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ASK VANCE

ASK VANCE

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There is no justice in the world. It’s bad enough that I have penned this column for decades -- it certainly seems that way -- in exchange for a mere pittance month after month. Readers, I do not exaggerate. My W-2 form actually lists “A Mere Pittance” under “wages, tips, and other compensation.” Who knew it was an actual payroll term? What’s more, during the production of this 25th anniversary issue, I have waited ever-so-patiently for the editors to come downstairs to my basement cubicle and seek my counsel about which of my many, many fine columns they planned to reprint this month. Just yesterday, though, I discovered they had no plans to reprint a single one of them! (“As soon as you start writing a decent column,” snipped my publisher, “then we’ll consider reprinting them.”) And to rub even more salt in the wound, instead of my usual enchanting discourses on the cares and concerns of our readers -- what happened to this, what’s the meaning of that? -- I have been commanded to devote this month’s entire column to various questions and queries that have been raised now and then about the history of this publication. So let’s get this over with so I can go back to sulking: What was the original name of Memphis magazine? Volume 1, Number 1 first appeared on the newsstands carrying the title City of Memphis magazine. There had recently been a Memphis magazine, produced by the local Chamber of Commerce, which had met an untimely end in 1973. Not wanting to be tarred with the same brush, the Founding Fathers chose the City of Memphisname instead. In fact, we scrounged around in our “files” (actually, piles of battered shoeboxes) and found the original mock-up of our very first cover (see below). For reasons no one can remember, we ultimately used a considerably older Ed Crump on the April 1976 cover. The brand-new City of Memphis offered much interesting fare, such as “A Conversation with Boss Crump,” “An Insider’s Guide to Memphis,” and an editorial by attorney Lucius Burch, identified as “a champion of worthwhile causes.” Now which one would you pick up, standing in line at Seessel’s with your arms filled with six-packs and Little Debbie snack cakes? In fact, 25 years later, that first issue is still full of good stories. It’s definitely on my to-read list, any day now, just as soon as I get through my stack of Seventeens. The stigma of the earlier failed Memphis finally passed by the way, and this publication dropped that City of in April 1978 (above right). It’s a good name, we think. We’ll probably stick with it for another 25 years or so. City of MemphisWho has been featured on the cover more than anyone else? Oh, that’s an easy one. The King of Rock-and-Roll is King of Memphis, with Elvis Presley appearing on the covers of 10 issues since 1976. If you count a related story about former wife Priscilla, then the residents of Graceland were honored on 11 covers -- and those are cover stories, you understand. We’re not even counting the half-dozen other times we’ve run a picture of Elvis on the cover, or just mentioned him, in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Runner-up, with three covers so far, is a tie: our favorite East High alum, Cybill Shepherd, and the mysterious Dr. Lancelot Bueno, with three each. What was the largest, fattest, thickest issue ever produced? The very first magazines were rather lean, that’s for sure. In fact, our premiere issue was just 44 pages. But we had reached our stride by the mid-1980s, producing whopping tomes that strained the backs of even the hardiest mail carriers. The thickest issue so far is August 1988, with 272 pages. Though records are scanty from that period, I’m told that particular “City Guide” generated $43.75 in advertising revenues -- after deducting staff expenses like pencils, paper, biscuits, and cheap liquor. Is it true the first art director now works for Rolling Stone? Technically, no. Jack Atkinson was listed on the masthead as “design director” for the first issue only. After that, the credit for the magazine design went to “Jack Apple Graphics,” though most of the actual work, so I’m told, was being performed by an Apple employee, a young fellow from Mississippi by the name of Fred Woodward. Fred officially became art director in September 1976, a position he held until May 1980, when our very talented Murry Keith took over. After stints at D magazine in Dallas and Texas Monthly in Austin, Fred joined the staff of Rolling Stone, where he’s art director. Under his direction, Rolling Stone has won more design awards than any magazine in the United States. We like to think it’s all because of us. Tell the truth. What’s the worst story you’ve ever run? I’ll have you know that in 25 years we have never published anything that didn’t stand the test of time, set new standards, push the envelope, and all sorts of other clichés. Well, that’s not quite true. Some of the pieces we published surely had merit when we assigned them, but a few of them today do seem a trifle stale. My own recommendations for least-compelling stories would have to include: ¥ “West Memphis: More Than a Truck Stop?” ¥ “Sludge: The $400 Million Gamble” (May 1979) ¥ “A Paraguayan Holiday” (April 1981) ¥ “Minerva Johnican’s Amazing Comeback” (March 1984) ¥ “What’s New in Running Gear” (July/August 1985) ¥ “Dream Cars” (October 1991) No, I’m not making these up. Furthermore, as proof of our continuing ability to explore the critically important issues of the day -- during October, anyway -- I submit the following series as Exhibits A, B, C, and D: ¥ “Rating the Imported Beers” (October 1978) ¥ “Rating the Imported Beers II” (October 1980) ¥ “The Great American Beer Taste-off” (October 1981) ¥ “Rating the Imported Beers” (October 1984). Finally, what did the “MM” in MM Corporation stand for? Uh, it stood for Memphis Magazine. These days, though, the company is called Contemporary Media, Inc. Inc. stands for “incorporated,” in case you were stumped by that, too. ["Ask Vance" appears every month in Memphis magazine. Got a question for Vance? Send it to “Ask Vance” at Memphis magazine, P.O. Box 1738, Memphis, TN 38101, or e-mail him at askvance@memphismagazine.com]

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