What if the rush to judgement is wrong?

Last weekend’s confrontation between Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge police sergeant James M. Crowley has taken the sheen off of the era of good racial feelings that accompanied President Barack Obama’s election. Wise folks knew better than to trust it, but the ugly little incident in a sylvan section of Cambridge has opened old wounds. Even President Obama jumped into the fray, saying that the police “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates once he showed identification. The president may be right, but he too may have acted “stupidly.” Everyone following this story—including the president—needs to relax, take five, and wait for the final details to emerge.

Those who know me can attest that I’m usually among the first to mount a moral high horse. Do I believe that a lot of cops are hotheads? I sure do; even as a white man I’ve been the victim of idiots who think that a badge is a license to swagger like Dirty Harry. But I’m also a professor. Do I believe that an academic of an exalted reputation such as that of Professor Gates is capable of being belligerent, arrogant, and disrespectful of someone deemed “beneath” them? Hell, yeah! I see it all the time. And herein lays the problem. There are two stories circulating, both of which are plausible, and the only people who know what happened are Gates and Crowley and perhaps not even they recall it exactly as it went down.

One man (or both) either lied or allowed his passion to distort what occurred. This leads to still another dilemma: it would have been out of character for it to happen to either man. It would be convenient if Sgt. Crowley was a bad cop or a racist, but the record suggests he’s not. His record is exemplary, he’s popular with both white and black colleagues, and there’s not (yet) been any evidence of bias. In fact, he was the officer who frantically tried to revive black Boston Celtic star Reggie Lewis as he lay dying in a Brandeis gym sixteen years ago. As for Professor Gates, he’s simply one of the most respected names in all of academia and he has a reputation for being affable and easy-going. (My own interaction with him was far too brief for me to evaluate his character, but I deeply admire his intellect.)

When faced with two equally believable stories the prudent course is to avoid a rush to judgment. In the best possible scenario there won’t be a villain or scapegoat; both Crowley and Gates will break bread together, admit mutual misunderstanding, shake hands, and enlist as comrades in the ongoing battle to create a race-blind America. In the end, the only unassailable truth in the Crowley/Gates dispute is that the era of good racial feelings was a feel-good myth.-LV



Double Play

Compass 7-4502-2

A new Liz Carroll release is always a treat, but this one is a special joy. It’s designed to be the bookend release to 2005’s In Play, but as the rich collaboration between Carroll and Doyle has evolved, Doyle has become less an accompanist and more of a full partner. The 2005 Carroll/Doyle release was all instrumental; this one has three superb songs from Doyle as well. Everyone knows about Doyle’s fretted wizardry, but he remains a vastly underrated vocalist. His cover of the miners’ strike song “A Pound a Week Rise” pulses with poignancy (as does his spectacular guitar work), but the gentle “Down at the Wakehouse” stands as both contrast and testament to his ability to change moods through the colors of his voice. Carroll is, as always, a force unto herself. She can scratch it out like she’s at a late-night session (“The Chandelier”), slow it down to tug on the heartstrings (“Lament for Tommy Makem”), set your feet dancing (“John Cahill’s Jig”), or clean out the hall and take no prisoners (“Paddy Glackin’s Trip to Dingle”). Double Play is twice as good as its predecessor, something I would not hitherto have believed possible.
For a sense of how the two synergize see this 2006 clip from Celtic Colours: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRU-Yn_RPJQ
And to see what boring gits men in suits are see this clip from the 2009 St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House. Check out the bald guy who refuses to let his cool slip:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPoIosUBr9Y



Blue Gentian 001

Birdsong at Morning is a trio that takes its name from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem, the cover art for its debut release is a photograph by 19th century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, lead vocalist Alan Williams cites Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley as influences, and the string arrangements of “Those Beautiful Words” and “Broken Silences” evoke lush treatments by mid-1970s folk artists. If it sounds as if this album is rooted in the past rather than the shiny and new, it is. Williams, who wrote five of the six tracks contained on Bound, is probably best known for his work with Carol Noonan in Knots and Crosses He teams with two other vets: bass player Greg Porter—who has toured with artists such as Aimee Mann, Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant, and Liz Phair—and Williams’s life partner, Darleen Wilson, a former studio musician and producer who now works for WGBH. All of this background is to alert listeners that this is adult music—introspective, dreamy, and complex. Both instrumentation and lyrics ask to be contemplated. The songs are honest and hopeful, but seldom direct. Even the trio’s cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming” is slowed down and pensive. Birdsong in the Morning may not to everyone’s taste, but give a careful listen before you judge. One could just play this music to enhance the ambience of a room, but the effect would be like running through the woods instead of strolling and pausing to appreciate the beauty of a warbler’s call.--LV