Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dear Speaker Boehner:

I'm furious with you. I'm just going to come right out and say it.

The night of 1-20-2009, you and Mitch McConnell got together and called a meeting of your fellow Washington Republicans to get them NOT to work with the man who'd just gotten through raising his right hand and repeating after John Roberts.

You know who I'm talking about.  

And, not long after his- Barack Obama's- signature legislation became law, and it was time for the employee mandate to kick in, you begged him to delay it a year.  


You and your fellow Republicans have been after this man right from the start. McConnell couldn't get his wish to turn Obama into a one-term chief executive, so now you and your House Republicans are trying this. 


This stunt wouldn't even take place if you and your fellow Elephants had resolved to take care of the business America's citizens- not America's 500 largest corporations- had asked you and other politicians to work on.

People want to see this country's minimum wage increased. They want to see this country's borders secured. They want Americans of both genders to realize complete access to health-care products and services. Americans want better, more effective gun-control laws. They also want this nation's infrastructure repaired.

Mr. Boehner, your very district is one of way too many with bridges on the brink of collapsing.


Matter of fact, the ONLY thing you and the other Washington GOPers care about is kicking the first non-Caucasian American to run this country's government out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

You'd do the same thing to Jim Clyburn or Cory Booker or Sheila Jackson Lee or Maxine Waters or Bobby Rush...let alone to Bill Cosby or Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey. 

I remember when Steve King was cracking on some Mexican children and talking about how their thighs supposedly are "as big as cantaloupes," the better to hide illegal drugs.

I was hoping you'd get up the courage to reprimand this bigot from Kiron, IA.


In fact, I feel you're very proud of the extremists in your party. 

After all, these extremists transformed you from House Republican leader into the Speaker of the House.

Mr. Boehner, I wish you'd find courage before you wrap up your tenure as a US representative from Ohio, let alone House Speaker.

And I wish SOMEONE in Cincinnati or its Ohio suburbs would get the courage to challenge you.  

Throw away your cowardice and start getting your fellow House Republicans to vote on the things rank-and-file Americans are worried about.

You and your fellow Republicans are the biggest threats to American democracy today. 

And it's all because you REFUSE to offer real solutions to get the country back on its feet. All you offer is opposition to any efforts to get the United States really humming again.

And the rest of the world can see that!  

Do you really care?

Sincerely, Jim Boston

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Tenth Time Around!

Well...we did it.

On Sunday, 7-13-2014, at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ, the Great Plains Ragtime Society staged the tenth version of an event called the Ragtime to Riches Festival.  

Okay...we didn't completely fill up the church's Memorial Hall. But we did get more of an audience this time around than in 2013.

And right from the time the doors opened (1:00 PM Central time), the place was jumpin'.

The first event right after the doors of First Central's Memorial Hall open is an open-piano session.

So glad someone else got it going.

And, at this year's open-piano hour, Brent Watkins (he competed in the early 2000s at the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival, then went on to coproduce the first documentary about the event) got the ball rolling on one of the two pianos at Memorial Hall. (Brent did "Maple Leaf Rag" on the hall's 1920s Mason & Hamlin grand; eventually, he tried the other piano...a 1900s-or-so Anderson & Newton upright.)

I'm glad Brent went up to bat first, because I was still nervous about the second R to R event...something I was still furiously preparing for. 

People started coming in while the man from Iowa City (by way of Cedar Rapids, IA) continued to knock out rags. And by 2:00 PM, we got our biggest audience of this year's festival.

And those thirteen people watched me switch between contemporaneous speaking, the use of note cards, and a few turns on that A&N I delivered a workshop about how Tin Pan Alley sounded during the 1900-1909 period.   

The main message I tried to get across was that, when the 20th Century started to kick in, America's music publishing industry started to grow and grow and grow...not just physically, but also in influence, what with more and more people coming over from other lands to get in on the bounty America had to offer. (And in many cases, the newcomers of the early 20th Century met with real resistance, too...just like the newcomers right here in the early 21st Century.)  

Plus: The resistance of 100-110 years ago showed up in lots of Tin Pan Alley songs. 

And...did I mention that Broadway was starting to become an entertainment force at that very moment, thanks to composers like George M. Cohan? 

Originally, this workshop was to stop at 1919...but to cover nineteen years in sixty minutes felt more like a fly-by overview. (Even so, chopping off the 1910s turned the presentation into a drive-by summary. But the crowd- including an official from the Nebraska Department of Education, John Sieler- liked it.)  

They liked it even more when Faye Ballard took to the stage.

The OTPP contest coordinator/collegiate office manager from Champaign, IL delivered a concert that doubled as Ragtime 101. In her first Ragtime to Riches, Faye turned in a set that emphasized the music of ragtime's Big Three (that's right- Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb). 

And for good measure, this star of "The Entertainers" (the movie Brent coproduced) threw in Zez Confrey's "Dizzy Fingers," Jelly Roll Morton's "Grandpa's Spell," and three of her signature numbers: "Sailin' Away on the Henry Clay," "Mack the Knife," and "It Had to Be You."  (Maybe you've seen Faye's version of "Mack the Knife" on YouTube.) 

When Faye's 14-tune concert wrapped up, we showed...that's right, we showed "The Entertainers."

Now if eight of those thirteen people had stuck around to see the film...they would've loved it, too.

At the end of each showing of the now two-year-old documentary, there's a question-and-answer session. Usually, Nick Holle (he was here in Omaha for this year's R to R) conducts it; sometimes, his fellow "Entertainers" codirector, Michael Zimmer, does the honors (which was the case when the movie was shown in San Diego on 3-14-2014). And the rest of the time, Michael and Nick team up to field audience questions.  

This time, the Q-and-A involved an audience of one: A local pianist named Kevin Robinson. (Check out his "Play Me, I'm Yours" videos on 

Still, this Q-and-A session was no less effective than previous ones. (And I remember when Redd Foxx talked about being able to entertain a one-person audience!)  

Well, another open-piano session took place (with Faye and Brent taking to both pianos); after that, Nick, Brent, Faye, and I ate dinner (we got take-out food from a neighborhood restaurant called Crescent Moon Ale House; it's at 3578 Farnam St., 68131).

Then, at 7:30 PM, it was time for the last event of the 2014 Ragtime to Riches get-together.

Last year, I built my own concert around the memory of some of the big-name newsmakers and big-name celebrities who passed away in 2012, focusing on the Number One recording on the day this or that personality came into the world. (For instance, "For Me and My Gal," recorded by the duo of Van & Schenck, hit the top spot on the pop charts on 7-17-1917...the very day Phyllis Diller was born. And I even ragged up "So Much in Love," the leading pop hit on the Billboard charts on 8-9-1963...Whitney Houston's birthdate.)

For 2014, since this year's R to R would be the tenth one, I wanted to call up tunes whose titles had a T, an E, and an that order.

As a result, the fans who hung around got to hear numbers like "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," "Listen to the Mockingbird," "After You've Gone," and "Hardhearted Hannah." There was also a 1952 song from composers Johnny Lange and Hy Heath, "There'll Be No New Tunes on This Old Piano." (Tennessee Ernie Ford put it on his 1962 album, "Here Comes the Mississippi Showboat." And I even saw him sing it on his old TV show when I was little.)

Two rags were in there, too: "The Entertainer" and something I wrote in 2001 (on an old piano, of course): "Stompin' at the Children's Museum." 

I'd never performed my own rags at any R to R before...and I was relieved to find out the audience liked my ode to the nine years (1997-2006) I spent not only banging the 88s at the Omaha Children's Museum, but watching the children themselves (and some adults) show off their own skills on the old upright.

Some of Faye's (and some of my) offerings at the festival made it onto YouTube. (Just type in "Ragtime to Riches Festival.")  

Man, we had a ball at R to R 10.0, and we raised $140 for the Great Plains Ragtime Society.

Don't know how the eleventh annual festival will shape up...but I do know this:

I hope you'll be able to check out next year's Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue ragtime outing. We think you'll have a ball, too.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

We're Much the Better for It

It happened fifty years ago tonight.

A man who spent his first 26 years in Washington (beginning in 1937) sticking up for Jim Crow had a change of heart...and stuck his neck out for America.

Not his own political legacy. Not his Democratic Party.

Lyndon Baines Johnson stuck his neck out for his country when, on 7-2-1964, he signed into law the first really meaningful civil rights legislation in this country's history. 

It happened thirteen months after Johnson's predecessor and old boss (that's right- John Fitzgerald Kennedy) made the initial pitch to get this bill put together and put before Congress. And to even make that pitch required Kennedy to show his own change of heart.

On 1-20-1961, JFK gave one of the most famous and most memorable inaugural addresses in American annals. In it, the youngest chief executive ever elected called for the United States to spread democracy all over the globe. 

Too bad he didn't call for the spread of democracy throughout these fifty states. 

Yeah, I know...if Kennedy had mentioned just one domestic issue during his inaugural speech (including That One), those Southern Democrats in the Senate [like Georgia's Richard Russell, South Carolina's Strom Thurmond (that's right- Thurmond was still a Donkey back then), and the Mississippi duo of John Stennis and James Eastland] would've torn the new president to pieces. 

Maybe at the Inaugural Ball.  

It took lots of events- before and after JFK got in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue- before he could understand that a country whose name supposedly means freedom and wants to expand it all over the planet ought to ensure freedom for all its citizens.  

That understanding was probably one of the reasons Lee Harvey Oswald ended the presidency of a man born in Brookline, MA 1,036 days after that term of office began.  

And so, from the time LBJ raised his right hand, he decided to make the passage of the Civil Rights Act a top priority. 

The man from near Stonewall, TX was going to finish JFK's unfinished business.  

To do all that, Johnson had to pull out all the tricks that served him in good stead as the Senate Democratic leader (LBJ was minority leader from 1953-1955, then majority leader from 1955-1961). He knew what the US senators he left behind when he joined Kennedy's administration wanted...and he knew how to appeal to that.

Yes, it got coarse...but Johnson got it done.
And when it was all over, 27 of the 34 Senate Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act. Meanwhile, 46 of the 66 Democrats then in this country's Senate went all in.  

With the Voting Rights Act passing in 1965 and the Fair Housing Act getting signed into law three years later, America began to open long last.

And that even with so many Democrats who didn't want the new legislation to get on the books switching over to the GOP.

Thurmond was one of the defectors...and he helped shape the current Republican tone. (That's right...that angry, blustery, obstructionist tone that keeps making headlines.)

What today's Republicans- the ones the 1948 Dixiecrat presidential nominee left behind when he passed away in 2003- don't accept and don't understand is this:

A nation works best when ALL its citizens get to have their say...whether it's at a polling place during an election or someplace else where people can get their opinions noticed. 

I'm glad the Civil Rights Act of 1964 got the ball rolling.