Monthly Archives: December 2000

City Hall — December 5, 2000

City Hall

December 21, 2000December 5, 2000

No City Council meeting.

December 12, 2000

Accompanied by a sheep named “Timmy,” Patty Pendleton of the Birmingham Zoo makes her annual visit to the council chambers to promote Zoolight Safari, the yearly Christmas extravaganza staged nightly at the zoo, featuring “half a million lights,” according to Pendleton. Before she is through with her presentation, the number of Yuletide lights will grow to a “million.”

Mayor Kincaid announces an increase over last year in the number of riders taking advantage of the city’s expanded holiday bus service. According to Kincaid, the first week saw a 16 percent increase from 1999, the second week a 74 percent increase, and the third week a 43 percent increase in ridership. He thanks the Council for approving appropriation for the extended night and weekend service.

Calling the morning invocation “fascinating,” Councilor Jimmy Blake questions “whether it’s appropriate for us to have an invocation that invokes the Lord’s actions on behalf of one political agenda or another political agenda.” Blake tells Council President Bell that if this trend, which he notes is a frequent feature of weekly meeting invocations, continues, “we will need to start having equal time in invocations,” an idea that Blake frowns upon, as he encourages nonpartisan prayers. Councilor Aldrich Gunn replies that no one should determine “how one talks to his God, whether it’s spoken in the closet or uttered through the tongue.” Gunn further suggests that critics of council meeting prayers are employing selective listening techniques. Gunn finishes his response to Blake by noting, “If you know the prayers that some of us have had to pray, you would never understand it.”

The Council’s approval of an off-premise beer and wine license at Dee’s World in Pratt City commands a great portion of the morning half of today’s Council session. Sylvester Benson and his sister Donna, the store’s owners, are present with a petition containing “over a hundred names of people that are for the convenience store having off-premises beer and wine,” according to Sylvester Benson. He notes that he and his sister recently presented their proposal at a Pratt City community meeting, where they lost by a vote of 12 to 7. Moments after the vote, eight supporters of the convenience store beer and wine license walked into the meeting, but the Pratt City community president “refused to grant a second recount,” says Benson, staring into the eyes of councilors as he utters the word “recount.” Benson also has his mom in tow, and she offers up a handsome endorsement of her kids to the Council. Councilor Leroy Bandy, who immediately notes that the store is in his neighborhood, does not want the license granted. Bandy’s list of problems over the past several years within the store’s vicinity includes “gang members on the corner, drive-by shootings, shooting into people’s homes.” The councilor notes that when the store previously closed, questionable activity in the neighborhood settled down. “Sure, they [Pratt City residents] welcome a store. They welcome milk and bread. Honey. But why does everybody wanna sell beer and wine?” Bandy wonders, noting that he has lived in the area for 53 years. An angry Sylvester Benson responds, “I’ve been living in Pratt City all my life, also. And I know from standing here, you can’t say beer and wine caused the shootings in that area.” His sister Donna and his mom nod their heads vigorously in agreement. “It was the drugs and narcotics in that area which caused all the problems over there,” says Sylvester Benson. He further testifies that the neighborhood community president that denied his “second recount” had her house fired upon because her “son-in-law was a big-time drug dealer in that area!” Several councilors shout “Point of order” to hush Benson. Councilor Bandy becomes even angrier, asking in a scolding tone. “What are you gonna put wine and beer on top of drugs for? This is what I’m saying, young man.” Bandy begins to move his hands in a churning motion, his eyes growing wider as he surmises, “When you mix all that stuff up together. . . . Boom! There it is!” Benson replies that other businesses in the immediate area sell beer and wine without incident. The Bensons’ mom suddenly intervenes. “My son is a corrections officer. We do not condone drugs!” she proudly notes. The Council votes to postpone making a decision on the license for eight weeks, urging the Bensons to patch things up with the neighborhood and its maligned president.

The Council votes down the approval of an additional $1 million to the city’s Law Department to cover outside attorney fees. The $1.2 million the Council approved in the budget for fiscal year 2000-2001 was less than half of what had been allocated to the Law Department in past budgets, according to City Attorney Tamara Johnson. Councilor Little requests that invoices for outside attorney fees be submitted to the Council in order for the money to be allocated. Councilor Blake proposes that “the hiring of outside attorneys should be the exception, not the rule.” Blake requests the “specific purpose” of any necessary outside legal aid be clarified by Mayor Kincaid and City Attorney Johnson. Councilor Blake also asks that a cost estimation over a limited, specified period of time be included in such explanations. If more money is needed, then the Council could be petitioned for additional funds on a specific basis, according to Blake. Mayor Kincaid jumps in to remind Blake that $1 million was removed from his 2000-2001 budget proposal. The Mayor suggests that if other cities’ legal fees are studied, Birmingham would fare well comparatively. He stresses that it is “absolutely essential that we go outside [use non-city attorneys] to avoid conflicts, and to garner expertise as needed.”

Blake responds that he doesn’t object to paying any of the legal fees presently due, but he repeats that he is not going to vote to pay any more outside attorneys until their roles and budgets are clarified. “We’re gonna have to plug the holes, whether they’re holes that existed prior to this administration or since this administration. The Council has to grab the responsibility for knowing and scheduling the expenses of this city,” warns Blake. “There’s not one issue that’s gotten more coverage, that relates to the sort of sleazy dealing [Blake indicates quotation marks with his fingers] of the city of Birmingham, that is greater than the issue of outside attorney fees. And it is time for us to take a responsible position on that,” concludes the councilor. Councilor Gunn proposes allocating a half million dollars for the attorney fees, as $438,000 is the amount currently due. Mayor Kincaid expresses his appreciation to Gunn for offering compromise [for trying to play Solomon here], but notes that legally it’s the mayor’s call to request the payment of outside legal fees. City attorney Tamara Johnson emphasizes that the Mayor-Council Act “specifically points out that the Mayor supervises and controls the financial affairs of the Council.” In response to Councilor Little’s request for making invoices available to the Council, she says that some invoices are not allowed to be shared with the Council, such as those for cases that involve attorneys representing the Mayor in his official capacity. Councilor Blake reminds Johnson that the Council passed an ordinance that limits the Mayor to an expenditure ceiling of $10,000 without Council approval. “No more blank checks!” Blake reiterates angrily.

Council President Pro Tem Gunn closes the session by noting, “It has been a long day.” Gunn thanks each councilor for participation in the “longest Council meeting since I’ve ever been on this Council [5 hours, 45 minutes].” &

Wildflower Child

Wildflower Child

December 07, 2000

It was an odd scene for a small town. The tiny but spiffy art-deco Ritz Theater glowed in yellow and green neon. Pulsating bulbs flashed beneath a brilliantly lit marquee announcing: An Evening With Judy Collins. Across the street, downtown Talladega’s tiny courthouse square remained quiet, the townspeople perhaps reluctant to make a big deal about the presence of a star of Judy Collins’ magnitude.The parking spaces around the town square finally filled up a scant 15 minutes before showtime. Around the corner from the Ritz, a lonesome limousine waited patiently in front of the Talladega Water and Sewer Department to whisk Collins back to Atlanta for a midnight flight to Florida. A strange twist of destiny, indeed, that President Clinton’s favorite singer was scheduled to entertain controversial Palm Beach County the following evening, the same night the Sunshine State first certified George Bush for president.

Five minutes before the 6:30 p.m. show at the Ritz, a crowd of elderly customers suddenly invaded the quaint 1936 theater. Two-thirds of the well-behaved audience were local septuagenarian “patrons-of-the-arts,” silver-haired women who supported the local concert series regardless of the performance. They had no clue who this Judy Collins person was, and their collective, overwhelmingly perfumed fragrance threatened to exterminate the audience. The remainder of the 500 in attendance (almost a full house for the first of two shows that night) was a sprinkling of middle-aged, professional couples and reluctantly aging hippies, enthusiastically embracing Collins and the memories of decades past.

Gracefully strolling onstage in a pink satin suit and pink pumps, the attractive, 61-year-old Collins looked like anything but an aging folk singer. She smiled and picked up a 12-string acoustic guitar as her pianist played the bare, tinkling introduction to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”

Collins was captivating. Her soaring soprano has aged little, and it effortlessly reached for and found all the high notes as she covered the songbook that defined her 40-year recording career. Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans” was a ragtime piano masterpiece, and her version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On the Wire” was a bluesy, solemn ode to Cohen, a composer that she has frequently referred to as her “mentor.”

Between songs, Collins told stories of childhood, tossing off bits and pieces of traditional Irish standards she had learned from her father. Sense of humor intact, Collins frequently interjected wit into awkward onstage dilemmas with remarkable comedic timing. While continually attempting to tune her uncooperative guitar, she apologized that she was unable to make tuning “a spiritual experience, like Ravi Shankar when he tunes his sitar.” Eventually making peace with her tuning efforts, Collins concluded with a shrug, “Well, it’s good enough for folk music.” She even told a favorite sacrilegious Christmas joke, and inquired of the overpowering perfume, “Is there something blooming in here that’s causing my allergies to act up?”

A sparse, almost sacred version of her 1975 hit “Send In the Clowns” ended the show. Accompanied only by her pianist, Collins offered up the endearing melody in hushed tones framed by the song’s climactic piano crescendos. The obligatory encore, an a capella campfire sing-along of “Amazing Grace” ended the evening.

Judy Collins’ Answering Machine Message to the World

The message on Collins’ cell phone voice mail the afternoon before her Talladega show offered a revealing glimpse of the singer’s contagious enthusiasm for life. “And we will fly beyond the sky. Beyond the stars. Beyond the heavens,” Collins sings into the telephone, her distinctive speaking voice sharing her home telephone number with the caller at message end. A second call attempt a few minutes later found her preparing for that evening’s Atlanta concert. Collins gladly agreed to take time out to reflect on her career, which started at age 10 with classical piano lessons from famed international orchestral conductor Antonia Bricoat. (Collins produced and co-directed a documentary on Bricoat, and subsequently received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in the mid-1970s.) Collins addressed a question about her ever-evolving musical endeavors: “I’m not so sure it’s about the changing of musical styles. I think it’s probably about being timeless, and integrating what I knew as a child with what I’ve learned as an adult, and sort of tying it all into one kind of music, which I can’t really define. I think it’s more like Judy Collins music than anything else. I’ve been called a lot of things-folk singer, country singer, classical pianist, and so on.”

Judy Collins’ father, Chuck Collins, was a blind singer and pianist who had a career in radio from 1937 to 1968-a fact about which the younger Collins is noticeably proud. She credited her father’s unique ability to spot good songs with her exposure to early songwriters, such as Rogers and Hart, and laughs about the subliminal presence of folk songs in her childhood home. “I grew up on folk without realizing it,” admits Collins. “My father was constantly singing traditional Irish stuff, things like ‘Kerry Dancers’ and ‘Danny Boy.’” Collins adds that “an element of timelessness” is what she looks for when choosing songs to record.

Collins believes her piano background is a primary resource for writing. She abandoned the piano in the early 1960s when her folk career blossomed, but soon returned to her first love. “I’m so grateful that I have this wonderful background in the piano,” noted Collins. “I do my writing on piano. I still practice, just like I used to. I practice and do my scales [laughs] and exercises every time I sit down to play.”

Send in the Clowns

“I was planning a new record, and was looking for material. The show, A Little Night Music, by Stephen Sondheim, had been out for a couple of years. Others have recorded the song, but my version seemed to strike a chord, and I’ve always felt it was because of that very, very sympathetic orchestration that Jonathan Tunic did,” Collins notes with pride when asked how she came to record the 1975 classic “Send In the Clowns.” She also doesn’t hesitate to briefly knock Frank Sinatra: “A lot of people, including Frank Sinatra, had recorded that song. I have a theory about Frank Sinatra’s version. He was working with Nelson Riddle at that time. And instead of taking Sondheim’s orchestration, Nelson Riddle did his own orchestration. And it doesn’t do the song justice, and I think that’s why Sinatra did not have a big hit with that song, in my estimation, because otherwise he would have. I think Sinatra got every single other song he ever sang [right], but he didn’t get that one [laughs]. So it was my good fortune that he didn’t.” She quickly adds that she saw Sinatra live a number of times, and always went to learn from the singer. “I had the privilege of seeing him work with Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald. And that’s the best.”

Songs That Go Bump in the Night

Collins has been awakened in the middle of the night by two of the greatest songs to emerge from the 1960s-a couple of soon-to-be-hits she heard while they were being created by their respective composers. Around 1966, noted musical sideman to the stars (and organist on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”) Al Kooper woke up Collins at 3 a.m. to put a young, unknown folk singer named Joni Mitchell on the telephone to sing her latest, “Both Sides Now.” Collins recorded the composition, and Mitchell was propelled from coffee house obscurity to household stardom.Collins’ slumber was also interrupted in 1963 while she was staying at a large house in Woodstock, New York, with Bob Dylan and a few other friends. “In the middle of the night I woke up, because I heard music playing. And I went hunting out through the house,” recalled Collins. “I could hear this voice singing, and hear this music playing. And I opened the door to the stairwell, and there was Dylan sitting on the staircase in this old house on the stairway to the basement, and he was just finishing [composing] “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man.” &