Last Friday, February 22, your superior correspondents attended the Providence
Newspaper Guild Follies, one of the annual social highlights for the residents
of Casa Diablo. Held on the last Friday in February for the past 29 years, the
Follies were conceived in the wake of a bitter 1973 labor dispute (featuring a
12-day strike). This fact presumably invested this year's event with some added
As those who have followed Ian Donnis's award-winning series of reports in the
Phoenix on the current strife at the Other Paper already know, the Belo
Corporation, the Texas-based media conglomerate that owns the BeloJo, appears
hell-bent on breaking the Guild. This is the union that represents some 500
Urinal employees (janitors, advertising salespeople, reporters, copy editors,
photographers, etc.). Belo's tactics have led to the departure of scores of
longtime Urinal employees, not to mention 46 charges of labor law violations
against the company by the federal government. It's been an ugly time for a
The Follies recipe is simple: Guild members and their friends put on a show
consisting of song parodies and sketches for more than 1200 of the state's
media, labor, political, and social elite at the Venus de Milo in Swansea,
Massachusetts. This comes, of course, after all have spent an hour or two
chewing the fat over cocktails and tucking into the Venus's notorious
cholesterol bomb buffet. The whole thing is like prom night for the usual
suspects in Vo Dilun. Even House Speaker John Harwood was there.
As dinner wound down, Guild President Bob Jagolinzer took the stage to deliver
a pointed diatribe against Belo and then present the John Kiffney Awards. The
latter, given for public service, are named for one of the Other Paper's most
beloved and respected reporters, who passed away in 1987. This year, Nancy
Gewirtz, professor of social work at RIC, tireless foe of poverty and despair,
and, most recently, a thorn in the compromised conscience of Bob Carl, was
given a Kiffney, as were the Brown Graduate Employees Organization, which has
been waging its own bitter fight to create a union for grad students at Brown
P&J had already noticed the thickness of the printed program for this
year's show. This was due to a brace of ads (many from politicians), photos,
and a brief bio for each Follies participant, and the lyrics to the evening's
songs. In the past, lyric sheets were passed out to the audience at the end of
the show, but we found this inclusion in the program to be helpful.
Scott MacKay serving double duty as co-producer (with the fragrant Babette
Augustin) and emcee, may not want to quit his day job for a go at stand-up, but
his snappy patter still managed to hit the target most of the time. He
regretted the fact that Governor Almond wasn't in attendance this year,
primarily because the guv had heard that "Nick-at-Nite was running Joe Mannix
reruns on Fridays." MacKay also thanked the community of Johnston for being
"one of those gifts that keeps on giving (for reporters, anyway) . . . the
mayor's high and all the guys are bi."
Ah yes, here are the long swords we've come for. The first song of the evening
was a localized version of "This Land is Your Land" -- "From Sundlun's love
child, to Buddy's toupee/You want a job here, who is your Daddy?/From the
Central Landfill to Central Falls, yeah/Rhode Island's home to you and me" --
and this was followed by an ode to the Big Blue Bug. As the evening went on, it
seemed that a number of this year's tunes were more generic Vo Dilun than about
specific events. An early bravura performance proved to be "Don't Take My Gun
Away From Me," to the tune of Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me,"
greatly enhanced by the soaring vocals of Michael D. Evora. One member of the
audience told me after the show that this song, a salute to Senator Michael
Damiani and the other pistol-packin' hahas at the State House, actually brought
tears to his eyes.
Myrth York and Tony Pires (who were both in attendance) were roughed up with
"Unelectable," to the tune of "Unforgettable" while John Mulligan of the
Washington bureau's aimed the annual Bob Dylan turn, sung to the tune of "Just
Like a Woman," at Linc Chafee: "His heart bled just like a liberal/ He jumped
into the teachers union's bed like a liberal/That's how he got elected, just
like a liberal/But he registered Republican." Another fine performance from
John, but longtime Follies attendees may recognize that the concept was
recycled from an old Claudine Schneider bit. (That one, delivered, as we
recall, by former Urinal pop music critic Tony Lioce, had the former
congresswoman leaving the room in tears.)
Another "high" point this year was a tune about Patrick Kennedy's evolving
hairdo to the tune of "High Hopes" (High Hair). For some reason, Patrick's
hairdo seems to be as much a topic of conversation in the BeloJo newsroom as
the script subtleties to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! are at Casa
Rob "the Bob" Rainville, made his annual appearance as the Bud-I, singing
"He's Gonna Slide" to the tune of "Stayin' Alive." We love you, Rob, but lose
the shiny fuchsia shirt. We suspect a stray cigarette would fully incinerate
the offending tog in about eight seconds.
Other targets included the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Pascoag water, the state of
nepotism under Pucky Harwood, and the Raphael's face-off between John "The
Journalist" DePetro and Artie "Bud-I's Sidney Falco" Coloian. The
DePetro/Coloian number was of particular note as it was, technically, a medley
of West Side Story tunes, melding "Tonight" with "Gee Officer Krupke."
There was no shortage of standout performances this year, from Barbara
Tannenbaum to Naomi Schick and Steve Smith to Bill Oziemblewski (whose singing
gets better and better). As usual, it was a quality show and a big fun evening.
Let's hope there'll be a 30th Follies -- something that we suspect has a lot to
do with the Belo Corporation wising up.
A great many musicians, jazz and blues aficionados, and just plain fans of good
radio and good music, made a habit of listening to Mai Cramer's Blues After
Hours on Friday and Saturday evenings. Broadcast on WGBH's powerful signal
from Cambridge, the show has been on for an incredible 24 years. Cramer's
advocacy and enthusiasm for blues has turned on a lot of people and, for this,
we owe her a great deal of thanks. In just one endearing touch, she would
periodically explain that her first name wasn't "Meg" -- as it often sounded
when pronounced in concert with her last name -- but Mai.
On Monday, Cramer, who was 54, passed away from breast cancer. She will be
greatly missed, especially by all those nighthawks cruising home down the
Northeast corridor in the wee hours.
Seeing the light
What can Brown do for you?" as UPS is asking these days? Well, if you're a high
achieving student with little money, plenty -- provided that the Brown we're
talking about is a university located on College Hill.
Brown -- last among the Ivy League schools in this -- finally approved a
needs-blind admissions policy. This entails looking only at a student's
academic record and various other interests and achievements in considering he
or she for admission, without regard to whether they and their parents can
afford to pay. For Brown, the deal comes down to underwriting for more students
the $36,356 nut for room, board, fees, and tuition.
A big tip of the beret and sombrero to the Brown trustees who approved this
move, as well as hiring 100 more professors over the next five years, and
giving graduate students (who are trying to unionize) fully paid health-care,
starting next year, improved summer support, and increased stipends. But an
even bigger huzzah to Brown prez Ruth Simmons for pushing the agenda, even
while knowing that the need to raise an additional $9 million to pay for the
new programs will fall on her shoulders. Phillipe and Jorge like this kind of
belief in oneself and one's principles, and we're willing to bet that she can
meet the total and then some.
Walk tall, Ms. Simmons, and shake down those alums who'll be sharing in the
praise for your actions.
Good work by our old friend Muffy Farmer, president and CEO of WSBE-TV, Little
Rhody's public TV station, for raising alarms about the way in which Governor
Bigfoot's proposed budget won't give WSBE the money to make a federally
mandated conversion to digital technology by 2003. The price tag is $4 million,
which the Missing Linc doesn't want to spend on such a noble endeavor, despite
tossing out $1.5 million for a worthless environmental assessment for his
doomed container port proposal at Quonset Point.
That's OK. The only downside for WSBE and Rhode Island is that Channel 36
could lose its license and we'll become the sole state in the country without a
public TV station. Bigfoot's aides attempted to claim that the conversion
needn't be done until 2006, but spokespeople for the feds blew that argument
away in short shrift.
The ball will now be in the General Assembly's court, because if one expects
the intellectually incurious Big Linc to worry about losing a bastion of
culture and educational programming, you might as well try getting a baboon to
recite Shakespeare. Fortunately, at least Representative Gordon Fox, chairman
of the House Finance Committee, realizes the seriousness of the mandate,
telling the Urinal that he believes WSBE will have to complete the digital
conversion by May 2003. "Now we need to make a policy decision," Fox told the
Other Paper. "Should Rhode Island have a public television station or not? And
that can't be trivialized."
The fact that he even has to ask the question is appalling and discouraging to
anyone with a double-digit IQ. And if we don't act, we will indeed become
trivial: "It's the only state without a public TV station." "What is Rhode
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Issue Date: March 1 - 7, 2002