Friday, August 30, 2019

Labor Day Celebration Returns to Woodstock Square on Monday

The fifth annual Labor Day Celebration on historic Woodstock Square will be held Monday, September 2 from 11 am to 1 pm.  The program is sponsored by the McHenry County Progressives.
Missy Funk, event organizer, invites the public to “grab a lawn chair and bring friends and family to hear speakers on workers’ rights and participate in an open mic discussion.”
Speakers will include Patty Boyd who works in the McHenry County Clerk’s office where the Metropolitan Alliance of Police is in negotiations for a contract.  Michael Williamson is President of Local Education Association of D300 (LEAD 300) and an Illinois Education Association (IEA) Regional Chair.  Patrick Murfin is a long-time McHenry County social justice activist, labor historian, and a former General Secretary-Treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW.)
For more information see the Facebook Event.

The 2019 Labor Day Celebration on Woodstock Square.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Bigger than Dr. King—The March for Jobs and Freedom Moved a Nation

Dr. Martin Luther King's ringing I Have a Dream speech was the highlight and climax of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington and helped change America, but the March itself was bigger than any one man.
Like a lot of people back in ’63 I was glued to the television for the beginning-to-end coverage provided by CBS News of the March for Jobs and Justice on August 28.  I was a 14 year old in Cheyenne, Wyoming at the time.  I was both thrilled and awestruck.  Listening to Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech literally changed my life.

The March was the brain child of labor and Civil Rights leader A. Phillip Randolph.
The march originally was the brainchild of an elder of both the labor and Civil Rights movements.  A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and of the Negro American Labor Council as well as a Vice President of the AFL-CIO modeled his call for a march on Washington on a similar event he had planned back in 1941 to force President Franklin D. Roosevelt to open up employment in the burgeoning defense industry to Blacks.  Just the threat of thousands of Negros descending on the Capital had been enough to cause the President to establish the Committee on Fair Employment Practice and bar discriminatory hiring in the defense industry.  Randolph wanted to bring similar pressure on President John F. Kennedy and Congress to move on stalled Civil Rights legislation, but also to bring up new issues of jobs that had been overshadowed by the tumultuous battle for civil rights in the South. 
Randolph brought together the leaders of all of the largest national Civil Rights organizations including James Farmer, President of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); John Lewis, President of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Roy Wilkins, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Whitney Young, President of the National Urban League; and Dr. King, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to form a coalition to sponsor the march.  It was no small feat because of turf wars, ideological differences, and egos.

Civil Rights Leaders and major speakers at the March for Jobs and Justice, standing left to right are Director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice Matthew Ahmann, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader John Lewis, Protestant minister Eugene Carson Blake, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leader Floyd McKissick, and UAW President Walter Reuther; sitting are National Urban League Executive Director Whitney Young, chairman of the Demonstration Committee Cleveland Robinson, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters President A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Roy Wilkins.
In addition Randolph sought support from the Labor movement, most significantly from Walter Reuther, President of the United Auto Workers (UAW).  The White dominated craft unions of the AFL, however, were notable for their absence. 
Bayard Rustin of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the organizer of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, an early forerunner of the Freedom Rides that was meant to test a Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel, was tapped to coordinate volunteers and logistics, recruit marchers from across the country, and attend to all of the other details of the march while Randolph pulled together political, labor and religious support for the march.  
Veteran pacifist and Civil Rights leader Beyard Rustin of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was the Deputy Director of the March and in charge of most of the planning and logistics.  As an openly Gay man his public profile was kept low.  Retail workers labor leader Cleveland Robinson was named Chairman of the Administrative Committee.
Other than being a star speaker that day King was not heavily involved in the planning or management of the event. He even left the details of mobilizing SCLC supporters to his aides.
As word spread, it became apparent that the march was going to turn into the largest event of its kind in history.  The media began to pay attention.  On the day of the march, buses poured into the city from sleepy Mississippi towns and from gritty industrial hubs like Detroit and Chicago.  Trains from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were jammed.  Thousands of local Washington residents swelled the throng. 
Organizers put the crowd at more than 300,000.  The National Park Service, in charge because the speakers’ platform was erected at the Lincoln Memorial, said 200,000.  Whatever was the case, crowds filled the Mall far passed the Washington Monument.  About 80% of the marchers were Black. Marchers included many celebrities including actors like Sidney Poitier, Harry Bellefonte, and Charlton Heston—yes that Charlton Heston.  

Charlton Heston, Harry Bellefonte, novelist James Baldwin, and Marlon Brando added star power to the March.
It was a Wednesday afternoon but the three major broadcast networks broke away from their usual programming of afternoon soap operas to cover the swelling crowd and speeches live. 
Marian Anderson, who had sung on the same steps at the invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt after she was denied use of the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in 1939, opened the program with the National Anthem.  Several other performers took to the stage over the course of the program, perhaps most notably Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Mahalia Jackson.  

Peter Paul & Mary were among the notable entertainers who performed.  They led the crowd in Pete Seger's anthem If I Had a Hammer.
The Catholic Archbishop of Washington, Patrick O’Boyle led the invocation.  Other religious leaders on the program included Dr. Eugene Blake on behalf of the Protestant National Council of Churches and two leading Rabbis. 
After Randolph’s opening remarks each of the major civil rights leaders took the stage in turn. Floyd McKissick had to read the remarks of CORE’s James Farmer, who was in a Louisiana jail. The youngest leader, John Lewis of the militant SNCC, excoriated the Kennedy Administration for not acting to protect Civil Rights workers who were under regular and violent attack across the South.  Randolph and others who were trying to flatter and coax the President into action forced Lewis to strike the most inflammatory portions of his speech, but what was left was still plenty critical.  

Despite their notable contributions to the Civil Rights Movement key figures like Rosa Parks, and Dianne Nash were excluded from the speaker's list.  In the end the only woman to address the crowd was singer and dancer Josephine Baker who had spent most of the previous 30 years as an expatriate in Paris.  She wore her World War II uniform as a decorated member of the French Resistance.
Slain NAACP organizer Medgar Evers’s wife Myrlie was on the announced program to lead a Tribute to Negro Women, but did not appear.  In fact several prominent female figures in the Movement were either not invited or had their requests to be added to the program rejected by Randolph.  In the end the only woman to speak was jazz singer and dancer Josephine Baker who wore her World War II Free French uniform emblazoned with her medal of the Légion d’honneur. 
It all led up the last major address—the highly anticipated speech of Dr. King.  If civil rights veterans knew what to expect from the notoriously eloquent leader, millions of Americans viewing at home were in for an eye opening experience.  The speech, built to the thundering crescendo:
Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

The hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks who showed up for the March for Jobs and Justice were just as important as any of the movement heavies and celebrities.
The nation, or much of, it was awestruck and impressed.  That speech, along with the continued televised violence against Blacks struggling for equal access to public accommodations and the vote, helped set the stage for the major Civil Rights legislation enacted in the next three years. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Fire Next Time is Now—Murfin Verse

The Fire Next Time is Now
August 27, 2019

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

           —2 Peter 3: 5-7  The Bible New King James Version

Okay, so Biblical Prophecy is not my thing.
Mumbo-jumbo, mystic-tristick bullshit.
It gives me a rash and a headache.

But this creeps me out, you know?
            Cripes look at the headlines!
                        Record Heat Wave Feeds Massive Australian Bush Fires
                        Wildfires Permanently Alter Alaska’s Forest Composition
                        Huge Wildfires in the Arctic and Far North Send a Planetary Warning
                        Siberia is Burning!
                        Lungs of the World Ablaze in the Amazon
                        More Fires Now Burning in Angola, Congo Than Amazon.

Maybe Peter, or whoever wrote in his name,
            was onto something after all.
            I don’t know exactly who is un-godly
—me probably, you maybe,
those guys over there,
but maybe the day of judgement and perdition
is on us all after all.

We failed somehow despite the warnings
            of a thousand prophets, Jeremiahs, and Cassandras
            who warned us over and over
            to do something before it’s too late.

Is it too late really?  We beg for answers from the Holy seers.
            Hear our plea
                        Al Gore
                        Neil deGrasse Tyson
                        Gagged scientists of NOAA and NASA
Greta Thunberg  and your children’s crusade.
                        Elders of the Alaskan Nunakauyarmiut Tribe

Can we wake up, you know, like Scrooge on Christmas morning
            fresh and new, our eyes wide open
            and throw open the shutters to buy the world
            a turkey and a second chance?

Probably not that easy.

But you know what’s worse?
            That Bible guy said no flood this time,
            but he was wrong—
            the oceans rise, the world sinks
            Fire and Flood
                        Fire and Flood
                                    Fire and Flood.

—Patrick Murfin


Friday, August 23, 2019

Hustling Himself Out of Baseball—Pete Rose

Charley Hustle making the wrong kind of headlines.
Thirty years ago on August 24, 1989 Pete Rose aka Charlie Hustle was banned from baseball for life for gambling on Cincinnati Reds games when he was manager by an outraged Commissioner of Baseball Bart Giamatti.
Considered a shoe-in for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot, Rose probably doomed his chances for ever being included by for years steadfastly denying gambling on baseball despite mounting evidence, before sheepishly admitting guilt in his autobiography My Prison Without Bars.    
Rose's rookie card still a hot commodity for collectors in mint condition.
Rose was a home town product of Cincinnati, born to working class parents in 1941.  The switch hitting right hander’s dream came true when he was called to the Big Show in 1963. In his stellar 23 year career as a player, most of the time with the Reds, Rose hit for a .303 batting average, tallied 4,256 hits including 160 home runs and drove in a total of 1,394 runs.  He was famously aggressive on the base paths despite not being a fast runner and perfected a dangerous head-first slide.  
Among his many honors were Rookie of the Year in the National League in 1963, two Gold Gloves for his sparkling defensive play, three batting titles, 17 All Star Game appearances, and three World Championships with Cincinnati’s legendary Big Red Machine.  After playing for the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos from 1979 to ’84, controversial Reds owner Marge Schott brought Rose back as a player-manager to finish the ’84 season.  

Rose's signature head-first dive into base made him one of the most exciting players in baseball.
He played two more years in the combined role before retiring to concentrate on his bench duties.  He was undoubtedly the most popular player in Reds history and one of the most admired in baseball.  
But he was an inveterate gambler.  He claimed his regular bets with a major bookie did not include baseball, then after proof surfaced, that he did not bet on games he was part of.  When that claim, too, was disproven, he could only say that he bet for his team, not against it. 

Rose as Reds manager.
But gambling is the big no-no in Major League Base which was nearly killed by gambling scandals in the 19th Century and again by the Black Sox scandal of 1919.  Baseball ignored a lot of misbehavior, including the nearly murderous attacks of Ty Cobb on fans, regular alcohol abuse by stars like Babe Ruth, and numerous instances of sexual peccadilloes.  It would not, however, forgive gambling.  
After his banishment Rose cut a pathetic figure.  Banned from even setting foot into a ball park, he made his living signing autographs and selling memorabilia.  Even that got him into trouble.  On April 20, 1990, Rose pleaded guilty to two charges of filing false income tax returns for not reporting income from selling autographs and memorabilia, and from horse racing winnings. He was sentenced to five months in the medium security Prison Camp at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois and fined $50,000. Released on January 7, 1991 after having paid $366,041 in back taxes and interest he was required to perform 1000 hours of community service. 

Rose would sign anything for a buck, including humiliating admissions.

Rose’s 2004 autobiography was an attempt to both bring in much needed income and rehabilitate his reputation, possibly leading to a lifting of the lifelong ban and eligibility for the Hall of Fame.  Despite the vocal support of many players and some sportswriters, the book failed on the later count. 
The steroid scandals of the early 21st Century were used by supporters to argue that Rose, who never used performance enhancing drugs and who played hard his entire career, deserved consideration to be included in the Hall while disgraced players like Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens remain eligible.  

Rose flogging his autobiography, My Prison Without Bars.  The book flopped as a plea for sympathy and as a bid to regain eligibility for the Hall of Fame.
Baseball is officially un-moved by these arguments. After rumors that he was considering lifting the ban surfaced in 2010, Commissioner Bud Selig quickly denied the reports.  Selig’s successor has been no more sympathetic and many of the sportswriters who admired and championed him have retired.  Baseball has moved on.  It is doubtful Pete Rose will ever enter the Hall of Fame. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Jerry Leiber—Half of Late Tin Pan Alley’s R&B, Rock, and Soul Duo

Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber plugging a song.

One half of a songwriting duo that changed American music died on this date in 2011 at the age of 78.  If you think that this is an exaggeration, try erasing the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller from rhythm and blues, formative rock and roll, and blues tinged pop.  You can’t do it.  The hole would be too big.  Whole genres might collapse.

Raised in Baltimore in a Jewish family, Jerry Leiber was fascinated with Black music from an early age.  He later said:

I felt black. I was as far as I was concerned. And I wanted to be black for lots of reasons. They were better musicians, they were better athletes, they were not uptight about sex, and they knew how to enjoy life better than most people.

He found himself finishing high school in alien Los Angeles in 1950 when he met Mike Stoller, a freshman at Los Angeles City College who played piano and shared Leiber’s passion for Black music.  The two teamed up and were soon spending hours collaborating on songs.  Stoller mainly wrote the music and Leiber, with his ear for Black street talk, handled the lyrics, but their collaboration was so tight that both dabbled in the other’s area and often could not recall or tell who contributed what to a song.

Their first work was hardcore blues.  Within months of beginning their collaboration blues shouter Johnny Witherspoon became the first to record one of their songs, Real Ugly Woman.  Their first hit was Hard Times which made the R&B Charts in 1952 for Charlie Brown.  The same year they wrote K.C. Lovin’ for Little Willie Littlefield, a song that would later become a rock and roll hit for Wilbert Harrison under a new name—Kansas City.

In 1953 they penned Hound Dog for Big Mama Thornton, one of the last of the barrel house blues belters.  Three years latter a relatively unknown Memphis singer named Elvis Presley would cover the song.  It would explode into his first break-out hit and become a cultural phenomenon.  Leiber was resentful that Pressley had tinkered with the lyrics and believed the song meant to be a bitter scold to a lazy gigolo had become a novelty song that people seemed to think was actually about a dog.  None the less, as he observed, “…the fact that it sold more than seven million copies took the sting out of what seemed to be a capricious change of lyrics.”

Despite dismay that Elvis Pressley changed the lyrics to Hound Dog, the duo went on to a successful association with the King of Rock and Roll with big hits from his movies.

The team would go on to work with Presley, who also was rooted in a love of Black Music, on several songs, most notably the ballad Loving You, King Creole, and Jail House Rock, the themes of Presley’s films.
In three short years the team was established enough to form their own label, Sparks Records.  They began to specialize in music for doo wop inspired Black vocal groups like The Robins who recorded Riot in Cell Block #9 and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. They were branching out from song writing to producing.  In doing so they did even more to shape the emerging sound.

At work in the Brill Building, ground zero for late Tin Pan Alley R&B and rock composers.
Atlantic Records bought their label and gave them an unprecedented deal that also gave them the right to produce artists on other labels making them among the first independent producers.  For The Coasters Leiber crafted novelty lyrics that struck home with a growing white audience including Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Along Came Jones, and Poison Ivy.  The last song was not as innocent as it sounded—it was a song about getting the clap.  The song writing duo penned a total of 24 songs on the R&B or rock and roll charts for the group.

With The Coasters.

The Drifters, another top group with a rotating cast of singers also befitted from Leiber and Stoller’s work.  It was also the beginning of a fruitful relationship with Ben E. Nelson, later on known as Ben E. King.  Hits included On the Boardwalk, Spanish Harlem, and Stand By Me on which they collaborated with King.  As producers for The Drifters, they made a breakthrough when they added strings and lush orchestration to There Goes my Baby by King, Lover Patterson and George Treadwell.  The song was an enormous hit and influenced the emerging genre of soul music, a smooth and sophisticated update of R&B.  A young musician named Phil Spector worked with Leiber and Stoller in the recording sessions and was influenced by it in his development of his wall of sound.  Save the Last Dance for Me by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman developed the sound even more

During these years with Atlantic records the songwriting team also worked with Peggy Lee, Benny Goodman’s former vocalist who had carved a niche as a jazzy, blues infused chanteuse. Is That All There Is? with its minor key and shifting, slow rhythm displayed a sophistication that surprised many.  Lee also introduced I am a Woman which was destined to become a feminist anthem.

Leiber and Stoller left Atlantic in the early sixties for a period at United Artists where they wrote and produced Love Potion #9 for The Clovers.  Then they started yet another label, Red Bird Records, where they concentrated on writing for and producing the girl groups who were topping the charts.  Their first effort was Chapel of Love for The Dixie Cups written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.  The Shangri-Las’ Leader of the Pack also streaked to #1 and introduced a whole new spate of dead teenager songs.  Eleven of the 30 songs they produced on Red Bird reached the charts.

Leiber and Stoller produced Chapeil of Love for the Dixie Chicks.

After a falling out with business partners at Red Bird, they sold their interest to concentrate on independent writing and producing.  But the British Invasion was changing music and Leiber and Stoller’s R&B based sound was harder to sell.  They continued to produce hits with Jay and the Americans, often using R&B songs intended for Ben E. King or other artists.  The pairs last big hit was in 1975 with Smack in the Middle With You by Stealers Wheel, with a sound meant to mirror Bob Dylan’s electric period.
Despite falling off the charts the duo never stopped writing and continued to produce, including an albums for Elkie Brooks that sold well in Europe and album cuts for solo albums by Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald.
A new generation was introduced to the music of Leiber and Stoller in 1995 when Smokey Joe's Café opened on Broadway.  The show featured 39 of the duo’s songs.  It set a record as the longest running revue in Broadway history, closing after 2,036 performances.  Touring countries sold out theaters across the country and the show opened in London 1n 1996. The show was nominated for several Tony Awards and the original cast album not only sold briskly but won a Grammy. 

A new generation was introduced to Leiber and Stoller with Smokey Joe's Café, one of the first Broadway juke box musicals.
As their contributions to American music were recognized, Leiber and Stoller were showered with honors in their later years including induction into both the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and dozens of awards and citations.

In 2009 were credited with writer David Ritz on Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography published by Simon and Schuster.
When Leiber died of heart failure, Peter Stoller, Mike’s son, wrote on the Leiber & Stoller web page, “…[Jerry] would have said, “Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball…”