Thirty Years On ... 

The Flyer celebrates three decades of news, views, blues, food, and yahoos.

The News That Was ...

There's news, then, there's Flyer news. While we've honed a straighter edge on our reportage these days, there was a time when Flyer news was, well, wild. Did a celebrity living in Memphis have a maid called Vaginica Semen? Did someone place a crystal skull in the apex of the Pyramid? Are all furries perverts? Did local massage parlors really give "happy endings"? (Duh.)

These were some of the burning questions for which Flyer reporters sought answers. And they got 'em, mostly. Many of those stories come back to life when company old-timers get a drink in their hands. Consider this your invitation to hear some of those war stories.

— Toby Sells

1. David Gest and Vaginica Semen

David Gest was married to, and later divorced from, actress Liza Minelli. Hoping to escape his post-Liza celebrityhood, Gest moved to Memphis in 2004, where he soon erected pictures of himself on billboards and made headlines buying chicken dinners for homeless people on Christmas. Gest's story took a turn for the amazing when the phone rang on the desk of a Flyer reporter in November 2006. 

"We got a call this morning from the London Sun asking if we could send a reporter over to Gest's Memphis home and see if the maid's name was really 'Vagina,' which is apparently what they were told by Gest," the reporter wrote. "We are so NOT making this up. Stay tuned."

We did. The maid's name was later revised to "Vaginica Semen."  But we never scored that confirmation or met the maid. However, Gest told reporters years later that Semen became a dermatologist and went into business with his cousin, Dildoa Pratt. 

When Gest left Memphis in 2006, Branston was sad to see him go. Here's what he wrote: "Dear God, say it's not true. Just when David Gest, one of Memphis' few breathing celebs, hits the big time with the British megahit show, I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, he says he's leaving us. For London, of course, where the Brits now love him in ways we can't even imagine. It's a case of life imitating, well, stupid tabloid television: Gest is a celebrity, and he's getting out of here." Gest passed away in 2016. 

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2. My Furry Weekend

Bianca Phillips and her pal Greg covered a furry convention in 2005. Here's a sample of Bianca's reporting: "We borrowed costumes. I chose to be a slutty white cat, and Greg donned a lot of black furry material, along with some sort of fuzzy Russian hat and bondage ankle cuffs and a collar. He didn't exactly look like an animal. When people asked, he described his getup as a 'whore bear.'

"A volleyball game is under way in the garden court. Both teams are made up entirely of fursuiters. Cheetahs and tigers hit an oversized fuzzy pink and purple volleyball over a net to foxes and rabbits and bears, who scramble to hit it back.

"Only a few people here have a furry sex fetish. They're referred to as furverts or plushies. For obvious reasons, they tend to get more press. But if they are present at this convention, they're not making themselves known — much to our disappointment.

"An artist is selling adult furry sketches. Cats with human vaginas. Naked squirrel girls on Sea-Doos. Erotic skunk ladies posed on top of hot rods. His portfolio could easily be right out of Playboy, if it weren't for all of the tails and whiskers.

"Greg is slightly creeped out, but I want a souvenir, so I purchase a drawing of a naked cat lying spread-eagle on a bed, playing with a ball of yarn. Her breasts and, um, everything else are exposed."

3. Massage Parlors and Nudist Camps

Here's former news editor Mary Cashiola's take (in 2009) on the mid-1990s work of Phil Campbell, a reporter whose name and work still spark tales at company gatherings:

In 1996, Campbell kicked things off with an undercover investigation of massage parlors in which he was solicited for a variety of sexual favors. (Company lore recalls that Campbell kept coming back to the accounting department — more relaxed each time — for petty cash.)

The story had a happy ending, however, when the next month, the Memphis Police Department cracked down on massage parlors that operated as fronts for prostitution.

Since by now it was well documented that he wasn't squeamish about nudity — either his own or other people's — Campbell and a friend ventured to a private nudist resort in Middle Tennessee.

"It's a nice place for a weekend getaway," he wrote. "It's clothing optional, and the vast majority of visitors come with the specific intention of opting out of their clothing."

Campbell dutifully reported on naked folks in the pool, playing foosball, eating dinner, and singing karaoke, and Campbell admitted he could't help noticing other vacationers' equipment. But how can you not when they're doing pants-less karaoke:

"In between karaoke sets, the nudists limbo. They do the hokey-pokey. They do the chicken polka. They make a feeble attempt at the Electric Slide." 

4. Want a Flyer? One Dollar, Please. 

May 6, 1996 — Some enterprising panhandlers found a new way to make money Downtown. They began taking stacks of Flyer issues from racks and selling them to tourists, who apparently didn't see the word "free" on the cover until after they'd given out a dollar or two. 

"In a way, we're flattered to think that people would value our product enough to pay for it," said Flyer publisher Kenneth Neill, who'd been approached himself by panhandlers hoping to sell him copies of his own newspaper. "But we hope by now everyone knows the Flyer is free."

5. The Pyramid and the Crystal Skull

In late 1991, The Pyramid was new and exciting. Befitting such a weird building, there was a weird rumor that during construction workmen were paid to weld a metal box inside the apex. The installation supposedly took place late at night, with the mysterious box carried by persons dressed in black and carrying a transit pointed to the North Star. One thing led to another, and in December, an expedition of county officials and Pyramid managers climbed to the top to have a look. As the Flyer's John Branston reported, sure enough, there was a metal box welded to a beam 300 feet above the Mississippi River. Someone mounted a ladder and detached it. It was stuck in a vault over the weekend.

When it was opened, there was a wooden box inside the metal box and a black velvet box inside the wooden box. Inside the velvet box was a crystal skull about the size of a man's fist, with sunken eyes, a sunken nose, and elongated teeth.

In a drawer beneath it were some magazine clips and a fax transmission to Isaac Tigrett, cofounder of the Hard Rock Cafe and son of Pyramid guiding light and patron John Tigrett. Isaac Tigrett was a New Age fan and disciple of guru Sri Baba. The next day, Isaac Tigrett confirmed that he had placed the skull in The Pyramid as part of a time capsule to generate future publicity for the project. The skull was eventually returned to him. He said it was intended to be part of a promotion called "The Egyptian Time Capsule."

Many years later, Chris Davis updated the story when Infowars host/conspiracy-theory nut job Alex Jones stopped in Memphis to make a brief video about the Pyramid: "Now, the [Pyramid] is cursed," Jones declared. "No one would go there anymore because of deaths and flooding and electrical problems. ... There was a skull up in the top, a crystal skull ... a little demon monkey, and little goblin charms hidden up in the capstone in a little metal box. And it just goes to show that the people who run the planet are really into this."

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30 Years of Food!

Thirty years! A lot has happened to change the culinary landscape of Memphis. A lot has stubbornly remained unchanged. And so it goes. We've noticed some movements over the past few decades that have fundamentally shaped how we eat in Memphis, and, in turn, shaped who we are. So napkins in laps and forks up, here we go!

1. Top Chef: The year 2008 was a big one for Memphis cuisine. Kelly English opened Restaurant Iris in the old La Tourelle near Overton Square, and Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman opened Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen on Brookhaven Circle, paving the way for a restaurant renaissance in that area. These chefs introduced creative, smart dishes that pushed at the boundaries of what we previously knew, at the same time burnishing Memphis' rep. Both parties have since expanded with other restaurants, within the city and beyond.

click to enlarge Kelly English
  • Kelly English

2. Beer Thirty: Was it just six years ago — 2013 — when three (!) Memphis breweries — Wiseacre, Memphis Made, and High Cotton — opened their doors? These brewers brought craft and tons of personality to their beers. Since then, Memphis has picked up two more breweries — Crosstown and Meddlesome — with more on the horizon.

click to enlarge Wiseacre
  • Wiseacre

3. Wheels Go Round and Round: The food truck ordinance passed, finally, in spring 2011. (It was led by Jim Strickland!) Before that moment, only hot dogs, prepackaged sandwiches, and frozen treats could be sold from a cart. But now a whole rainbow of options are available — from Thai street food and barbecue to tacos and beyond. And, we're seeing it go full circle these days, with food trucks often acting as a stepping stone to a brick and mortar space.

4. It's Noon Somewhere: To dream the impossible dream. It was never going to happen. We were told as much for many, many years. But, it did. On July 1, 2016, wine was made available in grocery stores. Liquor stores balked and were given the right to sell beer and groceries in exchange.

And THEN, just like that, without the years of hand-wringing and bills that had bedeviled the wine-in-grocery stores initiative, a bill was passed to allow liquor to be sold on Sundays. Cheers!

5. It Grows on You: The Memphis Farmers Market launched Downtown near the train station in 2006. What followed was a cascade of similar neighborhood markets all around the city, and an increased interest in eating our vegetables, which, in turn, spawned CSAs and the local farm-to-table movement.

6. Won't You Be My Neighbor? We remember when Cooper-Young was sketchy as hell, with a scary biker bar. Nowadays, you can't swing a cat without hitting a hipster drinking a craft beer. Credit the can't-miss restaurants — Sweet Grass, Tsunami, Young Avenue Deli, Celtic Crossing, Hammer & Ale, Java Cabana, Beauty Shop, DKDC, Mulan, etc. — for this revitalization. And we've seen it time and time again in other neighborhoods, on South Main, Binghampton, and so on.

7. Let's Go Shopping: In 2002, hometown fave, Seessel's, was taken over by Schnucks, which was then eaten by Kroger in 2011. Meanwhile, Wild Oats morphed into Whole Foods in 2008. And then Sprouts sprung up in 2015 to diversify options, followed by Trader Joe's (finally!) in 2018. Not to mention Aldi, Cash Saver, Cordelia's Market, and Fresh Market.

8. Mouth of the South: Buttery biscuits, grits, and fried catfish have always been a safe bet in this city, but it seems more and more restaurants are claiming their Southern roots. Especially, lately, there are a lot of new restaurants — Mahogany, P.O. Press, among them — serving upscale Southern fare. We say, bring it!

9. Bun in the Oven: Kat Gordon opened Muddy's Bake Shop in 2008 and soon won us over with her quirky charm and, oh yeah, those dang delicious cupcakes and cookies and bars. And those frosting shots didn't hurt, either. What's followed in Muddy's wake is a delicious proliferation of bakeries, each offering their own quirky, charming cupcakes and treats. This is a trend we can get behind.

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  • Kat Gordon

10. Get Festive: There are worse ways to while away a weekend than spending it at one of the seemingly countless food festivals that have cropped up hereabouts over the years. While the granddaddys — Barbecue, Italian — are still kings of the hill, we're also partial to the various Hot Wings fests and Crawfish fests, the Burger Fest, and, yep, the Flyer's own Margarita Fest. Nobody's taken up our idea of a Gin & Juice Fest, yet. Anybody? Anybody?

— Susan Ellis  

10 Pivotal Political Moments

1. Though he's nearing 80 and a full decade out of political office, Willie Herenton is regarded as a long-odds candidate for mayor of Memphis in 2019. Herenton held that position for a record 18 years, and it was his upset election over then incumbent Dick Hackett in 1991 (by 146 votes!) that remains the major political milestone of the 30 years of the Flyer's existence. It was not just that Herenton was the city's first elected black mayor; his election signified the emergence of African Americans as a demographic majority in Memphis and the dawning of an age of shared power that persists to the present day.

click to enlarge Former Mayor Willie Herenton
  • Former Mayor Willie Herenton

2. Now largely forgotten, the indictment in 1987 of then 9th District Congressman Harold Ford, an African-American Democrat, on bank fraud charges relating to his relationship to the Butcher Brothers of Knoxville (a political/banking power duo), generated a period of political/racial tension that climaxed in Ford's surprise acquital in 1993 by an imported majority-white West Tennessee jury in federal court. The outcome freed the Ford organization  to resume functioning as the dominant political power in Memphis through the end of the century and beyond.

3. The 1994 election cycle in Memphis and Shelby County generated abundant drama, much of it stemming from that year's gubernatorial race, featuring three prominent figures, two of them — then Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris and then 8th District Congressman Don Sundquist — from Memphis, and a third, Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen. Democrat Morris and Republican Sundquist sundered an enduring best-friends relationship as a result of their mutual gubernatorial ambitions. A political fund-raiser featuring county inmates as workers resulted in an indictment of Morris that owed much to machinations of members of a Middle Tennessee political circle backing Bredesen for the Democratic  nomination. The indictment was dismissed, but it had crippled Morris' chances. Sundquist was elected, but his espousal of a state income tax and defense of TennCare later made him a pariah with the GOP.

4. At the tag end of the 1997 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, a "caption" bill was sneaked through, deceptively allowing the creation of new municipalities from almost any sized community and threatening to hem Memphis in with a plethora of new "toy towns." Carrying the legal fight against the measure, Memphis Mayor Herenton succeeded after some months in having it declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. The episode was one landmark in an ongoing statewide battle over municipal growth that now focuses on the issue of de-annexation.

5. In May 2005, as that year's session of the legislature was about to end, FBI agents swooped in on departing members and arrested several of them, who had been surveilled on videotape taking bribes to vote for what turned out to be a fictitious bill governing disposal of surplus computers. The sting, code-named Tennessee Waltz, netted such well-known Memphis figures as influential state Senator John Ford, Senator and then Shelby County Democraric chair Katherine Bowers, ex-Senator Roscoe Dixon, and several others. Further arrests by the GOP-controlled Justice Department, both in Nashville and Memphis, resulted in the evisceration of the Democratic power base and a short-lived reform moment in party ranks. Subsequent stings were carried out against city-government targets in Memphis, with mixed results.

6. The election cycle of 2006 took place in what turned out to be a high-water mark for Democrats in recent state history. It was the last election year carried out with both the state Senate and state House in Democratic hands, and Democrat Phil Bredesen went on to win a second term as governor. Harold Ford Jr., who had succeeded his father as 9th District Congressman, lost a U.S. Senate race to Repulican Bob Corker by a hair's-breadth, and state Senator Steve Cohen won the first of numerous victories, continuing through the present, for the 9th District congressional seat. Cohen's successes, along with simultaneous victories for A C Wharton, an African American, as Shelby County mayor were seen as auguries of a "post-racial" period in politics.

7. The election cycles of 2008-10, though featuring the potentially transformative election of President Barack Obama, nationally, saw the rapid downturn of Democratic fortunes in Tennessee, with Republicans gaining both the governorship and a supermajority in both houses of the legislature.

8. On December 20, 2010, a majority of the school board of Memphis City Schools, reacting to the blowout victory of Republicans in that year's statewide elections, and fearing loss of funding via the likely legislative enabling of a new rival school district in suburban Shelby County, voted to surrender the MCS charter, a verdict later seconded by the voters of Memphis.

The action forced a series of upheavals: the merger of city and county schools in Shelby County, followed by state legislation allowing the creation of separate and independent school districts in each of the county's six suburban municipalities. This new hodgepodge would be further complicated by state action creating a new statewide school district to administer the state's "failing" schools, many of them in Memphis.

9. On another December 20th, this one in 2017, the long-controversial statues of Confederate figures Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis were hauled down from their pedestals in Downtown Memphis parks. To circumvent state law and the resistance of the Tennessee Historical Commission, the parks had been deeded over to an ad hoc nonprofit, Memphis Greenspace, which accomplished the removal. Courts later validated the legality of the process.

10. On April 4, 2018, the city of Memphis carried out a monumental 50th anniversary commemoration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, who had been assassinated in the city a half century earlier. That observance, which included participants from all over the world, served as a preamble of sorts to the current 2019 election, in which the mayoral hopefuls include the aforementioned political pioneer, W.W. Herenton, Take 'Em Down 901 activist Tami Sawyer, who led a movement to remove the Confederate statues, and incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland, who oversaw the statue removal.

Jackson Baker

10 Memphis Movie Moments

1. The Beginning: The Memphis Flyer first filled newspaper boxes the same year Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure was released into the world — 1989. If you were a moviegoer in Memphis, you had a lot fewer choices than you have now. If you were, say, a college student in Midtown (few people lived Downtown at the time) you went to the Highland Quartet to see Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, then popped next door to the arcade, where someone tried to sell you drugs while you were playing Galaga.

2. Mystery Train: That year, 1989, was also the beginning of the modern indie film era. Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape came out of nowhere to win at the then little-known Sundance Film Festival. It's now conventional wisdom that Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing should have won the Best Picture Oscar over Driving Miss Daisy. Director Jim Jarmusch came to Memphis to film Mystery Train, an episodic story about fresh-faced Japanese tourists discovering an America that was collapsing under the weight of its own myth. He shot mostly on South Main, then an abandoned urban wasteland. When Clash frontman Joe Strummer wasn't in front of the camera, he was shooting pool at the P&H Cafe. It would prove to be the beginning of a fertile period in film production in the Bluff City.

3. The Firm: Mystery Train was a seminal film to cinephiles, but most moviegoers didn't get a taste of the new Memphis until 1993, when Sydney Pollack's adaptation of John Grisham's bestselling legal thriller, The Firm, hit the screen. It would prove to be a huge hit, taking home $270 million on a $42 million budget. Today, the film is best remembered for being the origin of the "Tom Cruise running" trope.

4. The People vs. Larry Flynt: In 1996, Milos Foreman brought Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love to Memphis to film this saga of the Hustler magazine porn magnate turned free speech hero, written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander. Hundreds of Memphians worked on the crew or were recruited from the punk rock club Barrister's to appear as background players in various states of undress. (I get a ton of screen time in the Supreme Court scene as "The Guy Over Ed Norton's Shoulder.")

5. Mike McCarthy and Ira Sachs: Meanwhile, there was a home-grown film revolution brewing. Memphis College of Art dropout Mike McCarthy started producing his own psychotronic underground films in 1994 with Damselvis: Daughter of Helvis. Working with little money and lots of daring, the self-described "Man Without a Drive-in" made the autobiographical Teenage Tupelo, sci-fi garage rock romp The Sore Losers, and the post-apocalyptic, feminist Superstarlet A.D. in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, Ira Sachs, a soft-spoken product of the Memphis community theater scene, emerged with The Delta, a reflective, coming-of-age film about being young, queer, and weird in Memphis, which premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival.

6. Indie Memphis & Outflix: By the late 1990s, digital technology was making it easier than ever to become a filmmaker. In April 1997, Brian Pera started the Twinkie Museum Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which screened in a disused auditorium at the University of Memphis. The festival, which after a short hiatus rebranded itself Outflix Memphis, is still going strong today. The next year, a group of filmmakers gathered in a Midtown bar to project films onto a sheet and serve Jell-o shots. Most of the films those first years of what would become Indie Memphis were comedy shorts by cable access TV madman John Pickle.

7. Hustle & Flow: Indie Memphis' biggest breakout star would prove to be Craig Brewer, a Southern California transplant to Memphis whose 2000 film, The Poor & Hungry, went on to win the Hollywood Film Festival's first-ever digital feature prize. Brewer's next film, 2005's Hustle & Flow, won the Audience Award at Sundance and set a record when MTV bought the film for $9 million. It made stars out of Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, who got a Best Actor nomination at the same Academy Awards where "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" won Oscar gold for Best Original Song.

8. Walk the Line: The Johnny Cash biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon was filmed in Memphis soon after Hustle & Flow. The film was the highest-grossing musical biopic until 2015, when Straight Outta Compton surpassed its $186 million box office haul. Witherspoon's portrayal of June Carter Cash earned her a Best Actress Academy Award.

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  • Walk The Line

9. This Is What Love in Action Looks Like: The Memphis Digital Co-Op was a filmmaking collective based out of the basement of First Congo Church on Cooper that birthed dozens of filmmakers. Co-founder Morgan Jon Fox grabbed a camera when he heard about the protests brewing around Love In Action, a gay conversion therapy center in East Memphis. The 2011 documentary, more than six years in the making, would prove to be hugely influential in the LBGTQ community, and the founder of Love in Action, who was confronted by Fox in the film, later came out as gay himself.

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  • This Is What Love In Action Looks Like

10. Now: Last year, the Indie Memphis Film Festival attracted more than 12,000 filmgoers, and more than 110 local filmmakers had work in the festival. Productions such as the hit TV movie Christmas at Graceland are returning to Memphis after a decade-long, multi-state battle over tax incentives drove major producers to New Orleans and Atlanta. Craig Brewer writes and directs Henson and Howard in the hit TV series Empire, and his new film, Dolomite Is My Name, was written and produced by Karaszewski and Alexander, and stars Eddie Murphy. And with the opening of the Downtown Malco Powerhouse, cinemaphiles have more options than ever.

— Chris McCoy

Arts and Culture

1. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art: In 1989, the year the Flyer was born, the Brooks did a major expansion, adding a new entrance, rotunda, auditorium, restaurant space and terrace, loading docks, storage, and offices. Brooks celebrated its centennial in 2016 and then in 2017 decided that it wanted to leave its historic home in Overton Park and build a new facility Downtown for $105 million that will open in 2024.

2. The Memphis College of Art: MCA celebrated 53 years of "teaching people the language of art and craft," as the school's original 1936 catalog declared. In the 1990s, it began acquiring property near the school's main building — Rust Hall in Overton Park — and in 2010 acquired and opened a building at Main and Butler to house the graduate school. In 2012, MCA issued a "declaration of financial exigency" because of deep fiscal troubles, and in 2015, it sold the Downtown building and reconsolidated its graduate and undergraduate programs. On October 24, 2017, the board said MCA would end student recruitment and close in 2020, when the last of the current students would graduate. Declining enrollment, massive real estate debt, and no viable longterm plan for financial sustainability sounded the school's death knell.

3. Wonders: The Memphis International Cultural Series of blockbuster exhibitions officially started in 1989 (The Year of the Flyer!), although the seeds were planted in 1987's hugely successful Ramesses the Great exhibition. It would put on shows examining Catherine the Great, Splendors of the Ottoman Sultans, The Etruscans, Napoleon, Imperial Tombs of China, Ancestors of the Incas, World War II Through Russian Eyes, Eternal Egypt, Czars: 400 Years of Imperial Grandeur, Masters of Florence, and Art of the Motorcycle. The series, losing money, ended its run in 2005. The most successful show was the "Titanic," which included the boat deck reproduced in one of the galleries as it was on the night of April 14, 1912. Jon Thompson, then the director of the Wonders series, said: "You'll see the empty davits, the lifeboats are gone, and we want people to have that lump in their throat, and go, 'Holy shit, I'm on board, and I'm going to die.'"

4. Memphis Symphony Orchestra: In the first decade of the millennium, the MSO created something of a revolution, increasing its focus on community engagement and creating the novel and popular Opus One series, and including the musicians in many of the organization's significant decisions. Other symphonic groups around the country watched with interest. But then, in 2014, as Chris Davis wrote: "The Memphis Symphony Orchestra is running out of money. The endowment has dried up and the sky is falling. Or maybe the sky is merely restructuring, depending on the account you believe." The MSO barely made it through an abbreviated 2013-2014 season, and it took a further scramble to raise funds, cutting staff, and paring music programming to make the 2014-2015 season possible. Musicians took a 38 percent pay cut. In March of this year, a three-year contract between the MSO and its musicians provided modest increases in salary and added some weeks to the schedule.

5. Opera Memphis: Ned Canty took the reins of Opera Memphis in 2010, employing innovative guerrilla marketing tactics with enough success to earn grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. He created 30 Days of Opera, a monthlong series of daily performances around the city, and established the annual Midtown Opera Festival to considerable acclaim.

6. Playhouse on the Square: Despite a vengeful economy that wreaked havoc on nonprofits, Playhouse on the Square in 2010 raised enough money to move from the old Memphian Theatre into a custom-built, $12.5 million, performing arts facility across the street. POTS remains a force in local theater.

7. Theatre Memphis: After some rough years for Theatre Memphis, Debbie Litch became executive producer in 2004 and not only upgraded the building but improved production values and programming. She will lead TM into its 100th anniversary in the 2020-21 season.

8. Ballet Memphis: The troupe moved into its new 30,000-square-foot Midtown headquarters at Overton Square in 2017. The move reflects the growing impact of the now 33-year-old organization, which has been at the forefront of building and encouraging racial and ethnic representation in the nation's ballet companies.

9. Hattiloo Theatre: Opened in 2006 in a tiny store-front in the Edge District, Hattiloo sustained a schedule of eight productions a year for eight years. It 2014, the African-American repertory theater moved to a new freestanding building in Overton Square, debt-free, where it continues to develop strong community and educational resources.

10. Soulsville: The historic Stax Studio building was razed in 1989, the year the Flyer first hit the streets. But the Soulsville Foundation took root in 1998 and from that beginning, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the Stax Music Academy, and the Soulsville Charter School arose, bringing educational life and historic preservation to the Soulsville neighborhood.

— Jon Sparks

Top Ten Albums of the Past 30 Years

Historical perspective on the current era is elusive. For that reason alone, any list of stellar albums dating back 30 years may sell more recent works short. Of today's music, what will emerge from the fog of hype? We leave that question to the Fates, and point out some albums that have already withstood the ravages of time since 1989.

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1. Jesse Mae Hemphill — Feelin' Good (High Water, 1990): This sleeper gem, produced by ethnomusicologist Dr. Dave Evans, embodies the unique North Mississippi blues that has been filtering up to Memphis for generations. Unlike other hill country musicians like Othar Turner, Hemphill lived in Memphis for decades. These tracks capture her raw spirit and trance-inducing steady hand on the guitar with bare bones perfection.

2. Mud Boy & the Neutrons — Negro Streets at Dawn (New Rose, 1993): This sophomore release reflects a band rooted in the freewheeling '70s. But these guys rock hard enough to transcend any trends, and, from "Dear Dad" to "Power to the People," the way they reimagine covers roots them in history. Featuring Jim Dickinson, Sid Selvidge, Lee Baker, and Jimmy Crosthwait: a supergroup of very sympatico team players.

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3. The Grifters — Ain't My Lookout (Sub Pop, 1996): No other record captures the sheer inventiveness going on at Easley-McCain Recording Studio in the '90s. They were already a perfect fit for the studio's kitchen-sink approach, but the technicolor production values also tightened the band's songwriting, every track crammed with unorthodox hooks and textures.

4. The Oblivians — ... Play Nine Songs with Mr. Quintron (Crypt/1997): This is not the "classic" Oblivians trio, being their final, experimental fling before the reunions of recent years. But it captures much of the manic energy of their first albums. Meanwhile, its emphasis on traditional gospel songs and the addition of Quintron's organ pointed to the future growth of the Reigning Sound. ("Live the Life" was a regular part of the latter band's set).

5. Tav Falco & the Unapproachable Panther Burns — Panther Phobia (In the Red, 2000): While the Panther Burns were always evolving, this latter-day effort was an apotheosis of their eclectic influences. Though founding member Alex Chilton was long absent from the band, his anarchic spirit is still felt. The lo-fi approach here is truer to that spirit than many of the band's more pristine recordings.

6. Al Green — I Can't Stop (Blue Note, 2003): Fans gasped to hear this return to form, fueled by the partnership of Green and Willie Mitchell, his visionary producer. Green's first secular album in a quarter-century, it recaptured all of the elements of their classic work without dipping into nostalgia. At its heart were Green's always-inspired and often edgy vocals.

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7. Calvin Newborn — New Born (Yellow Dog, 2005): Another sleeper, featuring some of the finest guitar work of a true son of Memphis. The Newborn family, including brother Phineas Newborn Jr., made a huge mark on the city's music, and Calvin channels that into the new century, featuring other renowned natives like Charlie Wood, Donald Brown, and Herman Green.

8. Three 6 Mafia — Most Known Unknown (Sony BMG, 2005): With what Vibe called their "buck style" at the time, sometimes called crunk, now known as trap, Three 6 Mafia has been ruling the charts via homages, imitators, and outright samples for years now. Their biggest-selling album ever was the culmination of a style already 10 years old. Presaging their 2006 Oscar, it also expanded the crew's sonic palette with faster tempos and soul samples complementing their trademark horror film soundscape.

9. Jay Reatard — Watch Me Fall (Matador, 2009): Rising from Reatard's punk roots came this pop masterpiece, still boasting plenty of noise, but with wildly imaginative flourishes of jangly guitar, layered vocals, and even cello. Easily his most melodic writing, most tunes are delivered at a breakneck pace. It's all the more stunning knowing he played most of the instruments himself.

10. Honorable mentions: Big Ass Truck's Who Let You in Here? (Peabody, 1998), like the Grifters album, memorably exuded the quirky inventiveness of the '90s with panache. The Reigning Sound's first four studio albums (2001-05) have been deemed era-defining folk rock and garage by many. The Barbaras' 2006-2008 (Goner, 2012) is a personal favorite. And more recent contenders for Memphis classics would be the Unapologetic compilations, Stuntarious I-III (2016-18), Don Bryant's 2017 comeback Don't Give Up on Love, Harlan T. Bobo's A History of Violence from 2018, and Mellotron Variations, soon to be released.

— Alex Greene


Unzipped: Your Fly is Always Open

I've been feeding this narrow strip of newsprint since before gmail was a thing, but I wasn't the first Fly in the Memphis media ointment. Former Flyer writer Jim Hanas created the column in 1996 and nurtured it through its larval stage, before handing it off to former Flyer music editor Mark Jordan who, in turn, trained me in the art of peskiness. For 23 of the Flyer's 30 years, the Fly Team has fixed its compound eyes on the Mid-South, reading every paper, scanning every magazine, watching every news broadcast, running up and down the radio dial, and diving into the most terrifying corners of the internet, seeking puerile laughs, and looking for all the things that make Memphis weird and keep it wonderful. Here are some examples for the ages:

• In 2008, the Christian-themed news aggregator and wire service One-News tried out a computer program that automatically changes the word "gay" to "homosexual." It worked too well, leading to stories like this: "Memphis backers hit the hay, hoping that Kevin Love would open things up for Rudy Homosexual in the frontcourt." Ooh la la.

• In 2000, when Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware wanted to install a phone in a bathroom stall at City Hall, Councilman Joe Brown said the most Joe Brown thing ever: "This building is not totally safe. ... Also, nobody is exempt from abnormalities of the human body. We need that phone in there. God bless everybody."

Brown knows how to make a rousing speech. When hundreds of ironworkers interested in arena contracts showed up to a city council meeting in April 2002, he delivered an enthusiastic off-the-cuff monologue about the importance of labor unions in America. When Brown concluded, a lone iron worker was heard saying, "My titties just stood up. I think my titties just stood up."

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• Remember when Walgreens snatched your baby's balls?

• June 26, 2003 — Society mag Elite Memphis ran a special "30 Most Beautiful People of Memphis" edition that listed "Dicks Unlimited" as a community service activity to which one of the featured beauties devoted her "time, finances, and talent."

•In the fall of 2013, Fly on the Wall reported on a series of owl attacks in Memphis' High Point neighborhood. No less credible a witness than Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich gave the following account: "And sure enough, this bird comes flying at the top of my head. It had the wingspan of a Buick. It was the biggest thing I've ever seen in my life."

• Who among us hasn't wished there were more hours in the day? In 2014, former state Representative/Time Lord Curry Todd proposed widely mocked legislation to eliminate Daylight Saving Time and/or make it permanent. Todd seemed to think he was giving Tennesseans an extra hour to get ready for work in the morning, and an extra hour to unwind in the evening.

• In 2004, Johnny Cash's estate entered negotiations to prevent the song "Ring of Fire" from being used to advertise hemorrhoid cream.

• Wise words from Justin Timberlake, taken from a column the young boy-bander penned for Entertainment Teen magazine in 2000: "I used to have a lucky rock but I lost it. So I was like, you know what? I don't need it."

• State Senator Ophelia Ford, after being asked about her $12,000 taxpayer-funded travel bill in December 2008: "You mean to tell me that all I spent was $12,000? Oh, well, hallelujah. Thank you, Lord, for making it so economical."

• Supermodel Cindy Crawford speculating on the reaction of a patient she'd visited at St. Jude: "I'm standing over him ... as he's coming to. He's probably thinking he had some good drugs."

• In 2006, Fly on the Wall presented Channel 5's Jason Miles with the Howard Hughes "Cleanliness Is Next to Craziness Award" after he took his "secret swab" into restrooms all over town and found — astonishingly enough — fecal matter. It was the beginning of an obsession with Miles, who always seemed to be crawling under things to get the big story. He crawled under buildings and popped his head through pet doors. We weren't the only ones who couldn't look away. One Memphis fan got his "crawling under a car" picture on a birthday cake. Miles has since taken a job in Houston, where shenanigans continue but sometimes include cowboy hats.

• In 2009, a short, mean-spirited poem written by Elvis Presley sold at auction for $20,000. The rhyme, scrawled on Elvis' personal stationery, reads, "As I awoke this morning when all sweet things are born, a robin perched on my window sill to greet the coming dawn. He sang his sweet song so sweetly and paused for a moment's lull, I gently raised the window and crushed his [expletive] skull."

• I originally said I couldn't show you the entire photo that WREG reporter Melissa Moon tweeted from a charity 5K in 2014, because one of the superhero cosplayers went commando. So this is all you got:

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Anniversary issues are special, so here's the rest:

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And yes, Peter Parker jokes are still relevant.

• Shortly after officials in Tunica announced that the area's property tax would be eliminated in the summer of 2000, Commercial Appeal correspondent Bartholomew Sullivan wrote, "Residents of Tunica will have only death to worry about."

• Fox13 News reporter Lauren Lee shared a photo of "America's Strip Joint," and its nod to Prince Harry's whirlwind visit: "Welcome Prince Harry," it reads.

• More accidental humor from WMC's Jason Miles: "Man murdered in Marshall Co. was double amputee. Half brother in custody." But, was the half-brother armed?

• According to The Commercial Appeal, Collierville was looking to attract a very special kind of food tourism in 2013: "'I think it's going to be good for the whole town and especially Town Square. It'll bring tourists to this area,' said general manager Debi McCaffrey for Gus's Fried Children at 215 S. Center." Also from the CA: "Without [Marc Gasol] we turn into a makeshit team."

• And now, the most awkward media moment of 2012. When WMC-TV's Jamel Major reported that the statue of Rameses the Great was being moved to its new home at the University of Memphis, cameras cut away to a sign instructing visitors to turn left for advance ticket sales and or right if they're looking for "Hot Black Cocks."

• Fly on the Wall loves church signs. Here are some local favorites. Berclair Baptist reminds us Forbidden Fruits Create Many Jams."

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Via a West Memphis Church of Christ: "Mary was the first person to have Jesus inside her but she certainly is not the last."

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A classic from The New Olivet Baptist Church: "Jesus Said. Bring Me That Ass."

• 2011 was a great year for headlines. When cops shut down a local B&B for travelers who like S&M, choice story toppers included "Collierville Cracks Whip in Sex Bondage House" and "Collierville's Hands Tied in Bondage House Prostitution." WREG led the news with, "Woman Behind Bars After Dog Found in Heat," and who can forget the classic "40-year-old Mary Magdalene Caught Naked In Teen's Closet," about a 40-year-old named Mary Magdalene caught naked in a teen's closet? And then there was this headline from The Daily Helmsman that requires no explanation: "Obama's Package Too Big, GOP Says."

• The biggest news from Arkansas in 2012: Chelsea Harris, described by a variety of media sources as "a very large woman," spent a night in jail after she allegedly sat on her landlord's face, inspiring headlines like "Arkansas Woman Sits on Landlord's Face." The victim was quoted as saying, "Mmmmf, mmmf, mmmelp!"

• To avoid a jury trial and a possible life sentence, James Everett Dutscke, a martial arts instructor/conspiracy theorist from Tupelo, pled guilty to sending ricin-laced letters to the president and attempting to frame Elvis impersonator/conspiracy theorist Paul Kevin Curtis. Dutscke, was tried separately for an unrelated charge of "fondling," and sentenced to 45 years.

• What did you get if you googled "meanest mugshot" in 2014? A photo collage of Judge Joe Brown, the jurist turned reality TV star. Brown was jailed for contempt of court.

• Parts of Memphis' weirdest mural have been painted over or hidden by a bush. But we'll never forget the quiet majesty of "Girl With Thumb in Baby's Butt."

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— Chris Davis

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