Gwen Thompkins

Gwen Thompkins is a New Orleans native, NPR veteran and host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, where she brings to bear the knowledge and experience she amassed as senior editor of Weekend Edition, an East Africa correspondent, the holder of Nieman and Watson Fellowships, and as a longtime student of music from around the world.

There are a lot of stories to tell about New Orleans.

There are uplifting stories about new houses, new shops and gigantic drainage projects. There are melancholy stories about everything residents lost in Hurricane Katrina, about all that can never be recovered. There are stories about all that remains to be done, 10 years after the hurricane and the levee failures.

And, throughout it all, there are love stories.

Want to hear one?

'It Was Still Mardi Gras'

From what people remember, he fell like a tree. Malcolm X — all 6 feet, 4 inches of him — had taken a shotgun blast to the chest and a grouping of smaller-caliber bullets to the torso while onstage at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights on Feb. 21, 1965. After a ghastly moment of stasis, he careened backward. His head hit the floor with a crack.

Some music festivals are known for certain specific things; others are known for a broad assortment. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is known for everything. The city's arms are just that wide.

Louisiana music has such a hold on music lovers around the world that nearly every popular artist borrows from it. Or replicates it. Or, some might say, steals from it.

There's plenty to go around. From classical to Cajun and blues to bounce, Louisiana has expanded the American songbook while teaching the rest of the planet to "shake dat thing." And we haven't even mentioned Louis Armstrong yet.

There's so much water in, around and underneath New Orleans, that the dead spend eternity in tombs above ground.

Most of the tombs now have a similar design: On top, there's space for a wooden coffin or two, and at the bottom lies a potpourri of decanted family remains. Sooner or later, whoever is up high must vacate and settle lower, making room for the newly dead. That's how families stay together — in a desiccated jumble of grandpas, grandmas, siblings and cousins.