64 Parishes


Won’t Bow Down. Don’t Know How.

An excerpt from The Danse Macabre: Celebration and Survival in New Orleans by Cheryl Gerber

Published: February 29, 2024
Last Updated: June 1, 2024

Won’t Bow Down. Don’t Know How.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

A flambeau carrier lights the way for a night parade, 2019.

New Orleans is a city of contradictions: comic and tragic, sacred and secular, profound and profane; steeped heavily in tradition and religion yet drenched in decadence and debauchery. The Danse Macabre reveals the city’s rebellious and humorous spirit, which celebrates life in the face of disaster and death. In this street-level tableau of New Orleans culture, photographer Cheryl Gerber portrays the city’s rich and famous while paying homage to the everyday people who make life so special in her hometown.

. . . . Perhaps there was something to Louisiana author Walker Percy’s well-documented “hurricane theory” that suggests that moments of existential crisis are a remedy for “the malaise”: a hopelessness associated with the feeling that you are not connected to the world or the people in it. “Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?” Percy wrote in The Moviegoer, his 1961 debut novel that won the National Book Award.

LSU Press.

Maybe that explains why New Orleanians are stitched together by common threads that make us all part of the fabric of the most interesting city in the nation. We celebrate life and death unlike any other place on Earth.

. . . . In its more-than-300-year history, New Orleans has been resurrected from ruin many times over. The seemingly eternal city has survived and recovered from the Great Fire of 1788, the Civil War and Reconstruction, yellow fever and smallpox, and Hurricanes Betsy and Katrina. And in the face of recent catastrophes and conflicts, that renaissance continues.

. . . . New Orleanians are a tight-knit people. We march to the beat of our own drums and toot our own horns. We twirl our umbrellas when it is not raining and wave white handkerchiefs in the air, not as a surrender but in celebration and sometimes in rebellion. Though racial and class divisions still linger, one thing is certain. No matter our stations in life, no matter our dark and cruel history, we know that disaster and death unite us all.

Hope springs eternal in New Orleans. We won’t bow down. Don’t know how.



The Danse Macabre: Celebration and Survival in New Orleans
by Cheryl Gerber
$34.95; 288 pp.
Louisiana State University Press
February 2024