More Gutless Posturing from Deval Patrick

The Condom that Rocked the Bay State.

The Massachusetts economy has about as much life as Frankenstein before the switch was pulled, and the Republican right has just filibustered away any hope of extending jobless benefits or spending any more stimulus money. So what stirs the passion of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick? Why the condom policy in Provincetown schools, of course!

For those not following Massachusetts politics—known as “Sensible People” in Bay State parlance—Provincetown School Superintendent Beth Singer (formerly Northampton’s head of schools) announced that in the fall, students can request and receive condoms from school nurses. Nurses will give a short spiel on the virtues of abstinence, but cannot refuse to give the condoms and are not allowed to notify parents.

To Christian mullahs across the Bay State the very idea of teens having sex is enough to stir their faith to the point where they take to the airwaves to request more donations for their vacation homes and BMWs—sorry, I meant their missionary efforts. As expected, Republicans jumped all over the issue because the historical record is clear: they never had sex outside of marriage and, of course they want to “empower” parents and “protect” children.

And, like the leaders they are, Democrats pledged to get tough with the P-town Perverts. Somewhere in Washington, DC there is a monument to Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 threat to keep Congress in session all summer unless it passed the Civil Rights Act. It’s there because insofar as anyone can tell, it marked the last time a Democrat took a principled stand on anything. Deval Patrick leapt into the Great Condom Controversy because he knows a bit about screwing people. Ooops, another typo; I meant because he too cares about kids. His stand, he assures us, has nothing to do with the fact that he’s up for reelection in the fall. Deval—and I’m still researching this, but I’m pretty sure the name derives from a defunct Saxon patois and means ‘Pandering Yuppie from the Berkshires’—wants the Provincetown policy reversed and has pledged to do everything in his power to make this happen. Here’s how much clout he has: none.

That’s right. School boards are locally controlled. If P-town residents dislike Singer or the policy they can dump her and reverse the policy, but school boards set their own policy and raise their own funds. Did I mention that Provincetown is probably the gayest town in America and one of its richest? The local response thus far has been a tweak to not give condoms to those younger than fifth graders. If that seems callous, let me remind you of what none of the political points-scorers will tell you.

When I was a high school teacher in Vermont I used to beg the nurse’s office to keep condoms on hand, not because I wanted to promote promiscuity—the Republican mantra—but because I was tired of seeing kids’ lives ruined. I saw dozens of teen mothers leave school and forced into shotgun marriages that had as much of a chance of surviving as a hairless Chihuahua in the winter woods. You can call the Provincetown policy disturbing; I call it realistic. Of course there’s no parental notification! What? Suzy’s going to go home and say, “Mom, I want to do the nasty with that guy you don’t like. Can you please write me a nurse’s note for some condoms? A gross should do us.” Sure—that will happen. Just like the GOP insistence that making contraceptives difficult to obtain will deter teenagers from having sex. That worked so well for all of us, didn’t it? We were all virgins when we married, right? I distinctly remember finding it oh-so-easy to control my hormones when I was a teen and I’m sure you did too. Can I gently suggest that hypocrisy undermines parental influence more than a basket of condoms?

Let’s get real. Have you ever heard of a teen having this revelation: “Gee whiz. I was going to have sex with Suzy, but when the nurse wouldn’t give me a condom I thought about how immoral it would be not to save myself until I get married. Gosh! I’m so glad I waited.” Here’s what I take away from Rubbergate—I wish there was a prophylactic that kept political opportunists from procreating. Oh, and one more thing: it gave me another reason not to vote for Republicans and Democrats. Come fall, those of us who cast votes for the Green Party might be last virgins in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


Fine Tribute to Late, Great John Hartford

Memories of John
Red Clay Records T-4539-2
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With heavyweights such as Bob Carlin, Alison Brown, Béla Fleck, and Tim O’Brien assembled to pay tribute to the late John Hartford (d. 2001), you might expect the fur to fly. You’d be wrong. Few recent artists have assembled such an impressive body of work, been as generous, and inspired as many with less self-aggrandizement as John Hartford. This is a sampling of fifteen songs and tunes either penned or popularized by Hartford done in the same unpretentious, occasionally sparse, but musically solid style that typified Hartford’s performances. The term “Americana” is an overused one, but it’s hard not to consider the Missouri-born Hartford as a one-man soundtrack for the Mississippi River: its steamboats, small-town dance halls, and the various vagabonds, scoundrels, fortune-seekers, and everyday folk who traveled up and down the might, muddy Mississippi. “Gentle on My Mind” isn’t on this collection and rightly so; that big ole’ pop chart hit was a Hartford anomaly. More typical are things the assembled friends of Hartford recorded are small gems: the banjo-arranged Civil War-era sentimental song “Lorena,” the old-style “Royal Box Waltz,” old chestnuts such as “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” and tour de force songs like “M.I.S.I.P.” The latter will be a pleasant memory jogger for any who were lucky enough to see Hartford in the flesh—the man could wring more mirth out of the simplest melodies of anyone I ever saw. Kudos to the Stringband for keeping things real—just like John would have done. Note: The CD’s producer and band guitarist/vocalist was Chris Sharp, who toured with Hartford.

Check out these samples.


Topp Twins Goofy Fun and Serious Politics

The Topp Twins
Academy of Music
Northampton, MA
June 12, 2010

If somebody told you they had an extra ticket to go to a concert headlined by lesbian twins from New Zealand who sing country western music, yodel, and put on skits, would you go? If it’s Lynda and Jools Topp you should, though you might want to see their award-winning documentary The Topp Twins, Untouchable Girls before the show.

The film’s “Untouchable Girls” subtitle references both their most popular song and their lives of activism, not just as gay rights crusaders, but as social justice advocates for causes ranging from the anti-nuclear movement and land preservation, to rights for New Zealand’s native Maori population. “Untouchable Girls” is a rarity in the Topp Twins repertoire—a chirpy feminist pop song instead of country music, and such a catchy one that it’s likely to embed itself in whatever part of the brain causes us to relentlessly hum a song at inappropriate moments.

Lynda and Jools Topp are enormously popular in New Zealand, so much so that when Lynda assumed the persona of one of her characters for a spoof run for Auckland mayor in 1998, she had to tell her many followers it was all a joke and ask them to vote for the progressive candidate that eventually won. You don’t get clout like that by making compromises, which is another reason to see the documentary before you catch a show—the Topps haven’t altered much of their show for non-New Zealand audiences, don’t offer much in the way of explanation for the characters they become, and they never apologize for any of it!

Their act will remind North Americans of the old Hee Haw show from the days when country music was corny and pure rather than the slick-but-often-soulless package we hear these days. Remember Minnie Pearl with her ruffled dress and straw hat with the price tag dangling from a string? Goofy as hell, but Minnie could sing. The Topps are like that. They took the piss out of country pretentiousness from the get-go as “Belle and Belle,” a duo dressed in silly cowgirl hats, blouses with tacky western stitching, short checked skirts, and boots that looked like a cross between the open range and majorette castoffs. In case you missed the lampoon of manufactured images, the plump Lynda continually and uncomfortably tugged at her skirt-band like a grade schooler who needs to use the loo.

If this sounds campy, they’ve got an answer for that too—their personae of Camp Mother and Camp Leader; their trash flash costumes poke gentle fun at what we might call the airstream trailer crowd. Or they’re Mavis and Lorna, who met at a crematorium the day their respective husbands were reduced to ashes, and now indulge their passions for lawn bowling and gardening. And then there’s their send-up of New Zealand’s bloke culture—Ken and Ken, one a sheep farmer and the other (in his mind) a city sophisticate. Mix in the penchant of Lynda to wander into the audience to interview audience members (or bring them to the stage for deliberately unprofessional skits) and their constant wisecracking, and the whole thing makes for a pretty whacked-out evening that lists heavily toward lowbrow entertainment.

But here’s the thing—it’s like hearing old Henny Youngman sketches in that you find yourself laughing despite the fact that it’s pretty dumb stuff (and the combination of fast talking and Kiwi accents means we lose about half of what they say.) There’s also timing—the ridiculousness is broken up by poignant moments—on-stage video projections sport not just the silly characters, but also pitches for the Topp’s causes. And, shucks, they ain’t bad as musicians either. Their music won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but they sing well, harmonize with power, and they’re terrific yodelers! Think a country music version of the English music hall…

The Topp Twins’ delightfully goofy show served as a testimonial for not taking one’s self too seriously. We can only hope that Evelyn Harris was watching. The former Sweet Honey in the Rock singer did a four-song warm-act set that included “My Darling Clementine.” The Topp Twins played stuff like this for laughs, but Harris was caught up in her own ego and acted like wanted to channel Lena Horne. She was so full of herself that we soon had our fill of her.