Thumbing through Twitter last night I noticed a tweet from Mr. Avengers director, Joss Whedon that read, "this THIS this." It linked to a graphic essay about the contemporary political landscape, and lessons that might be learned from Memphis. So I clicked.
Every year on this day Fly on the Wall invites readers to take a spin down scenic Union Ave. and stop in for a seven layer burrito at the Taco Bell where the other Taco Bell used to be. See, before the first Taco Bell was erected on that site, 1447 Union was home to the Taliesyn Ballroom. And on Jan 6, 1978 the original, imploding, disaster-bound Sex Pistols played one of their few U.S. dates. It was a big night in the cradle of Rock-and-Roll, a psychobilly hotbedwith itsownnotablepunkhistory.
The Pistols show was documented, a nifty, noisy listen. Crank it up in the car on this beautiful snow day and celebrate punk the way it was meant to be celebrated — with a greasy sack of cheap, mass-produced food product laden with calories and colonialism.
Last year this Taco Bell (where the other, more authentic Taco Bell used to be) was still playing canned Christmas music. Punk as hell.
2016 was a weird year for everybody. Here at Fly on the Wall, it was just another year. So, without further ado, here’s your damn recap.
PHOTO OF THE YEAR
Let's have a great big standing-O for former Tennessee state rep Curry Todd who was caught on camera stealing his opponent’s yard signs.
And in his honor, some ZZ Top. Weird Crime
• Who peed in your cornflakes? Hard to say. But a criminal investigation was opened when video surfaced on the internet of a man urinating on a conveyor belt at Memphis’ Kellogg’s factory.
• Delta Airlines flight attendant Rachel Trevor of Memphis became the Robin Hood of airplane bottle liquor sales when she was arrested for stealing approximately 1,500 itty-bitty bottles of booze from Delta and selling them on Craigslist for a buck a piece. The liquor was given an in-flight value of $12,000.
"Court is back in session!"
• If you're going down, go down swinging. Derrick Thomas, arrested in Jonesboro, Arkansas, last month for indecent exposure and "enjoying himself," decided to expose himself again — to Justice. After leave the courtroom for a drink of water, Thomas returned — running by all accounts — with his shirt off, his pants around his ankles, and his arms in the air." Court is back in session," Thomas was quoted as saying.
• LaShundra Smith, charged with indecent exposure for being partially nude on a bench at Mary Malone Elizabeth Park, told officers she was "trying to air out."
• Kasey Collins was an ordinary peeping Tom. He only makes it into this category because WMC left one very important letter out of its identifying text making him a "peeing Tom." That's a much more interesting crime.
• WTTE-TV Columbus reported on a thwarted plan to transport drugs to Memphis. A shipping clerk got suspicious and discovered a bottle of liquid codeine inside an adorable teddy bear.
• There needs to be an addendum to the old saying "Don't cry over spilled milk." Don't stab people over spilled cheese dip, especially if it's not Pancho's. Seriously people, don't do that.
An unidentified 35-year-old Memphis woman was rushed into surgery at Methodist hospital after she wrecked the car she was driving to the emergency room. She'd been stabbed by another woman, Yolanda Tucker, who, according to a police report, became unreasonably upset after the victim spilled a container of Rotel.
• Here's a mugshot of Jerry Lawler.
The rang kang spent a night in the pokey following a domestic dispute. Charges were dropped when authorities couldn't determine who the aggressor was.
• Weird Story of the Year: According to WMC Action News 5, thieves have murdered four people while attempting to steal hair weaves, "and now many Memphians say demonic spirits could be to blame." That's right folks, WMC scooped the rest of Memphis media on an important story about vanity, greed, consumer hair products, and secret doorways to realms infernal, where ancient evil lurks, waiting to swoop down and snatch a wig right off your goddamn head. Notable quote: "Whose-ever hair I was wearing on my head, that heifer had a bad omen."
• Best Worst Use of Social Media: When people are critical of your work it's always a good idea to follow the lead of WMC-TV weatherman Spencer Denton and remind all the haters there are dead children in the world, and it's sad. When Denton joined other local weather forecasters in over-hyping a winter storm that never materialized but still resulted in mass event cancellations, school closings, and business shuttering, people got angry. In response to complaints Denton dropped a post on his "Spencer Denton Meteorologist" Facebook page implying that people need to chillax and think about unrelated tragedies, like the death of 2-year-old Noah Chamberlin, an East Tennessee boy whose body was found several days after he disappeared during a hike with his grandmother. "We are already getting blasted by people about our forecast, and the event hasn't even happened yet. And some of the comments are personal attacks," Denton wrote. "Funny thing is, I really don't care. All I can think about is that little boy Noah and what he endured over the past several days. It puts things in perspective. If you get 3 to 6 inches of snow, enjoy a snow day with family and friends. If you get an inch or less, be thankful for less accidents on the roads. Whether my forecast is right or wrong, I get to go home to a little two-year-old girl tonight, for that I am truly thankful. #RIPNOAH."
• Best Worst Cover Design: University of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch has announced he wouldn't be returning for his final year of eligibility with the Memphis Tigers. Sports analysts have tapped Paxton as a likely first-round pick in this April's NFL draft. His position near the top of mock drafts has resulted in a flurry of national media attention and this picture in The Commercial Appeal.
• Best Worst Media Promo (Runner Up): No comment required.
• Best Worst Media Promotion (Winner!!!): "Memphis Most is now live." Run for the hills before it murders us all!!!
• Best Typo that Should Be An Actual Word: CHOAS!!! Remember Elvis Week 2016 when Black Lives Matters demonstrators showed up at Graceland to engage in a bit of modestly disruptive protest, police showed up in numbers sufficient to ensure there wasn't any fan base mingling, and it rained like hell? Those were the days, my friend. Or as WMC-TV put it in an alarming all-caps headline: "Elvis Week CHOAS." As in "Get CHOAS a proofreader." Gotta admit though, CHOAS is a good word for the fictional world of mayhem out TV news stations drum up by over-reporting crime without context. It's CHOAS out there!
• Best Misspelling in a Help Wanted Ad that Also Explains Everything Wrong With Contemporary Broadcast Media: The winner is WREG. They were looking for a new assistant news director able to...
• set the tone of the station's content
• put the "schizzle" into Breaking News."
• Most Important Breaking News: Thanks CA!
Weird Odds and Ends
•Weird shit you can buy: Have you been looking for the perfect toy to teach friends and family about inappropriate touching? If so, you may want to check and see if Family Dollar's still selling this T-Rex/Stegosaurus combo.
Here's how it works: The T-Rex has a yellow button where his junk should be, and he hollers whenever someone mashes it.
• Austin thought it could get away with something. Couldn't.
• Butt Plug is the New New Tumbleweave: Tumbleweaves — the lost wigs and all-too-familiar hair pieces we see blowing down the sidewalk — are so 2015. The future belongs to abandoned sex toys.
This adorable, pink butt plug was spotted in the Cooper-Young neighborhood, standing bolt upright in the middle of the street.
It raised a lot of questions. Questions like, Did it just fall out? Were words exchanged? Did somebody say, "It's not you, it's me?"
• Photo of the Year (Mississippi Edition): Remember when Hernando, Mississippi Mayor Chip (real name) Johnson told TV reporters that the nude photo he texted a girlfriend, while embarrassing, shouldn't interfere with his performance running city government? But what about everybody else's performance? Who can even think about mayor stuff when all they can think about is mayor stuff? YIKES!
I'm sure I left a bunch of stuff out. I always do, but that's what comments are for. Share your weird Mid-South, 2016.
Surely somebody on your Christmas list will appreciate Guyliner Jesus and St. Manbun. Both action figures are currently available at the Midtown Cash Saver. You can buy them separately, but obviously they'll be a lot more fun as a set. Because you can pose them and make up stories and stuff.
GuyLinerJesus: 'Sup, Bunny, what brings you to the Cash Saver this blessed day?
St. ManBun: You know, just getting some Pledge and stuff to shine my bling. You?
GuyLiner Jesus: Doubting Thomas wants to see some boob, check it out.
Isn't it just like Dollar Tree and Save-A-Lot to take the last cookie in the jar without even asking if it's okay? Judging by this CA headline, these bargain shops are up to their old pie thieving ways again. Only they're not. Binghamton is a food DESERT, and these stores will improve the area's lack of access to groceries.
Your pesky Fly on the Wall lives in a glass house. Typos and misspellings happen more and more in the fast paced world of online journalism. Some of them are just funnier than others.
Phones are buzzing in the halls of Shelby Co. government this morning because of a Facebook post shared by David Barber, Deputy Director of Finance for the Shelby County Department of Corrections. According to the accompanying status, the KKK is more American than two-term US president Barack Obama. Get ready, this story's just starting to crank up, and will probably be everywhere, shortly.
Here's the offending post from Nov. 7.
And, in case you're wondering who the guy is, it's all in his profile.
Every now and then Fly on the Wall likes to publish something "From the Morgue," which, in newspaper jargon, means an article we published some time in the past that's been filed away. But in this case the expression's especially fitting. It's late October — time to remember Memphis' original horror host Sivad. All links have been updated, so readers should be able to sample some of the movies that made Fantastic Features so fantastic.
The horror first took control of Memphis television sets at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 29, 1962. It began with a grainy clip of black-and-white film showing an ornate horse-drawn hearse moving silently through a misty stretch of Overton Park. Weird music screeched and swelled, helping to set the scene. A fanged man in a top hat and cape dismounted. His skin was creased, corpse-like. He looked over his shoulder once, then dragged a crude, wooden coffin from the back of the hearse. His white-gloved hand opened the lid, releasing a plume of thick fog and revealing the bloody logo of Fantastic Features.
"Ah. Goooood eeeevening. I am Sivad, your monster of ceremonies," the caped figure drawled, in an accent that existed nowhere else on planet Earth. Think: redneck Romanian.
"Please try and pay attention," he continued, "as we present for your enjoyment and edification, a lively one from our monumental morgue of monstrous motion pictures."
In that moment, a Mid-South television legend was born. For the next decade, Sivad, the ghoulish character created by Watson Davis, made bad puns, told painfully bad jokes, and introduced Memphians to films like Gorgo...
The Brain That Wouldn't Die...
and Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent.
Watson Davis' wisecracking monster wasn't unique. He was one of many comically inclined horror hosts who became popular regional TV personalities from the '50s through the '70s. According to John Hudgens, who directed American Scary, a documentary about the horror-host phenomenon, it all began with "Vampira," a pale-skinned gorgon immortalized by Ed Wood in his infamously incompetent film Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Although a Chicago-area host calling himself "The Swami" may have been the first costumed character regularly introducing scary movies on television, the big bang of horror hosting happened in 1954, when the wasp-wasted actress Maila Nurmi introduced her campy, Morticia Adams-inspired character on The Vampira Show, which aired in Los Angeles.
In 1957, Screen Gems released a package of 52 classic horror films from Universal studios. The "Shock Theater" package, as it was called, created an opportunity for every market to have its own horror host. "Part of that package encouraged stations to use some kind of ghoulish host," Hudgens explains. "Local television was pretty much live or had some kind of host on everything back then."
Overnight, horror hosts such as New York's "Zacherly" and Cleveland's "Ghoulardi" developed huge cult followings. "TV was different in those days," Hudgens says. "There weren't a lot of channels to choose from, and the hosts could reach a lot more people quickly. Ghoulardi was so popular that the Cleveland police actually maintained that the crime rate went down when his show was on the air, and they asked him to do more shows."
Tennessee's first horror host was "Dr. Lucifer," a dapper, eyepatch-wearing man of mystery who hit the Nashville airwaves in 1957. Since Fantastic Features didn't air until the fall of 1962, Sivad was something of a latecomer to the creep-show party. But unlike most other horror hosts, Davis didn't have a background in broadcasting. He'd been a movie promoter, working for Memphis-based Malco theaters. His Sivad character existed before he appeared on television. At live events, he combined elements of the classic spook show with an over-the-top style of event-oriented marketing called ballyhoo. So Davis' vampire, while still nameless, was already well known to local audiences before Fantastic Features premiered.
"You've got to understand, things were very different back then," Elton Holland told the Memphis Flyer in a 2010 interview. "Downtown Memphis was a hub for shopping, and going out to the movies was an event. And back then, Malco was in competition with the other downtown theaters, so when you came to see a movie, we made it special.”
To make things special Holland, Davis, and Malco vice president Dick Lightman became masters of promotion and special events. Davis and Holland were neighbors who lived in Arkansas and car-pooled into Memphis every day. During those drives, Davis would float ideas for how to promote the films coming to town.
The studios only provided movie theaters with limited marketing materials. Theater businesses had in-house art departments that created everything else. What the art department couldn't make, Davis built himself in the theater's basement. When 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea came to town, he built a giant squid so large it had to be cut in half to get it up the stairs. He constructed a huge King Kong puppet that towered over the lower seats. For the filmDinosaurus, he built a Tyrannosaurus rex that was 20 feet tall and 45 feet long. It sat in the lobby, roaring and moving its tail.
"All movies were sold through exploitation," Holland explained. "And horror movies were the best ones to exploit. ... I remember when Watson first told me he wanted to be a monster. He was thinking vaudeville. He wanted to put on a show."
Davis' plan to create a scary show wasn't original. The "spook show" was a sideshow con dating back to when 19th-century snake-oil vendors traveled the country hawking their wares. Slick-talking performers would hop from town to town promising entertainment-deprived audiences the chance to see a giant, man-eating monster, so terrible it had to be experienced to be believed. Once the tickets were sold, it was loudly announced that the monster had broken free and was on a bloody rampage. The idea was to cause panic and create a confusing cover for the performers to make off with the loot.
In the early 20th century, the spook show evolved, and traveling magicians exploited the public's growing fascination with spiritualism by conjuring ghosts and spirits. By mid-century, they developed into semi-comical "monster shows" that were almost always held in theaters. Today's "hell houses" and haunted mansions are recent permutations of the spook show.
When England's Hammer Films started producing horror movies that were, as Holland says, "a cut above," he, Davis, and Lightman took the old spook-show concept and adapted it sell movie tickets. They went to Memphis State's drama department and to the Little Theatre [now Theatre Memphis] looking for actors so they could put a monster on a flatbed truck in front of the Malco.
Davis dressed as Dracula, Holland was the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and another Malco exec played Frankenstein. The company also included a wolfman and a mad doctor.
Davis sometimes joined Lightman on inspection tours of other Malco properties. On one of those tours, the men saw an antique horse-drawn hearse for sale on the side of the road. They bought the hearse that appears in the Fantastic Features title sequence for $500. It also appeared in various monster skits and was regularly parked in front of Malco theaters to promote horror movies.
"One time we had this actor made up like a wild man," Holland said, recalling a skit that was just a little too effective. "While Watson did his spiel about the horror that was going to happen, the chained wild man broke loose and pretended like he was attacking this girl. He was going to jerk her blouse and dress off, and she had on a swimsuit underneath." One 6'-3", 300-pound, ex-military Malco employee wasn't in on the joke and thought the actor had actually gone wild. He took the chain away, wrapped it around the wild man's neck, and choked him until the two were pulled apart.
Music to Sivad to...
The proliferation of television eventually killed ballyhoo promotions and all the wild antics used to promote movies. At about that time, the studios started "going wide" with film distribution, opening the same film in many theaters at one time instead of just one theater in every region. This practice made location-specific promotions obsolete. By then, the Shock Theater package had made regional stars out of horror hosts all across the country. WHBQ approached Davis and offered him the job of "monster of ceremonies" on its Fantastic Features show. The show found an audience instantly and became so popular that a second weekly show was eventually added. Memphis viewers apparently couldn't get enough of films like Teenage Caveman...
and Mutiny in Outer Space...
Joe Bob Briggs, cable TV's schlock theater aficionado who hosted TNT's Monster Vision from 1996 to 2000, says that "corny" humor was the key to any horror host's success or failure. "Comedy and horror have only rarely been successfully mixed in film — although we have great examples like Return of the Living Dead, Briggs says. "But comedy surrounding horror on television was a winning formula from day one. In fact, it's essential. If you try to do straight hosting on horror films, the audiences will hate you."
In 1958, Dick Clark invited New York horror host Zacherly to appear on American Bandstand. "This wasn't the year for the comedians, this was the year for the spooks and the goblins and the ghosts," Clark said, introducing "Dinner With Drac," the first hit novelty song about monsters. Four years later, Bobby "Boris" Puckett took "Monster Mash" to the top of the charts. In the summer of 1963, Memphis' favorite horror host hopped on the pop-song monster bandwagon by recording the "Sivad Buries Rock and Roll/Dicky Drackeller" single.
Novelty songs such as "What Made Wyatt Earp" became a staple on Fantastic Features, and Sivad began to book shows with the King Lears, a popular Memphis garage band that influenced contemporary musicians like Greg Cartwright, who played in the Oblivians and the Compulsive Gamblers before forming the Reigning Sound. Although "Sivad Buries Rock and Roll" never charted, Goldsmith's department store hosted a promotional record-signing event, and 2,000 fans showed up to buy a copy.
In 1972, Fantastic Features was canceled. And though Davis was frequently asked to bring the character back, he never did. Horror movies were changing, becoming bloodier and more sexually explicit in a way that made them a poor fit for Sivad's family-friendly fright-fest. In 1978, Commercial Appeal reporter Joseph Shapiro unsuccessfully tried to interview Davis. He received a letter containing what he called a cryptic message: "Sivad is gone forever" is all it said.
Davis, who borrowed his name-reversing trick from Dracula, Bram Stoker's blood-sucking fiend who introduced himself as Count Alucard, died of cancer in March 2005. He was 92 years old.
* A version of this article appeared in theMemphis Flyer in 2010 —- but with out all the nifty links and embeds.
Graffiti artist and all purpose vandal Ashlyn Brax pulls his hoodie up and looks both ways before exiting his dorm room. "Shit's not right," he mutters straddling a rickety cruiser and turning its front wheel towards a derelict industrial neighborhood. "The whole point of a rock is it's an anonymous message," he complains. "It's Fist-sized and perfect for knocking out windows in buildings that need to be fixed or knocked down. But it's so much easier to identify the thrower if the rocks have Yodas and shit painted all over them."
Brax's complaint doesn't yield much in the way of public sympathy. Most sources interviewed agreed that curtailing the destruction of property is a good thing, but his is only one of numerous problems Memphians face resulting from a recent mania for painting cute, colorful, family-friendly images on rocks and hiding them in plain sight like so many tooth-breaking easter eggs. The craze has resulted in what some experts are describing as a, "severe unpainted rock crisis."
It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning and 87-year-old Tony Lancilunghi would normally be roaming the city with his rolling shopping cart in search of the city's flattest, roundest stones. Lancilunghi is a competitive stone skipper, who hadn't missed a day's practice since he was seven years old. Until last week, anyway, when the old timer says he took up whittling.
"I didn't know there was some rule about taking more than one," he spits defiantly. "I saw some of them were painted up to look like the California Raisins, but I don't give two hoots about any of that hippity-hop mess." So Lancilunghi, who's won several regional titles, and is ranked in the top 500 stone skippers worldwide took a bucket of painted stones to the lake at Shelby Farms where he swears they "skipped even better than an unpainted rock." Shortly thereafter the internet shaming campaign began.
"People shouldn't take more than one painted rock per person," one commenter said while someone else complained, "That old man drowned my babies," and another responded, "#rocklivesmatter."
A rock painter using the handle Thanksy is furious: "It's bad enough that artists are expected to practically give our work away for free as it is, now we put so much time and effort into making common gravel look like the live action cast of Scooby Doo and some jackass just comes along and dumps them in the river? Sad."
Noted regional geologist Bif Berman says he's all about civic pride, unity, and getting outside and looking at rocks, but he's not a fan of the latest fad. "To paint the rock suggests there was something wrong or incomplete about this beautiful piece of sculpture Mother Nature made without spending a dime at Hobby Lobby.
"Imagine the public outcry," Berman concludes, "If some group started painting Sponge Bob on stray dogs or shaving the local squirrel population. Rocks have dignity too. Only they express it over eons, in a language most Americans don't speak."
There needs to be an addendum to the old saying, "Don't cry over spilled milk." Don't stab people over spilled cheese dip, especially if it's not Pancho's.
Seriously, don't do that.
A 35-year-old Memphis woman was rushed into surgery at Methodist hospital this morning after she wrecked a car she was driving to the emergency room. She'd been stabbed by another woman who, according to reports, became unreasonably upset after the victim spilled a container of Rotel the two women were sharing with an unidentified male.
I've got a mini-feature in this week's issue of The Memphis Flyer about artists Robin Salant and Terance Brown who are turning the abandoned building at 82 S. Main into an interactive, multi-story art installation. Instead of repeating that story here, I'll link it as soon as it comes on line. (LINK) But here's the short version.
Salant and Brown want to give the empty building a pulse. More than that, they want that pulse to respond to external stimulus, like an actual human heartbeat.
It's great to watch how projects like "Urban Meridians" and Salant's previous solar-powered work at Sears Crosstown, can capture imaginations and change the way people think about and respond to big, empty spaces. It's also fun going into old buildings before they're revitalized, just to see what's left over from its previous lives.
This Friday night at 8:30 Salant and Brown will flip the switch on "Urban Meridians," and 82 S. Main will start working hard to get your attention by lighting up, throbbing with light, and mysteriously knocking against its own ground floor windows (thanks to industrial fans and ball-pit balls). In the meantime, here are a handful of images from inside one of Main Street's empty containers
Did he hit her? Did she kick him in the groin? And who put the pistol on the counter?
Jerry Lawler, the 66-year-old King of Memphis wrasslin' has been suspended indefinitely from the WWE, pending the outcome of a domestic assault arrest. Lawler and his 27-year-old fiancee Lauryn McBride were both taken into custody early Friday morning following a violent encounter at Lawler's East Memphis residence.
Lawler, whose feud with comedian Andy Kaufman helped to popularize professional sports entertainment — AKA wrasslin' — recently opened a club on Beale Street. His likeness — or something like his likeness — also appears on Overton Square, as a photo opportunity for visitors.
King of Overton Square, Ma!
Lawler was arrested once before for bad behavior following a traffic violation.