Memphisness

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Paint Memphis: So Much More Than Zombies

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 5:50 PM

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Regardless of what we all may think about Memphis' big silly zombie murals, I think we can all agree on one thing:  The Memphis City Council doesn't really get public art, who makes it, or how. Hopefully most of us can also agree that it's in nobody's best interest to induce Satanic panic or base policy on superstition. 

Right Councilman Joe Brown?
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For better context you can follow the links above, and I promise to write more informatively on this topic later. Right now I just want to share a bunch of pictures and think out loud about my drive South down Willett, beyond all the stately Midtown homes and mansions, into the increasingly dilapidated and largely vacant zone where it hits Lamar. Here there be monsters.
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Murals like the ones currently causing a fuss are designed to have a relatively short shelf life. They are destined to become sun-faded or overwritten by fresh coats of paint. In a perfect world the empty buildings are filled, and freshened up accordingly. That's not a free pass on criticism — far from it. There are good reasons to question things like access, community input, how much may or may not have been done to include neighborhood artists and whether or not it's a good idea to paint a big reanimated corpse on a major thoroughfare. It may also be helpful to look at the entire result and not reduce an enormous project like this one to a single beastie.

Contextually, none of the art — not even the most extreme — seems all that out of place on a stretch of Lamar where skateboarders work out their tricks, graffiti-covered boxcars are parked along the elevated railroad tracks, and abandoned properties have been tagged for decades. Most of the work is positive, celebrating the music and moods of a moody, musical town. Some of it's quirky. Some of it's really lovely.
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As this conversation continues, pay attention to the whole street, and to street-life on a corner dominated by empty properties, a gas station, and a skateboarder's hideaway — just around the corner from a public school for the arts. There are lots of good conversations we can have about access, public input, and so on. But those conversations do need to acknowledge that projects like these are infinitely amendable, and undertaken in the absence of industry. Unlike Memphis' Confederate statues, there's no entrenched zombie agenda working to keep buildings vacant and spookily decorated. As one friend put it, "art's messy." And in this kind of temporary, low-stakes arena there's probably room for mistakes, poor judgment and even bad art. Because — barring some regrettable and reactionary policy — there's going to be a next time, and ample opportunity to listen, learn and do better. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Memphis College of Art in the 1960's-70's

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 11:33 AM

Artists Ed Perry and Rockne Krebs worked together on numerous - urban-scale installations involving light and lasers. - COURTESY OF ROCKNE KREBS ESTATE
  • Courtesy of Rockne Krebs Estate
  • Artists Ed Perry and Rockne Krebs worked together on numerous urban-scale installations involving light and lasers.

Additional "Art of the Deal" web extras will be more closely related to MCA's closing. But I'd originally wanted to drop the whole story of the school's misfortunes into a bigger history, and look at the relationship between the art college and the city that helped to create and sustain it. It was classic biting off more than I could chew but hopefully unused interviews with Dolph Smith and Veda Reed, collected for this week's cover package, will provide readers with a snapshot of campus life in the 1950's, and as the school transitioned to Overton Park. And maybe this curiosity from from the Flyer's morgue will do double-duty, giving readers a taste of what MCA (still the Academy) was like in the 1960's and 70's — and also what kinds of things were going on more recently at The Nesin Graduate School downtown. It tells the story of Academy grad and art-world nobody Ed Perry, the amazing body of work he left behind, and the friends and former classmates who wanted to make sure he wouldn't be totally forgotten.

It may not capture highlights from the era. You'll have to go here to look at pictures from the time David Bowie showed up. But it's the best I had on hand!

The story originally published August 21, 2014.

The Life and Afterlife of Edward Perry
Who is Edward Hagen Perry, and why is The Memphis College of Art producing two shows of his work?

by Chris Davis

Ed Perry and Rockne Krebs unload one of their urban-scale installations - COURTESY OF ROCKNE KREBS ESTATE
  • Courtesy of Rockne Krebs Estate
  • Ed Perry and Rockne Krebs unload one of their urban-scale installations
Ed Perry isn't famous. He died, a complete unknown, of congestive heart failure in 2007, in the toxic environment of his cluttered home and studio in Stephensport, Kentucky.

"They say he died of congestive heart failure, but there was so much wrong with him you can't keep up with it all," says Memphis songwriter Keith Sykes, who met and became close friends with Perry in the 1960s. "Ed was relentlessly cruel to his body his whole life," Sykes adds.

At the time of his death, Perry's only source of income was a small Social Security check. He died penniless. All he left behind was a mean parrot named Jake, a filthy house overfilled with furniture parts, old wood, and electronics he'd collected for the creation of future projects. He also left an uncommonly unified body of work, much of which had never been exhibited due to Perry's deep mistrust of the commercial art world.
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Although he despised the gallery system, many of the large, meticulously constructed pieces Perry built, mixing painting and sculpture while skirting the boundaries of fine and folk art, were painstakingly labeled, with notes regarding size, weight, construction and, when appropriate, wiring schematics. Many pieces were boxed and stored, as if awaiting their invitation to gallery shows that were never booked. So they sat for decades, gathering mildew and parrot dung, like dirty brides left waiting at a shabby alter.

"Contaminated" is the word Sykes uses to describe his old friend's living environment at the time of his death. "He must have worked for two weeks to just make room for us to move around," he says recalling earlier, happier visits. It fell to Sykes to salvage, store, clean, and painstakingly catalog his friend's work. "If you were sensitive or had any kind of allergies at all, you probably couldn't go in there at all," he says. "We finally got stuff out with masks and gloves on. Because over the years all the nicotine and all the sawdust and all the moisture had conspired together to make it just pretty damn deadly."

So who was Ed Perry? What is it that sets his work apart from so many other artists who collect their MFAs and never exhibit again? And what did this completely unknown artist do to merit two simultaneous shows of his work at the Memphis College of Art (MCA)?
Ed Perry was a Pacifist but became enraged when diplomatic agreements resulted in the destruction of missiles he might have transformed into art supplies. - COURTESY OF MEMPHIS COLLEGE OF ART
  • Courtesy of Memphis College of Art
  • Ed Perry was a Pacifist but became enraged when diplomatic agreements resulted in the destruction of missiles he might have transformed into art supplies.
Judging by his resume and correspondence, Perry self-identified as a "Visual Engineer, MFA," and an "electro-optics engineer," whatever those titles may imply. He was also an abstract painter and an obsessive builder. He was a chain smoker, a self-made scientist, and a 1972 Memphis Academy of Arts graduate. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he trained as a figure skater in Lake Placid, New York, where he met and befriended Olympic medalist Peggy Fleming. He was also a radical pacifist, a drinker of strong libations, and a boundary-defying conceptual artist working with found materials, spray paint, and state-of-the-art lasers.

Ed Perry was a Pacifist but became enraged when diplomatic agreements resulted in the destruction of missiles he might have transformed into art supplies.

Additionally, the man collected in "Ed Perry: Constructions," and "Ed Perry: Between Canvas and Frame," was something of a stock character: the misunderstood genius, pursued by personal demons, uncompromising to the point of being commercially invisible throughout most of his semi-reclusive lifetime.

Perry was highly trained both as an artist and a laser technician. He shared studio space with groundbreaking artists like Sam Gilliam and frequently worked alongside Washington D.C.-based art star and fellow parrot-owner Rockne Krebs, to create massive, urban-scale laser installations. But he was an artworld nobody when he died in 2007. And it's unclear just how much the MCA exhibitions can do to launch an unknown alum's posthumous career, or give his elaborate, mixed-media constructions the happy afterlife Perry's friends think they deserve.

Remy Miller, MCA's dean of academic affairs and the driving force behind both Perry exhibits, thinks it's too easy to sensationalize the lives of troubled artists, and he worries that doing so takes emphasis off of the work. "People tell these horrible stories about a guy who was falling apart and struggling to live," Miller says, specifically referring to accounts of the life of action painter Jackson Pollock. "That's really what you want to talk about in the face of this beautiful work?"

But even Miller succumbs somewhat to the temptation of a good story, comparing Perry to Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch painter whose post-mortem success is partly responsible for the enduring myth that nothing increases the value of an artist's work like a difficult life and untimely death. But the van Gogh story, while relevant in so many ways, isn't an especially realistic impression of how the modern art world works. Perry despised the business side of art-making, and although his resume lists a handful of shows, for the most part he seems to have actively avoided public viewings of his work.

"I asked him if he'd ever thought about making a coffee table book, and what came out of him was another Ed I didn't know and didn't want to know," Sykes says, recalling a past dustup. "I just wanted people to see the stuff. He really hurt my feelings over that."

"I think Ed understood the work was really good," Miller says. "Why else prepare all of that other stuff? Why bother to box it up? Why keep it? Write all those notes on it? I think Ed just couldn't bear to sit through what was going to have to happen next."

Gordon Alexander shared a house with Perry when the two were still students at the Memphis Art Academy (now MCA). He remembers a visit from his friend some years ago, on the night before several larger pieces of Perry's work were scheduled to ship to Memphis' Alice Bingham Gallery for a show. "Ed just says, 'I'm not going to do it,' and he didn't. And that was it." The pieces never shipped; the show never happened.

In some regards, because he has no exhibition history or records of previous gallery sales, Perry might as well not exist. He has no place within the established art world. And even if gallery people find the work compelling, they don't really know what to do with it, because there's no previously established value.

"It's a kind of catch-22," says Ellen Daugherty, the art historian who led an MCA class on Perry and contributed an essay to the exhibit's striking catalog.

Art consultant John Weeden was enlisted to structure a logical value scale for Perry's work. He couldn't discuss the specific rubric, but he gave a general overview of how we might assess the worth of artwork created by a previously unknown artist.
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"Commercial history and provenance are two of the leading factors in determining the general value of an artwork," he says. "In the case of a largely unknown artist, the task becomes one of establishing a framework upon which an initial market for that artist's work may be constructed." Weeden also allows other considerations including the nature of the materials, the style of the pieces, the reputation of the artist, and the level of craftsmanship, labor, and design.

So finally, with two shows, a class, this story, and any other attendant press, Perry the artist finally has a public paper trail. His working relationship as an artistic and technical assistant to Krebs can be affirmed, and too late, maybe, an underappreciated artist gets his overdue recognition.

MCA's Miller doesn't equivocate: "I wouldn't be talking to you right now if I didn't think that this body of work can stand up next to any body of work created in the later half of the 20th century," he says. "I absolutely believe it's as good as any body of that work made by any artist during that time period." Miller's not alone in that belief. Sykes and Alexander, both close to Perry since the 1960s, have made a strong effort to ensure that their old friend's life work doesn't pass unnoticed.

Perry was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. His father was a WWII vet. His brother Bill also went military. Perry, on the other hand, took classes at community college and trained as an ice skater before leaving for art school in Memphis in the fall of 1967. He was riding a Triumph motorcycle and wearing a flak jacket and WWII combat helmet the first time Alexander saw him pulling up to the Memphis Art Academy in Overton Park. The two young artists bonded early, becoming neighbors, first in the Auburndale Apartments, then housemates, when they moved, along with their friend Paul Mitchell, into an old house on Madison Avenue where Overton Square's French Quarter Inn now stands.

By most accounts Perry was a good but not stellar student who worked hard when he was interested and sometimes flummoxed faculty. He would eventually become MCA's student body president.

"I was in New York by then," Alexander says, speculating that his friend must have been drafted into student government. "He hated titles."

Always interested in technology, especially the artistic applications of lasers, Perry also took physics classes at Rhodes College (then Southwestern).

Alexander describes the Memphis Art Academy as being a creatively fertile environment and speculates that Perry was especially influenced by the work of three notable professors: Ted Faiers, who experimented with totemic "Indian Space" painting and 3D painting; Ron Pekar, the original graphic designer for Ardent Studios who worked in neon and designed the logo for Big Star's #1 Record; and acclaimed color theorist Burton Callicott, who painted false shadows in his work and created colorfields that seemed to glow with their own internal light. Because he was exposed to so much 20th-century art, it's difficult to call out specific influences, but it's not difficult to look at Perry's totem-like constructions and imagine all the ways they might be inspired by these mentors.

Alexander describes the house he shared with Perry as a mattress-on-the-floor den for starving artists. Work was always being made by someone somewhere in the house and painters, sculptors, and musicians were always coming and going.

"We didn't even lock the house," Alexander says. "I know it's hard to believe, but it's true." Musician and occasional actor Larry Raspberry was an intermittent visitor. So was Sykes and a young Alex Chilton, who would eventually move in next door. Somebody was always playing music. When they weren't, Alexander, an audiophile and music editor for the then-Dixie Flyer, Memphis' original underground newspaper, was spinning records on the turntable.

It would be years before Sykes would co-write the hit song "Volcano" and hook up with Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band. At this point he hitchhiked, pumped gas, worked the holiday rush at Sears Crosstown, and toured as a Dylan-inspired folkie on the Holiday Inn Circuit. He met Perry and Alexander when they were still living at the Auburndale Apartments and remembers being smitten by Ed's work from the very beginning.

"Once you see an Ed Perry, you'll always know his work," Sykes says.

Like so many great college friends, Sykes and Alexander became separated and immersed in their own families and careers. They lost touch with Perry for 20 years.

Perry took his MFA at the University of Cincinnati, where he subsequently went to work for Leon Goldman, a dermatologist and laser surgery pioneer sometimes referred to as "the father of laser surgery." Perry and Goldman co-created studies on laser surgery and published them in scientific journals. But when it was time to make art again, Perry moved on.

Krebs met Perry in 1974 at a laser safety certification class at the University of Cincinnati and almost immediately hired him as an art assistant with laser-safety training and advanced technical skills. This was the beginning of a decade-long working relationship with Krebs.

Perry eventually moved to D.C., where he kept an apartment and studio on the second floor of a warehouse co-owned by Krebs and noted color field painter Gilliam who, like Faiers, had been painting well beyond the frame.

Krebs had a cranky parrot named Euclid, and Perry acquired a cranky parrot named Jake. Studio visitors sometimes had to use trash can lids as shields to avoid a ferocious pecking.

Heather Krebs, Rockne's daughter, remembers Perry well. She says she had to pass by his studio whenever she visited her father's. "He was always in there working," she says, remembering his creations, like the decorated envelopes he made for her to use, but which she kept instead.

Heather suggests that Perry might have benefitted from his proximity to both her father and Gilliam. Clients coming in and out would have seen his work in Krebs' studio or in his own. She wonders if steady work meant he didn't feel pressured to show.


Ed Perry and Rockne Krebs unload one of their urban-scale installations
Krebs created large-scale laser and solar installations for the Omni International Building, now the CNN Center, and Perry consulted and assisted. "Omni was billed as the greatest premiere in Atlanta since Gone With the Wind," Perry wrote excitedly to Krebs, describing the 1976 opening.

"The stuff shirts oohed when Tony Orlando took the microphone," Perry continued in his letter. "And moaned when he announced he would not sing."

Perry moved back to his parents' farm sometime around 1986, and that is where he either built or completed many of the constructions on display in "Between Canvas and Frame."
Artists Ed Perry and Rockne Krebs worked together on numerous - urban-scale installations involving light and lasers. - COURTESY OF ROCKNE KREBS ESTATE
  • Courtesy of Rockne Krebs Estate
  • Artists Ed Perry and Rockne Krebs worked together on numerous urban-scale installations involving light and lasers.
Ellen Daugherty thinks that, for all of his training and expertise, Perry's work sometimes resembles folk art. "Ed builds this stuff that has a kind of similarity to some folk artists," she says, citing his approach to construction and his use of available, affordable materials like old fence boards and discarded Shaker furniture parts. "But when you look at the stuff, that ain't folk art," she says. "It's highly trained. And extremely visual and abstract."

A laser diffraction photo by Ed Perry given to laser artist Rockne Krebs
The backs of Perry's constructions are often as lively as the fronts. Electronic pieces include a full-sized drawing of the wiring plot. Many pieces include obsessive notes about what kinds of materials have been used, when the canvas was primed, and so on. He also makes diary entries marking everything from Halley's Comet arriving in conjunction with the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to notes about the Mississippi River flood of 1993.

The two Perry shows are the culmination of a sprawling buddy adventure that launched in Midtown in the 1960s and is now coming home to roost.

"In the late 1990s me and Gordon started talking," Sykes says. "We should go see Ed. You know he's going to be like he always was. Not taking care of himself. Working all the time. Forgetting to eat. Forgetting to sleep. If we didn't go see him, we thought we might not ever see him again." So the old friends went to visit their buddy in Stephensport. After the first trip, they continued to visit as often as possible. They helped their friend when they could, and they watched him fall apart.

"He made bird houses that looked like Frank Lloyd Wright designed them," Alexander says. Further blurring the lines between fine art and folk art, he also carved beautiful, realistic duck and fish decoys, and built majestic weather vanes.

Even at his folksiest, Perry never stopped surprising his friends. "We were sitting around one night and it was dark," Sykes recalled. "Ed says, 'Y'all watch this.' And before you knew it, there were laser beams running all around the house. He had mirrors set up here and there, and that light doesn't degrade."

After Perry's death, Sykes took charge of Jake the parrot and as much of the artwork as he could, with a goal of getting it seen. A veterinarian said it was normal for older parrots to be cantankerous, adding that Jake would be fine once he was weaned off the alcohol. Getting the artwork in front of people proved to be trickier, but Mark and Becky Askew loved the work and agreed to show it in the Lakeland offices of A2H architects.

Miller says he initially had no interest in viewing the work. "I figured it would be the couple of good pieces on the invitation and maybe some unicorns," he says. "But I went. And I've never seen anything like this in terms of a body of work. It was just amazing. So consistently good. So complex. So beautiful and so interesting. I immediately started bringing people out to see it." Now, with the two MCA exhibits, he's inviting the rest of Memphis to look.

One big question remains. What would Perry, who took such pains to stay out of the spotlight, think about his posthumous closeup? "Well, for starters, we're not taking a commission," Miller says, addressing one of Perry's primary complaints.

Alexander takes things a little further: "If he was going to be anywhere in the world, Memphis or Spain or wherever. I think he'd want to be at the Art Academy. Back in Memphis, where it all got started."
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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

More Architectural Renderings of Memphis Seen as a Comic Book

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 10:03 AM

Previously on FutureMemphis...
In the hopes of inspiring other, better culture jammers to get on board and make the best from this rolling mess we call urban planning, your Pesky Fly has been transforming architectural renderings of FutureMemphis into a loosely told sci-fi saga about flesh-eating birds, zombies, and shadow people. If you need to catch up, here's all that's come before.

And here's an update.
(If you click the images will enlarge and behave more or less like a slide show).  
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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Vending Machine for Weaves Arrives, Memphis Now Officially a World Class City

Posted By on Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 12:06 PM

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According to a report by WMC news, Memphis now has its very own vending machine for weaves. The Diamond Dynasty weave machine offers a variety of hair options ranging in price from  $55-80.

According to the WMC report the vending machine will be a convenience for people who may need to change their look on the go. Like spies, I guess.
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The obvious question: What kind of impact will easy access to hair have on Memphis' tribble-like infestation of tumbleweaves?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

WalletHub Knows Nothing About Memphis, Halloween, Study Shows

Posted By on Thu, Oct 26, 2017 at 1:03 PM

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The click-listical compilers at WalletHub ranked Memphis low on a survey of fun places to celebrate Halloween because of our high crime rate.
Source: WalletHub
Or does that make us the best place to celebrate Halloween, WalletHub? Muhahahahahaha!

Start Halloween Weekend Right With a Tribute to Sivad and Fantastic Features

Posted By on Thu, Oct 26, 2017 at 10:00 AM

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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.

via GIPHY

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."
Dr. Lucifer
  • Dr. Lucifer

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 film Dinosaurus, 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.
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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...
  • 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.
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* A version of this article appeared in the Memphis Flyer in 2010 —- but with out all the nifty links and embeds. 


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Go to Helvis

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 5:38 PM

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If you're planning to check out Mike McCarthy's Destroy Memphis documentary, about the failed effort to save Libertyland, or at least Elvis' favorite rollercoaster, the Zippin Pippin, you might also want to grab a copy of McCarthy's recently complied comic book HELVIS No. 1 (Millenia Comeback Special).

This erratically-published story of a pop-eyed zombie Elvis walks a weird line between personal and regional mythology, and a kind of underground journalism, chronicling the death and decay of a Memphis at the heart of American pop culture. 
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McCarthy created HELVIS in 1988 when he was still living with his parents, seventeen miles outside of Tupelo. The first (unfinished) version of the comic wasn't published for 24-years though the ghoulish, trash-rock horror story served as an inspiration for McCarthy's first film, Damselvis, Daughter of HELVIS, and its influence can be felt on in other films like Teenage Tupelo, The Sore Losers, and Superstarlet A.D.


The new, "complete" Helvis, currently available at 901 Comics, reflects McCarthy's interests from  Sexploitation films, Mad magazine,  and rock-and-roll to historic preservation. One sequence finds Helvis disoriented, mad, and riding the Zippin Pippin in Green Bay, WS. Although it reflects a less than happy ending for Memphis, the comic's a sweet Halloween treat for your favorite trickster, and the perfect companion piece for Destroy Memphis.

Worth it for the centerfold . 
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Friday, October 20, 2017

A Post About Gluten Free Strippers and Effing Traffic

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 4:38 PM

Well, this was brought to my attention.
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So was this.

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Memphis af without the f.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dick Pics: News Channel-5 Nashville Appears on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 9, 2017 at 2:48 PM

Memphis plays itself.
  • Memphis plays itself.
Last Week Tonight's latest installment of "And now, this..." was a thigh-slapping compilation of all those times when local weather people have gone all American Vandal and drawn dicks on TV. The segment included a snippet from Nashville's TV-5
(Video excerpt below).


Everybody should totally take the time to watch this whole important clip because there are so many more dicks where those came from. Still, it's kind of a shame Oliver didn't dive a little deeper into Memphis' sordid "things that look like dicks" history. Like the infamous "welcome to Memphis" sign that looks like a bouquet of dildos. 
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For reference, here's a picture of said sign next to an actual bouquet of dildos.
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And what about that enormous sperm-shaped ribbon of asphalt terminating at the Bass Pro Pyramid? Hmmmmm?
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And while we're on about it, I know she's from Columbia, TN not Memphis, but if you're going to do a segment on things that look like penises, does it get any better than the money-shot campaign materials created by District 65's Sheila "rape-and-incest-aren't-verifiable" Butt?
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Maury Co. Courthouse my behind!

UPDATE:  Your Fly on the Wall often teases and must admit his own mistakes. Because the penis-drawing begins with balls over Memphis I originally identified the news feed as being from WMC in Memphis. But it is News Channel 5, Nashville. I regret the error. It's even funnier this way. Nashville drawing balls over Memphis. Same as it ever was.

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"Bride Closure Begins Tomorrow," WREG Reports

Posted By on Mon, Oct 9, 2017 at 9:11 AM

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Gosh, that just sounds terrible for everybody involved.

And while we're checking out the local TV typos it's nice to see that the folks at Fox 13 are every bit as good at misspelling disturbing as they are at perpetuating racist fear of undocumented workers. 
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We're pretty sure that was an accident, though. Well, the spelling part, at least. On the other hand, from the impeccable helmet-hair to the flanking finger-pistols, this pose seems to have been something the Foxites executed on purpose. 
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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Legendary Memphis Wrestling Announcer Lance Russell Dies at 91

Bye-bye to ol' Banana Nose

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 10:16 AM

Andy Kaufman and Lance Russell
  • Andy Kaufman and Lance Russell
It's a terrible day for fans of Memphis wrestling. Lance Russell, a longtime program manager for WHBQ and one of the most beloved wrestling commentators in the history of sports entertainment has died. In 2014 the man known to heels coast-to-coast as ol' Banana Nose, talked to The Memphis Flyer about King Lawler, Memphis wrestling, and playing himself in the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. This is a reprint of that interview with lots of links.


Memphis Flyer: You and Dave Brown were
the eye of this colorful, chaotic storm. Calling wrestling like it was any other sport during the glory days of Jackie Fargo, Tojo Yamamoto, and Jerry "The King" Lawler vs. Andy "the clown" Kaufman. Can you even go a day without talking to somebody about wrestling?

Lance Russell: Well, it's easier down here [in Florida] than it was when I lived in Memphis. When I wasn't talking in person to some fan about wrestling, I was talking on the telephone. Somebody was always calling. You know, people say, "Boy, whatever happened to the good old days of Memphis wrestling?" Well, I can tell you Memphis wrestling is just as alive as it ever has been.

You'd be the one to know.

My son was looking at his computer a couple of nights ago and found where somebody had made a list of people who were involved in wrestling as promoters or wrestlers or managers or referees and even announcers. And they have them ranked by age. My son said, "Did you realize that in the United States you are the fifth oldest person involved in wrestling that is still alive?" When I got up the next day I said to my son, outside of wanting to kill you, I was amused all night long. I didn't sleep, but I was amused.

I suspect that makes you a go-to resource, having seen wrestlers from so many territories and having also worked for Turner Broadcasting.

I can tell you as a director of programming for WHBQ in Memphis for all of those years, I'm not proud of the fact that I didn't put an edict out that there will be no erasing of tapes from Talent Party or wrestling or any of those kinds of things. We erased everything. And sometimes we would record on the same tape two weeks in a row. We kept telling ourselves we were saving money.

You know Vince McMahon is getting ready to program Memphis wrestling on the network he started so he's trying to pin down all the programs. And, in Memphis, everything we ever had in terms of tapes is all just blasted asunder. Jerry Lawler ended up with the biggest quantity of tapes. Jimmy Hart, a wrestler and wrestling manager who worked with Vince McMahon in New York after he left Memphis, ended up with a lot of tapes. People pay good money for them too, and now Vince McMahon wants to broadcast Memphis wrestling every day.


Why are people still fascinated with Memphis wrestling?


I'm gonna tell you, Memphis was absolutely totally different than any territory in the country. I eventually went with Turner Broadcasting, and when I went there and I ran into guys from the East Coast and West Coast they'd say, "All you clowns in Memphis spend more time making jokes than anything else." And we did, because it made people happy. They were tickled to death to look forward to some of the foolishness that went on. And we were proud of it. It was good entertainment.

You and Dave Brown had great chemistry.

What made Dave and I different was the programming. The different matches that we booked. The different characters that were made up. Like Kamala the Giant, who is from right down in Mississippi and was very popular all over the country. I hired Dave to work in television. Dave was an all-night radio jock for WHBQ, and I knew him as a person and liked him very much. Anyhow, he questioned wrestling. I said, "Man, if you want to work in television, you will learn more in two months of wrestling than two years of anything else." So he took a chance, and he was great. Dave and I also agreed on one thing you never talk about in wrestling. See, I was a wrestling fan, and I had been ever since the days when I grew up in Dayton, Ohio and worked in the auditorium as an usher. I never wanted anybody to say to me, "Hey, I'm going to win in the third fall on this match." I don't want to be a stiff actor saying some lines, I wanted to call things as I saw them in my face for the first time.
No matter how over the top it was, it was completely alive. Anything could happen.

We had great matches too. But in the meantime, we didn't mind tickling your funny bone. We'd have a guy or a gal shaved bald right there in the middle of the ring.

I thought I was going to get killed one night in the Memphis Coliseum, when Jerry Lawler put up his hair and Bill Dundee put up his wife's hair and Dundee lost. We had our own barber who was there to cut hair when necessary. He thought he was going to be killed. The crowd was incensed that Lawler had cheated to win and this vivacious young redhead was losing her hair. It's hilarious when you stop and think about a situation getting that serious over what was actually a very funny incident.

But that's the Memphis audience, right? It's why the famous Lawler/Kaufman feud couldn't have happened anywhere else.

You're right about that. There was a kind of audience reaction that we had cultivated either on purpose or unknowingly. And this is the thing that attracted Andy Kaufman. As a kid, Andy would watch wrestling and he would see the bad guy: Just by raising his hand he could get this big reaction from the crowd. That power that wrestlers held captivated him, and he initially tried to get the attention of Vince McMahon's father and his grandfather who, in addition to promoting boxing, also promoted wrestling. They said "What are you trying to do, make a joke out of wrestling?" Well, Andy ran across a guy who worked for the wrestling magazines and he said to check out the guys in Memphis, who will do anything. And they're great show people.


Even if the outcomes are known, this is unscripted stuff.

I got a big guy from Canada supposedly. He comes out there [to interview] and he says, "Jerry Lawler! I'm going to get him! I'm taking a blood oath!" And I'm the program director at WHBQ, so I say, "No, I don't want any blood. Don't be busting his eye open on television. We don't want our audience to have to put up with that." And this idiot has got one of these big double-headed axes, and he runs the blade down his massive arm and I'm sitting here looking at it, and I know that the camera is right on this thing, and all of a sudden here comes the stream of red right into the camera. I thought, "Oh my God, he's cutting his arm open on television for crying out loud." I almost had a heart attack.

[Let's talk about] Jerry Lawler, the King of Memphis wrestling.


The superlatives for Lawler? I don't have enough of them. But I can tell you I've seen a lot of wrestlers, and Jerry Lawler is a guy who is gifted in so many directions. I promise, I don't owe him money or anything. I'm just telling the truth. He is the most talented guy in the business and people hated him in the East because of what he's done in Memphis. I mean, he became a television host on Channel 5, and he was very good at what he did.
And you recognized his skills right away.

When he was 15, his dad took him down to the auditorium every Monday for wrestling. We had no way to record the matches; it was too expensive at that time. So when Dave and I did the show, we'd have to just talk about what happened. Well, Jerry was a natural artist. He draws these 11" x 14" pictures on pieces of cardboard. He drew maybe the finishing move from a match or something. Then Dave and I could talk about the picture.

I found those pictures in my attic about five years ago. I've had them for 35 years.

You got to play yourself in Man on the Moon. That had to be affirming to have that Kaufman/Lawler feud become widely recognized as a big moment in pop culture.

Yeah, yeah. I've got several copies of it. Unfortunately they cut out some of my best scenes. That was fun though.

And what about the actual feud. Did you guys know you were making history?

We were all working. That's what we did for a living.


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Murder Owl Wins First FOTW Spirit Animal Poll

Posted By on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 at 11:47 AM

Your Spirit Animal, Memphis — The High Point "Murder Owl."
  • Your Spirit Animal, Memphis — The High Point "Murder Owl."
Last Friday I asked readers to review a list of popular Memphis creatures and beasties, old and new, that have captured our attention, won our hearts, or made us say "WTF." From this list, I asked them to choose Memphis' first official unofficial Spirit Animal. And, for reasons I'll get around to shortly, I think you've all chosen wisely indeed.

Admittedly — and to get ahead of critics, already skeptical of a process omitting #PipeKitty (too young) and Mohan the unapologetic Sumatran tiger (too soon) etc. — voter turnout wasn't spectacular. It's been scientifically proven that's what happens when you post bullshit Spirit Animal polls on a Friday afternoon, but even taking all this into account, we're talking about Memphis, a place where we've installed City Councilcritters based on less representative samples. Surely that all equates to some kind of tragic legitimacy. Even if it doesn't here's a link to the results anyhow.

So what does it mean to choose the High Point Owl — AKA Murder Owl — as the city's Spirit Animal? Maybe not what you think. But before getting into that let's look at some of the animals you didn't choose.

Al Green's Cows (Bulls, etc.) seemed like boring underdogs in a race filled with exotic beasties like Alleged Albino Raccoon and Hugh Manatee. But for being run-of-the-mill cattle, these gifted escape artists who jump fence and go visiting every time Green takes his show on the road, are far from ordinary. Al keeps saying, "Let's stay together." The Cows keep saying, "Nope." Like Zimm the Escape Monkey, they want to be free, but there's even more going on here. Unlike Zimm, who possesses some small measure of zoo celebrity, these cows are eclipsed by fame and stripped, in some regard, of their own unique bovinity. According to at least one person Al Green's cows have visited they will "take over your yard and stare at you like you're dumb." They're more Otis/Aretha than Al. All they really want's a little respect.
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Frayser Bear confuses us. He's not a guy in a Grizz suit, he's a fucking bear and, as Stephen Colbert has pointed out many times, bears are as great a potential threat to humanity as the eventuality of sentient robots. Midtown Coyote and Barksdale Beaver reflect a special kind of neighborhood loyalty, splitting the famously liberal region like Bernie and Hill. Either one could have been a contender, not both.

Hugh Manatee's name (christened by Drake's partner Zeke, back in the day) says it all. His tragic story of dislocation and struggle still tugs at the heartstrings of those who remember. He was a foreigner — clearly not one of us — but for a moment, he was all of us. The best of us. Stuck in a sewer.

The Alleged Albino Raccoon proved to be more relatable than Balmoral Bobcat. Raccoons and opossums are like neighbors who sometimes get into the garbage and tear out your ductwork. Exasperating as they may be at times, we get to know them — watch them raise their children, and their children's children. And, as for the "alleged" part, who hasn't wondered if people see us for what we really are?
Call me Al's
  • Call me Al's

Zimm the Escape Monkey
seemed like an odds on favorite to win. People admired the little monkey's spunk, tenacity, and sheer desire to be her own little dude. People are increasingly tired of old, limiting definitions and cages of all kinds. Zimm's a real swinger, and for all the propaganda, London's never had much on Memphis, if you knew where to look.

So why Murder Owl? What is it about this storied bird — a creature that captured the imagination of artists and authors — that speaks to Memphis? Since the owl stirred up more startled terror and chaos than actual harm, it probably doesn't have anything to do with Memphis' reputation for violence and crime. Perhaps, just the opposite, since Murder Owl's most famous "victim" was controversial DA Amy Weirch, who described it as the biggest thing she'd ever seen in her life with a "wingspan the size of a Buick."  In light of this eyewitness testimony from one who knows the value of eyewitness testimony, I'm going to put forward a theory that Murder Owl represents lurking, hidden truth obscured by misrepresentation. Or maybe he/she's a symbol — like Batman — that there's true, natural justice in the world, small now but hiding and waiting for the right moment to reveal itself as something enormous, mythic.
Zimm's just got to be Zimm.
  • Zimm's just got to be Zimm.
Either way, owls are badass, and Murder Owl's so badass somebody should record some theme music.

Long story short: The (some) people have spoken, Memphis. Your Spirit Animal is —- MURDER OWL!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hey Memphis, Who's Your Spirit Animal?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 3:11 PM

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Once upon a time there was only Hugh Manatee and Midtown Coyote but with additions like the Balmoral Bobcat and Frayser Bear the roster of iconic Memphis beasties continues to expand. A question that's seldom asked? Which one is most us.

Yeah, lame, I know. But it's Friday afternoon and things have been way too serious around these parts lately.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Remember When Memphis Comment Trolls Wanted to Remove Public Art?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 11:31 PM

This art will be the end of us!
  • This art will be the end of us!
The year was 2002 and five little words had some of Memphis' most prominent white Conservatives frothing at the mouth: "Workers of the World Unite."

From a cover story I wrote at the time:

In 1934, the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers adopted the principle that art should promote only a rigid slate of political and social ideals established by the state. This movement was dubbed Soviet realism.
In November 2001, Memphis City Councilman Brent Taylor, and Shelby County Commissioners Marilyn Loeffel and Tommy Hart, took umbrage at one of nine public artworks sponsored by the UrbanArt Commission (UAC) for the new $70 million Central Library. Their aim was to have an offensive quotation removed from a public walkway because it expressed a sentiment which they deemed to be out of step with wholesome American values.

The irony grows sweeter considering that the offending "Workers of the world, unite!" is excerpted from The Communist Manifesto, which sparked the revolution that eventually birthed the school of Soviet realism whose precepts were unknowingly co-opted by Taylor, Loeffel, and Hart.

A pious group of Memphians led by one William W. Wood of the hastily organized Shelby County Coalition to Save the Memphis Library began a biweekly vigil to pray over the wicked artwork. The same group sent out scorching mass e-mails comparing the presumably elusive UAC with Osama bin Laden and labeling the board and administration of the Memphis/Shelby County Library "a special branch of the CIA."

Toss in the eccentric patriot in a red, white, and blue suit who makes regular protest pilgrimages to the site and you have all the ingredients for an old-fashioned dog-and-pony show. Even The New York Times got in on the action, noting that "The cold war may be over, but Marx and Engels have nevertheless managed to create a small political furor in this old river city."

The backlash came as a complete shock to Brad and Diana Goldberg, the Dallas-based husband-and-wife team responsible for designing the artwork. They intended that their piece function as "a metaphoric record of important events and knowledge that have shaped Memphis, the Mississippi River Valley Region, and the rest of our world" since the beginning of recorded history.

It was less of a shock to local political columnists who practically stumbled over one another to spank Taylor, Loeffel, and Hart for striking such a provincial pose. Susan Adler Thorp aptly observed in The Commercial Appeal that "Tearing down the Iron Curtain and destroying communism were simple tasks compared to accommodating [their] need for political opportunism, and logic."

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE STORY.

Why mention this vintage kerfuffle? Because debate over the removal of Confederate monuments rages on in comment sections across the World Wide Web. It's nasty, getting nastier, and even the President of the Comment Section himself, Donald J. Trump, weighed in on the side of White Supremacy. I'm revisiting it because there was a time, not so very long ago, when white Conservative Christians — spearheaded by elected officials — thought it was wrong to memorialize the enemies of America.

Thing is, the library sculpture aimed to reflect world-changing ideas generally, and wasn't political in nature. It certainly wasn't ideologically aligned with Communism, and guess what? Memphis didn't transform into a hotbed of socialism. The hullabaloo blew over. People mostly forgot it was a big deal and the piece just kind of blended into the landscape, as it was intended to — like concrete and granite shrubbery nobody ever had to water.
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But let's not kid ourselves. It wasn't JUST the Communist history upsetting the easily upsettable. In a right-to-work environment, it was also the out of context message of worker unity, divorced as it was, of its Marxist origin. Nothing's more terrifying to the unreconstructed set like the idea of a united working and underclass or any unified threat to the hegemony.  This has always been true.

Public response to public art is directly and proportionally-related to public values and the degree to which those values are reflected in the work. That's why modernism in the public sphere met with so much backlash at the end of the last century. As one heartland critic noted in the 1970's: "I think people are tired of New York Arty-art. You can keep it in museums where it won't bother anybody." Coming full circle, abstract work becomes attractive in the public sphere again for the exact same reason — people can't ascribe values, making it harmless. We tend to divorce the Confederate memorials from similar conversations about public art. Probably because it clears the fog of war and makes the question of values (or negative values) so apparent.

 All art speaks to the future, and public art speaks with authority. That's why this battle has been so bitter. It's not about the past, it's for the future. As the City of Memphis, spurred on by united activists, creeps forward with plans to execute this long-overdue removal (a process gummed by Tennessee's regressive and cowardly state legislature) I thought it might be interesting to remember when all those people down in the comments today screeching, "history," and "heritage," were out in the street chanting (okay, praying) "tear it down!"

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

8 Places Elvis Fans Won't Visit but Probably Should

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 10:33 AM

This was originally published here at FOTW back in 2013. It's still a good list and since so many Elvis-people are in town it seemed like a good thing to re-post. If you've never seen it before, enjoy. If you have, enjoy all over again!

#8: Alcenia's
, 317 N. Main

Free hugs with every meal. For real.
  • Free hugs with every meal. For real.

Alcenia's is a funky little soul food joint at the Southwest edge of Memphis' Pinch District where meals are cooked to order and every new customer gets a hug. Although neither the restaurant, nor the building has a specific Elvis connection, sidewalk tables provide guests with the best view of the I-40 overpass in town.

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Of course, when Elvis was a teenager living in the Lauderdale Courts housing project there was no scenic I-40 overpass. Instead, there was a cluster of African-American bars and in the evenings both the music and the crowds spilled out into the street.

Why Elvis fans won't visit: There's really not much to see, unless you count this sign marking the location of Memphis' first bar.


Drunk History
  • Drunk History


Why they should: The long demolished Green Owl, a working class African-American beer joint once located at 260 N. Main, just southeast of Alcenia's, was one of young Elvis' favorite neighborhood clubs. He was especially fond of a musician who played a homemade bass he'd fashioned from a bucket and a broomstick.

A view from the dark underbelly
  • A view from the dark underbelly

There's not much music along this somewhat lonely stretch separating the Pinch from the Convention Center, unless you count the song of all the cars and semis speeding by overhead. But these are the sidewalks where an impressionable teenaged Elvis mixed and mingled with blues players, and even though so much has been demolished, walking through Downtown's dilapidated but bouncing back north side, with its trolley line, horse stables and old shop fronts, is still like stepping back in time.

#7: The old Memphis Police Station, 128 Adams

These crumbling stairs...

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Lead to this locked, boarded-up door...

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That once served as an entrance to Memphis' Downtown Police Station.

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Why Elvis fans won't go: Unless you're a fan of weeds and urban decay, why would you?

Why they should: Elvis was fascinated by law enforcement. The lengths he'd go to collect a new badge knew no bounds.

Suspicious Minds
  • Suspicious Minds

But it wasn't all about the bling. Elvis was also genuinely in awe of policemen, and would sometimes ride along after making late night/early morning visits to the station. He even visited the downtown station one Christmas claiming that he needed something to do and it was the only place in town that was open.

Besides, who doesn't love to picnic near classical ruins?

#6: The Blackwood Brothers Record Store, 209 N. Lauderdale

The Lord is my bail bondsman
  • The Lord is my bail bondsman

Why Elvis fans won't go: Because the building, located just off Poplar Ave. near the Jail, has been converted into a bail bondsman's office in what might best be described as Memphis' bail bond district.

Why they should: Elvis was a huge fan of gospel quartets, and the Blackwood Brothers, with their fancy customized touring bus...

Elvis is gonna want one of these
  • Elvis is gonna want one of these

and their own private plane...

And one of these
  • And one of these

were, to put it mildly, complete badasses. Also, you can see the site formerly known as Lauderdale Courts from the front door.

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Today the only records being discussed at 209 Lauderdale are permanent ones, but when his soul needed a'rockin', this is where Elvis got his vinyl fix.

#5: Gulf Station, Second & Gayoso

On October 18, 1956, much ass was kicked near to this very spot
  • On October 18, 1956, much ass was kicked near to this very spot

I sometimes pretend that the above piece of public art is a monument built on the site where Elvis licked two gas station attendants then told the cops (jokingly) that his name was Carl Perkins.

Of course it's not and the the actual brawl went down across the street.

Cornered
  • Cornered

All three men involved in the altercation were charged with assault and battery, but Elvis had been struck first and the Judge ruled in his favor.

Why Elvis fans won't go: It's not an obvious landmark.

Why they should: Two reasons. This is where a scene plucked right out of an Elvis movie actually happened. Also, Elvis's life changed fast. This fight and the resulting day in court represent a dawning realization that life would never be normal again.

Continue reading »

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