The final year of the 1980s was a momentous one: The Berlin Wall fell, ending the Cold War; the Exxon Valdez spilled nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Alaska; and there was the uprising in Tiananmen Square.
Twenty years ago!
In technology, the first GPS satellite was launched; Gameboy was invented; Microsoft Office was released; and DNA evidence was ruled admissible in trials.
On television, The Simpsons premiered, joining other national faves at the time: Fame, Baywatch, Cagney & Lacey, Cheers, and MacGyver. At the movies, Driving Miss Daisy, Parenthood, When Harry Met Sally, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids were packing them in.
We were shaking our poofy hairstyles to the beat of Phil Collins, Prince, Madonna, Erasure, the Bangles, Cher, and New Kids on the Block. Yes, 1989 was quite the year.
And in the Bluff City, Memphis magazine publisher Kenneth Neill somehow managed to convince the company's board members to invest in an idea he had: a free weekly tabloid that would be called the Memphis Flyer. The first issue hit the streets in February 1989. It featured a cover story on the Velsicol chemical plant, a cartoon by Jules Feiffer, and columns by Lydel Sims, Dave Woloshin, David Lyons, Cory Dugan, and Tom Prestigiacomo. It was all of 20 pages. How ironic.
An introductory letter from Neill promised the Flyer would be "bold, sassy, controversial, entertaining, and informative." And in the early years, that was probably the proper order for those adjectives. Managing editor Tim Sampson was part of a makeshift band of brave swashbucklers that included general manager Cheryl Bader, advertising icon Jerry Swift, circulation manager Steve Haley, and art director Rise Ramsey, among others.
Twenty years later, Memphis is still reading the paper they started. We've grown, but the foundation they set in place still stands. Thanks to their efforts, and to those by the many who have followed in their footsteps in editorial, sales, production, and management, the Flyer is a true Memphis success story.
We couldn't have done it without you.
I'm proud to be here and proud to have been a part of it. And we hope you'll enjoy the following pages, in which we try not to break our arms patting ourselves on the back. Twenty years! — Bruce VanWyngarden, editor
Remembering Dennis Freeland 1956-2002
By Michael Finger
It was a Tuesday morning, always a busy production day for the Flyer, when Dennis Freeland told me he was having trouble writing his editor's column. "Oh, you've always been a lousy writer," I joked. He didn't laugh. "No, this is different," he said. "I can't make my fingers hit the right keys."
On that day some 10 years ago, Dennis was diagnosed with a stroke that affected his speech and vision — a hell of an affliction for a journalist.
Always a fighter, he steadily overcame these problems, and we rejoiced at his apparent recovery. But months later, more ominous symptoms arose, and doctors could do little but offer conflicting opinions about their cause. Another stroke, some said, though they weren't able to pinpoint it. Multiple sclerosis, said others. Finally, an MRI revealed a brain tumor, which, after risky surgery and radiation treatments, ultimately resulted in his death on January 6, 2002.
Most people would feel that Dennis had been dealt a bad hand in life, but through it all, he considered himself fortunate. In a speech he gave in 2000 before the Rotary Club of his hometown of Paris, Tennessee, he told the audience, "I am a very lucky man." Not just for battling his devastating illnesses, he explained, but for becoming a sportswriter and landing a position as editor of the Flyer, "the best place I've ever worked."
Later, while he was hospitalized, he kept hundreds of friends apprised of his condition, and — even as his vision dimmed — always closed his eloquent, often witty e-mails by thanking everyone for their support.
In one message about his impending brain surgery, he observed, "These e-mails may seem strange. But you are all my friends and I have always been an open person. Who wouldn't want to receive e-mails with such uplifting subjects as 'A Candid Conversation with the Oncologist'?"
Days later, he wrote, "I was making a mental list of all the faiths that I have saying prayers for me: Baptist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Episcopal, Judaism, Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, and Zoroastrian. I have probably left out some. Sorry."
As he recovered from that initial surgery, he wrote, "I draw great strength from the encouragement I receive from all the people on this e-mail list. I wish we could have you all over to the house for a big Indian dinner."
A later message echoed the general cheeriness of the others: "As usual, I appreciate all your support. I realize that people have problems just as bad as mine, and I wish the best for all of you."
And one more, this one closer to the end: "Thanks for all your cards, e-mails, flowers, food, visits, calls, good thoughts, prayers, and support. At times like this I am reminded how very fortunate I am to have such loving friends and family."
He left behind a loving wife, Perveen, a beautiful daughter, Feroza, and more friends than I can count. He was indeed lucky to be surrounded by so many people who cared so much for him. But he deserved it. Dennis was a gentleman in the truest sense of that word — intelligent, kind-hearted, fair-minded, and perceptive — who lived his life with dignity and grace, always caring about others. His good work and charitable nature lives on at Camp FreeLand, the summer camp operated by Diversity Memphis.
The day after his death, his sister wrote to everyone, "Dennis didn't want the tears. He wanted smiles and laughs as we remember who he was and what he meant to each of us."
As the Flyer celebrates its 20th anniversary, let's raise a toast to the man who steered our ship for seven years and try our best to smile.
- Dennis Freeland
Eat Up: Twenty years of food news
By Susan Ellis
In the Beginning. Of the six restaurants that advertised in the first issue of the Flyer, only one, Palm Court, is closed. The others, Zinnie's, R.P. Tracks, Huey's, the Bayou Bar & Grill, and Le Chardonnay, are still thriving. One point of interest: In their joint ad, the Bayou and Le Chardonnay boasted that they were located on the "hip side of Overton Square." Both restaurants skedaddled across Madison in 2008.
As the World Turns. "The coffeehouse craze is hitting Memphis like a jolt of hot caffeine." That's Rosanna Juncos, reporting in 1993, on the handful of coffeehouses opening in the city. Otherlands is the only one that remains open.
Two other notable openings of that year: Memphis Pizza Café and Saigon Le.
In February 1994, the "Great Ice Storm" came, knocking out power to much of the city and ruining the usually lucrative Valentine's Day for many restaurants. The Half Shell estimated a loss of $40,000 in sales and spoiled food. Houston's figure was $17,000 in lost revenue.
- Bernard Chang
On February 3, 1995, Bernard Chang, owner of China Grill, was stabbed by an employee. Fellow chefs Jimmy Ishii, Jose Gutierrez, and Erling Jensen, among others, formed Bernard's Friends, Inc. to operate China Grill. "Since none of the volunteer chefs cooks Chinese, the reduced menu sports an 'East Meets West' theme," Juncos wrote. "This week, Chef Gutierrez will offer his pork tournedos with Thai curry sauce and red onion vinegar and monkfish wok-medallions with Madagascar peppers." Chang passed away a few months later.
Missing You. In 1996, writer Sue Putnam marked the closing of Justine's: "Notable firsts which came to Memphis thanks to Justine's include the arrival of Muzak ... and fully trained waiters." Justine's opened in 1948.
In 2002, Seessel's left the building(s). As reported by Simone Wilson: "Schnucks opened its doors in the former Seessel's locations on Wednesday, June 5th. ... The Seessel's grocery store tradition ends after almost one-and-a-half centuries. ... But if you expected tears to roll and Seessel's customers to beg for the doors to stay open, it didn't happen. The last hours of Seessel's being Seessel's were surprisingly unspectacular."
Trailblazer. "What was Automatic Slim's like 15 years ago? 'Crazy. It was just crazy. People literally went nuts,'" Karen Blockman Carrier told Wilson on the eve of Automatic Slim's anniversary party in 2006. Blockman opened Automatic Slim's in 1991 at a time when options for downtown dining were limited. With Automatic Slim's and then Cielo (now Mollie Fontaine), Carrier is considered one of the pioneers of a downtown restaurant scene.
Everything Is Local. In the spring of 2006, the Memphis Farmers Market opened downtown. Wilson spelled out the market's terms: "Local means products native to the Mid-South. The market will be able to accommodate approximately 40 vendors with room to expand."
In 2007, Melissa and Kjeld Petersen moved from Portland, Oregon, to Memphis to start the local-foods quarterly Edible Memphis. "When we first visited Memphis, we had a feeling that something is happening here," Melissa Petersen told Wilson. "You have this rich history. ... And a community with many people who remember eating vegetables right out of their parents' or grandparents' backyard garden."
From the Ashes. In 2008, Pamela Denney took note of one restaurant's return: "If you're wondering why it took so long to reopen the downtown Blue Monkey after it burned down in 2005, consider this: How would you recreate the charm and character of a historic building in a commercial strip-mall first built as a garage for buses?"
Celebrities. Last year, Pat and Gina Neely of Neely's Bar-B-Que hit it big on the Food Network. While promoting their cookbook Down Home with the Neelys, last spring, Pat Neely told Susan Ellis, "The best barbecue in Memphis is not at one of the restaurants. It's in somebody's backyard. It's that guy who's got three slabs of ribs and has slowly cooked them, and basted them, and he's taken his time to prepare them for his family. To me, there's not a barbecue joint in the city that can touch Leroy or James over there, who's in his backyard with a big black smoker."
It's All Good: A Generation on the Beat
By Jackson Baker
On a frigid and rainy day in January 2001, Shelby County School Board president David Pickler and I sat miserably on uncovered stands directly in front of the White House, morphing into human icicles as we watched a newly inaugurated George W. Bush and his wife Laura emerge hand-in-hand from the front door of the presidential residence. Doing their best to ignore the elements, the couple then strolled into a roofed and heated tent directly next to us, there to watch an interminable and largely pro forma inaugural parade along with other members, new and old, of the Washington power establishment.
The chill and foreboding of that day became a proper omen for a year of crisis and disaster, one that fell — as had 1989, 1993, and 1997, and as would 2005 and 2009 — in the one year out of every four, locally, which had no regularly scheduled elective politics.
Yet there is always politics, as there are always debts and Texas (and, yes, death and taxes). Much of my time in the spring and summer of that year was devoted to back-and-forthing on Interstate 40 between Memphis and Nashville, where I reported on the protracted income tax battles in the state capitol.
That coverage would culminate on an evening cloistered with frankly terrified legislators in the state Senate chamber while protesting mobs beat on the chamber's heavy oak doors. They were closed and locked but still shook under nonstop pounding and did not much muffle the frequently shouted threats and imprecations from out in the corridors.
Even today, there are local apologists for those unruly crowds, mainly ideologues who were hundreds of miles away from the events, who pretend that nothing untoward happened, that broken glass in the Capitol's windows must have been the result of innocent patriots "leaning" on the panes. Must happen every day, you know. Besides my own coverage, however, there was a Viewpoint in our pages from Mark Norris, an outraged and impeccably conservative state senator from Shelby County who, from the standpoint of the legitimate right, decried the work of what he, too, mincing no words, described as mobs.
Worse was to come. A year which had been merely discordant would end in outright tragedy. In late fall of 2001, I would be at the other Capitol, the one in Washington, D.C., tracking then Senator Bill Frist as he resumed his physician's role, helping organize a response to an anthrax scare in the beleaguered, garrison-like halls of government.
Only weeks earlier, terrorists had done their worst, some 200 miles to the north on Manhattan island, leaving an expanse of still-smoldering ruins in the space where the Twin Towers had once stood. I had filed past the site, an honorary pallbearer like the thousands of others who came every day to pay their respects.
Or simply bearing witness. Covering politics is mainly a matter of that and has been for the 20 years I've been doing it for the Flyer. All of that started in 1989, when I was asked, as a freelancer then, to profile for this brave and innovative new journal such local luminaries as Ed McAteer, a leading voice of the Christian right; the eminent Bill Farris, who had been the guiding light of the Democratic Party in these parts for a generation; Sidney Shlenker, the doomed hustler who had just taken charge of our Pyramid project on the flatlands of the city's north riverfront; and wrestler Jerry Lawler, then as now a major force in the local firmament.
That even he would become a politician should have been no surprise. We're all in politics, one way or another.
The next year, 1990, saw the largest general election ballot that Memphis and Shelby County had yet seen, and I was asked to begin writing a weekly column called "Politics" to keep up with it all. I haven't stopped to this day and don't intend to for a while yet.
I mean, what a front-row ticket! I got to be there in 1991, when ex-school superintendent Willie Herenton outworked several other claimants to take the title of "consensus black candidate" (including one named A C Wharton) and made history as Memphis' first elected African-American mayor.
When a defeated Mayor Dick Hackett disappeared from public consciousness for a month after that election, he did me the honor of admitting me to his chambers in City Hall for what amounted to an exit interview. Some 18 years later, an outgoing Herenton would do the same.
In between, there was so much to bear witness to, on the local, state, and national scenes — too much to chronicle fully here (though I will make a pass at it elsewhere in this issue; see Politics, p. 12). Not all of it has been as momentous as the events of 2001, but it all has had consequence — and still does.
- Willie Herenton
For better or for worse and there has been much of both, it's all good.
Flyer, Flyer, Pants on Fire:
A sample of some of our steamier coverage
By Mary Cashiola
There are some stories a daily newspaper won't tell. Our local daily sometimes won't print the word "poop," so it's hard to imagine it using "boobs," "pierced nipples," "hand jobs," or the phrase "sex-starved Asian twins."
But that is just one of the many things that distinguishes the Flyer from a daily. We're not what's known as a "family newspaper," and we never have been.
In the last 20 years, Flyer reporters have looked at the seamy underbelly of the city to the seamy underbellies (and other things) of the city's residents.
In 1996, Phil Campbell kicked things off with an undercover investigation of massage parlors in which he was solicited for a variety of sexual favors.
(Company lore recalls that Campbell kept coming back to the accounting department — more relaxed each time — for petty cash.)
The story had a happy ending, however, when the next month the Memphis Police Department crack downed on massage parlors that operated as fronts for prostitution.
Next, Campbell spent the night in an hourly-rate hotel. Since by now it was well documented that he wasn't squeamish about nudity — either his own or other people's — he and a friend also ventured to a private resort in Middle Tennessee.
- Phil Campbell
"It's a nice place for a weekend getaway," he wrote. "It's clothing optional, and the vast majority of visitors come with the specific intention of opting out of their clothing."
Visitors hang out in the pool, play foosball, eat dinner, and sing karaoke, and Campbell admits he can't help noticing the other vacationers' equipment. But how could you not when they're doing pantless karaoke:
"In between karaoke sets, the nudists limbo. They do the hokey-pokey. They do the chicken polka. They make a feeble attempt at the Electric Slide," Campbell wrote.
After Campbell left, Flyer reporter Ashley Fantz spent an evening at the annual Fetish Ball, where she found an assortment of pierced nipples, riding crops, chain bras, and exposed genitalia within the city limits.
In reaction to this, Fantz was a "librarian," "a school teacher," and a "Walton." Or so she said:
"A man slid his hands around my waist and whispered, 'What's your fetish?'"
"I like talking into this tape recorder and then going home and listening to myself," she replied.
Later, she also applied for a job at Silk and Lace, a short-lived downtown eatery that featured bikini-clad waitresses.
Chris Davis interviewed porn star Ron Jeremy and asked him about, hmm, tooting his own horn. (There are some things even we can't say, and self-fellatio is one of them. Until now.)
Davis — and if memory serves us correctly, political editor Jackson Baker — also once tried Viagra for a story. But the story can't be found, and we can only assume that the Internet, in its infinite wisdom, has decided no one should ever hear of that escapade again.
More recently, Bianca Phillips spent a weekend at the Furry Convention, an annual gathering of people who like to dress up in furry costumes and act like animals. Like Campbell's nudists, Phillips found people playing volleyball and singing karaoke.
"Only a few people here have a furry sex fetish," Phillips wrote. "They're referred to as furverts or plushies. For obvious reasons, they tend to get more press. But if they are present at this convention, they're not making themselves known — much to our disappointment."
Sure, maybe not everyone wants to read about singing nudists or a fetish ball. But if we didn't tell you about these things, who would?
Still Rolling •
By Mary Cashiola
In the last decade, people have come and gone, but the Flyer's official truck has stuck around. Even though it doesn't really run anymore.
Around 1998, Contemporary Media bought the old Penske truck for $4,000. The truck had more than 100,000 miles on it, and it cost the company another $2,000 to have it painted Flyer green.
Now, more than 10 years later, it has a blown head gasket. The odometer reads 220,000 miles. And cobwebs cover the steering wheel.
"We still take it to the Beale Street Music Fest," says Robbie French, the Flyer's circulation manager. "It'll run that far."
Copies of the Flyer are actually distributed by independent contractors using their own vehicles. Before the head gasket went, the truck was used to pick up ad inserts, place the Flyer's signature distribution boxes around town, and take whatever we needed to Flyer events.
"We use it at every party. It's our signage," French says. "If it could talk, it could tell so many stories about Music Fest, but we couldn't print them."
And probably wouldn't want to.
What we can say is that the truck also has gotten into a fair amount of scrapes, mostly in our parking lot. One time, a car rolled down the parking lot and knocked off the truck's bumper.
Another time, someone stole the truck's catalytic converter. Luckily, an eagle-eyed employee spotted the theft, called police, and the man was picked up a few hours later.
- Flyer Truck
About three years ago, we bought a new Flyer truck. Two weeks later, someone tagged it with graffiti ... while it was sitting in our parking lot.
"They did both sides," French says. "We've been able to clean off one side, but on the other, they used a polyurethane paint."
Memphis in the Movies: The City Gets its Closeup
By Chris Herrington
When the Memphis Flyer debuted in early 1989, Memphis was not considered a movie town. But that was about to change, and in a hurry.
Two feature films — the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire and Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train — had been shot the year before but not yet released, and they, along with the John Grisham adaptation The Firm, would set the stage for a dramatic evolution of Memphis first as a location for major film productions and as a burgeoning film scene built on homegrown artists such as Craig Brewer and Ira Sachs. The Flyer has been there to cover the growth of a movie-mad Memphis.
The False Start
I hate to sound a sour note during the lovefest occasioned by the filming of Great Balls of Fire in Memphis. I'm as big a hometown booster as anyone. But the truth is that when the kissing stops, we're left with the movie. And it pretty much stinks.
— Cynthia Sutter, Great Balls of Fire review, 7-5-89
The Cult Classic
"My films are not about big dramatic moments," says Jim Jarmusch, whose third feature, Mystery Train, was shot in Memphis during the summer of 1988.
- Mystery Train
It's a film about Memphis in that Memphis' musical past plays an active role in the film, and the city itself becomes a sort of character in the action.
Filmed primarily at the corner of South Main and Calhoun, Jarmusch does not use the Peabody hotel, the Mississippi River, Graceland, or most of the other locations that the Chamber of Commerce would thrust before any visiting filmmaker. His domain concerns exactly that territory which is not regularly tread by the masses, and his treatment of Memphis is likely to open a few eyes.
— Robert Gordon, Mystery Train cover story, 3-8-90
Might as well call this the Week of The Firm. Pictures, ads, and stories about John Grisham and Tom Cruise have seemingly been everywhere this week, from the inside cover of Sports Illustrated to promos during the NBA finals to Dave Barry's Sunday newspaper column. The Firm opens next month at 2,000 theaters across the country. Memphis hasn't had this much attention and exposure since Elvis died.
- The Firm
Memphis was the setting for 77 days of shooting, and the production used 1,500 local extras. The primary set, the fictitious law office of Bendini, Lambert & Locke (the set required seven and a half miles of 2x4 lumber and 225 gallons of glue just to support it, according to publicists) was built inside the old International Harvester plant in Frayser. — John Branston, "Chasing the Hollywood Dream" cover story, 6-24-93
Craig Brewer, an industrious 28-year-old Memphian, has, for the low, low price of $20,000, made a fairly remarkable film called The Poor and Hungry. Named for the P&H Cafe, the famous Midtown watering hole, the film tells the story of a reluctant car thief who falls in love with one of his victims, a delicate beauty who happens to be a cellist.
- Craig Brewer
Unlikely? Sure. But so brutally honest it makes you squirm, and it's painfully funny. It's a gritty Romeo and Juliet redux, beautifully told.
Of course, The Poor and Hungry is not really a film. It's more like a video. That is to say, it was shot on video and it was edited digitally on a computer deck. Brewer calls it a "digiflik," and on August 4th, his $20,000 digiflik was given its West Coast premiere at Paramount Studio's Studio Theater as part of the relatively new but increasingly prestigious Hollywood Film Festival. There it was nominated for best digital feature and best feature. It won for best digital feature, but, all things considered, even being nominated for best feature was a most impressive victory. The Poor and Hungry was the only digital production to be nominated. And it lost to a $35 million biopic about legendary screen seductress Marlene Dietrich.
— Chris Davis, "The Poor and Hungry in Los Angeles" cover story, 9-07-00
"It was just a Memphis film," Sachs says [of Forty Shades of Blue]. "Everything about it was so deeply entrenched in my experience of having grown up there and what I know about the city now. It's a film in which Memphis is a character, not just a location.
"In general, I identify less as a Southern filmmaker than a filmmaker from Memphis," Sachs says. "My knowledge about the South is really just my knowledge about Memphis, because that's where I grew up. There's an intimacy connected to those experiences of childhood. You can't recreate the 7,000 nights I spent in Memphis."
- Ira Sachs (center)
Though Forty Shades of Blue is probably less a celebration of the city and its culture than civic boosters might want, it arguably depicts the city with more truthfulness, albeit of the offhand variety, than even Mystery Train or Hustle & Flow.
"I think that what I offer as a filmmaker from Memphis is that I'm both an insider and an outsider," Sachs says. "As an outsider I have some amount of artistic distance, which allows me to perceive things, but as an insider nothing about Memphis seems particularly cool to me. It just seems like where these people live their lives, and there's beauty within that." — Chris Herrington, Forty Shades of Blue cover story, 9-30-05
The corner of South Main and G.E. Patterson has to be one of the most filmed locations in the country outside of New York and Los Angeles.
For the past 20 years or so, many films have been shot in Memphis, and it seems like they all end up at this intersection, especially within the doors of the Arcade restaurant. From Elvis ghost stories in Mystery Train to a pre-tragedy family milkshake break in 21 Grams to a bizarrely boisterous celebration of its perfectly respectable chili in Elizabethtown, the Arcade has become a movie star.
It can seem a little silly sometimes that in a city full of promising locations, this one intersection is so ubiquitous. That the great Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai chose to set a third of his American debut, My Blueberry Nights, in Memphis and the action takes place entirely in and around the Arcade and kitty-corner bar Earnestine & Hazel's seems overly predictable.
- My Blueberry Nights
Instead, My Blueberry Nights becomes something like the location's apotheosis. The intersection is ready for its close-up, and Wong shoots it lovingly, from a fish-eye entrance by the Arcade facade to a moody shot of clouds reflected in the restaurant's glass windows to the mysterious dark red glow inside Earnestine & Hazel's to the wet grit of the street peeking over the bar's neon sign. — Chris Herrington, My Blueberry Nights review, 5-30-08
Your Fly is Open ... Again
By Chris Davis
Be everywhere, all the time. That's been the goal of every ink-stained wretch who has assumed the title of Pesky Fly, since way back in the dark days before Twitter, when former staff writer Jim Hanas scratched out his very first "Fly on the Wall" column 13 years ago. Since that day, your ever-evolving Fly Team has fixed its compound eyes on the Mid-South, searching for odd bits of news that might otherwise pass by unappreciated.
Nothing is sacred, nobody's safe. And just so you know, your Fly is open ... again.
• In December 1999, Tennessee state troopers arrested Elvis impersonator William Howell, who was wanted for murder in Georgia. Howell had shaved his sideburns and cut his hair to alter his appearance, but he was still dressed like Elvis when police pulled over his 1993 Geo.
• When asked in 2001 why he fled when police tried to pull him over, West Memphian Fate Patterson answered, "Because I was naked." Of course, that's not entirely true. When Patterson was extracted from his vehicle, he was wearing a jacket.
• Troy Grahm rushed to open It's Game Day, a regional collegiate gift and apparel shop in Sanderlin Place, in spring 2002. "The September 11th terrorist attacks made one thing very clear to us: Tomorrow may be too late," he said in a press release. And who among us won't feel stupid if the apocalypse gets here and we still don't own a big foam finger?
• In 2008, the Christian-themed news aggregator and wire service One-News tried out a computer program that automatically changes the word "gay" to "homosexual." It worked too well and resulted in hilarious sports stories about Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies. According to One-News: Memphis backers hit the hay, hoping that Kevin Love would open things up for Rudy Homosexual in the frontcourt."
• On June 30, 2003, West Memphis' Evening Times newspaper ran with the front-page headline "Lost Teeth Prompts Woman to Complain."
• The state Senate passed a "bill endorsing animal training for police," according to an AP headline from March 2003.
• In publishing, like the airline business, terrible accidents sometimes happen. In the fall of 1996 when a tragic story in The Commercial Appeal about a plane going down in India was jumped to another page, the headline "Crash" landed right next to an ad for ValuJet.
• Under the headline "Chinese Leader Dies," in the September 12, 1996, issue of the Collierville Herald: "Nationalist Chinese Leader Chiang Kai-Sheck died in Taipei, Taiwan, of a heart attack in 1975 at the age of 87." We wondered when the Herald was finally going to weigh in on that.
• Possibly the ickiest lost-dog ad ever to appear in The Commercial Appeal classifieds: "Sponge, you soak up spilled lovin." Woof.
Signs of the Times
• A church sign on Poplar, west of Highland: "Pray for a good Harvest but keep on hoeing."
• Mmmm ... Assburgers
• From a sign outside Accent Glass Co. on Broad Ave., April 1997: "GOD KNOWS BUTT CRACKS HAPPEN."
• In March 2002, Fly on the Wall noticed a sign posted by the Orpheum's stage door entrance reading, "Throw cigarette butts into the street."
• Walgreens gets creative in the toy department:
• This Midtown market would probably be illegal in Mississippi:
• Backyard Burger puts big cats on the menu:
• Justin Timberlake has proven to be a master of all media. But J-Tim's communication skills haven't always been so evident. Consider this deep thought from "Justin Thinks," a column the young boy-bander penned for Entertainment Teen magazine in 2000: "I used to have a lucky rock but I lost it. So I was like, you know what? I don't need it."
• Concerning Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware's desire to install a phone in a bathroom stall at City Hall, Councilman Joe Brown told the press in November 2000: "This building is not totally safe. ... Also, nobody is exempt from abnormalities of the human body. We need that phone in there. God bless everybody."
• In the spring of 1998, we lifted this stirring quote from the book Offbeat Prayers for the Modern Mystic by Memphis minister, speaker, writer, metaphysical teacher, rebirther, and counselor Anne Sermons Gillis: "There's plenty of money for me./Plenty of money for me./Plenty of money./Plenty of money./Plenty of money for me." We're still not sure what it's about.
• In November 2002, Shelby County commissioner Julian Bolton complained that he didn't have free access to events at the Pyramid, saying, "We represent the public. ... I've always fussed ... about not having access at any time to the building that I, in a representative sense, own." Bolton failed to explain why he hadn't mowed the lawns of Shelby Countians, whom he, in a representative sense, worked for.
• State senator Ophelia Ford, after being asked about her $12,000 taxpayer-funded travel bill in December 2008: "You mean to tell me that all I spent was $12,000? Oh, well, hallelujah. Thank you, Lord, for making it so economical."
Odds & Ends
• In October 2002, after West Memphis police shut down a gambling house, neighbors complained to the press. They preferred it to the building's previous tenant, a CB radio shop. The CBs interfered with the radio and television reception.
• In 2004, Johnny Cash's estate entered negotiations to prevent the song "Ring of Fire" from being used to advertise hemorrhoid cream.
• When hundreds of ironworkers interested in arena contracts showed up to a City Council meeting in April 2002, Councilman Joe Brown delivered a rousing off-the-cuff speech about the importance of labor unions in America. A lone iron worker responded, saying, "My titties just stood up. I think my titties just stood up."
• In June 2003, Maynard, the beer-drinking goat from Silky Sullivan's Beale Street bar, hosted a Goatillion and put on a tuxedo to celebrate the arrival of his little brother, CaCA. The younger goat was supposedly named in honor of Commercial Appeal sports columnist Geoff Calkins.
• Oh, the things you can buy at Family Dollar ...
• Supermodel Cindy Crawford speculating on the reaction of a patient she'd visited at St. Jude: "I'm standing over him ... as he's coming to. He's probably thinking he had some good drugs."
• In 2002, Fly on the Wall discovered that William W. Wood, who was organizing weekly patriotic rallies and prayer vigils to save Memphis' Central Library from atheists and the UrbanArt Commission, also headed an organization called the National Space Society. The NSS is dedicated to opening new frontiers "in lunar orbit, on Europa, on Mars, or a spaceport in Memphis." Because in space nobody can hear your pro-union screaming.
Studies in "Duh"
• A 2000 press release created for District Attorney Bill Gibbons titled "Fraud Alert" warned Memphians to be on the lookout for a female who was asking people for gas money in parking lots. According to the report, it was just an extremely clever ruse.
• In 2000, Channel 13 news reporter Lauri Davison ominously posed the question "Can a worn-out toothbrush also be a haven for bacteria and germs?" Dr. Wiliam Lacante answered, "If it's not cleaned properly, yes ... I mean, anything is possible."
• In 2006, Fly on the Wall presented Channel 5's Jason Miles with the Howard Hughes "Cleanliness Is Next to Craziness Award" after he took his "secret swab" into restrooms all over town and found — astonishingly enough — fecal matter.
Adventures in Overstatement
• Shortly after officials in casino-rich Tunica announced that the area’s property tax would be eliminated in the summer of 2000, Commercial Appeal correspondent Bartholomew Sullivan wrote, “Residents of Tunica will have only death to worry about.”
• WMC Channel 5 trumpeted its “Big Story” Sunday with teasers about “high tech” thieves invading Memphis. Turns out, two neighbors in Cordova had reported their garage doors mysteriously opening, which prompted a breathless three-minute story on the possibility of thieves using electronic “decoders” to open garage doors. At the end of the report, we learn that police had told the homeowners it was “unlikely” that thieves had opened their doors and that they had no reports of any such criminal activity in Memphis.
• “His appeal, it was the same thing as Elvis Presley. You saw a guy who came up from very poor beginnings achieve exactly what he wanted to do. He had charisma. He’d walk through the dance floor and you’d watch heads turn and everyone want to touch him.” — Nashville recording artist Joe Miskulin quoted by the AP on the death of “Polka King” Frankie Yankovic.
• Actress Margot Kidder told the Calgary Herald, “Satan doesn’t live in my vagina” after her production of The Vagina Monologues was picketed in Memphis. A protester had described Eve Ensler’s play as proof that Satan had arrived in Memphis. “Maybe God,” Kidder said, confirming the possibility of at least one occupant in her vagina. “But not Satan.”
By Chris Davis
Match these 20 things celebrities have told the Flyer with the stars who said it.
1) I'm not a professional black man.
2) Nine-and-three-quarter inches long. Yes, we all get tested, and my favorite actress to work with is Tabitha Stevens.
3) I'm probably not as good as I should be.
4) I think there are UFOs out there. We can't be that arrogant and naive to think we're the only ones in the universe.
5) We flat-assed changed the world.
6) Memphis was like the Wild West. Nowhere else have I dodged more razor blades thrown at my head.
7) I have seen an episode of American Idol and I could never, not in a million years, go on a show like that and have millions and millions of people judge me.
8) If it's good enough for the King, it's good enough for me.
9) Aw gee, I'm sorry I missed our interview. I went to the optometrist and he dilated my pupils, and I didn't have anybody to drive me home.
10) I can say that in my career I have been in the worst rock movie of all time.
11) I might be getting Burnsed out.
12) I was living in Hawaii and suffering from a brain concussion, and somehow I just dreamed about living on the Mississippi River.
13) I had my teeth straightened and whitened, and my nose straightened and shortened, and the bags under my eyes removed. I had really premature bags under the eyes and I thought it was debauchery, but it was fat, fat. Plain fat.
14) The answer is "No." Despite many requests over the years, I have no intention of making Graceland disappear.
15) I'm in favor of an all-lesbian volunteer army, and I think the big growth industries of the next 10 years are going to be gay divorce and tattoo removal. Those are the things I'd invest my money in.
16) Nobody — nobody — should ever be afraid to use the word "liberal."
17) We need him. There is no democracy without Rush Limbaugh.
18) I don't say to go out and do exactly what I did. ... For some people, it could cause more problems than it helps. You need to talk to a doctor first because your body could react badly.
19) [Justin Timberlake's] got about three bodyguards who are about 6'-6". ... I'm going, "Damn, what do you eat?" And this guy said, "People."
20) I've been asked to leave a lot of places ... Graceland, Hearst Castle, and the Museum of Tolerance.
A. Al Franken
B. David Copperfield
C. Phyllis Diller
D. John Waters
E. Al Green
F. Jared Fogle (Subway Jared)
G. Chris Ellis
H. David Gest
I. Isaac Hayes
J. Ron Jeremy
K. Peter Frampton
L. Jerry Mathers (The Beaver)
M. Sam Phillips
N. Woody Harrelson
P. Morgan Freeman
Q. Hulk Hogan
R. Frank Gorshin
S. Molly Ringwald
T. Phil Donahue
Answers: 1) P; 2) J; 3) S; 4) I; 5) M; 6) Q; 7) O; 8) N (about Memphis); 9) L; 10) K; 11) R (on playing George Burns, days before his death); 12) H; 13) C; 14) B; 15) D; 16) A; 17) T; 18) F; 19) E; 20) G
Things You Probably Didn’t Want To Know About the Memphis Flyer Staff
By Bianca Phillips and Michael Finger
In honor of our 20th anniversary, we’ve decided to divulge our deepest, darkest office secrets. Okay, they’re not really secrets, just funny stories about the crazy things that go on behind the scenes.
1) We can’t seem to keep soap in our restrooms. Though we’re told there’s a stockpile guarded by our trusty comptroller and keeper of supplies Dovye Perriguey, we’re all a little too lazy to actually trudge downstairs for refills. So enterprising employees simply add water to the nearly empty soap bottles, and voila: It’s a new bottle of watered-down soap. Luckily, we do keep plenty of hand sanitizer around the office. When you meet us in public, it’s okay to shake our hands.
2) Speaking of restrooms … when we’re not hard at work writing stories or selling ads, we’re complaining about the state of our restrooms. A few commonly overheard lines include: “Doesn’t anyone around here know how to flush the toilet?,” “Why does the bathroom always smell like something died?,” and, our personal favorite, “Um, who left the floater in the girls’ room?”
3) We once paid a good deal of money to bring in a corporate psychologist to assess the psychological state of our company. He met with all employees, individually and in groups. A memorable assessment: We leave too many notes (“Please don’t leave the copier jammed” or “Refill the coffeepot after you take the last cup!”) instead of actually talking to each other. We still leave those notes. (In fact, we have notes in the bathrooms reminding us to flush the toilet; see above, #2).
4) We have a pretty extensive collection of random toys perching in various places around the office. Here are the highlights: a Lance Bass Bobblehead, a set of Dallas Cowboys Russian nesting dolls, an actual piece of coal from the Titantic, a set of Dung Buddies (animal statues made from manure), a key to the city of Tuscumbia, Alabama, that doubles as a beer opener, and a talking Mayor Herenton key chain that says, “If you don’t like it here, get out. No, not you FedEx.”
5) For three years in a row, we took part in something called “Company Day” where we played paintball as a morale-building exercise. Have you ever played paintball? The balls aren’t soft and squishy. They are hard as marbles, and, fired like a bullet from a rifle, they hurt like hell, even through padded clothing. So there was no morale building. Instead, there was hostility, pent-up frustration, resentment, and pain. Lots of pain. Years later, employees still argue, “You shot me after I had surrendered!”
6) Heaven forbid the Flyer art department gets hold of an embarrassing photo of a fellow employee. Just look what they did to writer Greg Akers with a copy of his high school senior picture. These spoofs were posted all over the office one morning. The art department also gets off on Photoshopping people’s faces in strange places. Take, for example, this portrait of Flyer sales exec Chip Googe as a Chihuahua.
7) We once ran a 30-foot clothesline across the editorial and art departments in an attempt to help our copyeditors. The plan was to clip the finished layouts to this line, as we produced them, so that anybody and everybody could look at the pages and (we hoped) point out any mistakes. This never worked, because too many people were almost decapitated by the line, which had been installed neck-high.
8) Our building — an old coffee warehouse on Tennessee Street — has multiple uses. Not only does it house the Memphis Flyer, Memphis magazine, and Memphis Parent, it’s home to our publisher’s stash of overflow wine (we have an in-house wine cellar), an unused billiards room (we’re certain the pool table is missing some balls anyway), and the studio/home of photographer Larry Kuzniewski. (He’s like our Kramer from Seinfeld.) The top floor of our three-story building houses apartments. Since we’re on the second floor, we can hear when the residents above rearrange their furniture or flush their toilets (see #2).
20 Years of Fickle Fortunes
By John Branston
Contrary to widespread reports, time does not heal all wounds. Sometimes it makes them worse, or it opens new ones. In Memphis, fame and fortune are fleeting. You’re a rising star or a hero one day, with awards to prove it. And a few months or a few years later, you’re forgotten, outcast, fired, an also-ran, outta here, or they’re calling for your head on the Internet. Consider the following:
Willie Herenton was chosen by American City and County Magazine (“the voice of local government since 1909”) as the Municipal Leader of the Year in 2002.
Tommy West, head football coach at the University of Memphis, was named Coach of the Year in 2003 by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association. West was fired this week. The U of M football team averaged 41,175 fans for five home games, including 52,384 for the Louisville game, in 2004. This year’s game against East Carolina drew 4,100 fans. Gerry House was named the 1999 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. She left Memphis the next year and has not been a superintendent since.
Carol Johnson was named the 2007 Tennessee Superintendent of the Year by the Tennessee Parent Teacher Association. She left Memphis later that year for Boston, where she was named 2008 Superintendent of the Year by the National Alliance of Black School Educators.
John Calipari was named Coach of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2009 and was the Naismath Coach of the Year in 2008. In 2009, he left Memphis for Kentucky and the U of M was stripped by the NCAA of its 2007-2008 wins and championship game banner.
Don Sundquist was the Memphis Flyer’s Man of the Year for 1999 for his activism on behalf of an income tax. The former governor is now a political pariah in the Republican Party. Carol Chumney was the Tennessee Development District Association’s Legislator of the Year in 2003. After getting 35 percent of the vote in the 2007 Memphis mayoral race, she got 10 percent of the vote in the 2009 special election for interim mayor.
John Willingham got 25,656 votes in the 2003 Memphis mayoral election. In the 2009 special election, he got 437 votes. Tic Price was Coach of the Year in various conferences eight times before coming to the University of Memphis to coach the men’s basketball team in 1997. He was forced to resign in 1999. The Commercial Appeal won the Tennessee Press Association’s General Excellence Award in 2007 and 2009. If you read some Internet comments, it is headed for the grave. The Pyramid was the home of the Memphis Grizzlies through the 2003-2004 season. That year, the team went 50-32 (its best record ever), made the Playoffs, and averaged 15,188 fans at home. Hubie Brown was Coach of the Year. In 2008-2009, under Mark Iavaroni and Lionel Hollins, the team was 24-58 and averaged 12,745 fans at home games. The Pyramid has been closed since 2004.
John Ford earned more than $800,000 in consulting fees from health-care companies while he was a state senator. Today he is in prison after being convicted in two separate federal trials.