1947 – 2007: The Phillies have a ways to go

howard42.jpgLast week the Philadelphia Phillies celebrated the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in major league baseball. All of the Phillies players wore Robinson’s   number 42 to honor the anniversa. This is a far cry from how they celebrated the 10th anniversary of this occasion – by becoming the last National League team to field an African-American player. Move forward 50 years and the Phillies have moved forward somewhat.   In a league where there are teams that don’t have one African-American, two of their premier players and team leaders, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are African-American. Their closer Tom Gordon is also   African-American. They have also been one of the leading teams in working to bring baseball back to the inner city. With all this progress I wonder if it stops at the field. I wonder this because when I went to their website recently they were promoting their ballgirls (their term, not mine) and I noticed that out of 14 members, not one woman of color. How can this be in a city that is 43% African-American, that not one person on this squad is?

ballgirls_581×397.jpgThe Phillies and major league baseball have spoken about how they want more African-American customers and players, but you have to wonder, if we’re not welcome as employees, should we support the team with our dollars. The thing to remember is that this squad is arbitrarily chosen and it makes sense to make sure that it is indicative of the city you represent.

As a fan of the Phillies, I’m going to hope that this is an oversite on their part. It’s easy to overlook something like this.   But I can promise you that I will be watching them closely when I do attend a game. Are the jobs for African-Americans only in concessions? What about management? The Phillies have never had an African-American manager – matter of fact, all of their managers and GMs have been as lily white as the 1947 Phillies were.

Makes you wonder if they truly get it.

12 Questions with Michael Penn

michaelpenn.jpgWith acclaimed singer/songwriters Michael Penn currently touring (at the World Cafe on Friday, April 27) to support his new album Palms and Runes, Tarot and Tea: A Michael Penn Collection., Michael gladly answered a few of my silly questions.

What are you reading, listening to, and watching these days
I just re-read Alan Moore’s “From Hell”, listening to a lot of tango, watching Intervention.

Cat person or dog person?
Dogs are great pets. It’s as if they are programmed to show unconditional love, like they have little to no free will of their own. I’m a cat person.

What about the music industry excites you?

First is that the music industry is in such a massive tumble that I think it is bound to crush all the people doing it just for dough. No dough no more.

And the other thing is that some of the same technology that has contributed to the tumble is a godsend, the corporations don’t have the only printing press. So I am attracted to all the creative potential that provides.

A few years ago you said that any musician going into the music industry should learn HTML – care to revise?

Only to say that I would add Flash and any other protocol used on the internet. My point was “learn the tools”…that if you got creative with your website, or using mySpace or whatever…it was no different hat designing one’s own album cover.

But the main dilemma remains for people who do what I do for a living. We don’t make things anymore. We used to lock our waveforms inside something.

If I forced you to listen to one of your albums – which would you choose?
It will always be the last one.

Coffee or Tea?
One very large iced coffee in the morning. Black tea the rest of the day. Usually.

What should someone expect from seeing you live?
Me doing my best…getting along. Trying to stay out of trouble, trying to make a bit of a difference, quit smoking…oh…LIVE….

What’s it like being married to another musician/songwriter?

East coast or West coast?
Only one of those two choices is the home of The Museum Of Jurassic Technology

We win.

What’s the hardest thing for you to do or accept as a musician?
Hmmm. I’m not sure. I wish I was more prolific, I wish the things I hear in my head could translate to my fingers with less effort, but acceptance of the things I can’t change is getting easier.

Sushi or Pizza?


What should we expect from you next?
Another bunch of songs, probably another score this year. But in the shorter term I want to keep the new web site active and get out and play live as much as I can.

Michael Penn will be playing at World Cafe Live on Friday, April 27 with The Last Town Chorus.

Mad world

If you needed to be reminded how insanely violent this world has become, a wakeup call was provided this past week. The mass murder that took place at Virginia Tech is senseless but not surprising. In Philadelphia as of last Sunday 114 have been murdered, many of them children, many of them by guns. That’s almost four days of Virginia Tech. In Iraq today 170 people were killed by a suicide bomber. That’s almost 6 days of Virginia Tech. This is a violent world we live in.

What’s maddening is the refusal to even address gun laws in this country. The subject was broached on Monday to Shrubya and he dismissed it by saying he supports the 2nd Amendment. Well support of the 4th Amendment hasn’t prevented the Patriot Act. Support of 6th Amendment hasn’t prevented military tribunals in Guantanamo; so why can’t corrections to the 2nd Amendment be discussed? I’m not saying that gun control is the only idea or even the right one. I for one believe that the increase in violence has more to do with the utter lack of disregard people have for their neighbors; guns only provide the opportunity for people to act on that disregard. But there’s got to be some middle ground. But why can’t we even discuss the middle ground? Why is any restriction regarded by the NRA as entirely untenable? Doesn’t the government already police us? I can’t watch nudity and excessive violence on TV no matter what the 1st Amendment says. God forbid a nipple shows up. Then all sorts of hell breaks out and every politician will be introducing a bill to protect our “children”. How about speaking up now and protecting our children against a hail of bullets while trying to learn?

Don’t believe that the tragedy in Blacksburg is any different than what is happening in the streets of our large cities. The only difference is that these mothers and fathers have a lot more company in crying over their dead children. It’s just a shame that these children are dying and we won’t do anything out of regard for some words on a piece of centuries old paper.

Worst week ever: Don Imus edition

I’ve been laid off before and it doth sucketh. The only thing that has to suck harder is being fired not once, but twice, in a 24 hour period. Well Don Imus has been fired by both NBC and CBS in the past day. (ABC and Fox are debating whether or not to fire Imus even though he apparently works for neither).

It’s amazing how much of a story this has become. Because it involved two basketball teams, it’s a sports story and entertainment on top of being a national news story so we get to see it on ESPN and the E network as well as on CNN. Add to this that in the Youtube generation, the embarrassment gets forwarded and watched on demand. Imus is getting more press coverage than George Bush did the day after election day last year.

The funny thing is it isn’t like no one knew Imus thought this way. He has a history of saying racist, sexist comments and at no time did he risk losing his job. He is being fired for simply doing what he did daily for years. The difference is that he dared to make his employers and sponsors look bad. Don’t get drawn in by the stern statements and finger wagging – if this had quickly disappeared from page 1, he’d be saying the same shit tomorrow. No, what he did wrong was to embarrass them and the result is that they need to publicly distance themselves from him. This firing won’t change his mind or the minds of anyone like him. What it will do is remind every bigot that it’s better to keep your thoughts to themselves. Honestly I prefer my bigots to wear white hoods and robes. The devil you know…

So Don Imus is without a job and CBS and MSNBC (as well as the sponsors) can act as if none of this happened. Staples and American Express will simply move their ad dollars to Limbaugh and not skip a beat. The bad man has been banished. Unfortunately the people who created and enabled the bad man are free to do it again – and we can’t fire them.

At some point these corporations need to be held responsible for the words their employees spout. No more “The views expressed by the racist, bigoted, asshole we’re paying millions of dollars to, do not represent the views of the company making big money” bullshit.

Imus has every right to say and think what he wants. But his getting paid for it is what really is the shame of it all.

A day in the life of Don Imus

I’ve kind of avoided the subject of Don Imus, because this whole thing is getting old.   Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, Ann Coulter, Isaiah Washington, Tim Hardaway – it’s numbing how much intolerance there is.   My friend Grace asked me what comments I found more disturbing: Rush Limbaugh’s comments on Donovan Mcnabb or Don Imus’ comments on the Rutger’s women team.   My response was that Limbaugh’s comments were more hurtful because they attempted to belittle Mcnabb’s accomplishments based on race, but I’ll agree to say that the source of the comments are more from ignorance than out and out hate.   Imus’ comments are pure bigotry no question.   There was no intelligent discourse.   He couldn’t say “oh here are the PC police once again”.   There was nothing redeeming in what he said.   The best part is he keeps digging himself deeper.

Today he’s on full damage control, issuing apologies on his show and then going on Al Sharpton’s radio show to face the fire.   His comments are littered with examples that show he still just doesn’t get it.   This morning he said he knows African-Americans.   This is the famed “I’ve got black friends” defense and is always the go to defense of the worst bigots.   As if having a black cleaning woman or doorman excuses his behavior.   I wonder how many black people would call Imus a friend.   Then today on Al Sharpton’s radio show, Imus became frustrated and said he can’t win with “you people”.   Obviously he’s learned his lesson (sarcasm).

Here’s the thing:   MSNBC (who at the writing of this has suspended Imus for 2 weeks) and   WFAN who syndicates the show will fight to keep Imus.   Why? Because all of this lends credibility and importance to someone who has not be credible or important in years, or in other words, people will be listening now.   You shouldn’t shake your head at the fact that Imus said what he did, but that the companies that employ people like him Coulter and Limbaugh continue to do so regardless of the fact that their actions are indefensible.

For someone that does what Imus does, this type of controversy does nothing but increase ratings and put more money in the pockets of his bosses.   There will be no lack of suiters if he does lose his job.