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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 26, 2001


 

GLBT groups join thousands
in protesting inauguration

by Eric Resnick

Washington, D.C.-Like the rest of the nation, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is divided over the George W. Bush presidency, with many participating in the inaugural protests, while others were celebrating his inauguration on January 20.

GLBT organizations and individuals were well represented in the many demonstrations held around Washington during the inauguration ceremony and parade protests.

Organizers estimated that 20-30,000 protesters joined in demonstrations that took place in front of the Supreme Court, Dupont Circle, the Navy Memorial, Freedom Plaza, and along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue. The steady cold rain did little to dampen the protesters� enthusiasm. Many carried rain-proof signs bearing sentiments ranging from "Selected not elected" to "Where�s President Gore?" in reference to the belief that the Supreme Court�s decision over voting irregularities in Florida handed the presidency to Bush in spite of the popular vote going to then-Vice President Gore.

Protesters, including members of Pride At Work, the GLBT constituency group of organized labor, gathered at Freedom Plaza as part of the action sponsored by the International Action Center, a human rights group.

Martha Grevatt, Pride At Work Cleveland president, organized a bus of 50, which included GLBT students from Kent State that traveled to Washington January 20.

According to Grevatt, protesters carried signs condemning Bush�s choice for attorney general, former senator John Ashcroft, whose senate record is as anti-gay as anyone who has ever served.

Women protesters carried signs reading, "I want to marry a woman."

"We tried to hit Bush on his hostility to our community," said Grevatt. "This [protest] represents the first criticism of George W. Bush."

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force promoted the counter-inauguration demonstrations on its website and has launched a new "George W. Watch" project monitoring the administration with regard to GLBT issues and policies.

NGLTF has joined a coalition of organizations opposing Bush�s nomination of Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior, as well as the nomination of Ashcroft.

NGLTF opposes Norton because as Colorado Attorney General, she represented the state in the 1996 Romer v. Evans US Supreme Court case that struck down Amendment 2, the referendum against GLBT rights in that state.

Norton called the Supreme Court decision "insulting to the Colorado voter." She also used taxpayer money to hire anti-gay Paul Cameron as an expert witness in defense of Amendment 2. Cameron distributed nearly 100,000 pamphlets to voters one week before the election that warned that Colorado was about to be overrun by an army of child molesters.

Protesters, many carrying GLBT signs, also lined the parade route, in what is reported to be the largest number of inaugural protesters since 1973, when anti-Viet Nam war activists demonstrated against Richard Nixon.

The protesters contrast with the Log Cabin Republicans and newly formed Republican Unity Coalition, who see opportunity for GLBT people in the Bush presidency.

The Log Cabin Republicans sponsored an inaugural party at the Jury Hotel on Dupont Circle celebrating "the million gay votes for Bush."

According to Log Cabin communications director Kevin Ivers, 170 attended the party.

Ivers says his group is "happy with the progress" they made influencing the Bush-Cheney transition efforts.

While declining to cite any specific accomplishments of the committee of 15 Ivers headed to make the new administration more GLBT-friendly, he pointed out that "the transition is still going on."

"If there was anything we wanted to make public, we�d do a press release," added Ivers.

Ivers said there are four openly gay people working on transition advisory teams. Emphasizing that they are not administration officials, just transition advisors, Ivers mentioned Brian Bennett at the Department of Energy, Don Capoccia at Housing and Urban Development, Walter Olson at the Department of Justice, and Charles Francis at the Federal Communications Commission.

It is not clear, and Ivers refused to say whether or not any of them are working specifically on GLBT issues or if the transition team knows they are gay.

Ivers said the Log Cabin Republicans are "in particular, pleased with the answers Ashcroft gave to the [senate judiciary] committee" with regard to GLBT issues.

Ivers sees the role of Log Cabin "to advise the new administration." He is not concerned that there is no White House office of liaison to the GLBT community, as there was in the Clinton administration, instead looking to gay affirming Mary Matalin as a primary carrier of GLBT concerns to the president.

Matalin met with the Log Cabin Republicans during the campaign and was put in charge of public affairs to Vice President Cheney and will give political advice to the president.

Francis, who is the public relations executive, helped organize the summer meeting between candidate Bush and a group of gay Republicans, not part of Log Cabin, and has aided the organization of a new group with the objective of "making being gay or lesbian a non-issue in the Republican Party."

The new group, which calls itself the Republican Unity Coalition, held a breakfast meeting the day before inauguration with Rep. Thomas Davis III (R-Virginia) who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, to discuss ways to get the party to be more inclusive.


 

Counterfeit AIDS drug in Ohio, FDA warns

by Anthony Glassman
with wire reports

Cleveland-The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland warns that Ohio is one of seven states where a counterfeit AIDS drug has been found.

The drug, Serostim, is used to treat wasting syndrome. Serano, its manufacturer, has begun notifying hospitals, clinics and patients of the counterfeit drug.

Thus far, the only side effects noted from the use of the counterfeit Serostim were skin irritation and redness where the fake medication was injected. The real danger, according to Food and Drug Administration officials, is that patients taking the fake drug will get worse without the real medication.

Serano had originally warned pharmacists and AIDS organizations in December after receiving calls from Serostim consumers asking why their latest prescription looked different, or caused the skin irritation and redness. On January 22, Serano issued a broad warning about the imposter after the FDA told the pharmaceutical company to issue a wider alert as the federal agency began a criminal investigation.

The first fake Serostim was sold in pharmacies in California. The FDA has also discovered the counterfeit version in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Florida and Missouri.

Laboratory tests showed the counterfeit was an elaborate fake, sold in boxes closely resembling real Serostim packaging.

The fake boxes bear lot number MNK612A and the expiration date of 8/02. The lot number matches that of real Serostim, but the expiration date on the authentic medication is 8/01.

"We�ve checked with area clinics, but to date, there have been no reports of counterfeit Serostim in northeast Ohio," said Earl Pike, ATFGC executive director. "But people with HIV/AIDS should exercise caution."

"The prospect that anyone would deliberately produce a counterfeit HIV drug is reprehensible," he continued, "and we hope the FDA can track down the source."

"In the meantime, this only reinforces an important point in HIV/AIDS care: consumers should learn as much about the drugs they�re taking, and work in partnership with their health care providers," Pike concluded. "Knowledge is power."

People taking Serostim who have questions about their supply should ask their doctor or call their local HIV/AIDS service organization with general concerns or questions.


 

 


Hate Crime in Marion

Three men break windows with ball bats
looking for "gay guy"

by Eric Resnick

Marion, Ohio-Three men were arrested and charged with attempted aggravated burglary in a crime believed to have been committed due to the perceived sexual orientation of the victim. The prosecutor�s response has outraged the gay community.

The suspects, Chad Postell, 22, Donald Davis, 22, and Timothy Hay, 18, all of Marion, allegedly were drunk and headed to a home they believed was owned by a gay man. Once they arrived, they began breaking windows with ball bats and banging on the doors yelling that they wanted to get "the gay guy."

The victim refused to let the suspects in and made the first call to the police. Neighbors� calls soon followed.

Because the case has not yet begun in court, the police are not releasing the identity of the victim or any details of the case.

The January 16 incident has worried the small town�s gay community.

Dave Reynolds, who recently moved to Marion from Columbus said, "This is alarming."

Reynolds said other gay people are outraged but are afraid to say anything publicly about the incident.

Reynolds also accused Marion County Prosecutor Jim Slagle of "not making a big deal" out of the incident.

"He didn�t show any outrage," said Reynolds. "Others won�t fear targeting gay people because of how he reacted to this."

Slagle was not available for comment for this piece, but correctly stated to the Marion Star that current Ohio law does not provide for people to be charged with any hate crime or intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation.

Slagle continued that even if he could enhance the charge due to hate crime bias, it would only raise the charge by one degree. Currently, the men are only facing misdemeanor charges. Raising it one degree would still be a misdemeanor.

Slagle has never prosecuted a hate crime case.

If convicted of the attempted aggravated burglary charges, the three, who are being held on $7500 bail, would face 2 to 8 years in prison.

A bill to add sexual orientation and gender to Ohio�s ethnic intimidation law was killed by opponents in the House Criminal Justice committee during the session ending in 2000. It was killed by opponents in the same committee during the session ending in 1998.

Its sponsor, Rep. Joyce Beatty a Democrat from Columbus, intends to re-introduce the measure this session. Senator Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland, also a Democrat, plans to introduce Beatty�s bill in the Senate as a companion to his proposal for Ohio to set up a center to study hate crimes.


Dramatically higher rates of HIV hit men of color

by Anthony Glassman

New York City, N.Y.-Terrifying figures are being reported from studies conducted in the largest city in the U.S.

Preliminary data from a study to be presented February 5 in Chicago shows a dramatically higher rate of HIV infection in African-American and Latino gay and bisexual men that in their white or Asian-American counterparts.

The study by the New York Blood Center, the New York City Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 542 gay and bisexual men, aged 23 to 29.

According to the preliminary reports, 96% of the men said that they had unsafe anal sex at least once, 58% in the six months prior to the study.

17% of the men participating were HIV-positive, and 32% had been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease.

A study conducted last year of 541 gay and bisexual men in New York City, aged 15 to 22, showed that 18% of the African-American men were HIV-positive, as well as 17% of the mixed-race men and 9% of Latino men, compared to only 3% of the white men. None of the Asian-American men in the study tested positive for HIV infection.

A CDC study last year reported that, among men who have sex with men (MSM) showed that African-American and Latino men comprised 51% of the 1998 AIDS cases, compared to 31% in 1989. White gay men dropped from making up 69% of AIDS cases in 1989 to 48% in 1998.

The disparity in numbers is blamed on the lack of resources available to community service organizations catering specifically to people of color.

"There is a history of valuing the lives of people of color differently that the lives of white people," Kevin McGruder, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent, told the gay paper lgny.

Other dark news from New York include a city health department report that four percent of people treated in clinics for sexually transmitted diseases in 1998 and 1999 showed evidence of recent HIV infection, giving the city the highest known new infection rate in the nation.

Calculations of the HIV infection rate, statistically projected from the data in the study, range from 4.5% to 6.33% of MSM, to 0.9% to 1.3% for the overall sample.

At the current projected rate of infection, if it continued for five years over one in five gay and bisexual men in the New York City metroplex would be HIV-positive by the end of that time.

In other HIV news, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci, revealed that the government is releasing new HIV treatment guidelines. The guidelines include a suggestion that the potent drug cocktails that are in use should not be prescribed as early in infection as they are now.

When the cocktails first came out, the hope was that they would eliminate HIV from the body, so starting medication as early as possible was believed to be the best route.

In recent years, however, it has been discovered that HIV can lurk in a state of dormancy in the body for decades.

That, coupled with potential long-term side-effects of the cocktail therapy, are leading top medical officials to recommend waiting until a patient shows higher viral loads and lower CD4 counts before starting them on the powerful therapies.

The new treatment guidelines will be officially released at the annual meeting of HIV experts in Chicago early in February, the same conference at which the New York City study will be unveiled.


Kentucky bill would legalize gay panic defense

by Eric Resnick

Frankfort, Ky.�A controversial bill that opponents claim would legalize the "gay panic defense" for murder and proponents claim gives gays equal protection under the law was introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives on January 3.

House Bill 49 was introduced by Rep. Robert Damron, a Democrat from a very conservative district in the center of the state including Fayette and Jessamine
counties.

Damron, who is a self-described defender of gun rights who previously pushed a bill through the state legislature that allows preachers to carry a revolver onto the pulpit, sees his bill as "giving homosexuals the same rights [to protect themselves] as heterosexuals and women."

"This is a victims� protection act," he says.

Damron claims that the controversy results from "the press wanting to sensationalize the issue." He says of the concerns raised by the Kentucky branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists, "I understand their perceptions, but their concerns are not valid."

The bill seeks to protect defendants from prosecution if they use deadly physical force to defend themselves against a number of crimes including serious physical injury, burglary, robbery, criminal homicide, and "deviant sexual intercourse."

Currently, Kentucky law defines "deviant sexual intercourse" as sodomy - oral and anal intercourse. Although the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the prohibition against consensual oral and anal sex by adults years ago, three types still remain illegal.

Damron says his bill "updates Kentucky law" to provide the protection of the self-defense argument to include threats of sodomy, which the current law does not do.

Damron claims that under current law, a woman threatened with rape can kill a perpetrator and escape prosecution, while a man threatened with sodomy that kills the perpetrator cannot claim such a defense, simply because of the current law�s failure to include "deviate sexual intercourse."

Damron knows of no cases where his law would have protected a victim, but says the deficiency in the current law was pointed out to him by a school superintendent on the Kentucky-Tennessee border who he refused to name.

According to Damron, the superintendent told him that Tennesee had updated its laws in a similar fashion and wanted to see Kentucky do the same thing.

"I took it to the Legislative Research Center and found out it was true," he said.

"The LRC confirmed that there was no protection for the victim of a sodomy attack, so we did this bill to include deviant sexual intercourse and threw in the robbery and kidnapping stuff," said Damron.

Damron insists his bill is all about "giving homosexuals the same protection as everyone else."

Damron admits that he did not seek input of anyone in the GLBT community before drafting the bill, but says, "they can come see me in Frankfort when we�re in session after February 6. My door is always open."

Many states, including Ohio, repealed laws similar to this one due to gross abuses by defense attorneys. States discovered that perpetrators of heinous hate crimes against mainly gay men escaped prosecution if they claimed that the gay man threatened them with sex or sexual contact.

This became known as the "gay panic defense."

States also had concerns that in such cases, defendants escaped prosecution on their own testimony, true or not, against the word of a dead victim who could not speak to whether or not there was any "threat" of homosexual intercourse.

Jeff Vessels, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, has been a vocal critic of the bill.

Noting that the most likely way to inflict deadly physical force on someone is with a gun. Vessels says, "This is just another gun bill."

"In fact," said Vessels, "When I was on a radio show debating the bill, most of the callers saw it as a gun bill."

But Vessels says ACLU attorneys are mostly concerned with the unclear language and vague definitions of "attempt," "threat" and "force."

"It is really not clear and open to very broad interpretation," he said.

"When the state condones that interpretation and encourages that kind of justification for killing, the doors are open for all kinds of trouble," said Vessels.

Vessels says that current state law already provides gay victims self-defense protections when they are attacked.

Vessels says Damron�s claims are not consistent with what the bill says, but is open to the idea of clearing it up so there can be more honest debate.

"Maybe there�s a way to word it so it is more clear," he added.

"Jeff Vessels at the ACLU is an absolute idiot," replied Damron.

"I thought I was adding something to protect homosexuals, but if [they] don�t want it, I�ll pull the bill," said Damron. "I don�t care if it passes or not."

"That�s the trouble with homosexuals," said Damron, "always overreacting to issues - always looking for a bogeyman behind every wall."

In addition to Damron, the bill is currently co-sponsored by Reps. J.R. Gray, a Democrat, and Gary Tapp, a Republican.


News Briefs

Temporary insanity, gay panic tried in teen�s murder

Allentown, Pa.-A lawyer representing a man charged with killing a 15-year-old boy at a party in August is seeking permission to mount an insanity defense because, he says, the defendant suffers from "homosexual panic" and has a "confused sexual
identity."

Michael A. Gambler, 24, allegedly shot Kevin S. Kleppinger to death at a beer party in Gambler�s boarding house room in Emmaus after Kleppinger accidentally spit on Gambler and wiped saliva off Gambler�s arm.

Gambler�s lawyer, Richard W. Kolosky, has filed a notice in court that details the nature of Gambler�s alleged disorders.

The notice also claims that Gambler has a personality disorder and suffers from paranoia, conditions he has lived with for a decade.

Some teens at the gathering were teasing Kleppinger about touching Gambler�s arm when Gambler grabbed a .45-caliber handgun and shot Kleppinger point-blank in the front of the head as his sister and three friends looked on in horror, state police said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacquelyn Paradis asked Judge Robert L. Steinberg to find that Gambler�s alleged disorders didn�t affect his ability to know right from wrong.

Steinberg will decide whether Gambler can raise that defense after a hearing in February where mental health experts for the defense and prosecution are expected to testify.

 

Frank files bill to repeal part of DOMA

Washington, D.C.-Barney Frank, acting on an answer Vice President Dick Cheney gave in a debate during the election season, filed a bill January 24 to repeal part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

DOMA both allows states to refuse recognition to gay marriages performed in other states, and also forbids federal recognition of gay marriages.

During the vice-presidential debates, then-candidate Cheney answered a question on gay rights by saying, in part, that he believed it was up to the individual states to decide on the issue.

Frank�s bill would strip the clauses from DOMA that outlaws the recognition of the unions.

 

Vouchers threaten students, teachers

Washington, D.C.-George W. Bush�s plan to give parents vouchers so they can choose their children�s schools will do more harm than good, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Elizabeth Toledo said January 24.

According to Toledo, funneling tax dollars into private schools would not only not fix the problems with public schools, but could pose serious risks to GLBT students and teachers.

Toledo pointed to the fact that the majority of the 20,000 students currently involved in voucher programs are enrolled in sectarian, primarily religious, schools. Generally, voucher programs do not require religious schools to have non-discrimination policies inclusive of GLBT people.

In states without specific protections for gay people in terms of employment, teachers could be fired without recourse because of their sexual orientation. Private schools, operating outside of the union system protecting teachers in public schools, also would not be guaranteed health benefits.

Religious schools, depending on the church sponsoring them, could also be psychologically abusive to GLBT students, focusing curriculum on anti-gay messages that could adversely affect students� self-esteem.

"Will the curriculum be based on tolerance and inclusion?" Toledo asked. "Will the libraries in religious voucher schools include books that reflect the reality of GLBT people? Unfortunately, private religious schools do not have an outstanding track record in the area of teaching inclusion and respect."

"It is laudable that George W. Bush wants to make education issues a priority in his administration," Toledo said, "but we should put the focus on improving public schools. We cannot improve public schools by taking away funding and shifting it to private religious institutions."

 

Case of sleeping lawyer revisited

New Orleans, La.-Calvin Burdine, the gay man whose attorney napped through his trial 16 years ago, is getting his day in court again.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Burdine�s rights were not violated, and that his conviction should stand, because he could not prove that his attorney, the late Joe Cannon, slept through critical parts of the trial.

Burdine was sentenced to death for the murder of his lover, W.T. Wise, in 1983. He was almost executed in 1987, before a court-ordered reprieve saved him. A federal judge ruled that his rights were violated by his sleeping attorney, and that he should be retried or set free.

His current attorneys have appealed the panel�s ruling to the full 15-member Circuit Court of Appeals, based for the district in New Orleans.

Arguments started January 22.

"Supreme Court precedent guarantees counsel at all critical stages of a criminal proceeding, including, of course, the trial itself-the most critical stage," said Robert McGlasson, Burdine�s attorney, in a brief preceding the hearing.

Burdine is currently on death row in Texas. Last week, a measure was filed in the Texas legislature to halt executions until 2003 while a commission studies issues like legal representation. Texas has already executed two prisoners this year, after a record-setting 40 executions in 2000.

 

Bi man convicted in trans death

San Jose, Calif.-A 22-year old hotel employee was convicted January 19 in the death of a 19-year old transgendered woman, but the jury did not convict him of a hate crime.

Kozi Santino Scott was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Alina Marie Barragan. Scott was convicted, however, of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment.

According to Scott, he brought Barragan to his apartment, where they consumed alcohol and engaged in sexual activity. When he discovered that Barragan still had male genitalia, he insisted that she admit to being male. Barragan refused, and a scuffle ensued.

The prosecution believes Scott became enraged and killed Barragan. Scott maintains that he put Barragan, who was much larger than Scott, in a "sleeper hold" to render her unconscious, but when she fell, he also lost consciousness. When he awoke, Barragan was not breathing.

Scott, fearing that a police investigation would reveal that he is bisexual, stuffed the body in the trunk of a car.

The defense brought a number of gay and transgendered friends of Scott�s to the stand as character witnesses, trying to derail the hate crimes allegations, an attempt that was ultimately successful. Scott also admitted his bisexuality on the stand.

Superior Court Judge John T. Ball will hold a sentencing hearing on March 2.

 

Church to remain Methodist for now

Chicago, Ill.-Broadway United Methodist Church, the north side congregation whose embattled minister Rev. Greg Dell has become a champion of LGBT inclusion in the Methodist church, voted January 14 to remain part of the denomination.

Several options were available to the members, of whom half voted in the emotional election. They included forming a federated church with another denomination, leaving the Methodist church completely, staying inside Methodism but disobeying the laws in regards to treatment of gay men and lesbians, or working within the rules to change the denomination�s laws.

Half of the 115 who voted picked, as a first choice, the idea of a federated church between the Methodists and another denomination. However, all but ten indicated a willingness to use "constructive engagement," meaning that they will stay within the rules of the denomination, while trying to change those rules.

Rev. Dell was suspended in 1999 for performing a marriage between two men the year before. His suspension lasted for a year before he was reinstated.

While working with the organization Soulforce, led by Rev. Mel White, Dell was one of around 200 protesters arrested outside the Methodist convention in Cleveland last May.

Under the rules of constructive engagement, members of the congregation can designate that their donations go to the church itself, instead of to the United Methodist Church.

 

Catholics, Mormons funded ban

Lincoln, Neb.-The group that introduced and fought for Nebraska�s constitutional ban on gay marriage outspent opponents of the ban by almost four to one, including large sums of money from Catholic dioceses and the Mormons.

The Nebraska Coalition for the Protection of Marriage raised $845,000, in tax-free donations, spending $765,000, much of it on radio and television advertising.

$50,000 was donated to the Coalition by Lincoln�s diocese, with an additional $15,000 each coming from two other dioceses in the state.

The Coalition includes the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the Mormon Church, and the Nebraska Family Council.

In contrast, the Vote No on DOMA Committee raised $210,000, which was all spent on the effort to fight the proposal.

The Nebraska Family Council is preparing to defend its amendment in court, facing challenges from the Nebraska branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Opponents of the amendment believe that it is both discriminatory and incredibly vague, so much so that it might nullify business partnerships between people of the same sex.

 

Reward offered for ninja slasher

New York City, N.Y.-The police department released an artist�s rendering of the so-called "ninja slasher" January 16. The city also announced a $12,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

The "ninja slasher" has attacked five gay men since the end of June. His latest victim, Thomas Scheckler, is a 55-year old social worker who was slashed across the throat and stabbed in the chest and back. He is in serious but stable condition at New York Methodist Hospital.

Unlike the other attacks, which took place between midnight and 4 am, the latest attack occurred in broad daylight, and the attacker was not masked. Police said, however, that there were enough similarities to believe that it is the same perpetrator.

The suspect is described as having dark skin and short hair, and was wearing a long black coat. He sometimes makes martial arts movements before attacking his victims.

Nguru Karugu, the coordinator of the New York State Black Gay Network, issued a statement asking for the police to show discretion and sensitivity to the black community in light of the new information.

"It must be made very clear...while the suspect of these acts is described as a black male," the New York Times quoted Karugu�s letter, "this does not automatically mean that all black men going through Prospect Park [the location of the attacks] should be harassed or mistreated by police."

 


Evenings Out

Collections give an insight into the ongoing career of a rock n� roll master

by Harriet L. Schwartz

One of the longest-running streaks in pop music history has ended.

The year 2000 marked the first time in 30 years that Sir Elton John did not reach the Top 40. John�s 29-year presence in the Top 40 began in 1970 with "Your Song" and ended in 1999 with "Written in the Stars," a duet with Leanne Rimes. John�s highest charting single last year was "Someday Out of the Blue," which peaked at No. 49.

John�s streak included 57 Top 40 hits. That number tops the Beatles, who had 51, and is second only to Elvis Presley, who had 104 Top 40 songs (although not in consecutive years).

Despite missing the Top 40 mark, John had a year that would have been successful by most other pop music standards, a year that celebrated his past and looked ahead to his future. He continued his Disney partnership, writing and producing the soundtrack to The Road to El Dorado, and more impressively, released One Night Only (Universal), a greatest hits collection recorded live on October 20 and 21, 2000 at New York City�s Madison Square Garden.

In addition, John re-released To Be Continued . . . (MCA Universal), a four-disc box set first issued in 1990. Although neither collection has the impact of John�s great studio albums, One Night Only and To Be Continued . . . provide significant documentation of one of the most prolific and original pop musicians in the history of the genre.

Elton live

Interestingly, the significance of One Night Only is that perhaps more than any other recent album, it confirms John�s ability to rock. With his recent string of Disney-inspired hits and a seemingly endless list of classic ballads like "Your Song," "Tiny Dancer" and "Don�t Let the Sun Go Down on Me," Elton John could be seen as the king of pop balladeers. However, One Night Only is fueled by decisive rock �n� roll energy.

The album opens with a fine, but not necessarily memorable rendition of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," but then really kicks into gear as John and his band cruise through "Philadelphia Freedom," sounding as if they are having the time of their lives. "Crocodile Rock" and "Bennie and the Jets" also rock with authority. "Rocket Man" and "Daniel" are there, too, and John still plays and sings them with conviction, but the rock songs and duets are what take this album beyond the scope of a simple greatest hits collection.

John�s other live albums 11-7-70, Here and There and Elton John Live in Australia capture distinct moments in a varied and magnificent career.

11-17-70 and Here and There are most striking in their simple moments. On the other end of the pop spectrum, Live in Australia features the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and elevates such songs as "Sixty Years On" and "Burn Down the Mission" to complete orchestral glory.

The rock quotient of One Night Only seems to confirm John�s staying power and relevance. While David Bowie may be rock�s master of reinvention, Elton John, in more subtle ways, has excelled at various pop forms, and seems to have retained his musical brilliance in all of them. While some artists sound like they�re hitting the oldies circuit as they have trouble grabbing the rock �n� roll edge they once helped to invent, John seems to have rocked harder during the Madison Square Garden shows than he has at some other points in his career.

While the more aggressive songs provide one good reason for adding One Night Only to any CD collection, duets provide the second reason. John has a history of memorable duets, and One Night Only certainly contains a few keepers.

"I Guess That�s Why They Call it The Blues" with Mary J. Blige is without a doubt the best track on the album. Blige sings every ounce of possible emotion into this song, without ever taking it over the edge. Her passion elevates John�s performance to a new level and ultimately, this version of the 1983 hit far exceeds the original. John�s collaboration with Blige may be the only duet on the album to rank among his most memorable pairings, which include "Don�t Let the Sun Go Down On Me" with George Michael and "Don�t Go Breaking My Heart" with Kiki Dee. One Night Only includes a revisit of hit single "Don�t Go Breaking My Heart," which John and Dee first recorded in 1976. Although they don�t veer much from the original in this version, they sound great together, and there is a powerful element of reconnection in their voices that makes the reunion memorable.

The rest of the duets on One Night Only are far less consistent. The Blige duet and "Saturday Night�s Alright (For Fighting)" with Anastacia are worthwhile, as the two female singers bring varied sonic qualities to John�s well-known hits.

Elsewhere, though, his pairings with Ronan Keating on "Your Song" and Bryan Adams on "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" fail to offer any worthwhile variation from the original releases. They may kick a little more as live tracks, but there is nothing new or different enough musically to make the new versions interesting.

Despite the fact that One Night Only is not a landmark album, the new live collection confirms that Sir Elton is far from ready to fade off into a Disney sunset. He�s still standing as an energized and vital artist with the potential to pursue a variety of musical directions, well into his fourth decade of making music professionally.

A look back

Garnering even less fanfare than the release of One Night Only was the re-release of To Be Continued . . ., a box set that Elton first released in 1990, and re-released in 2000. The four-disc collection chronicles John�s career from 1965 through 1990, starting with his pre-Bernie Taupin days.

Disc One, covering 1965-1972, gives a meaningful glimpse into John�s early and formative professional years. "Come Back Baby," recorded June 3, 1965, by John�s band Bluesology, is rooted profoundly in a �60s pop feel. "It�s Me That You Need," an early John/Taupin collaboration, foreshadows the brilliance that would later emerge. The lyric is personal, yet universal, and the instrumentation is richly layered.

Disc One also includes the demo of "Your Song," a true gem, featuring a not-yet-bigger-than-life Elton John. This previously unreleased track is touching in its innocence, both vocally and even in terms of the piano playing. The first released version of this song is offered later in the disc. Recorded in 1970, a year after the demo, "Your Song" already shows a maturing vocalist who sounds more established as a young professional musician.

While Disc One is a fascinating look at Elton John�s early years, Disc Two is less revealing. This part of the collection offers 16 songs, but all had been released previously on albums or soundtracks. Absent any demos, live recordings or otherwise unreleased songs, Disc Two plays more like a hits collection than other songs in the box set. Covering 1972-74 and including some of John�s most memorable work including "Rocket Man," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and "The Bitch is Back," this disc confirms just how prolific John and Taupin were during this two-year period.

Disc Three covers 1974 through 1982, and includes several previously unreleased tracks. Perhaps the most notable track on this disc is "I Saw Her Standing There." Elton and John Lennon performed the song Nov. 28, 1974, at Madison Square Garden. Lennon acknowledged later that he had been reluctant to do the live show. Nonetheless, he and John delivered a totally charged version of the Beatles classic.

"Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" also stands out. Although it had been released previously on "Blue Moves," this song serves as a vivid reminder of the beauty of John�s studio work in the mid-�70s. Less known (until recently when Madonna requested it at her wedding) is "Song For Guy," a textured and moving instrumental piece with minimal vocals. Elsewhere, "Mama Can�t Buy You Love," first released on the little-known album The Complete Thom Bell Sessions, is a highly produced song that just oozes �70s pop, and features The Spinners singing backing vocals.

Disc Four rounds out the set, covering 1982-1990. This disc includes the first release of "I�m Still Standing," a song that grabbed lots of early radio play, only to improve in later live versions. "Carla Etude" is a previously unreleased instrumental recorded live with the Melbourne Symphony, but then cut from the live 1987 album. This disc closes with four songs written just prior to completion of the box set, most notably "I Swear I Heard the Night Talkin�," a throwback to John�s work in the early �80s.

With the exception of the second disc, To Be Continued . . . is a valuable collection which, combined with Rare Masters (released in 1992) and One Night Only serves as a value-added look at the pop brilliance of Elton John.

 

Elton under wraps

While many artists and record companies churn out hits collections that are nothing more than sloppy repackaging of previously released work, Elton John and the record companies behind him have a credible track record of creating packages that are well worth fans� time and money.

One Night Only (Universal) and To Be Continued . . . (MCA Universal) include thoughtful and interesting liner notes which give the music context. One Night Only, which appears to be a fairly rushed project, recorded in November and released just weeks later, includes an essay reviewing Elton�s career. To Be Continued . . . provides notation with each disc stating where and when the song was recorded, the musicians who played on the recording, and when and where the song was previously released. The collection also includes a 40-page booklet offering a history of John�s career, an interview with John and Taupin, and countless photos.

Both collections are also notable for their packaging. Execs in some record companies would have simply splashed a file photo of John on the cover of One Night Only, however the cover art for this live album is new and vibrant.

To Be Continued . . . is brilliantly packaged. Each disc inside the box provides one-fourth of a larger picture -- placed properly in the box, they combine for a classic John photo. Even the box design and paper quality lends an air of sophistication to this set.

Harriet L. Schwartz is a Chronicle contributing writer living in Pittsburgh.

 

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