Archive for April, 2013




Richie Havens, the opening act at the 1969 Woodstock music festival, died Monday of a sudden heart attack. He was 72.

Havens, who retired three years ago, toured for more than 30 years and recorded 30 albums.

Havens told Billboard that his breakthrough at Woodstock came after another artist’s equipment got stuck in traffic. He was supposed to be the fifth act.

“It was 5 o’clock and nothing was happening yet,” Havens told Billboard. “I had the least instruments and the least people.”

So Havens went on and performed for 40 minutes as planned. Organizers asked him to do four more songs.

“I went back and did that, then it was, ‘Four more songs…’ and that kept happening ’til two hours and 45 minutes later, I had sung every song I know,” he said.

Havens, a Brooklyn NY native, told CNN that music enabled him to leave his rough neighborhood to head to Greenwich Village and the music scene there. He never looked back.

Billboard reported Havens died in New Jersey, leaving behind four daughters and five grandchildren.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Richie Havens performing “Freedom”


shining star

star sign


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Stylistics performing “You Are My Shining Star”


goodbye cruel world

360-degree Finger

This has been such a crummy week in the outer world, I’m happy to be where I am.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to James Darren performing “Goodbye Cruel World”


shelter in place


Forgive me for being contrarian or even paranoid, but is anyone uncomfortable with the lock-down that gripped, or was perpetrated yesterday, on Boston and several suburbs?

Over 300,000 people sat behind locked doors, all because thousands of militarized police were hunting for one young man.

The marathon bombing and the loss of life and limbs is a horrible thing, but isn’t this loss of freedoms in an historically important place an equally horrible thing?

I am extremely wary that so many people have been manipulated with fear by police–and so successfully, too. Seems to me that the terrorists–and I’ll leave it to you to decide who that is–have won.

Now that both suspects have been apprehended, no one will even care. But it should be noted that the breakthrough in capturing the second suspect alive only happened because the shelter in place order had been withdrawn. According to early news reports, it was a member of the general public who first alerted police to the blood evidence that ultimately led to the suspect’s capture.

panic poster


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Smiths performing “Panic”


time is irrelevant

the ghost & mrs muir 3The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) was released a year before I was born and was one of Holly’s favorite films. I was (and am) enthralled by its ideal of beauty as personified by heroine Gene Tierney.

I have told you this before–and you can put this off to an over-active imagination if you wish–but sometimes when I watch this movie, I can feel Holly’s numinous presence. I prefer to think such “visitations” are real, but it has been twenty years since she died, and I am becoming an eccentric old man who believes that with the passage of the years, time is irrelevant where love is concerned.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Bernard Herrmann conducting “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”


clone me

Stranger in a Strange Land: Denmark

by Mary Ellen Johnson

Danish MermaidWhat happens when you’re confronted with a totally different way of thinking, one that leaves you questioning your basic attitudes and assumptions about a whole host of things?

I often experience that sense of disconnect, even bewilderment, particularly when listening to talk shows or politicians with diametrically opposed ways of looking at the world. Yes, I am a stranger in a strange land, wondering why so few think like me. And, yet on a recent trip to Denmark, I met many people who could be Mary Ellen clones–or at least Mary Ellen cousins. Could that be because my grandfather emigrated from Bulgaria and my parents were Roosevelt Democrats, with a far more “collectivist” way of thinking? Or having been raised Catholic, with concomitant images of being part of the body of Christ? Simply assuming we are all connected as automatically as many Americans only think in terms of the individual?

Have no idea, but while in Denmark, I felt as if I’d come home–at least as far as shared beliefs. I was originally invited to Denmark in order to lecture to students about our criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to juveniles. What happened is that they, very gently, ended up lecturing me.

I found genuine befuddlement over certain core American beliefs and assumptions, beginning with our justice system.

The word victim was never mentioned. The focus is entirely on the offender. If the juvenile commits a crime he is either mentally ill or a product of a dysfunctional environment. (Though “dysfunctional” was never used. Destructive. Distressed. Difficult.) Students were genuinely repelled by my counter argument that many Americans believe in the “bad seed” theory. Or are shaped by the doctrine of original sin. Not being a religious people–but whose values are quite New Testament oriented–Danes can’t conceive of an inherently defective human being.

Old enough to do the crime, old enough to do the time is a laughable concept. Not that Danes believe in long punishment for anyone. A life sentence is 16 years, though there are a few who are mentally ill or who commit serial crimes, who “may never come out.”

Danes are appalled by our income inequality and cannot understand why we accept one percent owning 40% of our nation’s wealth. When I responded that Americans believe they will someday number among that one percent and therefore applaud those millionaires and billionaires, the students merely shook their heads in bemusement.

Our fascination with guns does not compute. Nor does our predilection for solving problems through violence.

Health care is a right, not a privilege. Just flip that around and you have the thinking of at least 50% of Americans.

Danes expect a certain level of help from the government–free health care, a social safety net that will allow even the long term unemployed to survive, reduced day care, free higher education, good roads, trains and infrastructure, and have no trouble with the government enacting strict environmental policies. And, may I add, these many benefits have not made the Danes a lazy people. They do complain about immigration–largely Muslim–and about too generous benefits for foreigners who do not have their work ethic. How true that complaint is I can’t say. But overall, they assume a certain level of government intervention is necessary to assure a basic standard of living and they are willing to pay for it.

We aren’t. And the irony is that, save for corporations, many Americans end up paying nearly as much in taxes as do the Danes. The difference is the Danes get something for their taxes.

We don’t.


Mary Ellen Johnson is the Executive Director of The Pendulum Foundation, a non-profit that serves kids serving life. Mary Ellen is also the author of several published books, including The Murder of Jacob, about a 15-year-old who killed his abusive parents, Listening to Jay and the Americans, Walking in the Rain. She is also the “godmother” of The Redemption Project.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Abby Lappen performing “Clone Me”



Noah Crooks 3

It is a measure of Bill Kutmus’ quality as an attorney that he wins motions that he does not expect to win.

The latest example concerns certain statements that Noah Crooks made to the dispatcher and police following the murder of his mother. Like a lot of kids and parents following parricide incidents, Noah and his dad assumed that the police and prosecutors are “the good guys” and will do the right thing with whatever is said. First mistake.

The police are never our friends.

Back in March 2012, Noah allegedly admitted to killing his mother to a Mitchell County dispatcher, a sheriff’s deputy, and agents with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. But on April 1st in a pre-trial hearing, Bill Kutmus questioned the admissibility of that evidence at his trial. Law enforcement failed to get written permission from Crooks’ father, William, to question his son.

Noah, age 14, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of his mother, Gretchen, 37, on March 24, 2012, at the family’s rural Osage home.

About 7:30 p.m. that night, Noah called 911 and told the dispatcher he had killed his mother. The dispatcher called Deputy Jeff Huftalin and Mitchell County Sheriff Curt Younker, who has since retired.

Huftalin arrived first and took Noah into custody. Noah was handcuffed and placed in the front seat of the deputy’s patrol vehicle. His father, William Crooks, wasn’t at home at the time of the murder, but had been away for just minutes at a going-away party for family friends.

He arrived at home some time later and spoke with the sheriff who told him his wife was dead and Noah had been taken to the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office.

Younker asked for Crooks’ permission to speak with his son.

“He said, ‘You do what you have to do,’ ” Younker testified at the April 1st hearing. Younker said he took that as a yes.

When asked why he didn’t get written permission from Noah’s father, Younker said, “It simply didn’t occur to me.”

Huftalin read Noah his Miranda rights and obtained a copy of the Miranda form for suspects under the age of 16. Before he questioned Noah at the sheriff’s office, he went through the form with him and had him sign it. But Huftalin missed a section of the form which says written permission from a parent is required before questioning a juvenile.

Huftalin said this was his first murder investigation.

Kutmus said his client’s statements make it clear he didn’t want to talk with law enforcement. Reading from the transcript of the 911 tape, “OK. This is Noah. OK. I don’t want you to contact the news or do anything like that. I have no idea why I did it. I feel crazy but I know I’m not,” Kutmus read.

The state argued that officers “substantially complied” with the requirements of the statute by obtaining oral permission from Crooks’ father.

Kutmus also said Noah asked Huftalin for an attorney. “I need a counselor or something. I just need to get it out.” Kutmus said Noah was using the word “counselor” to mean attorney, not a psychological counselor. “Assuming that he’s asking for a lawyer, everything that he says after that is inadmissable,” Kutmus said.

“I interpreted that to mean that he wanted to get something off his chest,” Huftalin said.

Kutmus responded, “It’s not about what you thought. It’s about what he thought.”

This gambit apparently worked. On April 15th, District Judge James Drew ruled that while the statements made to the dispatcher are admissible, the rest of the evidence is inadmissible at trial because law enforcement failed to get written permission from Crooks’ father. According to the judge’s ruling, those statements were made prior to Crooks being taken into custody and were voluntary.

The admissibility of statements made by Crooks during a conversation with his father, which was recorded by law enforcement at the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Department, will be made at a later date.

Statements made by Crooks as he was being transported to the sheriff’s department for questioning are also inadmissable because Crooks can’t waive his right to legal counsel.

Noah’s trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday, April 30, in Wright County District Court in Clarion.


This post relies on large amounts of court reporting by Peggy Senzarino of the Mason City Globe Gazette.