The Hot List
What's hot (or not) about life in the bluff city.
Sure, Memphis is known around the world for our music. We helped create kings at Sun Records, got "Shafted" at Stax, and Al Green made us feel loved and happy. No offense to our friends in Chicago, but we dare you to find better blues than what you'll hear any given night on Beale or various other tucked-away jookjoints and clubs. When the world absolutely, positively needed a way to ship important stuff overnight, we gave them FedEx. Here, we roll on the river, parade ducks through fancy hotel lobbies, and cook 'cue like nobody's business.
But there are some subtle things we love, and yes, even love to hate sometimes, about Memphis. For better or worse, these are the people, places, and news items we can't forget from the last year. Kick back and walk with us through our first edition of the Hot List, and see if you agree. >>>
WITH A QUICK COUNT-OFF, 30 bodies clad in immaculate white uniforms and red hair bows lift Newton's Laws from the pages of a science book and into the air. Literally. These are the girls that compose the Germantown High School varsity cheerleading squad, and if you didn't know this already, they're the best. The squad took the title of state champs in 2007 (the 2008 competition happens later this year), and brought home the national title in 2005 and 2006. These are the girls you see defying gravity on ESPN, tumbling, flipping, and flying through the air with ease that eludes even the most seasoned trapeze artists.
Under the direction of sponsor Vicki Tyler, the girls train for months for the competitions, and yes, can be found cheering on the GHS Devils under those Friday night lights. Plenty of former cheerleaders go on to cheer at the college level, so if a few of those faces smiling into the cameras as they whiz past the sidelines at those SEC games look familiar, it's because they are.
Did we mention the squad, all 9th through 12th graders, has a collective GPA of 3.1? Yes, these girls are the whole package. And to the other squads who will compete with our hometown gals later this year, we have three words for you: Bring it on.
—Mary Helen Randall
FORGET THE OUTCOME of their final game, and consider the heat the 2007-08 Memphis Tiger basketball team generated, not only in their hometown, but nationwide. Led by not one, but two All-Americans — junior Chris Douglas-Roberts and freshman point guard Derrick Rose — the Tigers won more games (38) than any team in the history of college basketball. They reeled off the longest winning streak (26 games) in the history of the program, beating the likes of Connecticut, Georgetown, Arizona, and Southern Cal on their way to a five-week stay at number-one in both national polls. John Calipari became the second coach to oversee three consecutive 30-win teams and the Tigers matched Kentucky's record for most victories in a three-year span (104). Best of all, Memphis put a whipping on three "power-conference" teams — Mississippi State, Michigan State, and Texas — on the way to the program's third Final Four appearance (and first in 23 years). While we're accentuating the positive, let's remember the thunderous dunk CDR delivered in the face of UCLA star Kevin Love in the national semifinals.
Rose could well be the top pick in this month's NBA draft, with Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey (Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year) likely to follow him into The League. But should you think their departures will mean a cooling-off period for Tiger basketball, you might reconsider. On his way to the U of M campus is Tyreke Evans, one of the top five recruits in the country and MVP of the 2008 McDonald's High School All-American Game. Word is, he can even shoot free throws. — Frank Murtaugh
BEING BRAINY PAYS — a lesson Melissa Luttmann learned in front of thousands of viewers as she competed on the popular quiz show Jeopardy earlier this year. The 15-year-old freshman at St. Mary's Episcopal School has been a loyal fan of the daily quiz show hosted by the ever-slick Alex Trebek for years, faithfully recording it each afternoon and watching it once her homework was finished. So when she saw an ad for the show's annual Teen Tournament, Luttmann raced to the computer to complete a qualifying quiz — 50 questions with 15 seconds to answer each. Obviously, she'd scored well on the test. A producer from the show called to invite her to Nashville for a second round of tests: 50 more qualifying questions, a mock game, and an interview. Then, she waited.
In December, her cell phone rang. "Hi Melissa, this is Jeff from Jeopardy. How'd you like to be on the show?"
"I was getting ready to go into a movie at Paradiso, and I wanted so badly to scream but didn't want to make a scene," Luttmann recalls. "The producer said I was the only person that didn't squeal in his ear that day."
In January, it was off to sunny Los Angeles for two days of taping. Competing against teens from across the country was intimidating, Luttmann admits, especially because she was the youngest of the bunch, but she held her own through the process, making her way through the semi-finals and into the finals. Sadly, Luttmann didn't walk away with all of Trebek's money — though she earned an admirable $20,000 one day and $18,400 the next. And what was Trebek like? "Sarcastic and funny. He made a lot of jokes about his ex-wife."
Now for the fun part. The following are the "answers" Luttmann buzzed her way through the show with. How many do you know?
This Roman poet was exiled by Augustus to the Black Sea. (who is . . .ovid)
Liesl from the sound of music was going on what age? (what is . . .17)
Some featherbrain debuted this ballet in Moscow in 1877. (what is . . .swan lake)
The Shakespearian daughter was known for her heart. (who is . . .cordelia)
So, are you smarter than a 15-year-old?
THE LOCAL PREP FOOTBALL scene turned positively Homeric in 2007, as Spartans and Trojans emerged and later clashed on the gridiron for Mid-South supremacy. White Station High School reached the Class 5A playoffs for a fifth straight year and did so behind an offense that scored more than 40 points in nine of its first 12 games, all victories. As for the Trojans of Millington Central High School, offense was a strength (they averaged 32 points over their first 12 games), but defense was the weapon of choice. Entering a showdown with White Station in the state 5A quarterfinals — both teams 12-0 — Millington had six shutouts to its credit and had not given up more than 14 points to an opponent all season.
And it was defense that prevailed on November 23rd, Millington beating White Station, 45-16, in a game that proved to be Spartan coach Major Wright's last stroll on the White Station sideline. (Wright took over the program at Briarcrest in January.) The Trojans lost a heartbreaker — 28-27 — to Independence (Thompson's Station) in the state semifinals.
Millington's playoff appearance was the ninth in 11 years under coach Hank Hawkins. And while the Trojans are losing 23 seniors from the '07 squad, Hawkins has his sights on a 10th trip to the postseason. "You know," he notes, "our juniors-to-be went undefeated as freshmen, then 13-1 last year. They're used to winning and they know what it takes." — FM
HOT DATE: April 28, 2008
IT FINALLY HAPPENED. After being given two delays to make arrangements for his children (a perk never granted your Average Joe Felon), former state senator John Ford met his date with penal destiny. On April 28th, a year after he was found guilty of taking $55,000 in bribes during the Tennessee Waltz undercover sting, the flashy longtime lawmaker once known as Teflon John reported to the big house — a minimum-security federal prison camp at Pollock, Louisiana. (He still faces federal charges of taking $80,000 in TennCare bribes, a case scheduled to be heard June 24th in Nashville.)
At Pollock, Ford will serve 85 percent of a five-and-a-half-year term. No more Rolex watches, no more pricey suits. No more run-ins with highway patrolmen for going 100 mph on the interstate, no more aiming his shotgun at MLGW meter readers. Instead, the man of a thousand expletives will swagger through the compound in prison-issue garb as part of the janitorial crew, dumping trash and scrubbing toilets. Said his attorney Michael Scholl, "[Going to prison] can take a tremendous toll on people." Ford's misdeeds took their toll on us. Man up, John.
— Marilyn Sadler
HOT TICKETS: Scanners and Scammers
IT WAS A PACKED house at FedExForum when the #1 Memphis Tigers battled the #2 Tennessee Vols in February. And in May, Tom Lee Park was jammed from Riverside Drive to the riverbanks with thousands of people enjoying the Beale Street Music Festival.
Unfortunately, at both events, some people discovered the tickets they had purchased were fake. One victim told a Commercial Appeal reporter he had paid a scalper $900 for three tickets to the UM/UT game, only to find those seats occupied. The university's athletic director told reporters that the counterfeits were so good that "any difference wouldn't be noticed by most people." But you can't fool a ticket scanner, and you can't get your money back from an off-the-street vendor, either. — Michael Finger
HOT BUTTON: Going Green
THE WHOLE MESS started innocently enough. Or so it seemed. A few readers of The Commercial Appeal noticed a tiny Boyle Investment Company logo and the words "sponsored by" tucked into the copy for the newspaper's business column. But then we began to wonder just what that meant, and Flyer senior editor John Branston talked with CA editor Chris Peck and discovered that Boyle was now sponsoring that particular column. It would not affect the coverage, Peck insisted. Perhaps feeling a bit defensive, especially after savvy readers complained about this new policy to the paper, Peck felt compelled to write an editor's note, explaining that it was the CA's new plan to "monetize content" anywhere and everywhere they could.
Newspaper employees, feeling that the "wall" between advertising and editorial was being chipped away, word by word, and also disgruntled since they hadn't gotten raises in years, began an interesting protest. They started wearing lapel buttons reading, "Hey CA, Monetize ME!" Talk about a fashion statement. — MF
HOT BUTTERED SOUL: Four-Way Grill
WILLIE EARL BATES bumps fists with patrons as they come and go from the Four-Way, the historic restaurant at 998 Mississippi Boulevard. Ask him who owns the place and he says, "You're not going to trick me." He looks up, lifts his hands slightly skyward and adds, "I know who owns it."
Bates, 68, a former insurance man, heard pastor Reginald Porter of Metropolitan Baptist Church announce to the congregation that one of their South Memphis community landmarks needed help. For years, the Four-Way had embodied the promise of the 1960s. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders dined here. Stax Records personnel lunched and held impromptu auditions at the Four-Way — J. Blackfoot reportedly tried out for songwriter David Porter in a duet with the grill's jukebox.
The Four-Way declined with the neighborhood after those heady times, and stood vacant from 1996 until Porter's sermon. Bates didn't know a thing about restaurants, but knew the calling when he heard it. He bought the building and reopened in fall 2001. The menu features Soulsville's finest soul food, with fried catfish (Dr. King's favorite), turkey and dressing, and all things green. But you mustn't overlook the bread. Homemade yeast rolls and crispy corn muffins are not only the best way to melt butter, they make the already comforting down-home cooking downright tranquilizing.
Your visit won't be complete without a slice of sweet potato pie. Or a fist bump on the way out. —Preston Lauterbach
HOT HEAD: Warren Lewis
OKAY, SO TECHNICALLY this title rightfully belongs to Lewis' customers, because the longtime North Memphis barber literally sets their heads on fire. For a small fee. Only in Memphis, right? At no extra cost, Lewis adds a little local musical flare to the treatment by playing Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft" while giving you a "burn," as he calls the process. I ask if he's ever considered using Buster Poindexter's "Hot, Hot, Hot" or Jimi Hendrix's "(Let Me Stand Next To Your) Fire" in this manner, and Lewis gives me one of those "go on, then" frowns. That would be preposterous. Burning hair from his customer's heads? That's good business.
He developed the technique nearly seven decades ago down on the farm in Mississippi he grew up on, when readying chickens for his large family suppers. He discovered a shortcut to removing the fine feathers that remained after the first phase of plucking. This, I think you can guess.
Lewis uses cathedral candles to singe the excess fuzz from human heads. He's taken his hotheaded act to Japan and The Tonight Show. The end of an era is upon us, though. The barbering complex he built on a section of Thomas Street that bears his name is up for sale. It seems like a pretty safe investment. After all, the place is fireproof. — PL
HOT SEAT: Shhh! Keep it Quiet
LAST DECEMBER, veteran library director Judith Drescher retired suddenly after 22 years of solid service. Word had it that her days were numbered by Da Man at City Hall. And who did Mayor H. have in mind for this important position? Longtime city employee Keenon McCloy (left). With no degree in library science and no experience in library administration, McCloy found herself on the hot seat when angry citizens learned of her appointment. Like others on the city's new management team, McCloy was awarded a plum for her loyalty to Hizzoner. After all, who needs all that boring library expertise? As Willie put it so eloquently, "a manager is a manager." Fanning the flames, His Highness also appointed as deputy director of libraries his former bodyguard, Michael Gray. Combined salaries for Gray and McCloy? The $250,000 range. Others on this elite management team? Former felon Yalanda McFadgon, who is now deputy director of public services and neighborhoods pulling in a cool $100k. We could list 10 other directors and deputies; not one makes less than $100,000 a year.
Heads up, mayor. Instead of closing branch libraries and community centers to save a mere two million bucks, try this instead: Cut the fat salaries (and the crap). Can the cronies. We have nothing against McCloy; she's proven to be an effective leader. Nonetheless she's in the hot seat with all eyes watching. Glad it's not us. — MS
HOT MESS: MCS Filing System
FIRST OFFICIALS couldn't find the missing files requested by the FBI. Then they couldn't find the affidavit explaining why they couldn't find the files. We're talking about administrators at Memphis City Schools, which is under investigation for — oh, where to start — a no-bid school bus contract, misplaced payment records for a major construction project, and the mind-boggling mess at the Central Nutrition Center that resulted in 240 tons of discarded chicken nuggets, pizzas, and other food items. Not to mention the firing of MCS' nutrition services director, as well as a supervisor who allegedly called other employees "heifers."
Of course we could also touch on problems affecting learning, such as incidents involving guns in the schools and a video, titled Rape Dance, of students simulating sex in a local school auditorium. But we'll stick to the records and affidavit that officials claim they can't find.
Earlier this year, the FBI requested files involving a $46 million construction contract that was won by H&M Co. of Jackson, Tennessee. The federal investigation has already resulted in the conviction of former Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson, who pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to steer the contract to H&M. As the FBI widened its probe, requesting more information, certain crucial files were nowhere to be found — hidden, shredded, or perhaps just stuck in the wrong drawer at 2597 Avery? We can only agree with city councilwoman Wanda Halbert, who left the school board in January and says of the bureaucracy she once helped oversee, "They're too darn messy for me."
Well, that's one way to describe 'em.
HOT MAMA: Lisa Marie Presley
THE TABLOIDS are obsessed with two things: celebrities who are too thin, and celebrities who are too fat. So when London's Daily Mail came out with an article that Lisa Marie Presley had apparently gained weight, the story got picked up around the world. After all, what could be more important than the news that the only daughter of Elvis Presley "had an unhealthy appetite"? The newspaper even ran a photo of the 40-year-old singer with the caption, "Bloated Lisa Marie is now the double of dad Elvis."
Lisa Marie held the "pack of coyotes" (her words) at bay for awhile, and then, in a desperate measure to defend herself, was forced to announce something that she had hoped to keep secret — for a while, at least. The barely noticeable belly bulge was indeed baby fat — not hers, exactly, but the little boy or girl growing inside her tummy. On her MySpace page, she wrote, "After being the target all week of slanderous and degrading stories, horribly manipulated pictures, and articles in the media, I have had to show my cards and announce under the gun and under vicious attack that I am in fact pregnant."
"It is unfortunate," she said, "that I couldn't have announced something that is this much of a blessing and that has made us so incredibly happy under better circumstances."
The whole affair was so outrageous and insulting to someone who — according to a spokesperson — "is not one to comment on her personal life," that Lisa Marie sued the Daily Mail for libel.
Her last album was titled Now What? Guess we'll wait and see. — MF
HOT TIN ROOF: The Woodard House
TWO YEARS AGO, no one knew what to make of the odd residence being constructed at 449 Tennessee Street. The workers first erected a massive stone wall right down the middle of the structure; that just didn't seem right. And then they put the metal roof on crooked — or so it seemed to us — since it sloped and drooped at all angles. We were tempted to call the designers, the Memphis firm of archimania, to make sure everything was okay, but it's a good thing we waited.
The finished product, a blufftop home for developers Phil and Terry Woodard, was a stunning accomplishment — a masterpiece of tinted glass, gleaming aluminum, and polished marine plywood. According to archimania, the result is "a modern house with an aesthetic and spatial quality as rich and varied as the owner's personality." The stone wall that puzzled us in the beginning "directs one's path from the street, past a courtyard, into the house's soaring vertical space." That path ends with a sheer wall of glass offering a panoramic view of the Mississippi River. The unique design has been applauded by other architects. Among other honors, it recently earned a Design Award of Merit at the 2008 Architectural Design Awards and an Honor Award from the Masonry Institute of Tennessee. The house even made the front cover of Wood Flooring Magazine because of its innovative use of bamboo flooring.
In addition to its striking beauty, the house has other advantages. "It's very low maintenance outside," says Phil Woodard. "Since there's no paint, we just take a water hose and wash the whole house down." — MF
HOT & HEAVY: Amy LaVere
ONE OF Memphis music's emerging stars, Amy LaVere transcended the local scene last year with Anchors & Anvils, a breakout record produced by local legend Jim Dickinson.
LaVere's more reserved 2006 debut, This World Is Not My Home, elevated her from a local club- and party-gig regular to a formidable emerging artist, but Anchors & Anvils let the rest of the world know about LaVere, drawing great songs from sources generally close to her (including three from the artist herself and two from boyfriend/drummer Paul Taylor) and putting them across with a gritty musical intimacy rooted in LaVere's own upright bass playing.
LaVere may not have a showy American Idol voice, but she's a sharp, rich interpretive singer whose music incorporates elements of classic country, torch-song pop, vocal jazz, and roots-rock. You can hear this on Anchors & Anvils via such sure-shots as her own "Killing Him" (one of the best album-openers on any 2007 record) and Taylor's personal, perceptive "Pointless Drinking."
You can also see it live, where LaVere is typically backed by two of the city's finest musicians, drummer Taylor and guitarist Steve Selvidge. As a singer, she's expressive without veering into theatrics — by turns mischievous, flirtatious, and defiant — and always gives the impression of thinking through each song's lyrics as she sings them.
This form of storytelling — making familiar songs new — is a kind of acting, and LaVere is making a name for herself in that arena as well, showing up in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and picking up a speaking role alongside Christina Ricci in Memphis film-maker Craig Brewer's blues-themed Black Snake Moan.
This spring, LaVere was one of the few artists to play multiple official showcases at Austin's vaunted South By Southwest Music Festival, including being tabbed for the Americana Music Association's showcase. This summer, she'll parlay her growing success into performances at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival and a European tour. Also impressive was her inclusion in the music-themed June Esquire, where she was described as "Like Norah Jones but too sultry for Starbucks." — Chris Herrington
HOT & READY: MGMT
WHITE STATION HIGH School grad Andrew VanWyngarden made a minor splash on the local music scene at the beginning of the decade via his teen band Accidental Mersh. But this year local-kid-made-good VanWyngarden hit the big time when his Wesleyan-formed, Brooklyn-based duo MGMT released its major-label debut, Oracular Spectacular.
MGMT, in which VanWyngarden is the lead singer alongside musical partner Ben Goldwasser, landed a multi-album deal with Sony/Columbia soon after the duo graduated college. Produced by alt-rock notable David Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev), Oracular Spectacular is an ambitious blast of psychedelic pop that echoes David Bowie ("Weekend Wars") and even Prince ("Electric Feel") at times. The album's lead single, the sardonic anthem "Time to Pretend," was a college-radio smash that became a theme song in the major motion picture 21. On the band's rapid path to success, they were named one of the "Artists to Watch" for 2008 by Rolling Stone magazine, performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, and played a sold-out showcase at the South By Southwest Music Festival.
HOT & STEADY: Hi Rhythm Section
FEEL YOUR RESTING heart rate. That's the Hi Rhythm. You heard that lazy, steady beat behind the Memphis-made hits of Al Green, who recorded for Willie Mitchell's Hi Records beginning in the late 1960s. The Hi Rhythm Section — drummer Howard Grimes, bassist Leroy Hodges, organist Charles Hodges, and guitarist Teenie Hodges — have honed that sound for over 40 years.
Mitchell essentially took custody of the Hodges boys in their adolescence. He groomed their distinctive style, developed their chemistry, and added Grimes to the mix. They backed hits by Green and Ann Peebles (that's Teenie plucking the raindrops to begin "I Can't Stand the Rain"), and played on soul classics by Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, and O.V. Wright until Hi Records disbanded in 1977.
But history will get you nowhere in this town. So the band has reunited and re-launched their career. The soul men are in their 50s and 60s now, but Grimes insists they've taken care of themselves. "We ain't ragged or run-down," he says. "And we're going to turn this city upside down."
They're playing hi-profile gigs after a long hiatus, and garnering the attention a group of this stature deserves. The New York Times took them in this April in New Orleans at the annual early rock orgy known as the Ponderosa Stomp, and called their sound "calm, unswerving." Let's hope that their resolve reflects those same attributes in this new phase of their career.
Locally, you can hear members of the Hi Rhythm Section play Sunday evenings at B.B. King's on Beale Street and Friday nights at One Block North on Marble Avenue in North Memphis. They also sit in occasionally at Wild Bill's. — PL
THE LAST LAUGH
THERE'S NOTHING FUNNY about death. Unless, of course, you're Ida Mae Sills, and you want to leave 'em laughing.
On April 13th, we did a spit-take over our morning coffee when looking over one of the longest, and oddest, obituaries we've ever seen in the daily paper. Ida Mae Sills, fearing her end was near, gave strict instructions to her son Lee on how she wanted to be remembered. "Honey, I want you to do what you need to do and tell the truth." And did he ever. Word quickly spread of Sills' obit, and it went viral almost immediately, getting picked up on blogs and news stations around the country.
The obit is chock full of one-liners and funny tidbits from the rich life of Sills. Some of our favorites:
On her first marriage: "Ida's marriage to Karl was a three-ring circus — engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering."
On her eating habits: "At Ida's house gravy was a beverage."
On her second marriage: "Fortunately, Albert preceded her and joined his mother in a much warmer climate."
On the grandson she left behind: "Ida regrets not being here to influence his future children, but she will be watching." — MHR
NBC GETS BURNED
ON APRIL 4TH, the eyes of the nation were focused on Memphis. The 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's death brought hordes of national media to downtown Memphis and the Lorraine Motel, where King was struck down by James Earl Ray.
The Lorraine is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum, and it was not only a magnet for media, but also for political stumping and media hounds. Hillary Clinton and John McCain both made speeches, but it was NBC's Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams' interview with McCain that made headlines after-the-fact.
Part of the day's scheduled events was a candlelight vigil, and the NBC team assured event organizers his coverage would be conducted from across the street so as not to disturb the somber ceremony.
Problem was, while Williams was interviewing McCain, a series of what Williams later described on his blog as "hyper amplified speeches" were happening behind him, drowning out much of the interview. The McCain camp was not amused, Williams was not amused, but the damage was done. Williams issued a formal apology to viewers during his next broadcast, as well as on his blog. It was a series of unfortunate events, to be sure, and in the last place that needed (or deserved) any bad press. — MHR
WILLIE OR WON'T HE?
THE NEWS SENT many Memphians into a giddy frenzy. They high-fived, honked horns, boogied in the street. That's when Mayor Willie Herenton, in late March, announced in a carefully worded letter to the city's chief administrative officer his plans to retire as mayor on July 1st "to pursue other challenges." This bolt from City Hall came just five months after he was elected for a historic fifth term and after which he chided "the mean-spirited haters" who didn't think he deserved their vote. (He only ran, he said in the wake of his "retirement" announcement, "to protect the citizens of Memphis from other candidates.")
Among the challenges he now wants to pursue — or maybe we should say did want to pursue just a couple of months ago — was the Memphis City Schools superintendency, a job he'd held from 1978 to 1991. But he didn't want to apply for the job like any other poor schmuck. As he told The New York Times. "When you are good, you don't seek positions, they seek you."
At this writing, no one except perhaps MCS board member Kenneth Whalum has shown much interest in Herenton being chosen for the job. No one has approached him, head humbly lowered, to hand him the keys to Memphis City Schools. And on a list released in May of finalists for the superintendent's position, the mayor's name was nowhere to be seen.
Not long after that much-heralded letter of retirement, Herenton stuck a pin in the city's collective bubble. Asked by a newspaper reporter if he'd stay on as mayor if he didn't become superintendent, he replied, "Of course." And one legal expert says his letter of resignation probably wouldn't hold up in court.
On July 1st, stay tuned: Business as usual in Willieland? Time will tell. — MS
CAST YOUR MIND BACK to winter 2005, when city boosters swooned over a proposal by Bass Pro to transform The Pyramid into a tourist-snagging megastore. That was when the outdoor sports retailer signed its first nonbinding letter of intent to explore the project. Two-and-a-half years have come and gone and we're still waiting for Bass Pro to put up or shut up. Company officials signed yet another nonbinding letter in January 2008, which gives them more time to do what they've been doing all along — drag their feet — even as we continue to chunk down $35,000 a month on the building's rent.
In the meantime, City Financial Officer Robert Lipscomb blew off a proposal by the Ericson Group to turn the city landmark into a theme park. The offer, which came with sufficient funding and a well-presented plan, expired March 31st. Though Greg Ericson is now taking his money elsewhere, he feels taxpayers' pain: "Robert Lipscomb has spent over a million dollars [of public funds] begging Bass Pro to come to Memphis and he's gotten nowhere." Lipscomb himself lamented to a TV reporter that he had "pyramid fatigue." Hey, dude, you oughta be in our shoes. — MS
IN FEBRUARY, Blues Ball founder and fashion designer Pat Kerr Tigrett and family were honored with a Brass Note on Beale Street for contributions to the music industry. A fitting gesture, no? Not according to her stepson, Isaac Tigrett, who — aroused from his meditative state in India — shot off a letter to several media outlets blasting his stepmother for, among other things, her "burlesque ride on the coattails of others' accomplishments." The son of the late multimillionaire John Burton Tigrett, Isaac dubbed his father's second wife "an embarrassment to the Tigrett name." Said Pat herself about the Brass Note, "I was humbled to receive the honor."
Pat has done a lot for Memphis. And Isaac? Well, not so much. — MS
ON LAMAR Avenue in April, according to a News Channel 3 story, two MLGW employees weren't fixing downed electric lines or checking gas leaks. They were among 64 people arrested on prostitution charges, all part of an undercover operation conducted in two locations within a mile and a half of two city schools. Said MLGW head Jerry Collins: "The vast majority of our 2,700 employees exceed [our high standard]. There are consequences on the rare occasion when employee conduct falls short." We can only hope. — MS
TANGLED UP IN BLUE
YOU MAY HAVE seen them on North, East, and South Parkways — the wide plastic banners wrapped around mighty oaks. Since ribbons are often used to mark trees for destruction, neighborhood residents were alarmed. And only if they got real close could they see the artwork on the banners — drawings of houses and neighbors happily holding hands, all part of an UrbanArts Commission project called "Blue Parkways." Neighbors weren't happily viewing the project, however. In so many words they told the unfortunate artist where to put his plastic bands. One yanked the banners from the trees and stuffed them in a trashbag. As UrbanArts spokeswoman Elizabeth Alley told the CA ". . . at least people are paying attention to their surroundings." — MS
IN MARCH, bulldozers felled 139 trees in Overton Park to make room for the Memphis Zoo's $13.5 million Teton Trek exhibit. That's right, native trees and wildlife habitat were leveled to "create" an ecosystem that mimics one in Wyoming. The destruction outraged advocates of the Old Forest, which encompasses about 150 acres of old-growth woodland within the 350-acre midtown park. Though the Zoo's expansion plans were public knowledge, park visitors were shocked at its drastic impact, especially since it was carried out by an organization committed to nature and endangered species. On the positive side, one-third of the trees removed were six inches or less in diameter, and the Zoo will plant 574 trees in the new exhibit. — MS