The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia on December 9, 1987 · 34
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The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia · 34

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Wednesday, December 9, 1987
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4 THE ATLANTA CONSTITtmON Vfdnway. DffnnW 9. 1987 Wonder's 'Characters9 too much of an old thing By Keith LThomas Staff Writer Stevie Wonder is like a favorite uncle. You know, the type who is always passing out pocket change and opinions. The smiling gent everyone seems to adore and respect. The kind of guy who oozes charm, char acter and good will In other words, he's just so darn predictable. The same can be said about much of Uncle Stevie's post-"Songs in the Key of Life" work. The me-gasuccessful record was released in 1976. On "Characters," his 25th Motown album in 27 years, the Wonder trademarks are all present: balmy ballads; foot-stomping, synthesized dance tunes; and patented humanitarian statements about love, hope and spiritual well-being. Wonder, who produced and arranged the album, played most of the instruments and penned most of the lyrics. (He had help on one cut, "Dark 'n' Lovely.") He to a gifted musician, crafty studio wizard and soulful singer, but "Characters" never really finds its nerve or niche. Or maybe Wonder has trained the world to expect too much. He has grown from "Little Stevie Wonder," a 12-year-old, hit-making prodigy, to a 36-year-old international recording artist whose contributions have helped define and redefine pop, rock and soul music. When singer-songwriter Paul Simon won a Grammy for his 1975 album "Still Crazy After All These Years," be was only half joking when he thanked Wonder for not releasing a record that year. From 1974 to 1977, Wonder walked away with 14 Grammy Awards. His recording career is j Record Review speckled with classics such as "I Was Made to Love Her," "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "Higher Ground," "Isn't She Lovely," rSir Duke," "I Wish" and "Superstition." But lately, Wonder seems a prisoner of his own prolific past While his records sell well and deliver the usual chart-topping hits, few of his latest songs - r'That Girl," "I Just Caned to Say I Love You" have the same bite or insight as his 1970s material In fact, his last truly memorable disc was "Hotter Than July" in 1980. That album scored with such wonders as "Master Blaster (Jam-min')," "Rocket Love" and "Happy Birthday," a song honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Wonder's last album 1985's "In Square Circle" - delivered "Part-Time Lover" and "Go Home," and that was about it He has always seemed at his best when writing about lost love or gritty, inner-city living and racial strife. The ballad "Lately," the sassy "Livin for the City" and the cryptic "Cash in Your Face" are prime examples. Compositions outside of this realm, especially his duets, often sound sugarcoated, clunky. That brings us to "Characters," which comes across as flawed and too commercial-minded. The best cut on the record is "In Your Corner," a thumping tune packed with picturesque lyrics: "I hear tell there's big fun tonight On the corner of Main and Dog-Meat-Bite Friday midnights would be not be right Without Redd's hot party and a nasty fight But I'll be in your corner I'll be in your corner, if they do. ..." f M m .1 r 'Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night IT exorcises old high school demons Stevie Wonder Once you've heard the tune, yon wont forget it Jhe same is true of the endearing ballad "Yon Will Know" and "Free," a gospel-tinged song that gains added mileage from an acoustic guitar and African drums. The hit single "Skeletons" is a funky number about fear, loathing and lying in America. Lyrically, it doesn't pull punches "So it's gettin' ready to blow It's gettin' ready to show Somebody shot off at the mouth and We're gettin' ready to know." (Think Iran-contra scandal and Ollie North). "Dark 'n' Lovely" is a poignant ode to the oppressed in South Africa. Beyond these five cuts, "Characters" loses its character. "With Each Beat of My Heart" is awash in a sea of syrupy sentiment. "Cryln' Through the Night," "One of a Kind" and "Galaxy Paradise" all sound like studio filler aimed at the B-side. The Inconsistent duet with Michael Jackson, "Get It," would have sounded better as a solo effort . These days, Wonder, seems too preoccupied with recording tricks and slick synthesizers. Let's face it how much push can one get from E re-programmed machinery? The ne score on "Characters" - one . hit two great songs, two good ones and five miscues - suggests a mediocre album from a master musician and singer. If he weren't such a favorite uncle, it would be easier to slam the door on his latest offering. "Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night B." A horror movie. Starring Wendy Lyon. Directed by Bruce Pitt-man. Rated R for nudity, violence and language. By Eleanor Ringe! Film Editor What some girls wont do to be elected prom queen. Take Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage), the guiding spirit to speak, of "Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night n." She had her shot back in 1957. In fact despite her dubious reputation as the school slut she even managed to be named queen. But at her moment of triumph, as the crown was about to be jlaced on her head, she went up in flames, the victim of a jilted boyfriend's misguided prank. It's SO years later, and uneasy is the head that almost wore the crown. Mary Lou's restless, vengeful spirit takes possession of Vicki (Wendy Lyon), a sweet, virginal blonde who's a major contender for Prom Queen '87. When Vicki starts lehaving oddly sort of like a re-ect from the chorus of "Grease" ter pals get worried. "She dresses ike she's in a fashion coma and talks like she's in an Elvis Presley movie," notes one. "She's possessed," says another (obviously a member of Future Filmmakers of America). "It's Lin da Blair-ville." And so it is. And "Carrie"-town. And "A Nightmare Down the Street From Elm Street" "Hello Mary Lou" is so shamelessly derivative that you almost have to like it for its brazenness. However, a few swipes here and there are one thing; the sort of wholesale looting writer Ron Oliver indulges in borders on the unconscionably greedy and suspiciously lazy. A. I v a m IM f si- Vicki (Wendy Lyon) gets tangled in the supernatural Movie Review Before the film's done, we've seen "hejp me" spelled out on a blackboard. (Remember Linda Blair's tummy-talk in "The Exorcist"?) We've witnessed a prom night in flames. (Anybody heard from Sissy Spacek?) And a bunch of hallucinations worthy of that dream-molester, Freddy Kruger. (My favorite was Vicki waking up in a girls' gym class in Hell.) Still, for all its rip-offs, "Hello Man Lou" to never a total chore to sit through. As vengeance-minded females go, Ms. Schrage makes Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" come off like a Girl Scout leader. And Ms. Lyon does a credible job of ' holding the movie together. She ban- ' dies her transition from sweet young thing to high school hellion . well, and she even carries off a ridiculous scene in which she strips buck naked camouflage perhaps? ; and stalks her former best friend through the girls' locker room. You could say that on another , level, the movie to a black-comic commentary on the whole notion of Erom queens. If there's a lesson to e learned from "Hello Mary Lou," ' perhaps it's that being Queen for a , Night is a fleeting glory, and an ambitious girl would be well-advised to strive for something a little more lasting. Say, being voted Best-Dressed Senior by the yearbook committee. Wiggins From Page 1-B "It's part of our life and maybe we need to," he said. She eventually agreed. "I think it's always been there, like a bad dream, something you don't want to bring to the forefront to relive," said Wiggins, 87, who now tends to 10,000 poin-settia plants in the three-acre nursery surrounding their West Palm Beach, Fla., home. "But it's been there. I've never gotten over it" Wiggins grew up in rural west central Florida, going to church and playing with the children of black field bands on his family's vegetable farm. Walking along railroad tracks as a boy, he came upon the gang rape of two black girls by several white teenage boys. "I ran up to the packing house and to this dear, old member of our church," Wiggins said. "I said, 'Come quick! They're hurting some girls.' He came and looked up the road and laughed about it and said, 'It's nothing but niggers,' and went back and sat on his crate. I was thinking that didn't seem very Christian." Colleen Grant grew up in Greensboro, N.C., being taught by her mother to be "kind to everybody" and not really understanding the rationale of Jim Crow. "I didn't understand how I could get germs from drinking out of the same water fountain as a black person," she said. "I remember sitting beside white people on the bus who were drunk or dirty and wishing I could move to the back." Teaching Sunday school at age 13, she won a scholarship from the Women's Society for Christian Service to Methodist-run Greensboro College. In return, she was to be a missionary for three years. She met Wiggins during training in Kansas City, Mo., in 1952. She roomed with a black woman there. "It was such a wonderful learning experience because I had never been exposed to blacks very closely," she said. The Wigginses understood the South, though. Mrs. Wiggins had worked as a missionary in South Georgia before going to Hawaii. "We knew when we came to Georgia, we had to step lightly," she said. Wiggins became the student pastor of the small Be-thesda Methodist Church in the summer of 1955, when he started seminary at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. Twenty-five miles northeast of Atlanta, the community had grown up around the church more than a century earlier. The little, brick Bethesda School, with a potbellied stove in each room, was two blocks from the parsonage, across Highway 29. In May 1956, Bethesda's high school English students were told to write an essay for the Gwinnett County Field Day. The county assigned the topic "Is interposition the answer to segregation?" In the wake of the VS. Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation in 1954, "interposition" state governments placing themselves between their citizens and the federal government had become a popular topic in the South. The girls in Mrs. Wiggins' lOth-grade world history class asked her to discuss the topic. "The English teacher was smart enough to tell them to go research it" 1 - ' 1 Colleen Wiggins (second row, far left) poses with the senior class she sponsored in 1955-S8. she said. "They said, "Mrs. Wiggins, we dont even understand what interposition is. We dont even understand segregation.' They must have come to me three different days, wanting to discuss it I reached the point where I said, hey, if they want discuss it we'll talk about it" 4 It was at the end of the one-hour discussion that Mrs. Wiggins was asked her opinion of integration. That evening, she told her husband, "I probably opened my mouth too much today." Several students told their parents about the classroom discussion. One parent Gertrude Stephens, said she and her husband, George, prayed for a week before notifying other parents and starting a movement to have Mrs. Wiggins fired. "Some of us just didn't like her view and how she was undermining parents. So we got rid of her," said Mrs. Stephens, 74. The Stephenses and three other couples asked the Gwinnett County School Board not to renew Mrs. Wiggins' contract The School board, after a hearing, voted to give her a new contract Undeterred, Mrs. Wiggins' opponents drove into Atlanta to plead their argument before the State Board of Education. There they found an audience, for there was no more politically expedient topic in Georgia in 1956 than race-mixing. The week before classes started that fall, Mrs. Wiggins was summoned to the office of Gwinnett County Superintendent R.C. Wilbanks. He asked her to sip a statement prepared by the state board that she had not taught and did not believe in racial integration and would never teach it Wilbanks gave Mrs. Wiggins a choice: Sign the statement or be fired. "When I saw what it was," Mrs. Wiggins said. "I said, 'Wait a minute. This is my way of thinking, and you're going to ask me to change it?' I said, 'I can't sign this.' "I thought about resigning. I was all for saying, To heck with it I'll work at Sears or somewhere.' Then I got mad about it I felt like it was something I had to stand up for. A lot of people came to me and said, "Don't resign, don't resign, youll only make these people win by resigning.'" When Mrs. Wiggins refused to resign, Wilbanks did not fire her, and she began the school year. Two weeks later, however, the state school board informed Wilbanks that it would withhold the $225 of state funds in Mrs. Wiggins' $233 monthly paycheck until Gwinnett held another hearing on her integration views. Gwinnett County paid Mrs. Wiggins her full salary and scheduled a hearing Oct 10. It lasted 3 hours. Again, the board upheld her. That did not stop the tide of racism that had begun pouring into the parsonage next to Bethesda Methodist Church. "You picked up the phone, people said bad things to you. You got letters in the mail Some were so nasty I threw them away," Mrs. Wiggins said. The Methodist district superintendent dropped by one day and told Mrs. Wiggins, "You better ease up because you're going to ruin your husband's ministerial career." The Ku Klux Klan picketed a church Softball game. Wiggins can remember one telephone caller's words: "Your house is going to be bombed. You better move . out" : On Nov. 5, Mrs. Wiggins couldn't get out of bed. "Nerves will do bad thines to you." she said. Three - months pregnant, she became concerned about the '! nealtn of the fetus. She resigned. "I had made my im-' pact" she said. "The people respected me." Not everyone. Even after her resignation was publi-1 clzed, a 3-foot burning cross was thrown into the Wigginses' yard. Ten days after her resignation, the State Board of Education ordered Mrs. Wiggins to show cause why her Georgia teacher's license should not be re voked. The board agreed, but Gov. Marvin Griffin, al- tnougn a staunch segregationist, said the whole issue-- was moot The board dropped its plans. '. "As far as I was concerned, it was all political,''; Mrs. Wieeins said. ' "It helped me to stand fast in what I believe. It! made me a better person and a better teacher. It made) people think, I got letters from other teachers in Geor; gia. Although they didn't sign their names, they were oroud someone in the nrofession did sneak ud. I wafi proud of myself and proud of the people in the commifi nlty. it made me believe in the good of people." ,2 The community raised the 1200 for Mackav's attor ney fees. Thirteen of the 18 eirls in the 10th-erad world history class signed a petition stating that Mrst Wiggins had simply been doing her job. More than 40$ people signed petitions for Mrs. Wiggins to be retained, r The Wigginses decided to leave Bethesda in the Sring of 1957. He was going to be the youth director at e Methodist assembly ground at Lake Junaluska. N.G: but the Methodist officials there learned who his wife; was. Thev withdrew the offer. After completing his divinity degree in California and working in two churches there, Wiggins and hS family moved to Florida in 1963. "I decided I had I strong feeling against southern Methodist churches," he said. Bethesda had taken its toll - 35 The community is no longer discernible along HigL, way 29, swallowed by the confluence of sprawling LatiZ renceville and LUburn, the subdivisions and shopping : centers having transformed Gwinnett from rural tt-suburban. The church got its first black member this yea Tnuty-two Macs students are enrolled at Bethesda tie- mentary school, which has been expanded a half-dozen times since Mrs. Wiggins taught there and it was grades 1-12. Wilbanks, the county superintendent who resigned shortly after the Wiggins incident to dead now. Mackay became a. congressman and voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mrs. Stephens to a member of the Gwu nett chapter of Citizens for Excellence in Education, which has been active in reviewing and banning books in Gwinnett schools. V Mrs. Wiggins has stood fast She's still in the classy room. She taught in the Head Start program in Eaton ville. Fla., in the mld-'60s, she and her aide being the only whites in the school. In 1968, the first year of integrated school faculties in Palm Beach County, shS taught in all-black Lincoln Elementary in Rivlet$ Beach, Fla., and stayed there 13 years. Now a sciencg teacher at Palm Beach Gardens High School, she to to ner Slst year of teaching. Compose From Page 1-B by the boarding music man. Call them concertos for coach, fanfares for the common standby passenger. They have titles like "1,000 Lifetimes" and "The Bells of Autumn" and are surprisingly melodic, especially for boarding Muzak. The aptly-named "Something in the Air," for instance, has a great beat and you can deplane to it Give it a 90. "It's music meant to relax people," said Oliverio, 31, an accomplished Atlanta composer, musician and producer who was named the 1987 Mayor's Fellow in Music by the city of Atlanta. "If they just rushed to get to the plane, or they're afraid to fly, this creates an atmosphere that's uplifting yet soothing, relaxing. "That happens to be the kind of music I like something that doesn't pound you over the head, but doesn't put you to sleep, either. It moves you, drops your shoulders down a few inches, so to speak." Last spring, Oliverio was approached by Delta. He had previously done some musical arrangements for the airline. This time, Delta wanted him to compose some original boarding music Oliverio was flattered and impressed. "It shows real attention to detail by Delta," he said. "They're not just throwing some stock stuff out there. This had never been done before. Usually, airlines just buy re-recorded music. This was the fust time in the entertainment industry this was done. and I was intrigued by the idea." f, Of course, this was not quite like being commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, as Oliverio was earlier this year. Nor the Cleveland Orchestra, for which he wrote a timpani concerto. But then, a payday's a payday. Besides, if Olivier could do "The Betsy," Oliverio can do boarding music. And talk about air play and a captive audience. "Only 1,000 people can fit In a symphony hall," Oliverio sail "But tens of thousands of people ride in airplanes every day." For five months, Oliverio worked on his boarding music, writing 40 three-minute in-strumentals, then performing and producing them. In October, his boarding music debuted and absolutely took off. "I'm just happy people enjoyed the music enough to take the time to call and write me," Oliverio said. Delta passengers contacted Oliverio, asking how they could get more boarding music. (Two cassettes of boarding music are available). Two guys wanted even more, having seen Oliverio's photo and a short biography in the back of the in-flight magazine, back among the Delta in-flight music channels. "They said, This to the best program of barbershop music we've ever heard! How do we get some more?'" Oliverio said. Sorry, guys, we're talking boarding, not barbershop. Even Oliverio got to hear his music on location, so to speak. In November, he flew Delta to Cleveland to visit his parents. Upon boarding the plane, though, Oliverio didn't hear any boarding music. "Do they have music on this plane?" he innocently asked a flight attendant "Oh yeah," he was told, "I forgot to put it on." "They didn't turn it up loud enough," la mented Oliverio. He didn't ask them to turn up the boarding music. He did, howeven study his fellow passengers' reactions to his music. ' "You see one or two people close their; eyes and nod a little bit" Oliverio saidT "You hope they're relaxing to the music and not falling asleep. Or they get on and! you hope they don't say, 'When the hell artu we gonna take off?' "I guess there'll be those who say it's musical Dramamine," Oliverio said. "But i it helps people to relax, our society an times could use all of that it can get." X

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