President Obama’s Weekly Address (Jan. 23, 2010)

January 24, 2010 at 8:31 am (Life & Politics)

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Noel Ellis – “To Hail Selassie” (1983)

January 22, 2010 at 2:25 pm (Dub, Jamaican Music, Reggae)

Another great track from Ellis’ self-titled 1983 dub-heavy reggae classic…

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Robert Christgau – “Thelonious Monk: Not So Misterioso” (2009)

January 20, 2010 at 5:42 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, Thelonious Monk)

Recent article by Robert Christgau for the Barnes & Noble Review, Dec. 13, 2009 about legendary jazzman Thelonious Monk…


Some scenes from my youth. Forgive me.

November 1959, say. Four or five of us sit around the medium-fi record player in Dartmouth’s College Hall. Sandy Lattimore, poet son of classicist Richmond and the guy who dubbed me Xgau, is spinning Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso, recorded live at the Five Spot on Cooper Square in 1958. The special source of his beaming, chortling delight is Johnny Griffin’s tenor solo on “In Walked Bud,” which 50 years later remains this fireman’s son’s favorite five minutes of recorded music.

June 1960. At 18, I am old enough to go to bars in NYC. I celebrate abstemiously in the cheap seats (a buck? two bucks?) of the Jazz Gallery on St. Mark’s Place, where the bill is shared – you could look it up – by the Thelonious Monk Quartet and the John Coltrane Quartet. I see Monk many times here. Charlie Rouse always plays tenor, with Monk comping and dancing.

July 1960, as I recall. A British salesman at Sam Goody’s advises Brilliant Corners over Misterioso. Objectively, he’s right. I all but memorize Brilliant Corners. But in the end I prefer Misterioso.

September-October 1964. The Jazz Gallery has folded and the Termini brothers have moved the Five Spot up to the corner of Third and St. Mark’s. A friend with a nearby sublet spends late evenings outside the club’s open windows, listening to Monk. Sometimes we park ourselves on the garbage cans in the St. Mark’s Hotel next door. Once or twice I pay the minimum inside. Still Charlie Rouse on tenor.

I caught Monk live after that, but it stopped being so personal. He was beginning to dry up and rock was beginning to flower; also, I had a girlfriend who countered my impolite distaste for folk music with an impolite distaste for jazz. Only then, two years before Monk disappeared to spend his last six years in silent seclusion, editing Gary Giddins at The Village Voice got me back into jazz. A girlfriend who liked jazz helped as well. Monk’s “Tea for Two” was on our wedding tape, and Misterioso proved a lifetime companion. One could even say Monk is my favorite artist. I have myself.

Yet beyond a few Consumer Guide entries I never wrote about him. I am a music critic and proud of it. But my formal command of music is minimal, and much of what goes on in jazz composition and improvisation is over my head. In their superb new Jazz, Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux put an old animadversion gently: “Only by penetrating deeper into the music, to the point where you listen like a musician, can you penetrate jazz’s most rewarding mysteries.” For a critic whose operative conceit is that he’s a fan, this truism can be discouraging. So I perked up when editor Rob van der Bliek introduced the two musicological essays that top off The Thelonious Monk Reader by observing: “Verbal descriptions relying on metaphor and imagery have often been more successful in conveying Monk’s musical ideas.”

Monk has many devout fans and millions of admirers. Among post-World War II jazzmen, his mythic stature is topped only by that of Miles Davis and John Coltrane – Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, and even Charlie Parker don’t quite match up. Yet his literature is scant. Published in 2001, van der Bliek’s useful collection is already out of print, as are thoughtful studies, translated from the poetic French and the klutzy German respectively, by Laurent de Wilde and Thomas Fitterling. Still available is Leslie Gourse’s sketchy, digressive, ill-written 1997 Straight, No Chaser, which at least draws on a few interviews with Monk’s family, as de Wilde and Fitterling do not. But it’s blown away by Robin D.G. Kelley’s big, invaluable new biography.

Kelley is a history professor who’s written or co-written many books on African-American radicalism. But as a defender of gangsta rap who’s serious enough about the piano to own a baby grand, he’s not poaching when he turns to music. The meticulously researched Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original plods some, especially toward the end – Kelley can write, but isn’t great at motorvating narrative. Nevertheless, he performs the essential and gratifying task of transforming a deliberately enigmatic eccentric–“I like to stand out, man. I’m not one of the crowd” – into a warm, familiar, flesh-and-blood presence.

Kelley emphasizes that the chapeau-sporting genius who wrote “Nutty” was at bottom a devoted husband and father rooted in a social network dating back to his childhood on West 63rd Street in Manhattan, where he moved from North Carolina at age four in 1922. There Monk lived – except for two teen years in a gospel roadshow and a few sojourns with relatives in the Bronx – until he retreated to the Weehawken home of Baroness Nica de Koenigswater in 1976 and embarked upon his farewell silence. Monk was close to his extended family and a generous friend to many musicians, especially his protege Bud Powell, who eclipsed him for a time – and whose heroin Monk once took the rap for, sacrificing his cabaret card and much of his livelihood for six years in the ’50s.

Monk’s genius wouldn’t have come down to us without the nurturance of three women: his wife Nellie, his patron Nica, and his indulgent, indomitable mother Barbara. But unlike Powell or Parker, he wasn’t a sponge – he gave back plenty. Capable of trancing out at the piano for days when perfecting a musical idea, he was also capable of taking care of his two kids when Nellie had to work some job she was too smart for. He was a straight shooter as well as an eccentric. But Kelley also details many bizarre episodes as well as freakouts kicked off by the deaths of people he loved. He’s candid about Monk’s heavy drinking and lifelong reliance on recreational and prescription drugs. And he explores exactly what kind of nutty he was. Kelley’s diagnosis: bipolarism exacerbated by drug use, especially the Thorazine-amphetamine cocktails administered by the Beatles’ “Dr. Robert,” last name Freymann.

While establishing that Monk was observant, widely informed, and often articulate – as opposed to the “emotional and intuitive man, possessing a child’s vision of the world” Lewis Lapham fabricated in a typical 1964 profile – Kelley never forgets that he lived above all for music. I wish there was a money shot – a few pages summing up Kelley’s phenomenally knowledgeable overview of that music. And many of his observations were anticipated by such critics as, among others, André Hodeir, Martin Williams, and Scott DeVeaux, whose essays in van der Bliek’s collection I found especially helpful. Nevertheless, a thorough and compelling picture of Monk the musician does emerge.

Neither self-taught nor formally trained, Monk knew classical music but was immersed in jazz and Tin Pan Alley. He was very much a New York musician and learned a lot, often firsthand, from such Harlem masters as James P. Johnson and Willie “The Lion” Smith, whose boogie strode where Southerners like Cow Cow Davenport and Speckled Red rollicked. For several years house pianist at the bebop hotbed Minton’s, he got props from Bird and sometimes Diz, though not as many as he thought he deserved. But he was never the true bebopper Kelley sums up as “running substitute chord changes at breakneck speed.” He didn’t record as a leader until 1947, when he was almost 30 and Parker and Gillespie were almost famous.

Short-lived in its quicksilver can-you-top-this? phase, bebop was a seismic music that forever opened jazz improvisation to the mold-breaking ingenuity of jazz soloists. But Monk’s historical association with the style made his tremendous durability harder to hear. Next to Duke Ellington, Giddins and DeVeaux note, Monk is “the most widely performed of all jazz composers” – based on only 70 copyrights where Ellington notched 2000-plus. He was a hell of a piano player. But as Whitney Balliett put it in the most famous Monk sentence ever written (which Kelley fails to cite): “His improvisations were molten Monk compositions, and his compositions were frozen Monk improvisations.” Maybe the whole-tone scales he loved sounded weird; maybe they still do. But because he was such a diligent composer, the structural underpinnings of his music are always there to comfort anyone willing to meet it halfway.

Because Monk liked to take things slow, it’s easy to miss how strong he swings at first – many bassists and drummers did miss it, until he explained. But his pulse is always there doing its work. Similarly, the hallmark of Monk’s simpler tunes (“Misterioso,” “Bemsha Swing,” the easy-listening “‘Round Midnight”) as well as his mind-twisters (“Little Rootie Tootie,” “Trinkle, Tinkle,” the impossible “Brilliant Corners”) is their dissonances, a/k/a harmonies, often augmented by the disquieting silences built into their phrasing. But by now we’ve learned how pleasurable those tunes are anyway. Proud of his innovations, Monk didn’t identify as a traditionalist. But rhythmically and melodically, one reason he sounded so wiggy, so strenuous, so difficult was that he was committed to honoring the best of the past as he told the world how he felt now.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the way this great composer treated pop songs, usually solo or trio but sometimes with horns – to my ears, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” in 1954 and “Lulu’s Back in Town” in 1964 rank with his most extraordinary group recordings. According to Kelley, Monk seldom tossed these tunes off, often working them out note by note beforehand. Still, the standard mandarin view is that jazzmen resent the standards they’re expected to cover and so plot to undermine what British Monk fan Michael James, who I guess never met Nellie, called “the dogma which puts forward a partnership between man and woman as the guarantee of a blissful existence.”

Thus Kelley diminishes as merely “hilarious” the same “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” Martin Williams considers “a recomposition” that strips the Jerome Kern perennial to “its implicit beauty.” And thus Williams disparages the notion that Monk would consider playing his first “Tea for Two” in a corny, ricky-tick style even though the Criss-Cross version seven years later moves slyly in just that direction. As DeVeaux observes, Monk’s “affinity for the popular songs he grew up with” is probably “more deeply embedded in jazz as a whole than its most ardent champions might care to admit.” But it ran even deeper in Monk himself.

So Monk was less “avant-garde” than his scales and structures made him seem. He was an entertainer, too – when he finally began gigging regularly at 40, the little dances he did as his musicians soloed definitely brought in the hoi polloi. But when I look back at myself as the rock critic I had no idea I would become, I still ask myself why I was so drawn to Monk at first, and why I returned so readily when I was ready.

For sure I dug those dances too, but as part of something that is often said but seldom explored. Monk was funny. Really funny – as funny as Bob Dylan or the Ramones. Yet that too was part of something bigger – a knowing, affectionate nod to the variegations of human interaction and imagination that his sense of beauty encompassed. What I treasured most when I saw him live, even more than his tunes and his solos, was his comping – the sharp, sour, wickedly timed notes, chords, and elbow smashes he’d lay atop riveting solos by saxophonists who had struggled for weeks first to learn his heads and then to improvise off their melodies rather than their chords as he insisted. Though there’s plenty of humor in cutting contests, this joshing synergy has few parallels in any music I know. As Johnny Griffin told Kelley: “His music, with him comping, is so overwhelming, like it’s almost like you’re trying to break out of a room made of marshmallows.”

Monk’s tunes weren’t sweet like marshmallows, but they sure were sticky, and one function of his comps was to point players back to the molten core indicated by the title on the setlist. Monk’s painstaking compositions, reworked standards, and insistence that his sidemen learn his book by ear so they wouldn’t be tempted by the changes – all bespeak a committed melodicism that an 18-year-old jazz fan destined to spend his life listening to pop songs must have felt even when he lost the melody himself (which he still does sometimes). As Balliett put it in a quip closely related to the famous one: “His improvisations were ingenious attempts to disguise his love of melody.” Damn right he re-revised as he felt the moment demanded, occasionally with satiric intent. But I didn’t nominate his “Tea for Two” for my wedding tape because I thought he was mocking domestic intimacy. I nominated it because I sensed he knew how to adjust to its ups and downs a lot better than Victor Youmans – or Art Tatum. And also because he was willing to grant the happy couple a catchy tune even so.

Ah yes, Art Tatum. In my view, the anti-Monk. Griffin recalls the night when Monk executed “a Tatumesque run on the piano and my eyeballs and my ears almost fell off of my head,” only to hear Monk add, “But I don’t need that.” Maybe, although listening to Monk’s indelicate recorded arpeggios up against Tatum’s or Powell’s, I wonder how long he could have sustained or varied that run and understand why speed-crazy bebop fools dissed his chops. What there’s no maybe about is that Monk didn’t need speed. His bent notes and unlikely fingerings evinced a technique few other pianists dreamed of, and he had power.

Monk’s strength in the lower regions of the piano is well understood – Ellington once introduced him as “the baddest left hand in the history of jazz.” But jazz chroniclers never seem to mention the singular muscularity of his two-handed attack. Some players – Kenny Barron and Cecil Taylor are two I’ve found – emulate that muscularity on Monk covers, but even acolytes like Barry Harris and Fred Hersch cultivate a lighter touch overall. Though there must be others, the only album-length exception I know in postwar jazz is by none other than Duke Ellington: his late great Ray Brown collaboration This One’s for Blanton. But go back to Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith and Cow Cow Davenport, or fast-forward to any number of rock-era players – Professor Longhair! Jerry Lee Lewis! hell, Elton John! – and you’ve got a contest on your hands.

No wonder the future rock critic loved Thelonious Monk. He played loud.

One benefit of finally writing a Monk piece is that I got to spend a month with the core of his catalogue: his work for Blue Note (1947-1952 plus the 1957 Carnegie Coltrane concert), Prestige (1953-1954), Riverside (1955-1961), and Columbia (1962-1968). I’ll play most of it again with relish, though there are more posthumous live albums than any nonspecialist needs. But I can make a few observations other nonspecialists may find useful.

1) Most (not all) of the 39 tracks on the two Blue Note Genius of Modern Music discs are precious, including the alternate takes (available in more profusion on more expensive collections). But if one stuck to the 13 on 2005’s once budget-priced, now out-of-print The Very Best, one would have something like what the title promises.

2) Monk was never recorded more acutely than on Prestige. Thelonious Monk Trio, with drumming by both Art Blakey and Max Roach, is his finest showcase as a composer, and not only does Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins feature Rollins, so does the one just called Monk. Boo-yah.

3) There are too many Riversides, and the leadoff album of Ellington covers with which Orrin Keepnews convinced the jazz public that Thelly was a regular guy is too respectful. But Brilliant Corners and Misterioso (slightly less conclusive bonus tracks included) really do represent a peak, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane is a wonder (don’t miss ‘Trane on “Trinkle, Tinkle”), Mulligan Meets Monk relaxes without ever going soft, Monk’s Music bends four horns to his will, and Thelonious Himself, his first solo album, is probably his best, though some argue sanely for the posthumous Columbia comp. After that there are lesser good ones and some dicey stuff. I am not a fan of the underrehearsed Town Hall “orchestra.”

4) John Wilson fairly complained that Monk was “more placid” with tenor man Charlie Rouse, the only saxophonist on the Columbias and the only saxophonist I ever saw him with. But I’ll keep playing Criss-Cross, Monk’s Dream, It’s Monk’s Time, and Monk. anyway. Maybe even Underground.

5) Why wouldn’t a person buy Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall?

6) Though it’s drawn largely from keepers recommended above, I feel fortunate to own a gorgeously intelligent Monk compilation called The Art of the Ballad. Most of the others I can do without.

7) On Tom Moon’s say-so a year ago, I purchased Carmen McRae’s Carmen Sings Monk. The lyrics vary. The performances invariably turn Monk lyrical.

Monk played with many titans. Coltrane and Rollins, whew; Mulligan, no slouch; Coleman Hawkins, always a fan; Gillespie, Parker, and Davis, wary bosses. But when Monk took on Coltrane or Rollins or even Mulligan, it wasn’t just Monk’s record anymore – their voices remained very much their own. So because Monk’s songs evolved in his mind and practice, there was an advantage in entrusting them to Charlie Rouse, who came to know Monk’s music like no one else.

Rouse was so unfazed by Monk’s provocations that you had to root for him, but his own records never took off. He needed Monk’s guidelines. Mustering a breathy sound with plenty of grit and body to it, he specialized in down-to-earth solos and sensible ripostes to the big man’s outlandish suggestions. I prefer the studio albums featuring Rouse, meaning those Columbias, to the inevitable glut of catalogue-stuffing live ones (try Monk in Action first), especially because Monk’s gigs settled into the half-magnanimous, half-lazy pattern of giving his rhythm players solo room on nearly every number; over many sets, I grew to resent drummer Frankie Dunlop far more than his ingrained swing and subtle shuffles deserved. But all we have of Johnny Griffin’s time with Monk is two live albums – Misterioso and the less intense Thelonious in Action. Never mind At the Five Spot, which boils them down to one disc – you need the outtakes. A faster, sharper, and more forceful player than Rouse who’s less distinct than the titans, Griffin is my favorite Monk saxophonist.

What’s odd about the pairing is that the young Griffin wasn’t a ballad guy, while Monk’s watchword was “it’s really harder to play slow than it is to play fast.” Monk prevails, natch, but not without giving a little – his Griffin band ups the pace just enough to warm a rock and roller’s fundament. Or maybe it’s Griffin’s irrepressibility making it seem that way, like when he takes off on Misterioso’s “Blues Five Spot,” with Monk comping cordially for a while before the entire band lays out and lets him loop-de-loop on his own for 45 seconds. Like every soloist, Griffin had his tricks, mannerisms, and pet phrases. Listening hard, I hear tiny elements of the solo I’ve so long adored in between 2:21 and 2:52 of Thelonious in Action’s “Evidence,” and plenty more in his four- minute workout on that CD’s “In Walked Bud.” But let me praise my beloved.

On Misterioso, Griffin’s “In Walked Bud” solo starts less than a minute in, after a slightly fractured eight-bar piano intro and 32 bars of AABA by the quartet. Although Griffin follows the song’s structure obediently throughout, he obscures the theme posthaste, and when it diddybops back toward familiarity for a couple of bars festoons it with the first of many high wails. Griffin’s tone is mostly smooth and Monk’s comping mostly supportive as a melody more Griffin than Monk yet still “In Walked Bud” saunters and dips and stutter-steps and soars and unrolls till Monk lays out at around 3:00. Then, boom, Griffin goes crazy. Phrasing double- and then triple-speed toward the top of his register while signalling intermittent slowdowns with low r&b honks and blats, he works fast- moderate-fast as if extending a God-touched Sam “The Man” Taylor break toward an infinity lasting three minutes and twenty-one seconds. Monk yells or grunts approval at 3:42, 4:35, 5:38. But at 6:21 he takes over, tweaking an all but straight A theme that he shifts between his playful right hand and his sardonic left for two minutes. After Ahmed Abdul-Malik wastes 1:20 on a bass solo, Roy Haynes elicits more of the tune from his trap set than Griffin granted on his sax before the ensemble bids us a loose, energetic unison farewell. Cut immediately to two minutes of solo “Just a Gigolo,” a lugubrious chestnut Monk recorded six times and counting. One needs some certainty in life.

Gazing steely-eyed at this solo, which I recognize is not a certifiable peak of Western civilization, I suspect that what really got and gets me about it is r&b elements that were rarely if ever so blatant in Griffin’s work as a leader – co-existing here with intimations of free jazz. Somehow Monk, who except for that gospel roadshow was jazz and pop through and through and never gave Ornette much respect, brought the r&b and the free out in Griffin in what sounds like youthful defiance even if it wasn’t. And somehow Monk excitedly vocalizes his approval before restoring his own deeply satisfying order-in-disorder two different ways. No one now questions the musicality of that order. But the generosity of spirit that precedes and nurtures it often goes unremarked. Kelley’s vision of Monk’s life should make his generosity easier to perceive. But as I’m sure Kelley would insist, it’s on record for anyone with ears to hear.

Robert Christgau

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Kenneth Rexroth – “The Fuzz” (1967)

January 19, 2010 at 7:35 pm (Kenneth Rexroth, Life & Politics, Reviews & Articles)

A July 1967 article written for Playboy. This controversial piece (later published under the title “The Heat”) got Rexroth fired from his longtime writing position for the San Francisco Examiner. In it he talked critically about the increasing police presence on the streets of SF during the rising hippie movement, as well as police harassment of racially mixed couples and homosexuals in the city. I’m sure this article is more relevant than we’d like to admit…

 

Recently police activity began to impinge upon my own life. I live in a San Francisco Negro district and I could see about me a noticeable increase — prowl cars were more evident at all times. On weekend nights they seemed to be everywhere, stopping and questioning many more people than formerly.

An art gallery was raided and welded sculpture illustrating the Kama Sutra was confiscated by the police. This was entirely a police action without civilian complaint. The police lost the case. Student parties in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district were raided again and again and everybody hauled off to jail. Even where the police claim to have found marijuana butts on the floor, the cases were usually dismissed. In New York two parties of the Artists’ and Writers’ Committee Against Vietnam, a group with no political affiliations, were raided without a warrant or complaint and several arrests made.

Friends of mine married to members of another race began to complain that they were frequently stopped by prowl cars and questioned when walking along the street with their spouses in broad daylight. After the [Ralph] Ginzburg decision there was a noticeable increase throughout the country in police censorship; in San Francisco bookshops were visited by police officers who told the proprietors, “Clean this place up or we’ll take you in,” but vouchsafed no information as to what books were in fact objectionable.

Certain costumes seem to be an open invitation to police questioning — beards, dirty jeans, bare feet, especially on juveniles, but more commonly still the uniform of the homosexual prostitute, the studbuster — T-shirt, leather jacket, tight jeans, heavy belt, boots. I began to get all sorts of complaints: a well-known jazz musician taking a breather in front of a perfectly respectable jazz room between sets and talking to his white wife was arrested, taken to the local station, held for two hours, insulted, and then let go. Another driving with his wife was arrested for a minor traffic violation, failure to signal a right-hand turn, and taken to the station.

No policemen had molested me in over forty years. I drink only wine at dinner. Marijuana has no effect on me. I haven’t smoked it since adolescence. I am a very safe driver. However subversive my opinions, I am an exemplary law-abiding citizen. However, one night I parked my car in front of my own home, took my two daughters to the door, left my secretary in the car. When I returned the police, who obviously thought they were dealing with a racially mixed couple, had been questioning my secretary and because they hadn’t liked the tone of her voice were writing a traffic ticket.

In the next block the same patrol had threatened a neighbor with arrest in a similar situation. A few blocks away a Negro youth leader had an appointment for lunch with a police officer. On the way to the lunch he was rousted by that very officer. A Negro high-school boy acting in a school play with my daughter was stopped as he was walking home from rehearsal along a well-lighted business street, rousted, and eventually forced to lie down on the sidewalk, but finally let go.

All of this happened in my immediate neighborhood, to people known to me, in one month. Yet San Francisco’s police force is unquestionably one of the most professional in the country, with the extremely active community-relations detail led by a dedicated officer, an enlightened chief, lectures and classes on civil liberties, race relations, youth problems, and like matters. Reports in the press and from friends in other cities of increasing petty police harassment were far more shocking. It was apparent that The Heat was on — nationally. Why?

What exactly is The Heat and what turns it on? And why should it suddenly go on all over the country? The documentation of police brutality and violation of civil liberties in various cities about the country is staggering. But this is not what I want to write about.

In recent months there have been a number of magazine articles and serial newspaper features on “What’s Wrong With the Police,” and these have been answered in most cases by literate spokesmen for the police, not PR men, but working officers themselves. There’s very little dialogue. One side makes flat accusations, usually well-documented, of police brutality, illegal entry or search, harassment, prejudice against the poor, racism, political reaction, third-degree, and other violations of the rights of those arrested. The other side simply denies that most of these things exist, and counters with the statement, “Police work is a profession with very special problems which the layman cannot understand any more than he can understand the special problems of medicine or law.”

Both sides isolate the problem and treat the police as though they were members of a self-contained society — separate from the rest of us, like monks, professional soldiers, or the inmates of prisons and state hospitals. The problem is the functioning of the police as part of society, not as apart from it. Essential to any understanding is the definition of the roles that the police perform in the society in fact and the different roles which they are supposed to perform in theory, their own theories and those of their critics.

The following article recently appeared in The Berkeley Barb: 

POLICE RAID NUDE FEST . . . LIKE “GANGBUSTERS” 

Berkeley police with flashbulbs blazing ran swiftly through a gathering of about 40 nude men and women last Saturday. They were “investigating” possible lawbreaking at an East Bay Sexual Freedom League party. “It was like “Gangbusters’,” EBSFL President Richard Thorne told The Barb.” They came in very quickly and told us to hold it, stay where we were, and flashed cameras.” The police searched the house and checked the I.D. of each guest. They stayed for about an hour, around midnight. “After I got dressed, I went to the lieutenant in charge and inquired on what grounds the police were present,” Thorne said. “The lieutenant said that someone had issued a complaint which led them to suspect that there was the possibility of contributing to the delinquency of minors. ‘Of what sort?’ I asked him. He said, ‘Alcohol’.” Thorne and several other witnesses described the police investigation. Desks, chairs, bureaus, and clothes in closets were searched. Ashtrays were examined. Medicines were confiscated. Brown filipino cigarettes were peeled open. Guests who objected to showing their I.D.’s were given the choice of cooperating or being identified “at the station.” At Barb press time, no arrests had resulted from the investigation. One guest, who met a flashbulb as he emerged from the bathroom, described his conversation with the plainclothesman who apparently admitted the other police:
      “I asked him what had happened to give them the right to enter and search without a warrant.
      “He said, ‘Are you a lawyer?’
      “I said, ‘No.’
      “‘In that case, it’s none of your business,’ he said.”
      Witnesses described the police demeanor as initially “rude,” “sarcastic,” “snide,” and “up tight.” As the hour passed, they “settled down” and became “mannerly” and “courteous,” guests said. About 20 partygoers remained after the police departed.

“Clothes came off again at a rapid rate after they left,” one participant told BARB. “It was as if they wouldn’t let the police intimidate them, and they wanted to release a pent-up rage. It became quite a party. A very fine, successful party.” 

Following the publication of this article I took it upon myself to question one of the members of the Berkeley Police Force regarding the matter. Our conversation was friendly and was not confined to the police raid, although it covered the pertinent aspects. Pertinent portions of the interview were in sum and substance to this effect: 

INTERVIEWER: What happened at the nude party?

POLICE OFFICER: Oh, we alleged that there were people below the age of 18 there but there weren’t.

I:  Did you really believe that there was someone below the age of 18?

P:  No, we just used that as an excuse.

I:  Well, what happened?

P:  We busted into the place and there were several couples actually fornicating. So, we took some pictures and left.

I:  What did you do with the pictures?

P:  Oh, they’re fun to pass around for all the boys to look at down at the station.

I:  Isn’t that illegal?

P:  Well, I suppose so but they were having a nude party.

I:  Didn’t the attorney general of the state of California specifically say that nude parties were legal?

P:  Oh, we know that there isn’t anything illegal going on, but we feel that if you let this kind of thing happen it’s like opening Pandora’s Box.

I:  Is the police department supposed to prescribe morals?

P:  Somebody’s got to.

I:  Doesn’t the Constitution of the United States specifically allow the citizenry to determine its own morals?

P:  Well, you know how these things are.

I:  Would you want the police busting into your home under these circumstances?

P:  Well, I wouldn’t be doing anything illegal.

I:  Neither were they.

This example, however comic, poses the dilemma: the contradiction between the police as officers of order and officers of law. In the early days of the development of modern police forces perhaps their primary function was the preservation of social order and the enforcement of public morality. They dealt mostly with the poor, who, however unruly, accepted the same values. In a heterogeneous society such as America was in the days of massive immigration, most of the work of a patrolman on the beat in Hell’s Kitchen, the lower East Side, Five Points, Back of the Yards, was extra-legal. He was not a law officer but a peace officer and if he invoked the law to handle all violations of public order he would have found himself hopelessly overwhelmed. Until recent years the Paris police force still operated this way in almost all their day-to-day work. The vicious, disorderly, the conspicuous violators of common morals, were simply taken up an alley and “coated” with a weighted cape or worked over with a truncheon and kicked out on the street with a warning that if they were caught doing it again they’d get worse in the station house.

Vice (prostitution, gambling, narcotics) as distinguished from crime was “policed.” Streetwalkers were protected on their stations from invasion by other whores or pimps, and guarded against robbery or attack by their customers. This type of relationship — which was usually effective — was always advanced in private conversation by American policemen as an excuse for payoff: “If you clout them, you control them.” It still prevails in the Tenderloin districts of many American cities.

America has changed. It is becoming a homogeneous society and the divisions that do exist are of a new kind. First, of course, is the conflict over homogeneity itself to which the Negroes demand they be admitted. The second most important division, from the police point of view, is a change of values, the democratization of what was once the privilege of an elite of radical intellectuals — an entirely new moral code. Emma Goldman, free-lover and anarchist, was quite a sufficient bother to the police of her day. Today there are millions of Emma Goldmans, members of a new kind of middle class. This public resents the police as guardians of public morals. Younger people who live by moral codes which bear little resemblance to the lower-middle-class Irish Catholic morality of most of the police force look upon the policeman as a dangerous and ignorant disrupter of their own peaceful lives.

The police on the other hand believe that they have the right to control the lives of others for their own benefit, that they know better what others should do than they do themselves. They adjust the behavior of those who live by a different moral code to the stereotypes which they have inherited from the past. In its most extreme form: “If you see a nigger and a white woman together, chances are it’s a pimp and a whore.” “All those beatniks,” referring to a bearded student of nuclear physics, “take dope.” “If you watch you can catch one of them making a pass and you’re sure to find marijuana or pills.”

Both press and police commonly refer to marijuana, an intoxicant far less harmful than alcohol, and to LSD and the various barbiturates, tranquilizers, and stimulants as “dope” and “narcotics,” and attempt to deal with the problem exactly the same way that they dealt with the morphine traffic and addiction of fifty years ago. It is significant that the use of most of these drugs results in relaxation and noninvasive behavior while alcohol stimulates aggressions. The police as the Arm of the Squares represent an aggressive lower-middle-class morality in conflict with life patterns of nonaggression which they find incomprehensible and interpret in terms of crime and vice — aggression — which they can understand.

What is it the spokesmen for the police are talking about when they say the public doesn’t understand the nature of police work? Why don’t they explain? The reason is that the contradiction, the dilemma of police work, is something they do not wish publicized. They wish to present to a society concerned about civil liberties the policeman as a functionary of the legal process. They are not prepared to face the fact that he is involved in a symbiotic relationship within the illegal communities that function as subcultures in the society.

It is a common charge of those interested in a reform of the methods of handling the narcotic problem that the federal, state, and, to a lesser degree, city police have a “vested interest,” along with the Mafia, in preserving the status quo. This is an oversimplification. What has actually developed is a great web of petty crime, addiction, peddling which the narcotics officer hopes he can control and which is sensitive to his manipulation.

For instance, to begin at the beginning of the process: A narcotics addict arrested on a petty larceny charge can cooperate with the police in several ways. He can help clear the record by admitting to a number of unsolved petty thefts and he can give information which will lead to the arrest of his retail dealer, and his anonymity will be protected by the police and the charges against him will be reduced to a minimum. In the somewhat bigger time a felony charge can be reduced if the prisoner is willing to cooperate in the arrest of a narcotics wholesaler.

At the bottom of the ladder, a prostitute known to have associates who are either thieves or narcotics pushers or both can cooperate simply by giving general information, or in cases where the police know that the girl has information they want, she is often given the choice between cooperation, being admitted to bail, and receiving only a fine at her trial, or refusing to cooperate, being held without bail for a medical examination, and then given a jail sentence.

All this is done with a great deal of indirection and evasive language, but since narcotics control is something which the police must originate themselves — it is one of several “crimes without plaintiff” which is another definition of “vice” — gambling, prostitution and narcotics — the police can function only if they can keep a complicated machinery of information and actual social contact operating. And the fuel which keeps this machine going is bargaining power: each side has a commodity to exchange of value to the other. Each party to the transaction must make a profit. In this sense the police have a vested interest in the subculture of the underworld.

The remarkable thing about this subculture is that, although it may use the term “square,” both police and criminals share the same system of values. The narcotics peddler, the gambler, or the prostitute may point out that their activities are civil-service occupations in some countries and if the public didn’t want what they had to offer, they would go out of business. To some extent most policemen share this point of view, but both sides in private conversation usually will be found to be convinced that vice is morally wrong.

The underworld subculture does not have the self-confidence attributed to it in fiction. Again, this lack is a powerful psychological tool in the hands of the police. A prostitute who is treated by the arresting officer as “just a hard-working girl,” the victim of hypocritical bluenosed laws which it is the officer’s job to enforce, will be far more cooperative than a girl who feels she is being treated with contempt, most especially so because she herself has that contempt. Organizations like Synanon have made a therapeutic method out of the self-hate of the narcotics addict, but a policeman who used the language of a Synanon session would find himself with a very hostile prisoner indeed on his hands.

What the policeman does as a custodial officer within the underworld subculture is keep it abated, and he applies these methods to other problems of social order.

For instance, for several years I knew a handsome young Negro intellectual who was a professional blackmailer. He would spot a wealthy young married woman slumming in bohemia, strike up an acquaintance, carry on an intellectual conversation, arouse her sympathy. After reciting T.S. Eliot at length he would divulge the information that he cried himself to sleep night after night because his skin was black and his hair was crinkly. As they parted he would thank her profusely, say that he never hoped to see her again but could he write her sometimes when the pain was more than he could bear. The exchange of letters led to an exchange of pictures and possibly even to an affair, and then one day the socialite housewife would get a telephone call that he was in a terrible jam and needed a thousand dollars that he had been offered by a newspaperman for the letters and pictures. Needless to say, journalism is no longer conducted this way but the girls usually paid up and those who were sleeping with him usually went right on doing so.

One night I was in a club in San Francisco’s North Beach and watched the regular cop on the beat question only the mixed couples in the place and concentrate his hostility on this man and his new girl. As he went out the door he said to me, “Okay, Rexroth, say I’m prejudiced but what do you want me to do with that motherfucker? Go up to him and say, ‘You’re under arrest for blackmail’?”

Eventually this harassment may have paid off because the fellow left town for good. This instance explains a good many things. The police still believe that there are enough relationships of this kind, or worse, amongst mixed-race couples to justify a policy of general interrogation and of making those people who do not respond as the police think they should as uncomfortable as possible. Harassment is a method of abatement and the police consider it one which may work when there is no plaintiff or no visible commission of crime.

Take the case of homosexuality. Homosexual acts between consenting adults are no longer policed as such. The laws which the police attempt to enforce are essentially the same as those applied to heterosexuals. The bushes in parks and public toilets are not chosen by heterosexuals for sexual intercourse, and although assignations are made between men and women in bars, this has become socially acceptable in most cities, and it is usually not so obvious as the activities in a gay bar.

With the growing tolerance of homosexuality and the enormous increase in gay bars and other open manifestations of homosexuality socially, there has not only been a great increase in homosexual prostitution, especially amongst floating adolescents, but a tremendous increase in robbery and murder. Not only have a number of well-known personalities in recent years been found robbed and beaten to death in cities with a large homosexual population, but studbusting has become one of the commonest forms of “unexplained” homicide. Middle-aged men, many of them married and with children, are pulled out of the bushes dead, with a frequency the police prefer to say nothing about.

Here is the police problem. No one is going to complain. The partners in a homosexual relationship participate voluntarily. If one is robbed, he will not risk disgrace by going to the police. If he’s dead, he’s dead, and the circumstances of his murder provide no clue. The act itself takes only a brief time and is almost impossible to catch. So the police harass and embarrass the gay bar or the respectable-looking homosexuals frequenting parks or cruising certain well-known streets looking for “trade.” The “trade,” the homosexual prostitute, they make as uncomfortable as possible.

At one time entrapment was a common form of arrest, but the prejudice of the court and the public is so great that it is being abandoned. A judge is very likely to say, “What were you doing when the defendant was fondling your penis?” Besides entrapment does not catch the principal offender, the studbuster, who if he is experienced can recognize a plainclothesman no matter how plausibly disguised.

This leaves the police with degrading methods, peepholes in public toilets and such like which most officers rebel against using. Of course, in all these cases some policemen simply love this kind of work. The favorite term of contempt amongst police as in the underworld is “copperhearted.” Fairy-killers and whore-hunters are not liked by their colleagues on the force, and although police will give all their skill and devotion to cracking a big case of narcotics wholesaling, most men on the narcotics detail sicken of the work with the petty addict and the round of desperation, pilfering, prostitution, squalor, and the hopelessness of changing it.

There is one outstanding factor in common in almost all arrests for “vice.” The cop must judge to arrest, and in court in a legal process based on contest he must stick to his guns and the esprit de corps of the force must back him up all the way up the chain of command. A general cannot deny his troops. This is the reason that the chain of command almost invariably seems to the public to do nothing but whitewash whenever there is a complaint, no matter how grievous. It is this paramilitary ethic, not corruption, which accounts for the runaround. Except for a few cities in the East, corruption from outside is dying out. If it exists today it comes from within the force. Outside the cities that are still controlled by the Organization, policemen, let alone high-ranking officers, are no longer directly controlled by corrupt political machines or by the “Mafia.”

Modern police corruption is a more subtle thing. Many police departments are controlled by intradepartmental political structures, power apparats. Others are the battleground of conflicting groups of this sort, but they are more likely to be generated within the department and concerned exclusively with police rank and privilege than to come from outside. In fact the tendency is to keep such things from the attention of the public, even of the apparatus of the political parties.

In the case of a liberal and enlightened police chief, the increasing polarization of American society is certain to be reflected in an opposition, usually clandestine but often organized, which considers him a nigger-lover and a red and whose members do everything they can to sabotage his efforts and to back each other up all along the chain of command as high as they can go. It is this type of reactionary opposition that accounts for the apparently successful John Birch Society recruitment campaign in the police forces of America, and it is here that you can find charges of whitewash and runaround in cases of police brutality, and especially of racism.

Payoff is, as I said, part of a system for control for which many otherwise honest, old-fashioned policemen will present strong if not convincing arguments. Big-time payoff is another thing and occurs only sporadically in a few Eastern cities. Criminal corruption again arises within a police force prompted only by the generally criminal character of American society. Rings of thieves like those uncovered a couple of years ago in two police forces usually grow out of the general “knockdown” philosophy of American enterprise, particularly in relation to insurance claims. To quote Chief Stanley R. Schrotel:

Most policemen recognize no wrong in accepting free admissions to public entertainment, discounts on their purchases, special favors and considerations from persons of influence, or tips and gratuities for services performed in the line of their regular duty. They choose to look upon these incidents as being strictly personal matters between themselves and the donors and are unwilling to recognize that moral obligations are involved. . . . No matter how much effort is expended in minimizing the derogatory effect of the acceptance of gratuities and favors by law-enforcement officers, the practice has become so prevalent that the public generally concedes that policemen are the world’s greatest “moochers.” Aside from the question of the effect of the practice upon the officers’ effectiveness in enforcing the law, it is a certainty that a reputation for “mooching” does not elevate the standards of the profession in the public’s mind.

This picture has a certain old-time charm: the copper in pith helmet and blue Prince Albert copping an apple off the pushcart. To quote again Banton’s The Policeman in the Community, paraphrasing Morton Stern’s article, “What Makes a Policeman Go Wrong”: “A former member of the Denver police department, in discussing what went wrong there, stressed that a new recruit was not accepted by his colleagues unless he conformed to their norms. When investigating a burglary in a store, police officers might put some additional articles into their pockets. Indeed, they were sometimes encouraged to do so by the owners who pointed out they would recover from the insurance company anyway.” In the Cops-as-Robbers scandals of a few years back, investigation soon revealed the step-by-step process of corruption. The robbery victim, owner of a shop or warehouse, expected and encouraged the investigating officers to help themselves to a couple of mink coats or television sets to run up the insurance claim. From there it was a short step to collusion between police, burglary gang, and would-be “victim,” and from there a still shorter step, the elimination of the middleman, until the police planned and carried out the robberies themselves and moved on to plain, old-fashioned robbery, without the connivance of the robbed.

The corruption that stems from gambling is a special case, although its effects are probably the most far-reaching. Few police anywhere are directly part of the organized narcotics business, and their involvement in prostitution is really trivial, however common, and mostly part of what they consider the necessary web of information. Gambling is different. Today when churches and supermarkets are gambling institutions, it is hard for the average policeman, who is likely to be an Irish Catholic whose church stages weekly bingo games, to take gambling seriously.

Payoff may start as part of the system of control, but since gambling is the major business of organized crime in America, it soon penetrates to the vitals of the police system. Since gambling is also the major bridge between politics and organized crime, it carries with it not only the corruption of vice but the additional corruption of vice-controlled politics.

Collusion with bookmakers and the proprietors of gambling rooms is turned up fairly frequently on the West Coast. Massive infection of the police department and the penetration of high-level, outside, political corruption seems to be far more common east of the Rockies. There is a psychological factor here which must be taken into account. A corrupt police force is a guilt-ridden police force, because with few exceptions policemen do believe in the lower-middle-class values even when they flout them. A guilty police force is likely to be both belligerently puritanical in its attempts to control unconventional behavior, and hostile, quick to react aggressively to any fancied assault on its own authority. Obviously, this sets up a vicious circle which goes round and round in an ever-accelerating separation of the police from the general population.

At the very best, as any honest policeman will tell you, the police live in a ghetto of their own and a great deal of the effort of the human-relations bureaus and details of the better police departments is devoted simply to getting through to the public, to breaking down the ghetto wall. But even with the best public relations the police as a subculture of their own are a garrison society. Policemen associate mostly with one another and have few civilian friends. Policemen’s balls and picnics are characterized by a noisy but impoverished conviviality.

In the case of Negroes, the young man who joins the force is likely to meet with a total cutoff in his community and at the best find himself uncomfortable in his new one, the police society. A neighbor who was a graduate in law in a Southern Jim Crow university joined the force and discovered that he had even lost the friendship of his minister. After a couple of years of isolation, he quit. As a custodial officer in a Negro ghetto the policeman confronts a population in revolt to whom he is a soldier of an occupying army, as both James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin have said.

I have neglected to mention the only way in which the average citizen comes in frequent contact with the police — traffic violation. This is, as we all know, an area of continual exasperation on both sides, and one of the best things a city can do is to create a department of traffic-control officers for all violations short of crime completely divorced from the police department.

To sum up, these are the basic factors in the problem: The police are a closed community, socially isolated from the general population with a high level of irritability along the edges of contact. Police methods have developed in the day-by-day work of control of an underworld of petty crime and vice, in a period when most police work was with the poor, or at least the dwellers in slums and Tenderloin. As a control or custodial officer the typical policeman, in the words of Jerome H. Skolnick, “is inherently a suspicious person, fond of order and predictability. He reacts to stereotyped symbols of potential trouble — even oddities of dress or speech, and proceeds on the presumption of guilt, often while winking at the legal niceties of restraint in searches and arrests. Intent upon ‘controlling crime,’ the officer keenly resents having his results upset on the appellate level.”

Skolnick found that the police feel frustrated by the courts’ affirmation of principles of due process, and generally consider the appellate judiciary as “traitor” to its responsibility to keep the community free from criminality.

We hear a great deal about the professionalization of the policeman from theorists and lecturers in police academies but on the part of the older or more conventional of these people, professionalism really means the development of a high degree of craft skill in playing the role described by Skolnick, a social custodial officer, with maximum efficiency and minimum social friction. This body of social servants with its own ideology and ethic is set over against a society which bears little resemblance to the one which produced it in the first place. To quote Thomas F. Adams, “Field Interrogation,” Police, March-April 1963: 

A. Be suspicious. This is a healthy police attitude, but it should be controlled and not too obvious.

B. Look for the unusual:

1. Persons who do not “belong” where they are observed.
2. Automobiles which do not “look right.”
3. Businesses opened at odd hours, or not according to routine or custom.

C. Subjects who should be subjected to field interrogations:

1. Suspicious persons known to the officers from previous arrests, field interrogations, and observations.
2. Emaciated-appearing alcoholics and narcotics users who invariably turn to crime to pay for cost of habit.
3. Person who fits description of wanted suspect as described by radio, teletype, daily bulletins.
4. Any person observed in the immediate vicinity of a crime very recently committed or reported as “in progress.”
5. Known trouble-makers near large gatherings.
6. Persons who attempt to avoid or evade the officer.
7. Exaggerated unconcern over contact with the officer.
8. Visibly “rattled” when near the policeman.
9. Unescorted women or young girls in public places, particularly at night in such places as cafés, bars, bus and train depots, or street corners.
10. “Lovers” in an industrial area (make good lookouts).
11. Persons who loiter about places where children play.
12. Solicitors or peddlers in a residential neighborhood.
13. Loiterers around public rest rooms.
14. Lone male sitting in car adjacent to schoolground with newspaper or book in his lap.
15. Lone male sitting in car near shopping center who pays unusual amount of attention to women, sometimes continuously manipulating rearview mirror to avoid direct eye contact.
16. Hitchhikers.
17. Person wearing coat on hot days.
18. Car with mismatched hub caps, or dirty car with clean license plate (or vice versa).
19. Uniformed “deliverymen” with no merchandise or truck.
20. Many others. How about your own personal experiences? 

And Cohn Mclnnes, Mr. Love and Justice: 

The true copper’s dominant characteristic, if the truth be known, is neither those daring nor vicious qualities that are sometimes attributed to him by friend or enemy, but an ingrained conservatism, an almost desperate love of the conventional. It is untidiness, disorder, the unusual, that a copper disapproves of most of all: far more even than of crime, which is merely a professional matter. Hence his profound dislike of people loitering in streets, dressing extravagantly, speaking with exotic accents, being strange, weak, eccentric, or simply any rare minority — of their doing, in fact, anything that cannot be safely predicted. 

Then Peter J. Connell, “Handling of Complaints by Police”: 

The time spent cruising one’s sector or walking one’s beat is not wasted time, though it can become quite routine. During this time, the most important thing for the officer to do is notice the normal. He must come to know the people in his area, their habits, their automobiles, and their friends. He must learn what time the various shops close, how much money is kept on hand on different nights, what lights are usually left on, which houses are vacant . . . only then can he decide what persons or cars under what circumstances warrant the appellation “suspicious.” 

All this was all right in a different world. At least the society didn’t fall apart. Today what was once a mob is now a civil-rights demonstration, oddly dressed people are musicians, students, professors, members of the new professions generally (half of Madison Avenue seems to take the subway home to Greenwich Village at 5:00 p.m., shed the gray flannel suits and basic blacks, and get into costumes which the police believe are worn only by “dope fiends”).

Why is the heat on all over America? For exactly the same reason it has always gone on in an American city after an outbreak of social disorder, a shocking crime, or a sudden rise in the crime rate. The police feel that they are dealing with a situation that is slipping away from their control and they are using the methods, most of them extra-legal, by which they have traditionally regained control — “discourage them and they’ll go away.”

Where the police once confronted unassimilated groups of the illiterate poor, they now face an unassimilable subculture of the college educated, unassimilable certainly to their own standards. Homosexuality, once a profitable source of shakedown, and a chance to release a few sadistic repressions, is now open and in fact tolerated. There are articles in theological magazines about the church’s responsibility to the homosexual and an interfaith organization to implement such responsibility — “homophile” organizations of both men and women stage national conventions addressed by notabilities in law, psychiatry, and sociology, and even by a few enlightened police officers. Such organizations recently sued the State of California to gain the right to operate a booth at the State Fair.

Racially mixed couples are common on the streets of every Northern city and are beginning to appear in the South, and they are far more likely today to be students or professional people than denizens of the underworld. Outlandish costume has become the uniform of youth all over the world who are in moral revolt against a predatory society.

Today, when extramarital sex is a commonplace, from grammar school to the senior-citizens’ clubs, we forget that only a generation ago people were still serving sentences in American prisons for fornication, adultery, and oral sex between men and women, but the police have not forgotten, most of them anyway. A weekly book-review section that once refused advertising of all books whatsoever by Kenneth Patchen or Henry Miller now runs a “cover story” on The Story of O, a detailed, graphic description of the most extreme sado-masochism, homosexuality, and “deviance” generally. There are regular underground movie houses which publicly show movies which would shock even a police smoker. Due to their seriousness of intent, they still horrify the police but in a new way.

Adolescent Negro prostitutes in San Francisco when arrested “go limp,” and put up long, highly sophisticated arguments for legalized prostitution and do everything but sing “We Shall Overcome.” I must say that the police with whom I have talked who have been involved in such situations have enough sense of humor to think it’s all just hilarious.

At one time marijuana and the various pharmaceutical kicks were part of a hard-dope subculture and unquestionably led in some instances directly to heroin addiction — “Whatsa matter, you chicken? When are you going to graduate?” This is certainly no longer true. The squares and the oldies have no conception of how common the use of marijuana is amongst the young. Pick-up and put-down pills are used by everybody to sleep or wake up and we have just gone through a craze for hallucinogens that seems to be leveling off. It is my impression that this was accompanied by a proportionate decline in the use of heroin except possibly in certain sections of New York City. Although large numbers of informed people believe that marijuana is harmless and that even the worst of the other drugs cause neither delirium tremens, polyneuritis, extensive brain damage nor lung cancer, the police, egged on by some of the press, persist in treating all users of all drugs and intoxicants except alcohol and nicotine as narcotic addicts.

Everybody talks back to the cop today. This “disrespect for law” has two contradictory sources — the general criminality that seeps through all American business and politics, and the growth of a new culture of revolt against precisely this “business ethic.” In a sense the police are caught in the middle of a class war, a war between antagonistic moral rather than economic classes.

Most policemen come from conservative levels of the society, lower-middle and working-class families that have preserved an authoritarian structure and fundamentalist religion and puritanical attitude towards sex and a fear and contempt for any nonconformist behavior. The great majority of patrolmen in America have no more than a high-school education and that in substandard schools.

An additional factor seldom taken account of is the class hostility of the people on this social level for the educated, sophisticated, and affluent generally and most especially for those to whom the proper definition of bohemianism specially applies, those who mimic the habits of the idle rich without possessing their money or their reserves of power and who forego the commonly accepted necessities of life to enjoy the luxuries. This type, this model personality, is specifically designed to outrage the type or model policeman who is likely to be suspicious of anybody who drinks brandy instead of bourbon or smokes Turkish cigarettes, much less someone who thinks Juan Marichal must be an obscure Spanish poet.

At one time the great web of police custodial care could isolate such types in Greenwich Village or the Near North Side or North Beach. Today they are everywhere and increasing geometrically. If all of their activities, from peddling poetry on the streets or marching in demonstrations to smoking marijuana and attending nude parties, were suddenly to become accepted, the police forces of the country would be threatened with mass nervous breakdown. This may be one of those processes of historical change where the resistance of the past is not altogether valueless. For instance, laws against the possession of marijuana have become practically unenforceable. If everyone who smoked grass were arrested, we’d have to build concentration camps all over the country. Yet even today it would be quite impossible to legalize marijuana by referendum. It is doubtful if 1 per cent of the state legislators of this country would have the guts to go on record as voting yes on a law like the British one abolishing the criminality of homosexual acts between consenting adults.

The most dangerous social tensions between police and people is certainly in race relations. The most enlightened police chief, with the aid of the most dedicated community-relations detail, cannot control the policeman on the beat, in his personal relations with ignorant, poor, and obstreperous members of a race which he does not understand. The only solution for this within the police force is education and the changing of group pressures. As one police officer said, “We all use the word ‘nigger’ in the squad room. You’d be looked on as a kook if you didn’t, but I won’t let my kids use it at home.”

Most chiefs of police rise directly from the ranks and are often less well educated than the new generation of rookies. Most city charters forbid the recruitment of executive officers from outside the force. What this means is that the precinct captains are men from a less enlightened age who have risen by seniority to that point and are not competent to go further. They are the real bottlenecks and they can defeat all the efforts of an enlightened chief and police commission in their own bailiwicks.

The paramilitary structure of the police force is such that it is exceedingly difficult to create a board of review, or an office of complaints or of human relations within the force which will not be dominated by police politics and civil-service inertia. This is the reason for the ever-growing demand for outside surveillance — civilian policing of the police.

Most cities now have boards of police commissioners of various sorts but these are made up of well-to-do businessmen and politicians and seldom meet more than a couple of hours once a week and have at the best only a small secretarial staff. Negro members are usually lawyers and politicians or pastors of respectable churches. It would be possible totally to reorganize such commissions, make them representative, give them power, and a large working staff.

Within the police force itself it is possible to set up an inspector general’s office, outside the chain of command, which would process, investigate, and act on all citizen complaints. This is the common proposal of the more enlightened spokesmen from within the police system.

It would be possible to set up in each city an Ombudsman office with the job of clearing all manner of citizens’ dissatisfactions with the functioning of the city and its employees. This has worked in Scandinavia from which the word comes, but the vision of pandemonium which the prospect of such an American office conjures up is frightening. It is doubtful if it would be possible to get people to take the jobs and certainly not to stay on them.

A civilian review board, either elected or appointed by the mayor from completely outside all political apparatus, would be ideal but the very terms contain a contradiction. How is this going to come about? It is a popular proposal with the civil-rights organizations and the one most fervently resisted by the police. Although it is true, as Bayard Rustin says, that it would protect the unjustifiably accused officer, it would strip naked the paramilitary structure which the police consider essential, not just to their morale but to their actual function.

In some cities, Seattle and Los Angeles amongst others, the civil-rights organizations have set up civilian patrols who prowl the prowl cars. They follow the police and stand by during arrest, politely and usually silently. They must be made up of citizens of all races, of unimpeachable respectability who are willing to donate eight hours at least once a week to difficult and unpleasant work. Obviously they will obtain from the officers in the patrol cars the most elaborate compliance with all the amenities of the etiquette of arrest. How much effect this has in the long run is questionable and by its nature a civilian patrol program is not likely to endure beyond a few critical months. People are unlikely to engage in such activity night after night, year after year.

What is the best of these alternatives? Only experience can tell. If we were to set up in American cities a kind of neighborhood civil militia which checked on all police activity, we would soon find that we had created a police system like that of the Russians in which the law and the police and their party and neighborhood representatives function as agents of public order and education in social ethics. This may be an estimable theory of how to run a society but it is in total contradiction to every principle of British-American law and social organization. We do not want the police as custodians but as instruments of a law which regards all men as equal and at liberty to run their affairs to suit themselves as long as they do not inflict damage on others.

The police spokesmen are perfectly right in saying that what should be done is truly to professionalize police work. This means changing the class foundation of the police force itself. A professional is a man with a salary at least comparable to that of a small-town dentist, with at least one college degree, with an advanced technical and at the same time broadly humanistic education and whose work demands that he keep abreast of its latest developments. The thought of turning all the policemen in America into such persons staggers the imagination. However, the nursing profession, which by and large is recruited from exactly the same level of society as the police, has been professionalized in one generation in everything but salary. An executive nurse in a big-city health department may have more years of college than most of the doctors working with her. She is lucky indeed if she makes $800 a month.

What is the answer? I have no idea. This is one of those many regions of frustration which are spreading across all of modern life, blotches on the skin of a body which is sick within with a sickness of which all diagnoses differ. I suppose society will smell its way to some sort of solution, muddle through the muddle. This is not a very hopeful prognostication for what is, after all, one aspect of a grave crisis, but none of the other prognostications about any of the other aspects is hopeful either. 

Tom Sawyer in Trouble 

A bearded Tom Sawyer, nattily clad in a policeman’s tunic and blue jeans, had a run-in with authority here yesterday.
      Unlike his Mark Twain namesake, San Francisco’s Sawyer lost this round to a pair of policemen.
      Officers Tony Delzompo and Jim Bailey, in fact, found the wearing of parts of police uniforms so unamusing they arrested Sawyer.
      Sawyer, 23, of 1253 Willard Street in the Haight-Ashbury district, was booked on suspicion of possession of stolen property.
      The officers admitted that there was no report of stolen police jackets on file, but said that Sawyer’s uniform, nonetheless, might well be stolen.
      Sawyer, questioned at 7 p.m. at Frederick and Stanyan streets by the officers, told them he got the jacket from a friend.
      Perhaps an explanation for the officers’ investigative zeal could be found in Sawyer’s substitute for the police badge, a large lapel button pinned on the left side of the tunic. It read: “Overthrow the Government.”
      [San Francisco Chronicle, August 22, 1966]

Kenneth Rexroth

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President Obama’s Weekly Address (Jan. 16, 2010)

January 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm (Life & Politics)

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The Flaming Lips & Stardeath and White Dwarfs – “Dark Side of the Moon” (2009)

January 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles, The Flaming Lips)

The Flaming Lips, along with Stardeath & White Dwarfs, Henry Rollins (yes, you read that correctly) and Peaches made the brave decision to cover one of the most iconic albums in history. And they pull it off in amazing fashion. You can find it on iTunes.
This review was written by Mike Allen for the
Sputnik Music website, Dec. 27, 2009…


When the Flaming Lips announced that they would cover Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, I felt that the Flaming Lips had put themselves in a lose-lose situation. If their version was too similar to the original, we would be hearing criticism that the Flaming Lips did not approach the cover creatively enough. On the contrary, giving Dark Side of the Moon an entirely different sound would result in criticism such as, “they ruined it.” This predicament is especially present in covering Dark Side of the Moon, for the original is plain and simple one of the greatest albums of all-time. Despite releasing the breakthrough record Meddle in 1971, Pink Floyd made a lasting and powerful impression on the world with Dark Side of the Moon; an album that we may not see the likes of ever again. This record may have been the most significant and greatest of a generation, and it’s no wonder that the release is still being glorified and revered in the present day. So, it can be said that the Lips had a bit of a job to do and a decision to make.

The Flaming Lips have proved to be one of the most intriguing and innovative bands of the past two decades, ranging from a soothing psychedelic pop to a creative, and quite frankly strange yet brilliant psychedelic mess. In terms of originality, the Flaming Lips and Pink Floyd are very similar; each delivering enough ground-breaking material to separate themselves from their peers. This is, precisely what makes this cover attempt so fascinating. The question facing the Lips now would be, what sound should be adopted for Dark Side of the Moon? A sound not unlike the Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin would definitely be a viable option, for its dreamy and uplifting feel could prove to be perfect for Dark Side of the Moon. On the other hand, the band could opt to deliver a performance not unlike this year’s Embryonic. An Embryonic– type sound would make for a raw and noisy cover that would be interesting in its own way.

With those options in place, the listener is able to discover exactly what the Lips were going for from the very beginning. Following the heartbeat and scream in the opening seconds of the record, just when you are expecting the relaxing entrance of “Breathe,” a loud and purely psychedelic start is what is implemented. The Flaming Lips version of Dark Side of the Moon is indeed a very intriguing experience, which wavers greatly from the original. This type of style, although seemingly out of place for this particular record, is perfectly suited for tracks like “On the Run.” Just like the Pink Floyd development, the Flaming Lips account of “On the Run” is noisy, bizarre, and creative. The Lips seemed to go about the rest of the record in similar fashion, for instrumental “Any Colour You Like” is one of the highlights. “Any Colour You Like” comes off as a thunderous adaptation of the original that lacks neither the instrumental genius nor the power of the Floyd version. One of the most conflicting areas of the record is that of the “Time” and “The Great Gig in the Sky” tandem. The Lips flex their muscles with “Time,” providing a distorted and tumultuous introduction, and even offering comic relief by making coughing sounds. On top of this, the Lips are able to retain the themes of the album, delivering the same raw edged sound as their account of “Breathe” for “Breathe (Reprise).” Unlike its descendant however, “Time” is quite a successful task. The beauty and masterful vocal performance of “The Great Gig in the Sky” is not replicated in any form here, and is actually quite a strain on the ears. The Lips opted for a distorted vocal effect here, which is conveyed as mindless and irritating screaming.

The most soothing track on the record is that of “Us and Them,” which is in essence a beautiful account to say the least. Although not growing to something greater like the original, the song in this case continues on its aerial ambience for the track’s entirety. Many will argue that the Lips version of “Us and Them” lacks power, but demonstrates to be powerful in that the sound of the song comes out of nowhere on the record. As one of the most significant tracks on Dark Side of the Moon the Flaming Lips replicated “Us and Them” with great virtuosity, which is true for the close of the record as well. “Brain Damage” and especially “Eclipse” are not tampered with a great deal, and although sounding a bit different than the originals, are very effective. “Eclipse” serves as a brilliant close for the Lips cover of the album, retaining the raw edge of the rest of the record and delivering a powerful climax.

In retrospect of hearing the record, the impact does not live up to the influence of Pink Floyd’s version, but to expect that would be ridiculous. It may have proved to be beneficial for the Flaming Lips to mix the styles of Embyonic and The Soft Bulletin for this cover, appropriately assigning different sounds to the necessary tracks. The Lips however, had attempted an extremely complicated task, that was overall a successful endeavor.

Mike Allen

http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review_34165

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Ozzy Osbourne – “Beyond Black Sabbath” (1977)

January 18, 2010 at 1:12 am (Black Sabbath, Music, Reviews & Articles)

An interesting article by Tony Stewart from the NME, Dec. 3, 1977, during the brief period when Ozzy left Black Sabbath and was prepared to form a new band called The Blizzard of Ozz. That would have to wait a couple of years though, because Ozzy returned to Sabbath for one more album (1978’s Never Say Die) before being fired, and going off to solo fame with Randy Rhoads. Ozzy talks about how he was turning into an alcoholic during his years with Sabbath, and that he had to leave the band before he killed himself. He also talks about wanting a quieter life. We all know that the craziness was really only beginning, as he was anything but a teetotalling quiet man during the ’80s. But we catch him here in a moment of reflection…

 

In the past Ozzy Osbourne has often over-dramatised the state of both his mental and physical health, but as he now relates his reasons for leaving Black Sabbath he shudders convincingly.

Never one to ignore a theatrical moment, he lurks in the shadows of the lounge in his remote Staffordshire cottage. Flames from the open fire seem to leap at his back, and outside a howling wind batters noisily into the windows and doors like a collecting agency from the graveyard.

He couldn’t have engineered a better setting, as he announces that if he hadn’t quit the Sabs he would have become an alcoholic, and eventually would have been carried offstage in his coffin.

“I was drinking like a fish for two years,” Ozzy explains. “It was just getting worse and worse, off one thing and on to another. Finally I nearly ended up an alcoholic.

“We’d come offstage, for instance, and I’d just go straight to the bar. Perhaps I’d meet one of the band there, but I wouldn’t drink for the sake of having a good time. I’d just drink to get out of the way.

“And that’s when you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘Hey man, there’s something wrong’.

“You’re just going through the day, just to get on the stage for an hour to do your gig, just to go home, get stoned and go to bed. The next day’s the same. There was no excitement.

“I would have been dead in two or three years if I’d carried on. I know I would. And I don’t think anything’s worth giving your life up for.”

Although the official statement about Osbourne’s departure was only recently made, it’s now two months since he left. He had walked out before, he says, but had always reconsidered his position and returned.

This time he refused.

Of course, something must have caused him to go on his two year binge, when he found it necessary to be drunk by mid-afternoon. But he’s still not entirety sure why he was in such a desperate state, and even feels guilty about leaving.

“I realise I’ve let a lot of people down,” he comments sadly. “because it’s never going to be the same again for the people who liked Sabbath then.

“We haven’t left on bad terms. But who knows – it may turn out that way, because time has a weird way of eroding a friendship. I wouldn’t say the band screwed me up. But there were a lot of personality clashes.”

As the interview unfolds it’s apparent that he had innumerable reasons for getting out.

Musically he was frustrated. He was caught in a vicious trap of not liking their last album, which many reviewers thought was some kind of progression, and yet being bored with concert audiences demanding the same old material all the time.

When it’s suggested that heavy metal is doomed because of the emergence of punk, and maybe he scampered off before his credibility was undermined further, he partly agrees. Only partly, though.

He admits that the idea of Sabbath using elaborate studio facilities and orchestras when recording was ridiculous.

“That’s rubbish to me,” he says angrily. “You can get away with it with Yes and ELP, but Black Sabbath was a backstreet band – like the punk thing, if you like.

“I’m not saying we were before punk, but in our own way we were what the punk groups are now: a people’s band.

“I don’t want to play it, but I’m into the new wave because you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to listen to it. It’s just a simple, down-to-earth music that people can tap out on a tin lid.”

Even so, Ozzy has a sneaking suspicion that the Sabs themselves had realised their days were numbered, and that to survive a radical new image was needed.

“I don’t know whether it was a subtle way to get me out of the band,” he muses aloud. “Because they knew they had to change, and the only way they could was by getting a different front man.

“People don’t really know how black my Sabbath was over the years,” he chuckles.

“All I wanted to do was make records and get on that stage, and that’s all I should have to do. But you’ve got to be like Bamber Gascoigne to wade through all the pieces of paper that are involved to get up there and do it.

“I think the business is fucked. There are too many people sitting on their arseholes and doing nothing for vast amounts of money. There’s so much talent out there who’re so frightened to get involved, because they think they’re going to end up floating down the River Thames in a pair of concrete wellingtons.

“The business,” he decides, with what seems obvious good reason, “is like a rosy red apple at the front, with a big crab at the back.”

You might, in the light of this, expect him to scarry straight away from it all – but instead he is going to form his own band, The Blizzard Of Oz. Knowing how the business operates, and suffering it for nine years with Sabbath, it seems somewhat perverse for him to want to return.

Already the carrion crows of the industry have swooped down at him.

“I’ve been approached by several sharks and crooks in the business,” he explains, “and some of the deals I’ve been offered went out with Al Capone.”

He is willing to try again because this time, he optimistically predicts, he’ll do it differently.

In a field behind his cottage he has parked a red and white coach, and when the new band is formed they’ll live in this while tearing small venues and universities – whereas with Sabbath he hit the big time too quickly and couldn’t handle it.

“We all thought we were tin gods. But at the end of the day it just turned round and kicked us in the teeth. I just want a simple life for a while. I just want to be an ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill guy.

“Inside I ain’t a tin god. I ain’t a tin of beans walking around. And that’s what I began to feel like: a product. ‘Buy Ozzy Osbourne and he’ll clean your carpet faster than anything else’.

“I’ll do it again, but I’ll do it comfortably. I won’t ever let myself be prostituted again.”

At the moment his future is by no means certain. He still wants to play rock, but hasn’t yet found musicians to work with. If it doesn’t work out for him then he’ll start labouring jobs, as he doubts if he even has enough money saved to support him for a year.

But his enthusiasm refuses to allow him to seriously consider that possibility. He’ll form the Blizzard, he says breezily, it’s best that his process of selecting the right guy is rigorous. “I don’t want any ego-trippers, I don’t want any suck-arses, and I don’t want any leeches. And I don’t want any people to think they’re going to walk into a band and expect it to be there!

“It’s like the man who climbed the mountain. Once he’s climbed the mountain what does he do? Lie down for the rest of his life? There’s another mountain he can climb up the road.”

With that, Ozzy peers cautiously out of his lounge window, almost as if he expected Everest to have been spirited into his back garden.

Tony Stewart

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Heaven & Hell – “The Devil You Know” (2009)

January 16, 2010 at 3:34 pm (Black Sabbath, Music, Reviews & Articles)

This April 27, 2009 Sputnik Music review was written by Tyler Munro. Heaven & Hell, of course, is simply the Mob Rules-era version of Black Sabbath, featuring the incomparable and ageless Ronnie James Dio. This was a great comeback for Tony Iommi and the boys. Hopefully more is to come…

 

Heaven and Hell’s The Devil You Know is an album based on lies and misdirection. First and perhaps most notably is the band’s line-up. While they are of course a Dio-fronted four-piece consisting of Black Sabbath alumni Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice, the incarnation of Heaven and Hell that appears on The Devil You Know is not the line-up that recorded Heaven and Hell, but instead the line-up from its 1981 follow-up Mob Rules (as well as its 1992 follow-up Dehumanizer). Then there’s the misdirection. To put it plainly, a four-piece band with a combined age of 235 should not be relevant in a post-9/11 heavy metal scene. More specifically, they shouldn’t be good. Heaven and Hell is both of these and more. The Devil You Know is better than good (see: great) and it proves that these old geezers (one of whom is named Geezer) are as relevant and powerful as ever.

Somewhat of an Italian Bilbo Baggins, Ronnie James Dio is undoubtedly Heaven and Hell’s main selling point. In spite of his undeniable oldness, Dio can still belt with the best of them, something he demonstrates with ageless vigour throughout The Devil You Know‘s 53-minutes. While Dio does at times sound like his lungs are on the verge of exploding, fans of the New Hampshire born singer know that it’s because of how much he puts into his vocals and not so much because of the fact that he’s on the wrong side of 60. And let’s put that in perspective for a second: Ronnie James Dio is, at the time of writing, 66 years old. I think that’s what establishes consistency, though. He was pushing forty when Heaven and Hell’s fake-eponymous album was released, so really, Dio has sounded old for the last 30 years. In a lot of ways, that’s what makes The Devil You Know such a natural listen. The return of Geezer Butler certainly helps. Reuniting with pseudo-Sabbath for the first time since 1994’s Cross Purposes, Butler’s trademark paradoxical bass-work provides a sturdy spine for his band mates to build off. He’s still a master of deception, which I guess is why he fits so well with the band. As always, Butler has the ability to play root notes 98% of the time and still sound impressive because he has an unmistakable sense of melody. When he deviates, it’s worth it.

It’s hard to mistake The Devil You Know for anything but a comeback album, but what’s impressive is that it doesn’t sound like one. Unlike most comeback or anniversary releases, The Devil You Know isn’t superfluous. It comes off as more than fodder for a live-show. It doesn’t sound like a comeback album, it is a comeback album—and a hell of a good one at that. Instead of following a formula: a little “Heaven and Hell” here, a little “Neon Knights” there, The Devil You Know successfully carves out a sound for the band. They don’t re-create anything, they build off of it. While that may lessen certain tracks’ individual impact, it makes the album stronger as a whole. I could go on to explain how shocking the initial oomph of “Atom & Evil” is; I could talk about the excellent vocal harmonies in “Double the Pain”; I could talk about a lot of things, but in the end the specifics don’t matter. What matters is that The Devil You Know is exactly what heavy metal needs: Rob Lowe, the current queen of doom metal melodrama, loses his crown with the Return of the King Ronnie James Dio; Tony Iommi comes out and proves that his fingers aren’t as old as his hair plugs; Geezer Butler proves that bass can be both understated impressive and Vinnie Appice makes us miss Bill Ward. See, Vinnie Appice is a good drummer, but his drumming lacks personality. Unlike Dio, Iommi and Butler, Appice is far from distinguishable. Luckily he’s far from terrible and perfectly adequate: I’d rather have him be inconsequential than overbearingly awful.

The Devil You Know invites both shock and reassurance. Shockingly good but reassuringly gimmick-free, The Devil You Know is not only the best Dio or Sabbath release in over a decade but a front-runner for heavy metal album of the year.

Tyler Munro

http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?reviewid=30344

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Teddy Pendergrass: Never to Be Forgotten

January 14, 2010 at 1:35 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Yesterday the music world sadly lost one of its all-time greats, R&B singing legend Teddy Pendergrass, at the age of 59, after a long battle with colon cancer.

As a member of the 1970s hit singing group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, where he started off as their drummer, before stepping up to the mike, and then on his own in the late 70s and 80s, Pendergrass tore up the charts with his church-inflected, gruff baritone voice. He had the fire of a Pentecostal preacher, even when singing tender bedroom-love songs. The man could sing the phonebook and spin aural gold from it. He had the type of voice that could be soothing and gentle one minute, and then exude raw, fiery passion the next.

The five-time Grammy-nominated Philadelphia native enjoyed many classic hits, such as the immortal “The Love I Lost,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “Love TKO,” “The Whole Town’s Laughing at Me” and “Close the Door,” among others. The world may never know how many babies were conceived with these songs as the musical accompaniment.

Sadly, Pendergrass was involved in a 1982 car accident at the height of his career, that left him paralyzed from the waist down, but he still continued recording for many years to come. His days as a matinee idol sex symbol, were over though. But he never succumbed to self-pity, and saw himself as a role model to other people with spinal cord injuries. Unfortunately, his singing voice was robbed of some of its natural power.

It’s a shame that he has been somewhat forgotten these days, due to the fact that he had not recorded anything new in many years. It’s also a shame that it sometimes takes someone dying to make the world truly realize what they meant to us. Now is the time for Pendergrass to be rediscovered by a whole new generation of music fans. He is clearly someone whose music will stand the test of time, and he should never be forgotten. The man was a true legend. May he forever rest in peace. And may the world continue conceiving babies to his immortal songs. That ability was the greatest gift he gave to us.

Jay Mucci

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Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (w/ Teddy Pendergrass) – “The Love I Lost” (1973)

January 14, 2010 at 11:29 am (Music)

The soul classic by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, featuring the amazing Teddy Pendergrass, who has sadly lost his battle with colon cancer at the age of 59.

May Mr. Pendergrass forever rest in peace. He was one of the great ones…

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