generation to another, just like Clifton to C.J.

“I’m coming home, yes I’m coming home

“’Cause that’s where I belong.”