The Boston Phoenix
June 29 - July 6, 2000


The Muzzle Awards, continued

by Dan Kennedy

Golf, profanity, rock and roll

You can't say shit in Worcester -- at least not when Tim Cooney is lining up a putt. In September 1998, then-city councilor Cooney was playing golf. Nearby, at Green Hill Park, more than 10,000 rock fans were enjoying the annual Locobazooka Festival. Suddenly, Cooney heard a musician let out with an uproarious, amplified "Shit!"

As reported in a Worcester Phoenix news story and a Boston Phoenix editorial, Cooney decided he wasn't going to put up with any, uh, shit. Last August, the newly formed Musicians and Friends International Organization (MAFIO) organized a 22-band festival to be held at Worcester's Cristoforo Columbo Park. As a result of Cooney's prodding, the city parks commission handed down an edict that if any band members used "profanity," the plug would be pulled -- and the following month's Locobazooka would be threatened as well. "You can still have your entertainment, but not at other people's expense," Cooney told the Phoenix. "I'm not against people enjoying themselves, but the offendee" -- that's Cooneyese for himself and his supporters -- "has certain rights too. They [the musicians] are on taxpayers' property." Cooney, who retired from the city council last November, is now running for state representative. Freedom-of-expression fans, take note.

The fact that the musicians were on public property was precisely the reason that city officials had no business telling the musicians what they could say. "Parks are traditionally places where one can exercise rights of free speech," Massachusetts ACLU legal director John Reinstein said. "In my view, it [the no-profanity edict] is a condition that's simply unconstitutional on its face." One of the bands scheduled to play the MAFIO festival, the pop/punk trio Critical Condition, was about to put out a CD called, appropriately enough, Censorship Sucks. Indeed it does. Just don't say it out loud.

Thanks to the intervention of the local ACLU, the parks commission amended its edict, stating it was "voluntary." The MAFIO festival went off without a hitch. A month later, Locobazooka drew a record 13,000 fans. It shouldn't be forgotten, though, that the music was nearly silenced by an unconstitutional order.

Following last year's tragic warehouse fire, Worcester's music community -- led by, among others, Locobazooka honcho Dan Hartwell and businessman John Carnegie -- organized a number of benefit concerts. Some of the money raised went to the families of the six firefighters who were killed. Some went to buy equipment such as thermal imaging devices, to enable firefighters to see through heavy smoke.

It was a transcendent coming-together that made Tim Cooney's obsession with four-letter words look like the juvenile sideshow that it was. And that's no shit.

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Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]

1998 Muzzle Awards
1999 Muzzle Awards