Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Stonewall Rebellion/Pride Parades

There was a time not that very long ago, when any gathering of gay, lesbian, transgender people were subject to police raids. The laws prohibited homosexuality in public which includes any meeting, social event, church service, or even having a drink at a bar. In fact serving alcohol to a GLT person was against the law in many places. So yes, a person could be arrested for having a beer and the establishment closed for serving that beer. This was not a rare thing it was the normal thing. In today's world such a law and attitude seems archaic and stupid and even laughable. But such laws were not only on the books but enforced often with brutality. GLT people had no legal recourse.

GLT people were certainly not welcome in regular restaurant/bar club type social places so they tried to open their own. GLT clubs and bars would open and end up closing down completely usually within a year because of the constant harassment, arrests, and raids by the police. Homophobia in America was sanctioned by law. The attitude that GLT people could be treated with disrespect and brutality became ingrained in Americans. No wonder this nation's closet was so dark and deep.

During the late 1960's several social uprisings were in force. People were marching, marching, marching and protesting. Blacks for civil rights, hippie's against the "establishment", anti-war demonstrations, the feminist movement, all fighting back against injustice. But not gay, lesbian and transgender Americans. It was the last "community" that all Americans, including those fighting for their own rights, could beat up on.

In New York, the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar was one of the few places that allowed gays to congregate and even dance at the time. Although it was said to be owned by the mob and the police were paid off, it was habitually raided by New York City police. Until patrons began fighting back on June 28, 1969.

Usually undercover and uniformed police would enter the club, turn on the lights, shut off the music and even confiscate the liquor. The patrons were lined up and some arrested, some let go and sometimes the bar could resume business after the night's raid. But, on this night, as patrons were let go they did not scurry and flee as usual. They waited outside. Some patrons were bold enough to dance around in the face of the police. They were encouraged by the applause from the growing crowd. More police arrived and of course they weren't pleased and were surprised by the crowd. The patrons did not go quietly as usual. A scuffle broke out during the arrests.

That night the street erupted into violent protest as the crowd fought back. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the Stonewall Inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting "gay power".
Police reinforcements arrived and beat the crowd away, but the next night, the crowd returned, even larger than the night before, with numbers reaching over 1000. For hours, protesters rioted outside the Stonewall Inn until the police sent a riot-control squad to disperse the crowd. For days following, demonstrations of varying intensity took place throughout the city.
Out of this tumult was born a civil rights movement for LGBT -- lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

The Stonewall riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years after the riots, gay rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the United States.

Gay icon Judy Garland died in London on 6-22-1969. Her body was brought to New York City for an elaborate funeral. That was on June 27th. Early in the morning on the next day, the Stonewall riots began and the gay rights movement was started. For many in the gay community, there is a direct link between the high emotions of Garland's death and the police shutting off her music and not allowing them to mourn someone important to them. Someone who respected them. With tensions already high between the gay community and police, perhaps it was the last straw.

On the 1st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride parades in U.S. history took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and near the Stonewall Inn in New York.

June 28, 2009 will mark the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Gay Pride Parades will take place in cities all over America. A different America to be sure. Honor will be again paid to the brave patrons of the Stonewall Inn who stood up and fought back. Some turned over police wagons, some formed a kick line and simply refused to run away. That's where it started, both brutal and Fabulous. I'll think of them tomorrow at Chicago's parade and be grateful I don't have to worry about raids or buying a beer. I'll just say thanks and enjoy the fabulous.

Grand Marshal of this year's Chicago Pride parade is my friend actor/singer, teacher and activist, Alexandra Billings. She is the first Transgender person to lead the Chicago Pride parade.
Alex is an excellent choice for this momentous 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. She has been a trail blazer both in her career and in her social activism. And she is truly fabulous!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

Michael Jackson is dead. That is a heart aching statement. He was only 50 years old.
For kids and young folks during the 1970's and 1980's, today is a sad day as we lose another pop icon that contributed to our memories.

Michael and my mom shared an August 29 birth date. He and Monica were the same age. Me, Monica, my nephew and my mom and my friend Susie endured seats on a muddy White Sox Park field to see the VICTORY Tour. I could never wear those mud soaked shoes again, but the magic of the special effects and astonishing showmanship of that performance was worth it. It was spectacular. I was lucky enough to have seen the Jackson 5 before at, I believe it was the Chicago Amphitheater. They were all teens then.

After Quincy Jones and MJ teamed-up in the most successful collaboration in music history, for the making of Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad, there was no doubt that Michael was the biggest star on the planet.

My step-dad was the worlds biggest Michael fan. He read everything MJ and seemed to take a fatherly pride in his accomplishments. I know it disturbed him that Michael had issues with his father. He loved that Michael transcended and surpassed every record and every imaginable barrier.

The Motown 25th Anniversary Special was monumental for MJ and for music. I remember the day of that show, Rick a co-worker, saying Michael was overrated as an entertainer. He came in to work the next day and ate crow. A complete 360.
Michael had introduced the moonwalk during his "Billy Jean" performance which became the biggest hit and video on Thriller. Thriller was not only the largest selling album of all time but each song broke records as a single. Thriller changed everything. Black music was not even played on MTV, until Thriller. It opened all kinds of doors.

Michael was eccentric and isolated and obviously troubled. Yes, his looks and actions became downright weird. We have all known him practically all of his life. We have all watched him change. Now, we may or may not ever know for sure what caused him to alter his face or what caused his demons.
I cried when they put Michael Jackson in handcuffs. Not because he was guilty or innocent but because it hurt that for whatever reason, he had come to that moment.

My sister had Michael's posters on her wall

and years later her son had MJ posters on his wall.

Michael was one of the most important and influential musical figures of the 20th century.
People of all ages have some memories of Michael Jackson's music.

Rest In Peace, little brother. Maybe you can finally go out and play.


Farrah Fawcett died today at age 62.

She was made famous for her feathered blond curls, dazzling smile, the poster that sold millions where she posed in a red bathing suit, and of course her role on the 1970's hit Charlie's Angels. Women all over the world tried to have the Farrah hairstyle. She was the American pop icon of the late 1970's and the 1980's

Charlie's Angels was considered a triumphant show for women. The three character's who were fresh from finishing the police academy were not satisfied with only desk jobs so they quit and formed a detective agency. They were hired by Charlie, who was never seen, (voiced by the John Forythe). So, the "Angels" claimed a little women's TV history.

Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith

Farrah earned many Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for TV roles and she got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995. She will always be remembered for her 1984 intense and moving portrayal of a battered wife in the Burning Bed. That role made critics notice that she was more than a blond pin-up.

Actress Jaclyn Smith
"In the beginning her hair certainly captured the world and just about every man.
She took that position and reinforced it with talent and did some really chancy rolls and became a good actress, and I think a lot of people were surprised."

A piece of Americana passed away today. R.I.P. Farrah

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Koko Taylor, Chicago Royalty

Koko Taylor, Queen of the Blues, has died at age 80. It is a strange but beautiful and fitting coincidence that Koko's funeral was held the day the Chicago Blues Festival opened. She is certainly on the minds of everyone at the fest this year. Chicago Blues will never be the same without it's Queen.

The daughter of poor Tennessee sharecroppers, Cora Walton whose love for chocolate got her the nickname of Koko, came to Chicago in 1952 with "35 cents and a box of Ritz Crackers". She was one of the few female blues singers in the male dominated genre and it had to be tough to get stage time. But, Koko Taylor with her raw intense vocal firepower and good-time, foot stomping styling, became the female name associated with Chicago's blues legacy. This woman sang the blues nearly fifty years for the world but especially for Chicago. There were several kings of the blues but only one Queen.

Bruce Iglauer, a friend and founder of Alligator Records, which showcased Taylor, told the crowd that he was determined not to be despondent by his friends death..

"Koko Taylor's life was a triumph," he said, "a triumph over poverty, over lack of education, over racism. A triumph over all the odds."

Grammy Award winner Koko Taylor received every award the Blues world has to offer.

Blues artist Willie Dixon wrote Koko's huge 1965 hit "Wang Dang Doodle" which became her signature song. There are versions of Koko's performance of this song on YouTube that span the decades. This one is from a 2008 festival. I love the crowd's response. It reminds me so much of going to the festival and seeing Koko with Monica and my mom.

Over 1000 mourners paid tribute at her funeral. Koko's star power reached across all lines. The crowd was multi-cultural and multi everything else. Some came in jeans on the bus and some came in limos in designer suits. Tributes ranged from a proclamation from the governor to rock stars to the deli guy who sold her favorite corned beef sandwich.

Chicago will miss having the Queen of the Blues to promote our city. She was always up front and vocal about anything good for Chitown including the recent quest to bring the 2016 Olympic games here. It is hard to think of Chicago being without Koko Taylor.
Your Royal Highness Koko Taylor, R.I.P.

Koko in the 1960's




Koko at her Chicago blues club on Wabash Ave.

Koko with her daughter Cookie.

We will miss you.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Homeless Graduate!!

You can't do what, why? Too hard, can't focus, too expensive, too old, too tired, too whatever.
Well Toni Clark, a 50 year old homeless woman in New Jersey, is a college grad. She got her degree. I didn't say used to be, or formerly homeless. I'm saying she earned her degree while she was homeless. How 'bout that.
Congrats Toni!!!

Hat tip to Ann. Old Black Church

Friday, June 05, 2009

Chicago Radio, What's Going On?

For two decades Chicago has been soothed by the jazz on WNUA 95.5 fm. Ramsey Lewis in the morning, Dave Koz, Rick O'Dell spinning the best jazz and smooth hits. Well, I turned to this station and there is Spanish music playing. It was a good song so I left it on. But, it was followed by another and another . So, now I find out that WNUA 95.5 is no more. Everybody canned and sent packing and escorted unceremoniously and disrespectfully out the door.

How can we drive around Chicagoland (and I do a LOT of driving) without the smooth sounds of Vanessa Williams, Luther Van Dross, Kenny G, George Benson, Ella, Duke, Count, Prez, Sara Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Al Jarreau, Patti Austin, Najee, Diana Krall, Ray Charles, Wayman Tisdale, Earth, Wind and Fire, Boney James, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Mangione, Anita Baker, David Benoit, Grover Washington jr., Peobo Bryson, Sade, Isaac Hayes, Daryl Hall, and Natalie Cole, just to name a very few.

I shouldn't be a bit surprised that this happened or how it happened so suddenly. Since the FCC changed it's rules to allow for giant conglomerates who gobble up radio stations, erasing not only local stations which we must realize are our independent voices, this kind of thing will happen more. My very first blog post was about this horrible change in the FCC limits for media ownership in a particular market area. This scared the heck out of me. Quieting local voices and having one thought transmitted across the nation scared me. Having broadcasting decisions made by people looking at only profits scare me. It's like having insurance clerks making medical decisions based on cost.

I know trends change, stations change, they should. But moves like killing WNUA had nothing to do with us the listeners. It has only to do with yep, $$$$$. The bottom line. The folks who make these decisions could care less about the connections a station makes with the public or the music or the thoughts expressed. They don't listen to the stations they kill. They only see what they think is an opportunity to increase profit. It's just business. But it's not. Radio used to have and should have a local connection to it's listeners. This is fast becoming a thing of the past. America is the worse for it.

And, as if WNUA wasn't enough, some guy was talking on WGN at 9am. OK now where the fuck are Kathy and Judy? The Girlfriends. The best fact free radio on the air! This ain't funny! I called the station and no answer. Cowards. I'd heard the rumors but now cut and dry they are GONE! They don't give the public a chance to even get ready or mourn the loss of people who are in our lives daily. Twenty years, and then one day Gone. Kathy and Judy were special. Their appeal crossed ethnic, age, and gender lines. Yep Kathy and Judy's "girlfriends" ranged from truck drivers to housewives to sales clerks to attorneys to doctors to policemen to kids.

They took on the important topics of the day in an informative serious way. But, with their special combo of girlfriend sense and humor they never let it get too heavy or took themselves too seriously. They took on the most unimportant topics too and could turn a simple remark from a listener into a side splitting segment that reminds us how alike we all are. Kathy and Judy were as irreverent as they were sensitive and they got pissed off and told off. They had no problem pushing the envelope or discussing husbands or ex-husbands, the trauma of kids going off to college or why your 25 year old is still living with you. I'll miss the anonymous listener confessions protected by simply being a "Rhonda" or "Vincent", the Speak your Piece segment on Wednesdays, and the sharing of listeners' actual funny and often gross Merry Christmas Medical Letters.

Kathy and Judy both had successful careers with Chicago newspaper's. Both are accomplished writers. They became radio personalities 20 years ago when although they are very different, one Jewish, Judy Markey and one Catholic, Kathy O'Malley, discovered together they were a funny and engaging radio pair. I first met Kathy and Judy at the movies. I remember it was after a discussion on the show about the talk back to the screen thing. The flick was Waiting to Exhale. Perfect. We met again when my intro was picked for Evelyn Holmes' "Chic Sports" daily segment. That was amazing.
So, 20 years later they'd built a great following and continued to do the show because they enjoyed providing this fun show from a woman's point of view. Thanks Kathy and Judy for everything. You won't be beat and are not replaceable.

Big-girl panties?
Now here's the thing, Kathy and Judy are pragmatists who figure things change.
"We know that for some of you it's going to take a little time to digest," O'Malley said. "We're all going to be OK, and we're all going to put on our big-girl panties and deal with it."

Sure they say they will be OK. Me too. I'll just put on my big-girl panties and have to get used to not hearing my girlfriends anymore. But I don't like it one bit. WNUA, Tom Joyner the Fly-Jock and now Kathy and Judy. All the humanity is being sucked out of Chicago radio.

Judy listens to Kathy as their last show signs off.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Rush to Injustice

Rush Limbaugh is worse than simply a conservative windbag, he is IMO a terrible American and a terrible human being. Yesterday, on his radio show he said Barack Obama and his wife have chips on their shoulders against this country and want to bring the USA down a peg. To have political differences and ideological differences is one thing, but to outright say that this president's purpose is to intentionally harm this nation to workout some "chip" he and his wife are carrying around is something else. He however, didn't explain this chip or what it consists of. Uh huh.
The sad thing is that Limbaugh probably no more believes this than the man in the moon, but he knows that planting that seed and cultivating this doubt and fear will be believed by the people he is trying so desperately to hold on to. And yes, I consider his statement as playing the race card. Sad, sad man Rush.

Then it was on to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Rush called her a reverse racist because she made a statement that she may have insight as a woman, and as a Latino woman, that white men don't have. Duh!
Well, he checked into her record and found that she has a good one and a moderate one at that, and that her decisions are not that of a racist at all. So what does he draw from this? That she being ambitious, has cultivated this moderate record on purpose hoping to get onto the Supreme Court and turn into a super liberal activist justice. She'll turn on us, he warns.
This is a desperate grasping at straws by a man trying to hold on. His logic and arguments are getting more far fetched by the day.
Well, he still has Elisabeth Hasselbeck.