Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Sending love to Congressman Steve Cohen

Posted February 15th, 2013 by Tom

Steve CohenI’ve been impressed with Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) ever since he caught my attention when he introduced legislation for the United States of America to apologize for its involvement in, and support for, slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed. The bill passed in 2008. Though it does not heal the traumatic wounds and does not repair the damage, it was a start. Both the House and Senate apologized for America’s complicity in slavery and Jim Crow. This movement, limited in its impact as it was, was led by Rep. Cohen.

Today came the news that the 63-year old congressman had tweeted a message to a 24-year old Texas woman, a so-called “bikini model“, during President Obama’s State of the Union Address, including the acronym “ilu” standing for “i love you”. The Tennessee Republican Party‘s executive director quickly issued a news release comparing Cohen to former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned n 2011 after tweeting lewd pictures of himself.

Turns out that the woman in question, Victoria Brink, is Cohen’s daughter. He learned of his paternity three years ago. It looks to me like he’s done everything right since he found out, including respect for his daughter, respecting the privacy of her mother and the man who raised her; the man she’s always known as her father.

Well done, Rep. Cohen. Shame on you, Tennessee Republican’s who were so quick to jump to the absolutely wrong conclusion.

The New Jim Crow

Posted November 28th, 2011 by Tom

To understand one significant aspect of the legacy of slavery and its profound impact today, one needs to look no further than the “criminal justice” system in the United States. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, Douglas A. Blackmon exposes with devastating clarity how the criminal justice system was utilized to replace slavery as a tool to keep tens of thousands of African Americans enslaved until World War II.

By the time this practice ended, government-endorsed Jim Crow laws were firmly in place to maintain a caste system in which white people were firmly in place at the top and black people at the bottom of American society and power. It wasn’t until the successes achieved through the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s that Jim Crow finally ended. Read the rest of this entry »

Teardrops on the City

Posted June 24th, 2011 by Tom

White man with a guitar leans on black man playing a saxophone. Both are dressed in black and white clothes. White album cover. Everything about the Born to Run album cover is black and white. Very little about Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons was.

They didn’t make an issue over a black man playing in an otherwise all-white band in the early 1970’s when the wounds from Jim Crow and the recent Civil Rights movement were still fresh and raw. When they weren’t welcomed in certain towns or hotels, they just played their music elsewhere. They rocked. They danced. They engaged in soulful kisses. They laughed. They invited us to join them “when Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half.” They chipped away at America’s racism by living its opposite.

From Eric Meola, the man who shot the iconic photo:

Is it, as so many writers have stated, a declaration of the friendship and camaraderie between the two men? Yes. Was it a deliberate, premeditated statement by Bruce about race relations? Probably not. Yet it became that, and by including Clarence from the beginning, Bruce chose not only the one remaining band member he most identified with, but the one who happened to be black. In an album of saxophone solos, from “Thunder Road” to “Jungleland,” it seems an obvious choice. And, a brilliant one which came to symbolize far more than any of us could have envisioned.

Those who know me well understand just how deeply I was impacted this past week by the passing of The Big Man, Clarence Clemons. I believe the last time I wept at the death of a “celebrity” was when Jimmy Stewart left us in 1997. The story of It’s a Wonderful Life (“no one is alone who has friends”) rests at the core of my philosophy of life. The music of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band provides the soul; the soundtrack for the life of my family since Lindi and I fell in love dancing to “Crush on You” twenty-six years ago at my old haunt, Pat & Mike’s Cinema & Restaurant.

Our three daughters used to create dances to perform to Bruce’s music (they shimmied and bopped a tremendous Hungry Heart). We drove to Tacoma in 1988 with our four kids and our dog Harley to wait in line for 33 hours outside the Tacoma Dome in a non-stop drizzle to buy tickets — long before internet sales — to see the band during the Tunnel of Love tour. Lindi and I have taken road trips during several tours to see Bruce and the E Streeters multiple times over the course of a week or so. Highlights include several concerts being perched in the very front row; our elbows resting on the stage. Lindi’s hands resting on Bruce’s knees during a guitar solo. Me furiously strumming Bruce’s guitar as he held it out to several of us during a Born to Run solo riff.

We met the Big Man one time at a hotel bar in Calgary. I walked up to him and pointed out Lindi and our friend Angel at a nearby table.

Angel’s from New Jersey, says I.

Is she now, replies the Big Man.

Her birthday is the same as yours.

Is that a fact.

I lean in close and whisper. She used to sneak into your club in Red Bank when she was underage.

Then she owes me money! he thunders. Get her over here!

And so we got our photo of Lindi and Angel with Clarence. Truly one of the highlights of our many encounters over the past quarter century with Bruce and the E Street Band.

My feelings are strong. The sense of loss is tremendous. Knowing I’ve heard Clarence play his saxophone for the last time is heartbreaking.

I’ve waited a week to write about Clarence’s passing because I couldn’t find the words. I still can’t. So I’ve shared a few moments with you. The best words I’ve found were written by Dave Marsh. I hope you will take the time to read MIGHTY MIGHTY, SPADE AND WHITEY: Clarence and Bruce, Friendship and Race. Marsh helped me unpack the myth and recognize the impact that Bruce and Clarence have had on America.

Bruce and Clarence acted out their drama, which is our drama, in the exact same spirit as Twain, and with the exact same ambiguous result. At the end of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain was stuck because he had no ending. The ending he used is preposterous, obviously. But not because it’s over-reliant on the hand of God. The real problem is that it’s predicated on a false idea: Freeing one slave. You cannot free one slave, and since the slave owner is in the same prison as the slave, just like any other jailer, you can’t free two either. It’s all of us or none of us.

And I’ve never read more clearly and succinctly where so much of the responsibility lies for undoing racism and privilege in the United States:

What I am saying is, America’s race problem has never been solved because white people refuse to recognize that it is only action on their part that can solve it.

These two quotes, of course, are seen here out of context. Read the Marsh article in full. Then play the Born to Run album in full. Then ask yourself once again about your role in righting the wrongs in our world.

Rest in Peace, Big Man.

(thanks to Backstreets for providing so many wonderful links to stories about Clarence, and for all you do for those of us who Ramrod down E Street on our way to the Land of Hope and Dreams)

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry