News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Internet: Far Right voters guide speaks bigotry
I foresee some encounters with bigotry. But, others ambush me. I was browsing Amazon recently. I was looking for books about the Christian Right when I happened across a voter's guide to Democratic candidates. A fellow identifying himself as the Nemean Lion of Herculean Bitterness had prepared it. His 'analysis' of former candidate Carol Mosely-Braun, under the title, "Fata$$ Feminist Radical" is revealing, if not instructive.
I have left the text unedited because I believe it is representative of Nemean's thought process.
I don't doubt that Nemean is off his rocker. But, I also believe his thoughts reflect what many on the far Right believe -- from his irrational reasons for supporting the war in Iraq to his heartfelt belief women have gotten out of their place. What about Nemean's references to Mosely-Braun, an African-American, as an "ape" and "simian"? I don't believe that to be unusual for denizens of the far Right, either. The most retrograde racist ideas are still common among them. Those beliefs rarely are challenged by others on the Right who claim not to share their bigotry. Indeed, Nemean's 'reviews' have been approved of by quite a few conservatives at Amazon.
Read more of Nemean's opinions about Democratic leaders here.
What is the Nemean lion? A figure from mythology. One of Hercules' exploits was battling the Nemean lion. He strangled the beast with his own hands. The photograph is a representation of the battle.posted by J. | 3:45 PM
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Consumers: Tagging makes PDFs accessible
I am as enured to Portable Document Format content as anyone. I've come to take it for granted. But, I find PDFs irritating at times. I prefer to download and read material in HTML. And, it annoys me when Acrobat hijacks my screen after downloading a PDF. Last, but not least, I miss getting product manuals as books. PDF manuals are cumbersome. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find something new to like about PDFs recently. Anyone who reads this weblog knows I am a bookworm, with a special interest in literary fiction and sci-fi. So, when an email said free ebooks were available, I checked it out. In the process, I gained useful information about PDFs.
They come on two formats -- regular and tagged. The latter category is of assistance to readers who have impaired vision, like their information organized or own a Personal Digital Assistant.
The excerpt refers to Section 508 of the the U.S. Rehabilitation Act. Though tagging alone doesn't address all the problems a visually impaired person may experience reading material in a PDF format, it helps by organizing the material so that it integrates with the viewing mechanism. For example, a tagged PDF will fit the smaller screen of a PDA. In addition, the better organized data is easier to follow.
Since I have imperfect vision and a PDA, I will choose tagged PDFs whenever the choice is offered from now on. In addition, I will pass the information on to a friend who works with the seriously vision impaired.
And, the ebook? A tagged PDF of Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence, will be uploaded to my Palm Tungsten C the next time I synchronize it.
To learn more about Adobe's efforts to comply with Section 508, visit its accessibility homepage.posted by J. | 10:30 PM
Sunday, July 25, 2004
Reading: Teddy Pendergrass is Truly Blessed
To some folks life come easy,
-- Teddy Pendergrass, "Cold, Cold World"
Sometimes a book is so good you can't hold on to it. That is what happened to my copy of Truly Blessed, the autobiography of singer Teddy Pendergrass. I briefly left it, in a bag with other items, in a supposedly secure place. When I reclaimed the package later, the book and a new, unopened CD, Teddy Pendergrass, were gone. Yes, someone stole the book. On the bright side, for the thief, if he chooses to read Truly Blessed, he will not be disappointed.
Pendergrass' is one of the better biographies of contemporary people I've read. It chronicles not only his personal story, but changes in society and the recording industry from the late 1960s to the late '90s. Pendergrass has also written as honestly about being disabled as anyone I've read.
Teddy Pendergrass' own story began at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia on March 26, 1950. His mother, Ida, is a deeply religious woman who had prayed for a healthy child after numerous miscarriages. Theodore DeReese was her blessing. He was reared in holiness churches in North Philadelphia as much as at home, sometimes spending hours there each day. At the age of ten, the boy got a 'call' from God. He interpreted the message to mean he might be destined to be a preacher. But, there was another suitor for his attention. Show business was almost as endemic to his community as religion. Soon, the Uptown Theater, Philadelphia's version of the Apollo, was attracting the clean-cut youth from down the street. Pendergrass made a rite of passage in that regard when he was 13. His mother, prepared to whip him for staying most of the night at the Uptown, decided he was too grown up for the strap. Not long after, Ida Pendergrass bought her son a set of drums. He had taken his first step on the road to becoming Teddy Pendergrass, the star.
Though he would be extremely successful by the time he was in his mid-twenties, Pendergrass did pay his dues. After dropping out of high school, he worked at any menial job he could obtain, from waffle-making to driving a truck. But, his favored occupation was as a drummer, a skill he had perfected by his late teens. He drummed for several local bands. Then, in 1969, Harold Melvin, newly blown off by the latest version of the Blue Notes, hired the group Pendergrass was drumming for as vocalists and installed Teddy as drummer for the reconstituted Blue Notes. Within a year, the drummer was out front singing lead on most of the group's songs.
Pendergrass credits Melvin with teaching him the ins and outs of show business. However, the relationship was fraught with tension from the start. For years, Melvin insisted on calling the group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Many a confused person thought that Pendergrass, the tall, dark, lead vocalist, a commanding presence, was Melvin. The problems extended beyond Melvin's egoistic effort to promote himself at Pendergrass' expense. According to Truly Blessed, Melvin could be quite abusive and kept royalties for himself instead of distributing the money among the group's members. Though on their way up in the business, the other Blue Notes often did not have even ticket money home.
Pendergrass could not have happened into the eye of the Philadelphia music scene at a better time. Philadelphia International Records, headed by songwriters and producers, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, was poised to unseat Motown as the leading producer of successful soul music. Once Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass, signed with PRI, the group became major beneficiaries of the PRI machine. The finest production values in the business were theirs and the best songwriters of the time vied to have the group perform their material. Their albums were eagerly embraced, producing such hits as "Wake Up Everybody," "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and "Bad Luck."
The soul groups of the 70s also benefitted from crossover success as white audiences purchased more and more soul recordings and albums succeeded on both the Rhythm and Blues and Pop charts.
Still, practically living with Harold Melvin was a continual stress for the young singer. In 1975, an incident in Los Angeles, when Melvin partied at an expensive hotel, while leaving the others at a low-rent motel, set the stage for the the end of the collaboration. Pendergrass says Melvin peremptorily broke the date, leaving the others stranded without any money. He quit Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and briefly formed a competing Blue Notes.
In 1976, Teddy Pendergrass began the solo career that would make him famous. Still with PIR, he became an even more direct focus of writing and production. It had come to the notice of PRI that the young baritone upstaged the other members of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes with female fans. His solo image was crafted around his sex appeal. Pendergrass says it was his own idea to hold those women only concerts he became famous (or infamous) for. However, he also says he was never completely comfortable with whipping women into an erotic frenzy. By the '80s, he began to tone down the raciness-- which really wasn't all that racy by today's standards. Pendergrass recorded six albums for PIR from 1977 to 1981 -- Teddy Pendergrass, Life is a Song Worth Singing, Teddy, Teddy Live! Coast to Coast, TP and It's Time for Love. Five of them produced successive platinum records. He was the first African-American male vocalist to achieve that distinction. His signature song became "Close the Door," a well-wrought come-on that used his smoky tones and adept phrasing quite advantageously.
By the time he was 28, Pendergrass owned a 34-room mansion on Philadelphia's Main Line. He had stocked his garage there with expensive cars. Women and drugs were his weaknesses. The singer had a relationship with cocaine he would not overcome until he was over 40. He had trouble committing to any one women. As a result, he became a father to three children by two different mothers in 1974. He was also oft cited in paternity suits, though usually gratuitously. The result was domestic turmoil that resulted in his children being withheld from him until they were three and four years old. Subsequently, Pendergrass seems to have become a model father, including rearing his son as a custodial parent. He settled down with Karen Still in the 1980s, making the relationship official. She was with him through extremely thick and very thin. The couple divorced in 2002.
The goals the ambitious youth had set for himself had been more than achieved by 1982. Then, one evening he volunteered to take two women home from a nightclub. (One of them would turn out to be a transexual, causing Pendergrass embarrassment.) Before dropping off the second person, he lost control of his Rolls Royce. He awoke eight days later, attached to a device that held his body motionless so as not to aggravate his injuries. Teddy Pendergrass was paralyzed at the age of 32. Specifically, he is an incomplete 5-6 quadriplegic. That means his spine was severed near the fifth and sixth vertebraes. He has some, limited, sensation below the point of injury to his spinal cord. He can move his arms, but has little use of his hands. Sensation from his chest up is normal. However, a singer uses muscles in his back and diaphragm, as well as his vocal cords. Continuing his career would be a formidable challenge.
As is often the case when tragic events occur, Pendergrass found himself abandoned by many of the friends who had seemed to value him as his career peaked. Other people imposed on the newly handicapped singer. Charlatans offered magic cures. Preachers claimed they could heal him by the laying on of hands. Some folks badly misinterpreted how to treat him. One of the most humiliating incidents was at the hands of comedian Bill Cosby. The entertainer asked that Pendergrass be the presenter for him at an awards ceremony. The singer decided to venture out in public for the first time since his accident. He managed to temporarily overcome the shame he felt about being seen in a wheelchair. Then, at the ceremony, Bill Cosby walked onto the stage. He dropped a microphone into Pendergrass' lap and ordered him to sing. The singer died a thousand deaths emotionally. He managed to fumble the mic into his hands and said 'I've got it.' Pendergrass' family helped him off the stage.
Through experimentation, the singer eventually mastered the ability to 'paint' his vocals with a palate that focused on the remaining 'colors' instead of those that had been lost to paralysis. His post-accident voice is softer and he tires more easily. Pendergrass had been a master of phrasing and nuance before, but improved significantly after his accident. Because of a newfound concern about the costs of being a recording artist, he also learned to produce himself and developed his skills as a songwriter.
PRI dropped him after its financial problems began in the 1980s. He signed with Asylum on the strength of a demo Luther Vandross helped him prepare. In 1984, Pendergrass overcame the depression that had gripped him to produce Love Language, his first outing with his different, but still recognizable, voice. By 1988, he was satisfied enough with his singing and life to name an Elektra album Joy. His recordings for Asylum and Elektra affirmed his ability to still be Teddy Pendergrass, despite having a less powerful voice. Several songs from them charted and resulted in Grammy nominations, including "Hold Me," a duet with Whitney Houston, "2 AM," and "Joy," which was the top hit on the Rhythm and Blues charts in 1988. The videos for "Joy" and "2 AM" were also ground-breaking, presenting a man in a wheelchair as an object of desire.
Pendergrass returned to performing at Live Aid in 1985. He toured with a revival of the gospel play "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God" the next year. But, the vocalist, who hates the thought of being pitied, has remained ambivalent about public appearances. He most recently appeared live in concert in 2001 and 2002, and, produced a video of himself performing, From Teddy With Love, in 2003.
Pendergrass is a realist. He has no illusions about the fragility that comes with being a quadriplegic. Hospitalizations over the years have convinced him that he must defer to his health despite his love of performing. The singer is also wary of the hype sometimes associated with curing paralysis, noting that the technology currently promoted was around during his rehabiliation in the 1980s, and, still has little practical application. Despite his recurrent problems with depression, Pendergrass refuses to grasp at straws. He is determined to live life as fully as possible in his wheelchair, instead of waiting for a cure.
Truly Blessed is an impressive book. I was really struck by Pendergrass' intelligence. Though he completed high school and college, that wasn't until he was in his 30s and 40s. But for his extraordinary singing talent, he is the kind of urban black man who would have been consigned to the lowest ranks of employment in our society. Yet, hidden behind the superficial characteristics people base such judgments on, was a fine mind all along. I also like Pendergrass' personality. He is a loner, almost obsessively independent. Much of the tension he experiences with needing around-the-clock assistance is those traits in direct conflict with forced dependence and lack of privacy. Furthermore, the Philly home boy, as they say in the vernacular, don't take no s---. Some of the most telling episodes in the autobiography are about Pendergrass rejecting patronization based on race and, later, disability.
Teddy Pendergrass maintains that he is still very much a man. Interviewers often allude to his role as a 'lover' in the past tense. He corrects them, saying he is still having erotic experiences. His concerts, which sell out despite high ticket prices, support his perspective. Women are still drawn to him. Nor does Pendergrass' flinch from expressing sexual desire in his post-paralysis songs. He is proof a person with a significant disability can still meet the expectations associated with being a successful man in American society, including the amorous interest of women.
From a miracle birth to an admirable recovery, Teddy Pendergrass is truly blessed.
What's the art?
A pensive Pendergrass.
•A Teddy Pendergrass discography.
•Tom Moon of the Phildelphia Inquirer interviewed the singer in 2002.
•Among the women who fantasized about Teddy Pendergrass was a young Janet Jackson.posted by J. | 11:45 PM