Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Kickstarting a Documentary About the Memphis Country Blues Society

Or, The Best Rolling Stones Concert that Never Happened

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2016 at 11:23 AM

  • Dang

Why does there need to be a documentary about the Memphis Country Blues Society, and the Country Blues Festivals of 1967, ‘68, and ‘69? So director Augusta Palmer can get local treasure Jimmy Crosthwait to tell stories like this one about scolding the Rolling Stones, convincing them to play in Memphis for free, and how the whole thing gets screwed up in the end. That's why.

Jimmy Crosthwait: 
See, the Rolling Stones had recorded Reverend Robert Wilkins song, “Prodigal Son” without giving him credit as a writer. Well, at some point, while organizing the ‘69 festival, [Insect Trust Guitarist] Bill Barth and Chris Wimmer went over to Reverend Wilkins’ house and was able to get in touch with the Rolling Stones from Wilkins’ phone. I think they probably called Stanley Booth who was writing his story on the stones, “Dance with the Devil.” And that’s how they got the number. So, in the end they're talking to Mick Jagger who's apologizing, and wanting to make it all right with the reverend Robert Wilkins. Well, Barth asks, “How would you like to play the ‘69 Memphis Country Blues Festival?” And they said, “Fine." If the city can come up with some plane tickets, and put them up, they’d be more than happy to do that gratis. So then they asked the Reverend Robert Wilkins if he would like to talk to Mick Jagger. And Robert, he says, “No, you tell that boy I'll talk to him in person.” 

Money for plane tickets and lodging never materialized so the concert never happened. But even if it had, a Stones appearance would have just been icing on a big, bluesy cake.

The first Memphis Country Blues festival was assembled with almost no money. According to legend it was kickstarted with $50 from Jim Dickinson’s paycheck and a chunk of hashish that ranges from baseball to softball size depending on who’s telling the story.

“I think all the old blues players were paid money, but everybody got paid in red Lebanese hash,” Crosthwait confirms. Barth, he says, wanted to make sure everybody was happy with their compensation.

The festival showcased artists like Slim Harpo, Bukka White, Fred McDowell, Moloch, Johnny Winter, Joe Callicott, Furry Lewis, Albert King and Canned Heat. It attracted huge crowds and was the subject of a 2-hour PBS special hosted by Steve Allen in ‘69.

“Somebody told me [Last Train to Memphis/Sweet Soul Music author] Peter Guralnick and his brother drove in from Philadelphia in a VW bus. That the ‘69 festival really ignited the spark of his love for Memphis music. Robert Gordon shared the clip of Guralnick in my trailer. I didn't shoot that, but hope to interview him.

“I feel like all these people involved in the festival were really seekers,” Palmer says. “Some of that was just following along with the party, of course. It was a very psychedelic time and the tendency is to think that's all just about having a great time and getting really messed up. But I think there was also the sense that they were really seeing the world in a new way and trying to remake the world.”

Palmer tells the story of young white musicians going to older black artists for mentorship. Crosthwait illustrates the point by recalling the 1968 festival, which was held in what is now the Levitt Shell on July 20, 3-months after Martin Luther King was assassinated at the nearby Lorraine Motel.

“We had a complete roster of black and white musicians, and a complete audience of black-and-white people there at the show,” Crosthwait says. Nationally there was division and unrest, but not at the Memphis Country Blues Festival. “I didn't really think about it until until years later. In its own way, that was a very special event, and an interesting unification of black and white participants on both sides of the stage.”

“[The Shell] was a place to create this community that hadn't really existed before,” Palmer says. “It still feels aspirational to have people of all races together celebrating American culture. It happens sometimes, but it doesn't happen all the time.”

If you’re interested in the Memphis Country Blues Society you can read more in this week’s Memphis Flyer cover story. The Levitt Shell has been given another extraordinary (and necessary) facelift. Instead of just cataloging all the fantastic improvements I wanted to present them on the context of an amazing cultural resource that we almost lost more than once. Not to take anything away from the Levitt Foundation — the heroic cavalry of this story. But the Shell’s decline is closely related to a story of shifting cultural attitudes, and we owe a lot to folks who kept it standing when others wanted to turn it into a parking lot.

Also, if you’d also like to help Palmer make her documentary about the Memphis Country Blues Festival, there’s still time to donate to her Kickstarter campaign.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

WMC Putting Hair Extensions Under the Microscope —- Science, Y'all!!!

Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God!!!

Posted By on Tue, May 17, 2016 at 2:56 PM

I hope they find tiny microscopic demons. 

But seriously, look. 

You know what else is unbeWEAVEable? Spell check.
  • You know what else is unbeWEAVEable? Spell check.
Guess we'll have to wait until tonight to find out if they've discovered ectoplasm. So far WMC has only posted a teaser video of this woman in a lab coat explaining how, "Hair has different thicknesses you can see with the "nekkid eye." 

And something about "Fish Eyes." Ew.
"Nekkid Eye." It's a solid band name if you're looking.
  • "Nekkid Eye." It's a solid band name if you're looking.
Looks like this one's going to be a two-parter with installments at 5 and 10. 

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Remembering Rufus Thomas and Prince at the New Daisy

Thank you for a funky time.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 2:39 PM

Prince, not at the New Daisy
  • Prince, not at the New Daisy
Pictures or it didn't happen. Isn't that what they say these days? But mobile phones didn't have cameras in 1997. And even if they did have cameras back then, I didn't own a mobile, and wouldn't for another five years. I didn't own a camera either, and the phone I answered that sweaty August morning was attached to the wall of my townhouse in the Greenlaw neighborhood, which was three years away from its rechristening as Uptown. My friend Kelly was calling because she had news she thought I'd want to know. 

"PRINCE IS PLAYING A SECRET CONCERT AT THE NEW DAISY TONIGHT OMG!," she said. Well, she didn't say "OMG." Nobody said OMG back then. But that was the gist.

Kelly didn't have details. She didn't know when it would happen, or how much it would cost. She wasn't  100% sure it was even happening, or if Prince was really playing a second show or just hanging out while someone else played. But she was 99% sure something involving Prince was happening, which was good enough for me since he was definitely playing a concert at the Bass Pro Shop formerly known as the Pyramid, and the last time Kelly was 99% sure about something the two of us went to the Peabody Hotel, called the front desk from a pay phone, asked for Tom Waits' room, and Tom answered. So, as far as I was concerned, Prince was absolutely playing the New Daisy at some point in the next 24-hours, and I was going to go stand in front of the theater so I could be the first person in the door. There was only one problem: My mom was in town for a rare visit. 

Time for an aside: There will be plenty of tributes in the days and weeks to come, where people attest to the genius of Prince Rodgers Nelson, who changed ideas about music, sex, and masculinity every bit as much David Bowie, and brought race, and sonic segregation to the mix. I'm not going to do that here, because if you're reading this, you already know. But "Sexy Motherfucker," was playing on the jukebox at Wolf's Corner (now American Apparel) the night the 500 lb woman fell down. She'd been having a good time (like the rest of us) and shaking that ass (like the rest of us), and then that ass shook (and cleared) the dance floor. This is that kind of story. 

"Go," my mom said, without hesitation or even a hint of mom guilt. She already had a 20-dollar bill rolled up, and was sneaking it in my hand. See, my mom stalked Bob Dylan in New York in the 1960's. She says she wasn't stalking anybody, she just knew all the coffee houses where Dylan hung out to stare at his boots, and sometimes she'd go stare at him. I say "semantics." Either way, when it comes to musically cool moms, she makes Starlord's look like a poser. She grew up in Motown, collected records, and met musicians. She's got stories about Freddy and the Dreamers and introduced me to the Nashville Teens and tons of great garage bands. When other moms were using the TV as a baby sitter, she gave me a stack of Federal singles and a record player and didn't say, "sit still." Now she was giving me Prince — and a little spending money just in case I needed something. "Here you go, honey. Have a good time."

All that remains is the memory of a grin so big it threatened to crack my face. And a similar memory of so many other people wearing the same dopy expression.
And so it came to pass, my wife Charlotte, (who was still my girlfriend Charlotte) and I, left mom at home and headed toward Beale St. where we stood and waited for hours for something that might not happen. We weren't the first to arrive, but we were among the first. We certainly weren't the last, and over the course of the day the crowd outside the Daisy swelled into a mob. Then the mob grew into an impatient crush, pushing at times against the theater doors. It was pretty clear everybody wasn't getting in.

I'd never "camped out" for tickets before. But this was different. It was important. Charlotte and I had both grown up in small towns in the 1980's, without a lot of access to any new music other than what was being played on increasingly corporate radio stations. It's almost impossible to explain to anybody who's grown up with the internet, and instant access to everything, just how fresh the opening guitar lick of "When Doves Cry" sounded, as it squalled through the speakers of my cheap SoundDesign boom box. 

Lots of songs have stopped me in my tracks. But only twice in my life has a new song I heard on a top 40 radio station made me stop everything I was doing and give it my full attention. "When Doves Cry," is the least interesting story, but it's the only one I'm telling. I was in my bedroom doing homework when it played on KQ101, a station out of Russellville, KY. The other song was, "Little Red Corvette."

It was late when the line outside the New Daisy finally started moving.  I don't remember what time it was, but the sun was down. People who were tired of standing cheered because it was really happening. We were all about to see Prince tear a club to pieces.

  • Rufus
Words like "magic" are overused, but there was alchemy involved in what happened next. Miracles were wrought. Wearing shiny lavender jammies Prince owned the stage, running through songs like "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker," "Baby I'm a Star," and "1999." He covered James Brown, Parliament, and the Staples singers. The highlight of the show, however, was when Prince — always the biggest star in the room— introduced his special guest: 80-year-old Stax royalty, Rufus Thomas, who made his supremely groovy appearance in shorts and knee socks. Then the unflappable Purple one proceeded to nerd the hell out, saying he didn't want his time on stage with Rufus to end.

There was conflict too. And drama! Thomas, who was grooving along with the band, didn't seem to be clear as to what was expected from him. When Prince encouraged him to cut loose and freestyle, he balked: "Oh no." There was a back and forth. Something was said about "nursery rhymes," and then, with increasing confidence, the two men started improvising together. I wish I could tell you what was said and sung, but the details have slipped (or were possibly sipped) away. All that remains is the memory of a grin so big it threatened to crack my face. And a similar memory of so many other people wearing the same dopy expression.
So, about "
Caption story: I was not quite 16 when Purple Rain hit movie theaters. That meant I was unable to see an R-rated film without my parents. So I bought a ticket for Meatballs 2 and snuck in. To this day I've still never seen Meatballs 2.
  • Caption story: I was not quite 16 when Purple Rain hit movie theaters. That meant I was unable to see an R-rated film without my parents. So I bought a ticket for Meatballs 2 and snuck in. To this day I've still never seen Meatballs 2.
Little Red Corvette." I heard it for the first time on my first ever "parking" date with an older woman (she was 16). Now that sounds like a lie because "Little Red Corvette" is a song about  riding around and "parking" with an experienced (ahem) driver. This isn't a teen bragging story though, because nothing happened. Some kissing almost happened, I guess, but before it could really happen I turned up the radio, and said I wanted to listen. To the whole song. In silence. And that's when I learned  you're not supposed to ignore your date, especially if she has the drivers license and the car. Cue Floyd Cramer.

I really wasn't going to tell the parking story because it sounds too perfect to be true. But I needed a way to wrap this memory up, and sometimes the universe gives you weird little gifts. Sometimes it's "Little Red Corvette" on a first date. Sometimes you find yourself front and center for something amazing nobody else will ever get to see. Like the night the 500 lb woman fell down while dancing to the jukebox at Wolf's Corner. Or the time Prince and Rufus Thomas got funky together on Beale St.

I've got no pictures, but I swear to God, Wendy, and Lisa too, it happened. You'll just have to believe me, and and the few hundred other people lucky enough to be there. 

And that's really all I have to say about that. Goodnight, sweet Prince. Rest in Purple. And if you think about it, say hey to Rufus.  

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Funny or Die Makes Tennessee's Anti-Gay Tourism Commercial

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 10:25 AM

  • BOOM!
Funny or Die has responded to a raft of anti-gay legislation sweeping through through the South by overdubbing actual tourism commercials with the real message these states are sending to tourists, business interests, and pretty much everybody.

So welcome to Tennessee where, "You can ride a horse without worrying a gay guy ls looking at your butt," and "Tiptoe across humanity to relive a time when people were unequal."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Former Memphian David Gest is Dead at 62

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 12:42 PM

David Gest is dead. The American producer, and the former Mr. Liza Minnelli who became a British reality TV star, was found dead Tuesday morning in his room at the Four Seasons hotel in Canary Wharf, London. He was 62.

Gest is one of those special people who is primarily famous for being famous. He had been friends with Michael Jackson, and was still technically married to Liza when he took up residence not a stone's throw from the Flyer's Tennessee St. offices. Before jumping across the pond to try his hand at shows like "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" Guest lived in Memphis' South Bluffs community, and was often seen puttering about Downtown, or chowing down on fried chicken at Gus's. He could also be seen in Midtown, East Memphis, and other parts of the city where, in spite of a professed desire for anonymity, his face was blown up larger than life, and split into two halves on billboards promoting the man and his various initiatives.  

On November 20, 2006, the Flyer received a transcontinental phone call from the London Sun, a daily Rupert-Murdoch-owned tabloid that was looking to hire a fearless reporter who could get to the bottom of a hot story that was taking Europe by storm. Longtime Flyer columnist and reporter John Branston took the call but not the job. According to a blog post Branston wrote later that same morning, the Sun wanted someone to visit Gest's house to confirm a story he'd shared with the British media about a maid he kept on staff in Memphis named "Vagina Semen" — a name that was later revised to the slightly less graphic "Vaginika Semen." The Sun needed confirmation.

When reality TV gets real.
  • When reality TV gets real.
"We are so NOT making this up," Branston wrote. "Stay tuned."

Memphis has known its share of eccentrics, but few have been more wondered about than Gest, who upon growing weary of his life in big cities (and the tabloids), tried to escape all the notoriety by moving to our sleepy little river town where he fancied buying, "a very small, intimate luxury hotel with a ballroom on the top of it," but never did. 

In 2004, after weeks of trying to score an interview for an article about him and a charitable event he was planning, Gest told me to meet him at the Peabody Hotel. He kept me waiting for an uncomfortably long time, but he did show up eventually, and we chatted over a plate of batter-fried veggies and cheese.

Here's the original Q&A from Dec. 3, 2004.

The Two Faces of David Gest

"There's another David Gest, and I'd really like to meet him. The one you read about is fascinating, wild, weird, and wonderful, and I don't really think of myself in any of those ways. I never intended to be a personality. I went for years [behind the scenes] as a producer. Then [I produced] Michael Jackson's 30th Anniversary] special. That's when I fell in love and everything changed. Things changed after my wedding and after my life with Liza."

— David Gest, at The Peabody, November 29, 2004

He's on a diet and he's had cosmetic surgery. He's good friends with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson (who has had cosmetic surgery, is probably not on a diet, but has other troubles with which to contend). He's married to Liza Minnelli (whose diets, surgeries, and other troubles are well-known), but they are separated and suing one another. He says she got raging drunk and beat him to the point of disability. She says he swindled her knock-kneed.

These are the things you already know about music producer David Gest, if you know anything about him at all. And since these stories have been blown out in the supermarket rags and on tabloid TV, there's really no point in repeating any of it, now is there?

Gest lives in Memphis now, on the south side of downtown near the river. And he wants to make sure that every Memphian who is hungry, cold, old, infirm, lonely, or down on his luck has a nice dinner waiting for them at various Memphis restaurants on Christmas Day. He's promised participating restaurants money up front and is willing to fund it out of his own pockets. But he'd prefer to pay for the whole shebang by way of a star-studded shindig at the Cannon Center: David Gest's All-Star Holiday Extravaganza.

"So I'm only bringing 40 or 50 artists to town," Gest says, countering criticisms that many of the celebrities he's used to promote the event won't be attending. "Who else is bringing four?"

And who else is offering a free Christmas dinner to anybody who shows up and says "I'm David's Gest" at Corky's, Gus', Willie Moore's, the High Point Café, Westy's, Precious Cargo, Neely's, or Ray's? Whether you love to hate him or hate to love him, David Gest is in the house. He's roaming downtown Memphis, performing random acts of kindness, offering up the moon and determined to deliver some stars.

Flyer: Where were you and what were you doing when it occurred to you that you would be moving to Memphis?

David Gest: I was living in Hawaii and suffering from a brain concussion, and somehow I just dreamed about living on the Mississippi River. I always had an affinity for Memphis. It was something that I felt like I needed at this time in my life — to be away from the paparazzi and not to be someone who's always in the tabloids. I wanted to buy a home that was facing the river, and I did. In my life I've learned you've got to go with your gut. I wanted to live in the South. I felt that I could go to Memphis and make records and do things. I can always fly to L.A. or to New York. And I like living in a small town. It agrees with me.

But what was the specific allure of Memphis?

I was — I think — 17 and I was a journalist when I first came here. It was 1971, and I came to Memphis for a rock-and-roll writers' convention. Everybody got to go to Stax and to Hi Studios. There was a big reception at the Holiday Inn Rivermont, which was the hotel back then. You'd see Rufus Thomas walking around in hot-pants promoting "The Funky Chicken." You'd see all the great Memphis artists there. And all of this had a really strong effect on me, so I kept coming back. About two years later, I was offered the job of national public relations director for London Records. I was supposed to be 21, but I'd just turned 19. I lied about my age. I had a thick, thick Afro that went down to my butt and a moustache and a beard, so I looked older. You know when you're a kid you always want to look older. Then you get old and you want to look much younger. When you get to my age — which is 51 — you start to go, Unh-unh.

That was when you started doing PR for Al Green.

Yes, I did public relations and career guidance for Al Green. [He] was the biggest thing at the time. I did the publicity campaign for [Ann Peebles' hit] "I Can't Stand the Rain." You know, I was the one who had John Lennon come to the Troubadour [an L.A. club where Peebles was performing] on the night he wore the Kotex on his forehead. He was really drunk, and he was screaming, "Annie, baby, I love you! Annie, baby, I wanna, I wanna " And then he asked the waitress, "Do you know who I am?" And she said, "You're an asshole with a Kotex on your forehead." They kicked him out of the Troubadour that night. But he loved "I Can't Stand the Rain." It was his favorite record.

How often were you in Memphis back then?

I'd be here every three to four months. I'd fly in and work with Quiet Elegance, or maybe Ace Cannon, and others. I gave a party in 1977. It was called "Moonlight on the Mississippi in Memphis." It was a party on a riverboat for the Doobie Brothers. Jerry Lee Lewis was there and Rufus Thomas, Ann Peebles, Carla Thomas, the Memphis Horns. It seemed like everybody was on that boat, and it was a jam all night.

Is it true that you recently gave an elderly woman who was shopping at the MIFA thrift store $100 to buy a coat?

Yes. I loved this lady's face. She was 70 or 80. The sweetest little woman you've ever seen. She came up to me and she said, "I love you." And I said, "Well, I love you." She'd seen me on Larry King a few times, and she said, "I think it's wonderful what you're doing for the community." And so I asked her what she was doing, and she said, "I'm buying a coat." I said, "Let me buy you a coat." I went in with her to shop, but she couldn't find the right coat, so I said, "Here's a hundred dollars. Go buy yourself something." She was sweet. I have no idea what her name was.

When you moved to Memphis did you know that you would be producing a celebrity gala and trying to provide Christmas dinner for 100,000 disadvantaged people?

No. In fact, when I moved here, I'd decided that I really wasn't well enough to start working again. Then one day I saw this man on the street and he said he had no food and he needed $7 for shelter. He said, "I've got no place to go not even for Christmas." I asked, "What do you do on Christmas?" and he said, "I beg for food."

I thought, I'm going to put on a show. I'll call my friends and put together a concert so that on that one day a year people can eat for free. [Even with the benefit concert] it's probably going to cost me money to feed all of these people. I'll underwrite it. What's important is seeing results.

Is Memphis now your home or is it just a pit-stop?

Home. I'm going to buy a hotel. I'm in the process of buying a property and building a very small, intimate luxury hotel with a ballroom on the top of it. It's something I want to do with some of my friends. With all these artists coming in because of the FedExForum, there's a need for something like that here.

Have Memphians encouraged your plans to feed 100,000 people on Christmas, or have they been cynical?

A little bit of both. Some people are jealous. Some people would like to see me not succeed. But I will succeed regardless of any obstacles. I will thrive. People can say what they want, but the doubters are going to see this happen in Memphis.

There was recently news that many of the artists scheduled to perform at the benefit concert wouldn't actually attend. How many have confirmed?

Tons have confirmed. It's going to be phenomenal. We're going to have the full band from Michael Jackson's 30th Anniversary special. And to give you some idea [of what's in store], Kim Weston, who had a hit with "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)" in the '60s is going to sing that song with the Doobie Brothers who also had a hit with it in the '70s. They are going to be accompanied by a 200-member gospel choir. It's really going to be phenomenal."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Vintage Radio Ad for Green Beetle & Frank's Liquor Store: "Old Crow Boogie"

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 3:31 PM

"Now looka-here, here's what you got to do. Do me this personal little favor. Stop by Frank's cut-rate liquor store, and get you a fifth of Old Crow, and go right next door to The Green Beetle, sit down and relax yourself, take plenty of time, and drink that fifth of Old Crow."

These vintage radio spots from the days before liquor-by-the-drink was legal in Memphis, aren't newly discovered. But they're new to me so I thought I'd share.
Both encourage folks to visit a jumping little joint called the Green Beetle, which is still going strong on South Main. 

While visiting Memphis in the 1970's musician and record collector Walter Salwitz found an acetate recording labeled, "The Old Crow Boogie" in a thrift store. It only cost a dime so he bought it and took it home but didn't listen to it for years. When he finally gave the disc a spin he was inspired and both recordings are included on Shake That Mess, a 1999 CD released by Salwitz's band the Dynatones

The radio spot embedded above appeared at the end of "Memphis Women & Fried Chicken."

A second spot, "Green Beetle Lounge," got its own track. And for good reasons too. Apparently the Beetle jumped so hard it could ruin your career as a preacher!


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Monday, April 4, 2016

Comedy is Hard: The Night I Attempted Stand-Up at the P&H Cafe

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 at 4:30 AM

Did you know I'm "Eskimo Brothers" with Patton Oswalt? Well, comedy "Eskimo Brothers" anyway. It's true, see?


Go ahead, be jealous. 

I spent about a month working on this week's cover story about Memphis' emerging comedy scene. I visited a lot of shows and open mics, and talked to a lot of comics. And then, one terrifying Thursday night at the P&H Cafe, I even attempted a stand-up set. All I can say about the experience is this: I've been an actor, an emcee, a TV personality, a performance artist, a public speaker, and a honky tonk singer, but never in all my years on stage and in front of cameras, has my heart pounded harder than it did that night. That's what I get for wanting to know what it feels like to stand in the glaring spotlight, trying to make jaded Memphians laugh.

Tommy Oler, who hosts open mic at the P&H tried to warn me off. He said I should maybe try Dru's or RockHouse Live first, and work my way up.  "P&H is a monster for new comics," he said. "It's actually the biggest and best open mic in the state, but it's also the meanest. I know cause I've been to, and done every one."

Actual comic Kyle Kordsmeier working out at the P&H.
  • Actual comic Kyle Kordsmeier working out at the P&H.

P&H audiences don't really turn on you— or at least the ones I've experienced don't. They just turn to one another and start talking. When a comic is dying on stage the room gets loud with chatter. I told Tommy I didn't think I had time to develop a set and hone it. I just wanted to go up cold for 5-minutes, with no prepared material, and the tougher the room, the better. Reluctantly, like I might be marching off to slaughter, Tommy put me on the list right behind Benny Elbows, and just in front of Richard Douglas Jones— two quality comics. Talk about a recipe for a shit sandwich. I wanted to be funny, of course, but this was the kind of research where flopping big could be every bit as edifying. And boy was I set up to flop.

There's nothing scarier than knowing that you're on in 5-minutes, and you've got nothing prepared. I figured it was probably best to tell true-ish stories and I hoped I'd seen enough standup over the years to know how to introduce and frame the material. 

"And now, I'd like to introduce Memphis Flyer writer Chris Davis," Tommy said. Clapping happened, and the pressure was on.

"So I received a letter just a couple of days ago," I said. "A reader wanted to know how many blowjobs I have to give my bosses every week just to keep my job."


"Have to?"


"That's more of a perk than an obligation, isn't it? I like my performance reviews. It beats making up a bunch of bullshit about where I see myself in the next five years, don't you think?"


That part went well, so I decided to stick with work stories for a while. I talked about the Elton John impersonator I'd spoken to earlier that week. And about the person impersonating the Elton John impersonator. When I ran out of work stories I talked a bit about the time in my life where it seemed like I couldn't go anywhere without discovering a dildo of unknown origin: "A lot of people find a dildo of unknown origin and are like, 'EEEWWWWWWWW!' I'm like, 'I need to show this to somebody!'"

Not everything got a big laugh, but nothing really bombed either, and a couple of comics even gave me the business afterward, swearing it couldn't have been my first set, and encouraging me to keep it up. The collegiality felt good, but I was done.

Yeah, it's fun being funny. When you're in the middle of a room and everybody's doubled up because of something you just said, the laughter kicks like a drug. And when the laughter's gone your cells get junk sick and crave more. It's easy to see how people get hooked on the stuff, which is one reason why it's probably best to leave funny business to the professionals. Besides, now that Patton Oswalt's consummated the relationship by liking one of my Tweets, I can die comically satisfied. 


And speaking of professionals, it's Memphis Comedy Festival weekend. Go see some. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Is the RedBall a Veiled Comment on Mass Surveillance? (Probably Not)

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 1:26 PM

  • Kurt Pershke, RedBall Project in Paris
  • The RedBall in Paris

The Brooks Museum of Art announced this week that as a part of its centennial celebration, it is bringing artist Kurt Perschke’s “RedBall Project” to Memphis. The “RedBall Project” is a temporary and site-specific installation piece that involves the placement of a giant, inflatable red ball at various significant points around town. The locations where the Ball will be placed are determined by Perschke, who spends time biking, walking and otherwise exploring the city in the months before the Ball is placed.

The Ball’s placement in other cities has looked loosely to be the work of some toddler-like deity: balanced at the edge of bridges, inflated in doorways, shoved beneath underpasses. It’s funny and unsettling without being too unsettling. It says, “Hello, this is an international city where inexplicable art stuff happens.” It’s the kind of thing Memphians will remember years out: “Ah yes,” we’ll murmur to our cyborg grandchildren, “2016… the year that we were visited by the Ball.” Here are some pictures of the “RedBall” in other cities, so you can get the idea.

In short: the Ball will be fun. The Ball will be different. The Ball should (but will probably not be) placed directly on top of the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, like a bloated clown nose. The Ball will introduce temporary and site-specific art to Memphis, and it will do it with cosmopolitan style. We are good with the Ball. But will the Ball be a veiled comment on mass surveillance? Let’s discuss.

A hypothetical situation: It’s a sunny midsummer day in Memphis. You’re walking down the street, drinking an iced latte, when you notice that your favorite intersection has been visited by a massive red ball. You stop drinking your latte, mid-sip. You feel suddenly more aware of yourself, of your puny human size, of how zoned-out and unquestioning you were moments before. The RedBall has seized your attention, changed your relationship to the corner and how your body feels as you approach the corner.
You move closer. The RedBall stays in its position. Maybe you put a hand out and feel its rubbery redness. But you can’t move it. It’s really heavy. So you circumnavigate. Your latte-infused commute has been effectively changed, forever. Meanwhile, the Ball is mute, unchanging, super-bright in its super-occupation of public space.


This is a weird experience, huh? Or maybe it is not so weird, because it triggers something in your brain. It triggers the memory of the other thing that was recently installed on your favorite corner: that blinking, blue camera box that provides the Memphis Police Department with 360-degree surveillance of your block. Operation Blue CRUSH, as the camera boxes are called, also made you check yourself in public space. The camera established a ball-shaped zone of spherical surveillance that, while invisible, is very much palpable.

Before you come at me with accusations like, “Oh, what, are chemtrails real too?”, ask yourself: What is the point in a big, red, ball? Our public art could conceivably be anything. It need not be static or silent. It need not be immobile or durable. It could ask things of us. It could tell a story. But a red ball does none of those things. A red ball is just a silent presence — an elephant in the proverbial “room” of the commons.

Is the “RedBall” a comment on the normalization of mass surveillance? Probably not. But will the way we meet it be more normal because Memphians are used to large and inexplicable presences in our neighborhoods?? It’s possible. Whether or not it is intended (and, let’s be real, it’s not), the fact is that in its red and spherical reticence, the Ball is like surveillance: whether or not it watches us is beside the point. The point is that it makes us watch ourselves more closely. Now excuse me while I go get a latte.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Questions Raised By Billy Joel's "Piano Man"

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 1:43 PM

What is Billy Joel pointing at?
  • What is Billy Joel pointing at?
Billy Joel is making a rare Memphis appearance next week. And, as Memphis prepares for the wave of Billymania sure to sweep through the ranks of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who are really into him, we take time to reflect on Joel’s signature song, Piano Man. The iconic tune is filled with enigmas and mysteries. And perhaps riddles. The point is, we have the questions. Perhaps you have the answers.

1. How does one make love to a tonic and gin? Or any other beverage?

2. Who has ever used the phrase “I knew it complete.”

3. When the old man says he knew the song when he wore a younger man’s clothes, does he simply mean he knew it when he was younger, or did he murder some guy, steal his clothes, and sing a sad and sweet song? Why does the old man talk in this affected manner?

4.Is John a good bartender? He doles out free drinks, which can’t be good for business, right?

5. Is John a good actor? Could he, indeed, be a movie star? Has he tried acting? Or does he just think that, on the strength of his ability to quickly light cigarettes and tell jokes he could be a movie star? Even if he can’t get out of that place (for whatever reason, perhaps this is an indictment of the nation’s refusal to adopt a country-wide rail system), he could try acting at some level, don’t you think? Maybe take a class.

6. What kind of politics is the waitress practicing? Is she Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or perhaps Tea Party? Should she be getting political in a bar? It seems a dangerous tactic as she shouldn’t want to offend a potential tipper.

7. Why are the businessmen getting stoned in the bar? Drunk, sure. But stoned? This seems legally ill advised, unless the bar is in Amsterdam. Or Colorado.

Who is sharing a drink called loneliness. Is it just the businessmen? Or is the waitress also somehow involved? Is that wise? And is it actually better than drinking alone? Depends on the other businessmen, I suppose.

9. What the hell is a real estate novelist? Does real estate novelling actually eat up so much time that you can’t find a wife? I think Paul just didn’t really want one and uses that as an excuse.

10. Which would explain why he’s talking to Davy, who conveniently for rhyming purposes, is in the Navy.

11. I understand why the microphone smells like a beer. As we’ve established, John gives Bill free beers, so it’s no wonder that the mic smells of free beer. But how does a piano sound like a carnival? Is he just playing that clown song over and over again? You know the one. They always play it at circuses. If that’s the case, I do not understand why the bar retains Bill. Unless it is a clown bar. Which would be awesome, but unlikely, as real estate novelists hate clowns.

12. Is it appropriate to tip musicians with bread? Maybe it is in a clown bar.

13. When the crowd asks Bill “Man, what are you doing here?” is it because he keeps playing that carnival song, and is not actually hired by the bar? If so, John really shouldn’t give him free drinks.

Joey Hack is a member of the Wiseguys Improv troupe and a kind of regular contributor to Fly on the Wall.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Memphis Heat Soundtrack is Hot Stuff

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 5:33 PM


I suppose the Flyer's other Chrises — film editor McCoy and music editor Shaw — will be writing about this in the days and weeks to come. But since FOTW works the local wrestling beat, it seemed appropriate to break the news here. The creative team behind Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin' is celebrating the documentary's 5-year anniversary with a March 24th screening at MALCO's Cinema Paradiso that doubles as an official release party for the film's previously unavailable soundtrack. Serious vinyl nerds will want to know that the handsome blood red platter was the first disc cut on Phillips Recording's newly refurbished record lathe. But that's just trivia. The Doug Easley-produced tracks — often introduced with sound bytes from the movie — are all pretty fantastic too.

The record opens with a clip of Superstar Bill Dundee explaining the meaning of heat: "Heat is when they don't like ya." The Superstar's definition transitions perfectly into "Black Knight," a full throttle scorcher by River City Tanlines. It's an excellent start to a disc as offbeat and entertaining as the film that inspired it.  

"Black Knight," is also the only track on the entire record that wasn't created expressly for Memphis Heat. What follows is a series of punchy instrumentals that will do the same thing for your ass they do for the film: Make it move. 


This is probably my favorite (mostly) original Memphis movie soundtrack since Impala scored Mike McCarthy's Teenage Tupelo. The tracks, recorded by a clutch of Memphis' finest players, have a vintage feel and walk such a fine line between joyous and sleazy they may remind some listeners of the Las Vegas Grind series. 


Good stuff. 

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Meme the Malco Bootlegging Hoodie Guy, Please

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 1:18 PM

You may not know that you know him, but if you have ever arrived at a Malco movie early enough to watch the pre-show trivia and ads for local dentists, you probably also have met Bootlegging Hoodie Guy.


See? Bootlegging Hoodie Guy — let's call him Malco Jedi — is a local hero. He's a friendly face that reminds us that, while recording films in theaters is illegal, it is also done by cool and weirdly handsome dudes in street wear. In Malco Jedi's evil-but-slightly-amused expression, we have a memorable anti-hero, a small potatoes local villain who reminds you of that n'ere-do-well guy you dated in college. You know, the one with the contraband. 

Malco Jedi is a meme waiting to happen. He is the defender of the people. He doesn't need the law because he makes his own rules. He hates authority but has a strong sense of interior justice. This is why Malco Jedi is the rightful defender of the good parts of Memphis. He's anti-corporate, a skeptic with a cause, a guy you can call when you need someone who won't tell the cops. 


Meme him. He deserves a meme. We deserve him to be meme-ed. Go forth, download the meme-making app on your smartphone, and put some text on this pic. Do it for the kids. Here are some (not as funny as they could be) examples. 



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Thursday, March 3, 2016

WMC's "Demonic Weave" Story Believed to be Root of Ignorance in Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2016 at 1:36 PM

A bad omen came on top of her head.
  • A bad omen came on top of her head.

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 has scooped the rest of Memphis media on this 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 damn head.  

"Whose-ever hair I was wearing on my head, that heifer had a bad omen"

Even anchors Joe Birch and Kontji Anthony, who've introduced so many ridiculous segments by now you'd think they'd be used to it, looked to be passing kidney stones as they tossed the story to WMC's Senior Satanic Hair Correspondent Jerica Phillips, who, in turn, implored viewers to perform a Google search for "cursed hair."

"The prophesies are plenty," she said before sharing a YouTube video of an unidentified woman claiming, "Whose-ever hair I was wearing on my head, that heifer had a bad omen and that bad omen followed her from India and came on top of my head, and I took on her spirit." 

An image from WMC's report shows the terrifying face of hair that's cursed as hell.
  • An image from WMC's report shows the terrifying face of hair that's cursed as hell.

One woman Phillips quoted asked, "Do you know the history of the hair's original owner? What type of spirit did that person have? You may be buying a person's hair and their demonic spirit." Another suggested that people are doing "ungodly things" because, "many of the [hair] purchases are made in other countries that worship false gods."

"It may sound bizarre," Phillips said with the serious tone of a veteran broadcaster, "but some people believe virgin hair from India may be possessed during a ritual called tonsuring, the cutting of hair for religious reasons, or sacrifices to idol Gods."

Memphians Phillips interviewed, like  Dr. Bill Adkins, the pastor at Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith, were skeptical, though the material was consistently framed as a subject for legitimate debate.

At least Phillips reached a conclusion upon which we can all agree: "Whatever the root cause of a beauty trend turned crime trend, we can all agree the war spawned by weave must stop."

Demonic weaves believed to be root of hair crimes

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Donald Trump Jr. Grants 20-Minute Radio Interview to Memphis' White Nationalist Radio Host James Edwards

Posted By on Wed, Mar 2, 2016 at 6:08 PM

The original Donald Trump?
  • The original Donald Trump?

VIP parking? Grab-your-buddy photos with Katy Tur? An exclusive interview with Trump Jr? Dang, white separatist radio host James Edwards, your big-time media game is on fleek.

In a lively blog post Edwards, the pro-slavery host of the Political Cesspool, bragged a bit about time spent backstage at Donald Trump's campaign stop in Memphis, and announced a 20-minute interview with Donald Trump Jr. airing March 5th.  
James and Katy. Just a couple of colleagues hanging out, doin' stuff.
  • James and Katy. Just a couple of colleagues hanging out, doin' stuff.

Edwards usually doesn't like being so close to members of the mainstream press who describe him as a hate-monger instead of a "pro-white" anti-gay skinhead who "stands for the Dispossessed Majority,” but seemed to enjoy the view anyway:

"Trump himself took over the mic just minutes before 6:00 PM Central Time and gave his patented stump speech. The crowd roared when he asked them who was going to pay for the wall and nearly made the ground shake when he told them the wall was going to get ten feet taller if Mexican officials continue to use foul language."

Of course Donald Trump wasn't the only yuuuuuuge celebrity in the house. Edwards graciously "autographed" a campaign sign for an unidentified Southern Baptist woman who shared his worldview, then "encouraged her to pray that Trump becomes our next Charlemagne.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Commercial Appeal Declared a "Legend" Following Story About Frat Bro's Date with a Porn Star

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 1:22 PM

For maximum enjoyment press play on this video before reading. 

It's not the stuff of a Pulitzer Prize winning series, but a digital report on the Commercial Appeal's website is receiving attention across social media for recounting the epic tale of UT Knoxville student and Sigma Chi frat brother Patrick Goswitz, who invited porn star Cherry Morgan to a formal dance this weekend. 

This is what a legendary legend looks like.
  • This is what a legendary legend looks like.

"UT fraternity brother declared ‘a legend’ for date with porn star," was originally published by the Knoxville News Sentinel and tells the touching story of young Goswitz who was, in fact, described as a "legend," as a result of his date with Morgan, the Knoxville-based actress famous for appearing in adult films where, like many porn stars, she gives blowjobs to plumbers, pizza guys and other dudes who deliver.  (WARNING: LINK VERY NSFW).

"Goswitz told [Dan] Regester [of the website Total Frat Move] via an Instagram interview uploaded on TFM that he had invited Morgan to the formal via a message on Facebook and she sent him "her digits" and accepted."

The saga of Goswitz and Morgan is told using quotes from blogs and social media and is most notable for containing the worst sentence in the history of print journalism: "Goswitz told [Dan] Regester [of the website Total Frat Move] via an Instagram interview uploaded on TFM that he had invited Morgan to the formal via a message on Facebook and she sent him "her digits" and accepted."

As it happens, people with internet connections and Google alerts for Cherry Morgan had many newsworthy things  to say about the hot date. One person wrote, "Atta boy." Another said, "Lucky guy!" A third anonymous commenter wrote "Good for him," while a somewhat sadder post read, "I would consider myself legendary to even bring a girl to meet my family."

This is easily the greatest thing the CA has published since yesterday's breaking story about how how nicotine makes it hard to quit smoking. 


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Friday, February 19, 2016

The Best (Untapped) Parking Spots in Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 3:37 PM

It's time someone said it: The Memphis Zoo is the Kanye West of Memphis tourist attractions. The Zoo innovates. It may be controversial, but the Zoo doesn't wait for progress to come to them. Where other institutions said, "You can't park there because that is not a parking space," the Memphis Zoo effectively said, "You can park anywhere you damn well please. You are a Zoo patron, and Zoo patrons make their own fates." 

We hear you, Memphis Zoo. We have captured your innovative spirit and come up with a list of the other best (currently untapped) Memphis parking spots.

~ ~The Ultimate Best Undiscovered Parking Spots in Memphis~ ~ 

1. Elvis's Grave at Graceland 

When are we all gonna wake up and smell the peanut butter banana honey bacon sandwiches? He's been dead a long time. It's high time we should be able to park on this sweet patch of land. 



2. The Lobby of the Peabody Hotel 

Ducks should be on a menu, not on a red carpet. What should be on a red carpet is a brand new SUV. 


When things are right with the world: 

3. Inside the Orpheum Theater

This is a no-brainer. Downtown parking is packed. People sometimes have to walk blocks (whole blocks!) to their destination. The solution is clear. 

Current embarrassment: 
Future triumph: 

4. The FedExForum 

We grind hard. So why should we be forced to park in a neighboring garage? Why should we be made miserable, like people who don't know our rights? 

Just look at this sad image: 
Now look at this happy one: 

Case closed. Park wild, Memphis. 

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