Monday, February 15, 2016

MY 1989

My 1989 (somehow inspired by seeing Taylor Swift perform her song "1989" at the Grammys in 2016)

was another horrible year
year after year after year
filled with death after death after
why am i living
when all whom i love are dying
how do I live
with death after death
year after year
day after day
day to day
what is living for
just to see
people dying
death after death
a call to see an ex for the last time
how do i do that
how do i absorb this pain
upon pain
upon pain
suddenly a flashback
a distant memory of the 70s
the days of rock and roll
and that magical white powder
that killed all the feeling
of joy
choosing joy then
but now would it kill the pain
oh to feel nothing to be numb
would be like so much joy to me now
i can get that
a phone call
a pick up
hurry up
snort that powder
smoke that pipe
more more more
kill that pain
kill that feeling
killing me inside
and finally i feel it
the bliss of feeling nothing
the pain is gone
it feels so wrong
to feel such false relief
but it gets me through the night
time after time
the pain too much
just blow it away
and feel the sweet bliss of feeling
nothing at all feeling nothing
i never felt nothing before
always felt everything too much
this nothing so different to feel
and so i found a way to live
it was ugly but it was life
and finally slowly
the dying eased
and stopped
and slowly
i began to wonder
did i really find a way to live
or rather a way to stop dying
inside me
feeling so much loss
and pain
how to live now
so the urge and the need remained
for way too long
but it just brought emptiness
so day by day
i found a way out
to lose myself in work
to help people
and find my life again
the life i used to want

the life i used to live
the me i used to be
the me i always was
still here
perhaps well hidden
and buried somewhere deep deep down
i found me again
and life
and now finally i realize
why i write
where and why this addiction to write
seemed to appear out of nowhere
just as i retired
i knew there was a connection
but i still could not understand it
till now
I write to live
and
i live to write
to let these feelings go
i watch the words appear in front of me
and i feel the pain and the tension
flow out from deep inside me
like a wind i cannot see
each word brings relief
but this relief and release is genuine
organic not chemical
i found a way to honor myself
who feels too much
and has so much passion
and as it builds again i write again
and so it goes
i found a way
to live
with the real genuine me
i live to write i write to live


Monday, November 2, 2015

FINAL COMMENTS TO HHS ON NONDISCRIMINATORY ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE

As promised, I am posting the comments I submitted.  But as they are particular to me, I found another articulate but briefer comment to share as a sample. Those who wish to submit a comment may adapt from or use one of these samples.  Or you may simply fill out the HRC form and submit that.  I am finally trying to post a simple easy to follow one page guide.  You can post as anonymous rather than use your name.  First the comments, then the links.  The deadline is November 9.  I urge all to consider submitting a comment.


My comment:

I commend HHS for its Proposed Rule to implement Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and urge its adoption. I specifically concur with the proposal's prohibition of discrimination based on gender status, gender nonconformity, or against persons who identify as transgender or transitioning.

With respect to discrimination based on sexual orientation, I commend HHS for its commitment to address this important issue as much as I recognize the barriers presented by case law to date and the omission of any specific reference to sexual orientation discrimination in the ACA.

I urge OCR to continue to follow case law, to track if possible instances or documentation of sexual orientation discrimination, and to consider publishing a guidance for covered entities on best practices for ensuring nondiscriminatory services and treatment for persons who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

Ultimately, I believe the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation is best addressed universally once and for all by adding the term sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I believe that objections to this are not as strong as in prior decades and civil rights advocates for many covered bases of discrimination are more cooperative and aligned than ever. Perhaps HHS could could consult with DOJ for DOJ/Civil Rights Division to consider convening a conference of a broad range of civil rights advocates to consider proposing legislation that would do just that and could result in advocates working together to achieve a common goal.

Getting back to the ACA, the current state of case law and federal legislation regarding religious exemptions is beyond my understanding. I would simply urge that HHS adopt the strongest possible language to prohibit religious-based exemptions from prohibitions of discriminatory denial of and access to treatment and health care services.

In my experience of many years as an EOS for OCR, now retired, I saw much evidence of discrimination against gays and transgenders that OCR could not address. I am aware of even more through the personal experience of friends, acquaintances and community members throughout my life. Only yesterday I learned through social media of a friend's experience as a health care provider at a private non profit federally funded health clinic in Fresno. She had to demonstrate to other employees how to treat and serve with respect and dignity a patient seeking Hormone Replacement Therapy from the initial interaction of inquiring how or by which name the patient wished to be addressed through interactions with varying service providers at this clinic. Fortunately, this employee was aware of how to provide nondiscriminatory access and treatment to this patient but so many providers lack this capability.

 Another comment from anonymous I found brief, succinct and to the point, a good example:

As a person of deep faith who believes that all of us no matter our sexual orientation or gender identity are beloved and deserve access to quality healthcare, and, as an OUT gay man for the past 33 years, I am writing in support of the Department of Health and Human Services Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities.

I applaud the Department for establishing that the prohibition on sex discrimination in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act includes discrimination based on gender identity. Additionally I urge the Department to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the final rule. Further, I urge the department to refrain from including a religious exemption in the final rule-to include such an exemption is not only unnecessary, but could do significant harm.


to submit a comment go here:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=HHS-OCR-2015-0006

click on comment now; for more information, see the other links I provided in the earlier blog posts.

or go here to submit your comment through Human Rights Campaign

https://secure3.convio.net/hrc/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2249&s_src=FY16_ma_OCT_FBK_Healthcare_Healthcare-1-10153748901688281_78656082&utm_source=FY16_ma_OCT_FBK_Healthcare&utm_medium=AD&utm_campaign=Healthcare&utm_content=Healthcare-1-10153748901688281_78656082


Sunday, November 1, 2015

NON DISCRIMINATORY ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE SERVICES FOR ALL PART 2

 

The rule of law is the most advanced method of self-government humankind has developed throughout history to avoid mob rule or the kingdom of the individual, each for self, power to the strongest, most armed richest.  It's not perfect, it's complex and it's evolving.

As explained above, when a law is passed an agency in the executive branch is required to enforce it as written by issuing regulations for clarity.  The proposed rule discussed herein is Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. Section 1557 is the first federal civil rights law that bars sex discrimination in federally funded health care, As I explained above, case law has established that sex discrimination covers gender identify and nonconformity.  The ACA however does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  HHS must enforce what exists, no more no less.  HRC is asserting that sex discrimination also covers discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Despite its assertion, that is an open question at best.  I searched but could not find any information on this matter explaining the basis for its assertion on its web site.  All I have to go on in trying to understand their assertion is the request for comments I linked. 

Therein, HRC states:  "Numerous federal courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have determined that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is sex discrimination under federal law."  However, I can find no basis for that statement on its site or elsewhere, it simply provides no documentation to support its assertion.  Perhaps it thinks it too complicated too understand.  HRC correctly asserts that unless HHS determines that sex discrimination covers sexual orientation, the ACA does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The fact is the ACA does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation; to include such a basis would violate the Constitutional doctrine of separation of powers in effect for over 200 years.  Congress has the authority to pass legislation in the ACA or separately prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination without which federal agencies cannot prohibit it unless Courts find otherwise. 

HHS, however, is so concerned with discrimination based on sexual orientation that it addresses the matter in the proposed rule despite no explicit provision in the law as follows:

"The proposed rule makes clear HHS’s commitment, as a matter of policy, to banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and requests comment on how a final rule can incorporate the most robust set of protections against discrimination supported by the courts on an ongoing basis.

As a matter of policy, we support banning discrimination in health programs and activities not only on the bases identified previously, but also on the basis of sexual orientation. Current law is mixed on whether existing Federal nondiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as a part of their prohibitions of sex discrimination. To date, no Federal appellate court has concluded that Title IX's prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex”—or Federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination more generally—prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, and some appellate courts previously reached the opposite conclusion. (22)

However, a recent EEOC decision concluded that Title VII's prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” precludes sexual orientation discrimination because discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily involves sex-based considerations. The EEOC relied on several theories to reach this conclusion: A plain interpretation of the term “sex” in the statutory language, an associational theory of discrimination based on “sex,” and the gender-stereotype theory announced in Price Waterhouse. (23) The EEOC's decision cited several district court decisions that similarly concluded that sex discrimination included sexual orientation discrimination, using these theories. (24) The EEOC also analyzed and called into question the appellate decisions that have concluded that sexual orientation discrimination is not covered under Title VII. The EEOC decision applies to workplace conditions, as well as hiring, firing, and promotion decisions, and is one of several recent developments in the law that have resulted in additional protections for lesbian and gay individuals against discrimination. (25)

The final rule should reflect the current state of nondiscrimination law, including with respect to prohibited bases of discrimination. We seek comment on the best way of ensuring that this rule includes the most robust set of protections supported by the courts on an ongoing basis."

Legal experts can disagree with the assessment expressed above by HHS and HRC as is its right has chosen to do so.  After again reading OCR's position as stated above, I see that EEOC has determined that sex discrimination precludes discrimination based on sexual orientation.  But OCR states that no Federal appellate court has issued a decision consistent with that EEOC decision and states that as a matter of Constitutional principles, OCR cannot assert that sex discrimination covers sexual orientation discrimination.

Another area addressed in the proposed rule is the principle of religious exemption.  Due to recent Supreme Court rulings and other legislation, I find the status of case law in this matter too confusing for me to contemplate.  All I know is no service provider should ever be able to deny services or discriminate due to religious beliefs.  The proposed rule has language finessing a fine line between compliance with existing case law without upholding it while asserting that religious exemptions so should not be allowed. 

So what does this all mean?  I concludes as follows:

Everyone should submit comments either through HRC or directly to HHS on the 3 issues of some controversy in the proposed rule, the more the better, you know the bigots will be submitting their comments:

1) Concurring with the  Rule as written to prohibit discrimination based on gender status or nonconformity;

2) Expressing objection to discrimination based on sexual orientation - while HHS is unlikely to include explicit prohibitions, your comments are documented and count and can be used to show Congress the widespread support for passing laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation;

3) Expressing objections to allow religious exemptions for health care service providers. 

So why did I take so long to state something so simple - because I was puzzled by HRC's assertion and wanted to determine its validity and basis for myself, because I wanted to educate anyone interested in the history of discrimination in health care and the current state of case law regarding discrimination against gays and transgenders, and to explain why discrimination against transgenders is prohibited before discrimination based on sexual orientation but not to defend the lack of laws prohibiting discrimination  

During my last presentation prior to retirement, I was as surprised as I was pleased to discuss OCR's authority to enforce provisions of the ACA prohibiting discrimination against transgenders in the provision of health care services, and that those who believed they had experienced such discrimination could file a complaint with OCR, even if I wouldn't be around to investigate it and issue findings, and before an audience of health providers that included staff and clients who are transgender or gender nonconforming.

For those who have read this far, after you have submitted your comments, with elections approaching, you can ask candidates for office in your district or state whether they would vote in favor of amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include the basis of sexual orientation to once and for all prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gays throughout the United States in employment, housing, health care, public accommodations and all other areas with one simple amendment.

Links:

Fact Sheet: Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities Proposed Rule
Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act:
http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/understanding/section1557/nprmsummary.html


FAQs - Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking:
http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/understanding/section1557/nprmprqas.html


Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities - Proposed Rule:
http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=HHS-OCR-2015-0006-0001


http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/providers/index.html

http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/factsheets/hivaids.pdf

http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/hiv/index.html
http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/office/file/index.html - how to file a complaint



NON DISCRIMINATORY ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE SERVICES FOR ALL PART 1

Recently 2 distinct postings on FB brought my attention back to my career enforcing Federal laws prohibiting discrimination in health care and human services on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability, including HIV status or alleged risk status.  These laws were passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and related case law with respect to HIV as a disability).  Enforcement of laws, especially with respect to civil rights, are dispersed among the many federal agencies, each having jurisdiction over its subject matter or fundees.  Specifically I worked for the US Department of Health Education and Welfare and its successor agency the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (HHS/OCR - http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/office/index.html

Discrimination in the provision of health services has a long tawdry appalling history in the Unites States.  The book "Health Care Divided, Race and Healing a Nation” by David Barton Smith, thoroughly covers that history prior to 1964 and perhaps beyond as well.  I am not going to go back quite that far.

The first FB item that got my attention was a posting from a health care worker (and also member of a royal court) discussing her experience in showing other staff how to treat a person going through gender transitioning with dignity and respect at a private non-profit health care clinic.  The other item was a link to the advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign Fund soliciting comments to HHS/OCR regarding a proposed regulation the drafting of which started as my career was ending.  I will discuss that period and my thoughts, which may slightly diverge from the HRCF's view, in a moment. But first to demonstrate the importance of this issue and of the greatest number of people possible submitting comments on your view of nondiscriminatory access to health care services for all and the proposed regulation I am including the link to the proposed HRCF comments and form right here.  You don't have to read what I think; you can stop and fill out your opinion now.


https://secure3.convio.net/hrc/site/Advocacy?cmd=display...

You may also, however, submit your comments directly to HHS without going through HRCF here -

http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=HHS-OCR-2015-0006-0001

or after reviewing info here

http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=HHS-OCR-2015-0006

Comments are due by November 9, 2015.  Briefly, when Congress passes and the President signs a law, the appropriate federal agency issues specific regulations to enforce the law.  Once the agency drafts the proposed regulation, it is published in the Federal Register so the public may view and comment on it. After the comment deadline, real people in DC read each and every comment, summarize and categorize them, determine whether to amend or change any part of the proposal, then the Department publishes the final regulation in the Federal Register along with a summary of the comments, and the reasons for any changes made or considered and rejected.  Then the Department begins enforcement.  It is a lengthy process.  But your comment is read and each one is significant, especially if many present a common view, such as the HRCF is urging. At the end of this article, I am going to post links to the proposed regulation, Qs and As, FAQs, TA information, and links to other documents or information you may find of interest on OCR's site.
Since my view and understanding of case law is based on my experience and informs my view of comments that I am considering, I want to provide some historical background first.  This is also necessary because as you will see there is a tremendous and unexpected irony that I myself faced at the end of my career and addressed in my very last public presentation on OCR's enforcement of regulations prohibiting discrimination and OCR's complaint process to an advocacy organization transitioning to a health services provider consistent with the reforms authorized by the Affordable Care Act - an organization staffed in part by and whose primary mission is to serve Asian-Pacific Islander-Americans with or at risk for HIV/AIDS including persons identifying as gay or gender nonconforming or transgender.  it is a question I had to face that HRCF's notice directly raises - how did we get to this point where discrimination based on gender status or nonconformity is prohibited but discrimination based on sexual orientation is not? 

Way back when I first started, I hoped that before I retired Congress would pass and OCR would be authorized to enforce laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.  For a while it did not seem to be an unrealistic expectation.  Support for gay rights was increasing and far more bipartisan than it is today.  It seemed that with each session of Congress passage of the proposed Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) seemed a little closer.  Then life interrupted.  I became involved in issues relating to HIV related discrimination, achieving national expertise within OCR and for awhile speaking at conferences around the country.  Eventually someone wondered why an agency with 10 regional offices had only one guy who could speak on the issue.  Advocates in Region IX where I worked were marveling that OCR was issuing violation findings on complaints they filed while advocates in many other regions were marveling that OCR was issuing findings of compliance.  Training was in order and after another 2 or 3 years of struggle completed so that each regional office could address HIV discrimination with competent expertise and my national touring days were over. 

I wrote a lot more on my experience in OCR that is posted elsewhere on my blog mostly on the "Career" page but also the "Politics and Government Page" that is not directly relevant to discuss here.  Eventually as I became more informed and got to know more legal experts and advocates I realized ENDA did not cover the provision of services.  And its support was actually decreasing among Republicans and passage looked more and more distant.  Although I understand more now how it occurred,  i remain like many of you shocked that same sex marriage has been legalized before discrimination has been prohibited.  And what is the value of sanctioned marriage if it results in losing employment and/or housing?  And as i have been doing since I could talk, i started asking lots and lots of questions in particular about why advocates were seeking new laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, which would have to be passed to cover employment, access to services, and public accommodations across a broad range of areas, rather than simply amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation.

Turns out civil rights advocates did not want to equate discrimination based on race with discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Now that's a loaded issue I am not going to get bogged down in with the exception of some broadly agreed upon caveats - gay people as a class were not enslaved by the majority nor were subject to mass and regular lynching.  I especially do not want to discuss "passing" either with respect to light skinned Blacks or gender conforming gays.  But the other caveat is that discrimination is wrong and must be prohibited in all instances consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.  I don't think it's necessary to discuss or agree on much more than that.  Now as I see it, ENDA is on life support.  And tremendous progress has been made in achieving coalitions and common ground among traditional civil rights advocates representing persons of color and persons who are gay, lesbian, or gender non-conforming or transgender.  Some LGBT advocates, and I am in strong agreement with them, believe we should drop ENDA and work on amending The Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation.  That would be simplest, most effective, and most fair, and most consistent with Constitutional values.  Some traditional civil rights advocates may object, but I believe it will come down to a generational divide and those objecting may risk losing their office.  The time has come to amend the CRA.

Now what of discrimination regarding gender conformity and status?  Certainly I would not object to including it as well in the CRA and so do many others.  But just as unexpected as legalization of same sex marriage have been advances on this issue in widely accepted case law.  Over the past number of years, Federal courts have issued rulings that have been widely accepted finding that the term sex when applied to discrimination incorporates gender status and nonconformity.  Rather than objecting, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division have concurred with such findings.  So today it can be said that Federal law prohibits discrimination against persons identifying as transgender.  So whether it is necessary to include gender status in an amended CRA is an open question.

Now what of sexual orientation - is that also incorporated within the definition of sex discrimination.  Therein lies the controversy.  HRCF seems to assert that courts have ruled that it does.  I am not aware that they have.  And if they have, does CRA need to be amended or ENDA adopted?  Why aren't Federal agencies such as EEOC and DOJ presently forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Having relieved my brain of the above and developed my thoughts to this point, I need to take a break and informed by my review of the above, read again what HRCF, says what the law states, what the regs say and all the background info on OCR's site.  I will return with my conclusion in Part 2, which will discuss whether Affordable Care Act and case law cover sexual orientation and the affect thereof on the proposed regulations.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

BILLIE AND FRANKIE - THEIR WAY!

A while ago I blogged about a new playlist I put together of songs that both these great vocalists recorded.  While the arrangements mood and intonation often differed I found it fascinating to listen to and reflective of my knowledge that they both were on record stating that each influenced the other.  And now along comes this terrific piece in the NYT that documents their interaction and communication more than I ever knew or imagined.  As an old fan of Billie and a new fan of Frankie, whose recordings I have been recently exploring (not many vocalists left I have yet to explore) nothing I have read recently has excited warmed and stimulated me as much as this piece.  Below is my real time commenting, the link to the article and the full essay as published in the New York Times. 

A favorite tidbit is she called him "Frankie".  'I told him certain notes at the end he could bend. ... Bending those notes — that’s all I helped Frankie with.’’ Those notes that Holiday told him to bend — they bent toward the boudoir." ‘It is Billie Holiday ... who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me,’’ he said in 1958."
I love this reference to "cunning" as follows: "Her approach to rhythm was cunning. She meandered around the beat, slyly elongating and truncating syllables, gliding down for a landing in surprising places. Sinatra was captivated by the third song she ever recorded, ‘‘I Wished on the Moon,’’ a stock-standard Tin Pan Alley ballad that Holiday, with deft tugs at the melody, transforms into something deeper: a celebration of ecstatic new romance tinged with the melancholy awareness that love fades."
The following had me channeling  Lauren Hill - "that thing, that thing that ... " "As for Sinatra, even as a tyro — a babyfaced 25-year-old fronting Tommy Dorsey’s band in a bow tie too big for his string-bean frame — the throb in his song was unmistakable."  Oh yeah " that throb that throb that ..."  Perchance does it reveal my 'youth" to inquire what the f is a tyro?
2 Brilliant observations:  "Of course, the message of Holiday and Sinatra wasn’t just sex. It was pain. To put the matter in genre terms: Both Holiday and Sinatra were torch singers. In Sinatra’s case, this was a novelty. Torch singing had traditionally been women’s work, but his records made the case that a bruiser in a fedora could love as hard, could hurt as bad, as any dame."   and
Sinatra is often celebrated as the swaggering Rat-Packer, Holiday as a tragic balladeer. Yet it’s Holiday’s music that percolates with greater joie de vivre, and Sinatra’s that scrapes darker depths.
Here's what I was trying to say in my earlier piece, only more observant articulate nuanced and savvy:  "One of my favorite parlor games is to listen to the singers’ versions of the same songs: to hear the hay that they both made of ‘‘All of Me’’ or ‘‘Day In, Day Out,’’ to observe their different angles of attack on ‘‘Night and Day’’ — Holiday’s playful and insouciant, Sinatra’s grand, booming, brooding. Then there are those moments when the two giants directly address one other. Sinatra was the acolyte, but the flow of influence reversed on Holiday’s lavishly orchestrated ‘‘Lady in Satin’’ (1958), an homage to Sinatra’s Capitol Records concept albums. Holiday made the connection explicit by opening the LP with a tremulous version of ‘‘I’m a Fool to Want You,’’ Sinatra’s signature torch song, co-written by the man himself. A few years later, Sinatra answered back on a recording of the standard ‘‘Yesterdays,’’ a Holiday staple. At the 1:11 mark of that song, Sinatra sings the word ‘‘then,’’ unleashing a dramatically low and rumbling descending vocal line. Keen-eared listeners picked it up right away: This was Ol’ Blue Eyes doing his Billie Holiday impression. A century after their births, Holiday and Sinatra are still talking to each other. What a privilege it is to listen in."


http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/19/t-magazine/frank-sinatra-and-billie-holiday-bond.html?ref=todayspaper

Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday: They Did It Their Way

More than just contemporaries, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday were mutual admirers who pushed each other musically. Credit From left: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

By JODY ROSEN
 
In life, the two may have been miles apart in circumstance and success. But as each other’s great influences, they’ll be forever one.

BILLIE HOLIDAY, née Eleanora Fagan, was born in Philadelphia, 100 years ago this past April 7. Eight months later, on Dec. 12, 1915, Francis Albert Sinatra arrived, about 95 miles up the coast in Hoboken, N.J. The birth of these two great — arguably, greatest — popular singers, in the same year, a century ago, might be deemed a cosmic fluke, an accident of history. You could also call it history in action. They were born into a still-primitive pop music universe, but changes were afoot. By the time they turned pro, as teenagers in the 1930s, American music had been reshaped by modernity: by the blues and jazz and suave Broadway pop, by electrical recording and microphones and radio. This new brand of music and set of technological tools were ideally suited to Holiday and Sinatra’s talents — an artistry based on uncommon musical and emotional intelligence and expressed through miraculously shrewd and subtle vocal phrasing. Had Eleanora and Francis been born in another year, had they come of age in a different musical world, they might never have become Lady Day and the Voice.  

They were linked by more than just the coincidence of their birth year. We associate Holiday and Sinatra with other muses and collaborators — she with the saxophonist Lester Young, he with the arranger Nelson Riddle — but throughout their careers, the singers exerted a powerful pull on one another. Their paths crossed early. Sinatra first saw Holiday perform sometime in the late ’30s; he became an instant devotee. In 1944, Holiday told columnist Earl Wilson that she’d offered Sinatra advice on his singing. ‘‘I told him certain notes at the end he could bend. ... Bending those notes — that’s all I helped Frankie with.’’ Sinatra made no secret of his debt to Holiday: ‘‘It is Billie Holiday ... who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me,’’ he said in 1958. In ‘‘Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra,’’ from 2003, George Jacobs, the singer’s former valet, writes that Sinatra visited Holiday in her New York City hospital room in July 1959, shortly before her death from drug and alcohol-related liver and heart disease. When Holiday died, Sinatra holed up in his penthouse for two days, weeping, drinking and playing her records.  

The Holiday-Sinatra bond, in other words, was a classic relationship of guru and disciple. Certainly, Holiday was the more precocious of the two. She began singing in Harlem jazz clubs at age 16 and cut her first records as an 18-year-old in 1933. By the time she returned to the studio in 1935, she was a revelation — neither the white balladeers who dominated the Hit Parade nor the black blues queens from whose ranks she emerged provided a precedent for her. By traditional measures, she didn’t have much of an instrument. Her voice was small and slight. She delivered songs in a midrange drawl that cracked and creaked when she ventured north and south — a bit shrill in the upper register, a touch hoarse on the low end. Yet the result was inviting and beguiling. Like a cool enveloping mist, it was a sound to get lost in."  

Her approach to rhythm was cunning. She meandered around the beat, slyly elongating and truncating syllables, gliding down for a landing in surprising places. Sinatra was captivated by the third song she ever recorded, ‘‘I Wished on the Moon,’’ a stock-standard Tin Pan Alley ballad that Holiday, with deft tugs at the melody, transforms into something deeper: a celebration of ecstatic new romance tinged with the melancholy awareness that love fades.
Sinatra signing an autograph for Holiday in the 1940s.
On that record, as on so many others, you can hear Holiday batting bedroom eyes. She was a beautiful woman, but it was her husky voice, and the knowledge of earthly pleasures that it conveyed, that made her a sex symbol. As for Sinatra, even as a tyro — a babyfaced 25-year-old fronting Tommy Dorsey’s band in a bow tie too big for his string-bean frame — the throb in his song was unmistakable. From Holiday, he’d learned that, ideally, musical seduction was a subtle art. His come-ons were staked on telling details: minute vocal shading, delicately dabbed colors, the teasing extra half-beat pause before the headlong plunge into the chorus. Those notes that Holiday told him to bend — they bent toward the boudoir.  

Of course, the message of Holiday and Sinatra wasn’t just sex. It was pain. To put the matter in genre terms: Both Holiday and Sinatra were torch singers. In Sinatra’s case, this was a novelty. Torch singing had traditionally been women’s work, but his records made the case that a bruiser in a fedora could love as hard, could hurt as bad, as any dame. He proclaimed himself an ‘‘18-karat manic depressive,’’ and you could hear it even in up-tempo songs like his tumultuous 1956 version of ‘‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’’: the singer gusting from ecstasy to despair and back again, along the crests and crashes of Riddle’s orchestrations. His ballads cut even deeper. On albums like ‘‘In the Wee Small Hours,’’ Sinatra cast himself as a noir gumshoe, pursuing an insoluble case: ‘‘What is this thing called love? ... Who can solve its mystery?’’ Holiday played a more traditional role. In ‘‘My Man,’’ ‘‘Don’t Explain’’ and other torch ballads, she was the bruised diva, doomed to masochistic love with callous men. But there was more: a spirit of resiliency and unflappable cool in the face of cruelty you could detect in all her music, from the most standard pop-jazz genre fare to the anti-lynching anthem ‘‘Strange Fruit.’’ In Holiday’s hands, a torch song was also a protest song.  

The fates of the two singers can stand as a parable about race in 20th-century America. Holiday was an adored cult artist who never reached superstardom during her lifetime. When she died, at age 44, she had 70 cents in her bank account. She spent her last days in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Hospital under police guard; she’d been placed under arrest in her hospital bed, on drug possession charges. Sinatra outlived his hero by 39 years. He released dozens of albums, including a few of the best ever made, and a handful of duds, too. He was feted by presidents and died a multimillionaire.  

Today, Holiday and Sinatra are so shrouded in myth it can be hard to see them clearly. But when you listen to their records, the clouds part. Frequently, you find them playing against type. Sinatra is often celebrated as the swaggering Rat-Packer, Holiday as a tragic balladeer. Yet it’s Holiday’s music that percolates with greater joie de vivre, and Sinatra’s that scrapes darker depths. One of my favorite parlor games is to listen to the singers’ versions of the same songs: to hear the hay that they both made of ‘‘All of Me’’ or ‘‘Day In, Day Out,’’ to observe their different angles of attack on ‘‘Night and Day’’ — Holiday’s playful and insouciant, Sinatra’s grand, booming, brooding. Then there are those moments when the two giants directly address one other. Sinatra was the acolyte, but the flow of influence reversed on Holiday’s lavishly orchestrated ‘‘Lady in Satin’’ (1958), an homage to Sinatra’s Capitol Records concept albums. Holiday made the connection explicit by opening the LP with a tremulous version of ‘‘I’m a Fool to Want You,’’ Sinatra’s signature torch song, co-written by the man himself. A few years later, Sinatra answered back on a recording of the standard ‘‘Yesterdays,’’ a Holiday staple. At the 1:11 mark of that song, Sinatra sings the word ‘‘then,’’ unleashing a dramatically low and rumbling descending vocal line. Keen-eared listeners picked it up right away: This was Ol’ Blue Eyes doing his Billie Holiday impression. A century after their births, Holiday and Sinatra are still talking to each other. What a privilege it is to listen in.  

A version of this article appears in print on October 25, 2015, on page M2132 of T Magazine with the headline: They Did It Their Way


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

NYT - READERS RULE? MY RESPONSE!


The New York Times recently celebrated its historic accomplishment of achieving 1 million digital subscribers, including me, by asking for reader feedback.  At the link, is the column from the NYT Public Editor to which I responded below.


http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/readers-will-rule-says-the-times-so-dont-be-shy/?ref=topics

You asked for it, you'll get it!  But before I start on what's wrong, I'll tell you what's right and why I care.  And before that, a little about me.  I fled LA County ASAP for Berkeley at 18, then San Francisco, which for a time seemed like Oz.  I spent 38 years working for the Federal government, most of them enforcing civil rights laws for US Dept HEW then Health & Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, returning to city of LA to help open OCR's first and only Field Office in LA during the glory years of govt service aka the Clinton Administration under the leadership of the most brilliant and devoted genius in govt service, now the Sec of Labor, Tom Perez.  Eventually I bought a house, retired, and started writing liberated from govt editors but not from my penchant for gratuitous comments, run on sentences, or needlessly long comments. 

I am devoted to the NYT because, other than possibly The New Yorker, published weekly, there is no better written media journal anywhere.  Your closest competitors mere ghosts of their former selves, the LA Times deteriorated into not much more than a tabloid without corporate support or the resources to allow the few journalists left to conduct the minimum amount of research necessary to complete an article, and the Washington Post chasing it downward as quickly as it can.  I rarely read the sports pages, but even there when I find something of interest I find quality writing.  Someday someone needs to beatify and bestow deserved sainthood on perhaps the best writer and critic in journalism anywhere, Stephen Holden.  No one writes better.

I smirked as I read your lead in this column thinking to myself surely your editor is a self absorbed jerk masquerading as a considerate editor only concerned with pleasing readers rather than increasing corporate profit but indeed I feel more and more often a cog in the corporate drive to make more and more money.  And I do understand that profit is necessary to publish the high quality publication I love.  And perhaps as some have said I am not like anyone else so my views lie outside the core of reader sentiment and that's OK too.  I subscribe to and read the digital edition as if it were the printed edition.  Maybe I am old fashioned.  I look through the articles - my favorite starting point is Today's Paper - and choose from there which article to read when in what order.  I have the impression you would like to eliminate that link.  Of course I check the main page site for more updated news.  But - and every other newspaper is worse at this - I resent feeling like the NYT thinks I am an idiot unable to navigate through your sections to find the articles I find of interest, rather than what some unseen viral presence seems to want me to read.  And granted as I did not grow up with this technology I am not as savvy as others but even i can find my way around a web site.  It seems like I can't even read one sentence of an article when up pops demands to read this, go here, go there, and I just want to scream for gosh sake leave me the heck alone and let me finish reading what I started.  I may or may not choose your viral ghost's selection next.  But I can find what I want.  And if NYT is making a profit at getting readers to accept your suggestion of a "new" way to read the publication, or wish to subscribe to additional features for behind the scenes materials, go for it, but without me.

I don't want a new way to read a newspaper.  Nor am I looking for more to read.  I prefer not to spend 24/7 with my eyes glued to a computer, tablet, cell phone, ad nauseam,  I like to have time to spend interacting with real people in real time.  I fear the next generation will be unable to communicate with other people directly or even write, but that is not for me to worry about.  And I will grant that I am not so self absorbed to think that you can remove all these annoying popups just for me while maintaining them for readers that provide NYT with income.  But in part this is because you have given me the opportunity to gripe and I have been wanting to complain about all this for a long time, petty as it may seem.

Perhaps more substantively, i find the absence of women from the top ranks of editors to the number of reporters slants and demeans coverage of women leaders, Hillary Clinton in particular.  And those few you have delight in skewering other women.  Wouldn't it be interesting if her editor told Maureen Dowd to refrain from writing one more column about Clintons or Bushes for 6 months - a year?  Do you think she could still produce a weekly column some readers would find of interest?  Fine if she hates Hillary so much but her demeaning condescending tone reeks of upper class snobbery.

On the news pages - twice now I have seen a similar headline - "Hillary says she opposes pipeline" and another I have forgotten.  Really have you ever said that when a male politician announces a decision or position.  I am sure your editor will excuse it by saying the word "says" is shorter than "announces" but it reeks of a negative condescending demeaning tone that questions her sincerity unfairly.  If you all think she is opportunistic, publish a column about it on the opinion pages.  Why can't you just publish "Clinton opposes pipeline"?  Succinct, brief and accurate.

Now on to your celebrity or perhaps performing artists' interviews.  You already got deservedly raked over the coals for the Taye Diggs interview so I don't need to pile on.  I'll give 2 examples of what I see as backsliding.  The recent interview with Aretha Franklin regarding her performance for the Pope.  Does NYT employ that interviewer?  A more insulting interview lacking in even one worthy question of substance I have never read.  It is only due to her stature and maturity that she did not throw a fit worthy of Nicki Minaj and throw him out.  For example, "Aretha, why did you choose to sing Amazing Grace for the Pope?"  Really?  You are expecting "When A Man Loves A Woman" or "Freeway of Love"?  It's like Wolf Blitzer asking the military this morning "how dangerous would it be if terrorists acquire nuclear weapons?"  Ask a 3 year old; these people have more important things to do.  Compare it to her interview published at Philly.com for an interesting interview of substance with merely an overlay of puffery.

Of course, I mention the feature on Nicki just published today and about to compete with your Taye Diggs feature for reader reaction.  I have nothing to add to the comments of Nicki and the interviewer at the end.  But my observation is to wonder if you go through that article, how much of it included actual quotes from Nicki Minaj spoken during that interview rather than from other sources?  A paragraph's worth, if that?  The interviewer actually seems to me a fairly good writer with legitimate ideas worth exploring, in a creative essay.  She could have written a commentary on the subjects she wished to explore regarding the role of women in rap, the evolution of rap, feminism, misogyny, relationships with male paramours, friends, and/or peers who are performing artists.   But that is different than an in depth interview lacking in questions that engage the interviewee sufficiently to result in an article or interview worthy of publication. 
Sincerely grateful for the opportunity,

Brock S. Evans
Los Angeles