Creative Class, My Ass

The young and the restless have nothing on the old and experienced.



Could we hold off a while before anointing the "creative class"?

Like maybe 10 or 20 years?

The Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Memphis have embraced the creative class, age 25-34, as the salvation of Memphis. Well, marketing is marketing, and there are only so many ways to say "new." But facts are something else. Like the former U.S. Supreme Court justice who couldn't define pornography but knew it when he saw it, I know creativity when I see it, and writing a blog, singing a rap song, making an indie movie, wearing an earring, harvesting e-mails, or hanging out at Starbucks doesn't make you -- often through no fault of your own -- a charter member of the creative class.

Mike Royko, a newspaperman back when columnists were expected to have some experience as reporters before spouting off, used to say the first 20 columns are easy. Blogs are easy. I read last week that there are 22 million of them. Longevity and making news pay is hard. E.W. Scripps was 41 in 1895 when he founded the newspaper chain that would later buy The Commercial Appeal. Publisher Ken Neill was 41 when he founded The Memphis Flyer in 1989. Barney DuBois was 35 when he founded the Memphis Business Journal in 1979.

CA sports columnist Geoff Calkins is going strong at 44. Mike Fleming was 53 when he reinvented himself as a full-time talk-show host. Janice Broach, Mike Matthews, and Les Smith, who set the standard for local broadcast news reporters, are all over 50, as is the Flyer's Jackson Baker, who has been setting the standard for political columns for 16 years.

Shelby Foote was 42 when the first volume of his Civil War trilogy was published in 1958 and 58 when the last volume was published in 1974. He was 74 when he became famous on Ken Burns' PBS documentary in 1990.

Fred Smith was 28 when he founded Federal Express but 44 when the company bought Flying Tigers and 61 when the company added three more flights to China last week. Kemmons Wilson was 39 when he founded Holiday Inns and 44 when Holiday Inns became a public company in 1957. Allen Morgan Jr. was 27 when he co-founded Morgan Keegan and 58 when it merged with Regions Bank. Pitt Hyde was 35 when he founded AutoZone and 50 when it became a public company.

In real estate, Henry Turley was 45 and Jack Belz was 58 when they started HarborTown. Harold Crye, 62, and Dick Leike, 64, founded the Crye-Leike real estate company, whose prosperous employees' smiling faces filled two pages of the Sunday paper with color pictures last week. Turley, Belz, Crye, and Leike are still creating.

Thirty-six-year-old Harold Ford Jr., notwithstanding, politics, for better or worse, is largely a matter of persistence, name recognition, and paying your dues. Willie Herenton was 51 when he became mayor of Memphis, and A C Wharton was 57 when he was elected mayor of Shelby County. Steve Cohen was 52 when he finally pushed a state lottery through the Tennessee legislature. Lois DeBerry, speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, is 60. The average age of the 13 members of the Memphis City Council is 53. Like I said, for better or worse.

Want to make a splash with a civic event or fund-raiser? Pat Tigrett is probably your first call. She's, well, over 50. Maybe you want Kallen Esperian as a headliner. She's 44. Or Isaac Hayes, 61, who was 52 when he became the voice of Chef on South Park. Or Jerry Lee Lewis, who is still the Killer at 70. B.B. King was 35 when he wrote his first song that made the national charts. He's now 81 and still on the road.

Shirley Raines was 54 when she came to Memphis to be president of the University of Memphis. Bill Troutt was 49 when he became Rhodes president. John Calipari was 36 when he took U Mass to the Final Four and 40 when he came to Memphis. Football coach Tommy West was 50 when he first took U of M to a bowl.

Tennessee Waltz prosecutor Tim DiScenza is 58. Investigative reporter Mark Perrusquia of The Commercial Appeal is 47. For that matter, defendants John Ford and Ward Crutchfield are 61 and 76, respectively. Proving, I suppose, that older is not necessarily wiser.

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