Random bits of wheat and chaff from Metro Pulse, 1991-2001
Vol. 1 #1 (Aug. 19, 1991)
[O]ur goal at metroPulse is be the one-stop shopping guide for arts and entertainment in Knoxville. We want to promote the city's ever-growing cultural scene and offer a little something for everyone, young and old. We want to make it a full-time business and cover it with depth and focus. ... I hope you enjoy our premier issue. Let us know what you think. No publication can survive without the involvement of its audience; we want you to help us grow with this great city.
Friends and neighbors, I live in Fort Sanders, near the UT campus, where the towing racket flourishes at its ugliest. The tow trucks prowl around like huge metal rodents at literally all hours of the night, looking for anything to haul off and ransom back to its owner.
The Meat Puppets are no overnight success story. This power-packed alternative rock triumverate from Arizona has been jamming for over 10 years. Their latest release, Forbidden Places, is not to be forgotten.
"Making it" according to singer, songwriter and guitarist Todd Steed is making good music. And it is the music of Smokin' Dave itself that is the ambition of the banda music that always seems to catch a fresh angle. "Fame doesn't interest Smokin' Dave because we're not willing to play the game," says Steed.
One thing is for sure, the Fort is shrinking and house after house is falling prey to rot, fire or a demolitionist's ball. People who want to save Fort Sanders are the only people who can save Fort Sanders. Otherwise, it will inevitably be just another bulldozer's wet dream.
The rumors (or facts) circulating about Steve Earle haven't been encouraging. Some say he's in Los Angeles, some say Nashville. The drug talk is heavy.
I regard anagrams as oracles. After the city elections, I began pondering the future of our nifty little town and decided to run a few local, state and national Tennessee notables through the Anagram-O-MaticTM to see what we're really in for in the coming years. The results, of course, are metaphorical and therefore subject to individual interpretation.
Victor Ashe, mayor of Knoxville: Vat O'Riches, I Crash Veto, Ethos Vicar, Tries Havoc
Chris Whittle, local hero: Chew Lit Shirt, Her Witch List, He Twirls Itch
The Judybats, local band: She'd Butt Jay, They Jab Dust, Shady Jet Tub
Lamar Alexander, erstwhile UT president: Real Mean Lard Ax, Mr. Lax Arena Deal
Montford J. Manassas
Scott Miller grew up on a beef farm in Virginia listening to bluegrass music from the Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson. He started to pick guitar in high school, and played in a band called the Skeletones while attending college at William and Mary in Richmond. "It was real limp dick, banana eatin' music...you know, mostly covers," is how Miller describes it. "I kept writin', and all the sudden, we weren't doin' covers anymore."
In the five years Andy Saftel has been in Tennessee, he has establish both local and national recognition. The full-time artist teaches community art classes as well as Outreach art classes in elementary schools through KMA's "Meet the Master" program. Saftel's use of wood, paint and found objects form works that are inspired by his surrounding environment.
Some people just don't get it. What these epistolary Don Quixotes have in common is that they have swallowed the Big Lie of college football; believing the lie, they expect the colleges and athletic programs to behave as if it were true. Who else among us really imagines that a Division I football program is anything but a highly profitable NFL farm team with the most tenuous of connections to the institution it purportedly represents?
Never before have I been forced to witness such lows in the human condition, such feral scuttlings of people stripped to their most sickening urges! It took every bit of willpower I had to quell my nausea in order to make this report. I assure you, this was my last visit to Michael's.
2001: Knoxville Biosphere II
One by one, the shops along Knoxville's once-thriving Gay Street are pulling out, rendering downtown an empty shell. There's only one course of action leftseal it off and put a dome over it. Instead of pouring in millions of dollars to create a self-contained eco-sphere like the Biosphere in Arizona, we have one ready and waiting. Once sealed off, scientific experiments could be conducted to determine how to save Knoxville's ozone layer from the noxious fumes emitted by the Lay's packing plant. The national media coverage alone would be worth it.
It's high noon on a hot back street near downtown. The wind-up Bolex camera is wedged atop a fire escape, the prop boxes are artfully arranged, and the raggedy wagon is aimed and ready to plow down the hill. The only item missing is the Legless Misfit.
"We threw a graduation party for him last night," says a slightly concerned Dario Gildrie, co-creator of the local film White Noise. "But that's okay. He'll make it. Eventually."
Dreamy lead vocals, searing guitar solos and haunting female backing vocals are interwoven to create ethereal melodies with a message. And the "message" is what Chip Searcy is all about.
Knoxville was dry when Fred Logan opened his first clubs, and he repeatedly ran afoul of the law. He was arrested more than 100 times, mostly for violating anti-tippling laws by pouring liquor into his patrons, and for defying Jim Crow laws, written and unwritten.
As in the music or film industry, natural talent is one thing but breaking into the field is another. Good agents are vigorously sought after to represent aspiring models. Once a model has been signed, an enormous amount of work lies ahead.
Awakened, Kara looks anxiously at her boyfriend, who has just joined her from the living room. They dress quickly and stumble outside. Only inches from the bedroom window, Kara and her boyfriend confront the source of the noise and light. It is Kara's burgundy-colored Volkswagen Rabbit, ablaze and melting from the inside out.
From Carlene Malone's standpoint, the odds aren't bad. She's often on the lonely end of 8-1 decisions. To some, she is plucky and principled, the only consistently independent voice on an otherwise rubber-stamp Council that almost invariably kowtows to the mayor. To others, she is a nitpicker with a tendency to "grandstand" at her colleagues' expense.
It's the newest part of Knoxville, but we call it the Old City. And just about now, as near as I can figure, is its 10th anniversary. I'd never heard of it before I started writing articles for Knoxville's last lifestyle monthly, Citytimes. The magazine's headquarters was down there in a shotgun hole-in-the-wall on Central Avenueit's now the bar half of Lucille's.
Norman Lee doesn't fawn over his rig like a prize show-dog ownerhe ticks off its features in a matter-of-fact tone: cruise control, CB radio, matching trailer, two-way radio helmets, a built-in air compressor to adjust the shocks. Then there are the murals of cool Smoky Mountain vistas hand-painted on the luggage compartments, as well as Smokies flora and fauna carefully etched into the windshield. This '85 Gold Wing Aspencade is what you'd call "fully dressed."
For the third time since 1978, we're going to have the opportunity to vote next year on a consolidation of our feuding city and county governments. But even if the politicians on both sides are ready to become bedfellows, it's going to take extensive mind bending to get a majority of county dwellers to stop thinking like Hatfields and vote to live under the same governmental roof with the McCoys of the city.
At the risk of sounding immodest (as I may have already), we believe that Metro Pulse's emergence during the past two years has been the most noteworthy development on the local media scene. When Joe Sullivan put his faith and talent behind Metro Pulse last year, the chances the paper had to secure itself in this community as a journalistic institution for years to come became realistic. I have had the great fortune to work with some of the most talented individuals I have ever known, and without them, there wouldn't have been that chance in the first place.
TVA's program now stands accused of laundering more than $175 million for DOD units over the last five fiscal years.
TVA officials have admitted that the brokering practice as described in Senate hearings on July 30 was indefensible. The congressional investigation is trying to determine if spending funneled through it was illegal.
For one unlikely aberration in the cultural life of latter 20th century Knoxville, the endless summer's over. It didn't make big news like last year's layoffs, but over the last several weeks about 20 editors and art directors at Whittle Communications lost or left their jobs. By my count, there aren't quite that many left in the company.
Last March the moving vansin the parlance of college coacheswere circling Wade Houston's house.
His basketball team had limped away from the regular season with a disappointing 12-16 record. Rumors bounced all over that Houston would soon be fired. There was one reliable report (consistently denied) that athletic director Doug Dickey had already hired a headhunter to find Houston's replacement.
Face frozen in a snarl, the possum doesn't seem too happy. But this particular homewrecker will be frolicking in a wildlife management area this very afternoon instead of ending up a pelt. "This guy was up under his house with a shotgun," Randy Wolfe says. "He said he would have shot it if he could've gotten a clear shot."
Adventures in dating: We hope the studly state Sen. Bud Gilbert had as much fun with his sex life this year as we did. We knew so much about who he was dating (or trying to date) that Gilbert, a 30-something lawyer/legislator, began to think we were having him followed. From his striking out with Knox County Health Department Director Stephanie Hall, through his romance with a combat-booted ex-Miss Tennessee through his overtures to a local TV reporter, you read it all right here.
Ear to the Ground
So why doesn't UT seem like one of the oldest colleges in the country? A bicentennial for an American college is no ordinary distinction. Of the 1,500 four-year colleges in America, only 25 or so, including those of the Ivy League, are two centuries old.
But where are the ancient buildings full of ghost stories? The old, frequently abused statues with corny inscriptions? The eccentric, time-honored traditions that freshmen learn painfully their first week, and elderly alumni still kid themselves about at homecoming? The reputation?
The stands of tall houses that escaped being scarfed up by development from the University, Fort Sanders Hospital, or the Cumberland Avenue Strip survived into the '90s in ramshackle shape. Anyone who's ever lived in (or known someone who's lived in) Fort Sanders has a horror storyprehistoric plumbing, sieve-like roofs, wiring from a Frankenstein movie. Many houses sat wrecked and vacant, practically begging someone to burn them down. After a series of complaints from renters and residents, the "Pro-Neighborhood" city administration embarked on a codes enforcement project to make the area livable again. But that relatively innocuous move was the first shot in what may be the Fort's final siege.
My initial exposure to heavy metal, that ornery, virulent hawker forever stuck in the congested throat of pop music, came via Lester Satterfield, the first genuine metalhead to rattle the status quo at my grim, countrified West Knox high school.
Les was not a social butterfly. Tall and gangly, with bad hair and a worse complexion, he had been ostracized by the high school hiperati. Burr-headed jocks bloodied his nose. Pert little bow-heads laughed in his gaunt, acne-pocked face.
We entered the establishment to taste a wide variety of wines, from a dry vidal blanc to a white Riesling to a sweet muscadine, pausing in between sips to cleanse our palates with small crackers and chat with our host, the winemaker himself. Feeling more mellow by the second, we paused on the way out to sit at a picnic bench and take in the serene beauty of the place, look longingly into each other's eyes, and vow never to forget this fine day (or at least not until we sobered up).
Now, take a guess: where were we? France? Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley, California's wine country? Washington state? The answer is none of the above. We were just down the road apiece in Loudon, Tennessee.
Everybody says they hate West Knoxville. Even some people who live in West Knoxville say they hate West Knoxville. Most criticism goes along the lines of the old anti-suburban ethic that's been around for 40 years now, repeated so often it's practically cliché: West Knoxville is "soulless," it has no character, it's bland, it's commercial, it's conformist, it's depressing, it has no distinguishing features. As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, "There's no there there."
What prompts years of painting that confronts viewers with lesbian relationships inserted into the social template of heterosexual courtship and matrimony? What, pray tell, makes a gifted painter dispatch bedroom trust and tryst to the gallery wall for the benefit of the unenlightened?
Three years of living in Knoxville, that's what.
"I continue to be amazed by the invisibility of the gay and lesbian community here," says Lorell Butler. "You'd never know it, but the gay and lesbian community in Knoxville is quite large. When I first came here I would go to women's dances and just assume that they were busing in women from Chattanooga or somewhere."
It is dusk, and the police cruiser crawls around the corner of Bethel Avenue and noses left onto South Olive Street on the east side of Walter P. Taylor Homes. A boy of six or seven strikes a fighting pose.
"Five-O," he yells, showing off the latest street jargon to alert anyone within earshot that the cops are in the neighborhood. He shoots Officer Donna Mynatt a fierce look. She slows down. "Want to race?" she asks. For a fleeting second he becomes a kid again and appears to think about it. But he quickly sticks his chest back out, bantam rooster attitude bristling.
"Five-O!" he hollers again, to no one in particular.
There are nearly 300 laughing, whistling, stomping, clapping people jammed onto the floor of what appears to be a first-class country and western dance hall, complete with barn wood and bare brick. Right smack in the center is a giant white emblem of a prancing carousel pony: "THE WHITE HORSE CAFE." On the back wall is a bank of video monitors unreeling a Confederate Railroad video, something to do with liking women "a little on the trashy side."
Over at the bar, jolly Phil Campbell is serving up soft drinks and friendly patter, looking like he just got in from Mayberry. To his right is the elevated "Disco Deck," with a glowing neon Club Dance logo behind it, where the youthful Fabulous Feat dance group from Erlanger, Kentucky, is showing off its sprightly moves.
What's it all about? In a word, beer. Economic development, yes, cultural cachet and historic preservationbut mostly it's about beer.
The Smoky Mountain Brewing Co. is a huge project, a $1.63 million renovation of the old Woodruff's furniture building that promises to bring the microbrewing revolution bubbling and foaming to the heart of Knoxville.
Jesse Fox Mayshark
Whatever came over the Knox County jailers who decided to leave unruly prisoners dangling spread-eagled from cell bars in a method of shackling nicknamed "angel cuffing," they should have known better. They should have seen that the practice is punitive to the prisoners and degrading to the public. It should have been stopped before it ever started.
Best I can tell, Bill Monroe never meant to invent anything like a musical genre when he picked up the mandolin 70 years ago. Documented legends say he named his band, the Blue Grass Boys, as a tribute to his home state in the '30s. Later, in the '50s, Monroe coined the adjective "bluegrass" when he described bands that he thought were copping his band's high speed, high-pitched mountain music sound.
A bunch of them were, and still are.
In practices leading up to this season, Kevin O'Neill has been introducing his players to the concept of intensity in his own direct fashion: "When you're here I expect you to be attentive to detail and give maximum effort at all times," he exhorts fairly regularly. "When you're out here half-assing your way through a practice, well that's a lot of crap! When you pull that kind of b.s. in practice, when you get in a game you're gonna wonder why you're sitting down. I don't care how good you are. I care about effort.... I do not appreciate b.s."
Looking back, the biggest story in town over the course of '94 was the agonizing, final failure of Whittle Communications, once the city's supernova. It was a year of could-have-beens. It could have been a contender for the year of the decade. In the end, unless you were a person consumed with conservatism who savored the Republican romp, 1994 barely wiped its own dishes.
1994 Year in Review
The answer to all these questions starts with a truth that may be self-evident: Victor Ashe was born to be a politician. From a very tender age, he steeped himself in the craft of winning and holding public office. As a teenager, summer vacations were spent working on campaigns: Frank Clement's for governor in 1962; Barry Goldwater's for President in 1964; then, even more intensely, Howard Baker's for U.S. Senate in 1966.
Even today, he says that "campaigning is as much or more fun than being mayor."
If your savage breast needs some soothing after that, I heartily recommend Rama Sreerama (Real World), the first American release by Indian musician U. Srinivas. Srinivas is trailblazing a form of East/West fusion through his choice of instrumentthe mandolin. The story goes that years ago the former child prodigy shocked and delighted the stodgy Indian classical community by cavorting through a set of the most complex ragas in the canon on a five-string version of Bill Monroe's favorite ax.
This was no sedate, droning disc jockey in a turtleneck cueing up the latest from Foghat. No, this was a High Funk Priest, and he soon delivered the sermon: something called Parliament. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before, full of cosmic slop, maggot brains and psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop. This was ... funky.
I was splanked by the Bop Gun, and have never been the same since.
My sexual equilibrium is a bit off again. I'm watching female impersonators stuck in gender limbopretty girl faces over flat boy chests, hard-set jaws with lustrous ruby lips, terse black crops under blonde bouffants. The performers in Trump's Monday night "cast"Gabrielle Alexis, Dita ("Knoxville's Original Sin") and India Dupreeare undergoing a time-lapse transition, polishing away harsher male features with powder and paint.
"I've always loved drag queens," Gabrielle says. "I've never had any desire to actually be a woman, but I find the entertainment value and the theatrical aspect fascinating. For a gay man who's comfortable with his identity, drag shows have an entertainment appeal that goes beyond sex."
Members of the Eastern Band's ruling tribal council are eager to capture that potential market. "Right now, we would have a monopoly on casino gambling that would stretch from Atlantic City to Mississippi," says council member Richard Welch, editor of the reservation newspaper, The Cherokee One Feather. "We're just trying to take advantage of a window of opportunity here."
There's a place on Cumberland Avenue called "Bonkers." Today it looks like something on a McDonaldland playground, but 15 years ago the same cinder-block shell was a stark, industrial-looking building divided into three sections. At the sidewalk level, there was a well-lit, no-nonsense, college-town record store called Discount Records. Next door, the Pickle-U Pub was a dark bar often crowded with shadowy, bewhiskered characters. Upstairs, the low-ceilinged attic was a place that had featured live music since the early '70s when it was called Alice's Restaurant. It had featured cover bands, Southern Rock and heavy metal. John Prine showed up there once, and was disappointed it wasn't a restaurant. Later in the decade, the attic changed its name to Bundulee's nobody seems to recall why.
To get to Bundulee's in 1978, you had to walk through the Pickle-U Pub. This was the first initiation ritual for Knoxville punks. There'd been at least one murder there lately, a knifing, and everybody knew about it.
The entrepreneur, the heart of American capitalism, the hero of Horatio Alger's Gilded Age penny novels, the man with the dream, the bright idea, the better mousetrap (plus a little money to invest)G. F. Vineyard was such a man. About the time Alger was creating the American "rags to riches" myth, Vineyard was working hard at the Coster Shops, painting railroad cars and saving up a little money for his "big day." That day came in 1903, when he took the $700 he had saved and opened a second hand furniture store on Vine Avenue, a street rich in Knoxville history but now "improved" into near oblivion by Summit Hill Drive and the James White Parkway.
When Ivan Harmon first ran for public office in 1985, he appeared on a panel with his opponent Bill McCarty, the incumbent chairman of what was then the Knoxville City School Board, who represented the politically rough-and-tumble northwest district where Harmon lives. "He called me a neophyte," Harmon says as he takes time out to sip a Coke, spending a valuable dollar and invaluable moments away from his shoe-leather campaign this summer to unseat Mayor Victor Ashe. "I thought he was cussing me. I know now that I was one, but I'm not anymore."
Miles Davis. Jazz hero. Chameleon. Prince of Darkness. Santa Claus?
When three Old City businesses closings were reported within a week, the omniscient obituary writers of TV news got in a lather. "More signs of economic decay in the Old City" was the tag line on one local channel. Ugly details at 11. But wait. Look again. Though there are important issues to face, reports of the Old City's doom seem to have beenlike Mark Twain's infamously premature obitgreatly exaggerated.
It's 8:30 a.m. on a beautiful weekday morning, and it's business as usual for Leeta Von Bulow. She's got her car parked alongside the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health on 16th Street in Fort Sanders, and it's covered with the usual assortment of pictures of mutilated babies and fetuses, most of which, upon close inspection, are photographs of late-term abortions performed in Canada in the 1960s. As two of her five beautiful tow-headed childrenall boystoddle around the sidewalk, she's pacing furiously up and down the perimeter of the clinic like a penned-in Doberman, looking eagerly for her chance to attack.
Even so, the average cost for full-time care of a pre-school child in Knoxville is around $100 a week, a family budget-biter that can easily claim two thirds of the average monthly income of a single Knoxville mother with two children. "And if day-care workers were paid $10 to $15 an hour, nobody could afford it," notes George Spencer, a UT graduate student who pays $550 a month for his two toddlers to attend half-days at Garden Montessori School in Fountain City.
The rumors have been rife lately: are the Viceroysthe Best Rock and Best Country band around town, according to our Best of Knoxville pollclose to a record deal? Have they already started recording their first album? And has drummer Jeff Bills started wearing those cardigans again in anticipation of cooler fall weather?
Well, what we can tell you is this: the band was indeed in a Nashville studio a few weeks ago laying down some tracks. Andbrace yourselfin the producer's chair was none other than a man who's wrestled that fine line between country and rock himself, Steve Earle.
Eye on the Scene
"Check one, check one, check, check, checkĘ..."
The sound man just can't seem to get rid of the feedback, which is humming like some kind of ancient Chinese torture method just beneath the low ceiling of the 9:30 Club. On stage, Superdrag is tired and hungry, having driven nine hours straight from Knoxville to Washington, D.C. and then loading their equipment in through the rain.
With at least five commercial Internet access providers in the area and scores of fresh-faced independent computer programmers eager to help them make the journey, Knoxville's businesses are being encouraged, prodded and even coerced to man their cyber-wagons and join the on-line migrationMetro Pulse itself gets several calls a month from entrepreneurs eager to help us establish a World Wide Web page (yes, we're working on it).
Its promoters make it sound like the land of milk and honeystick an ad up on the World Wide Web, reach a potential 30 million users, and sit back and get ready to count the cash. But serious questions need to be answered.
To the joy of the tabloid world, Michael Frazier was also a choir director at an area church and had been carrying on an affair with Whedbee's wife, Lisa, for over a year (she sang in the choir). What really took the case out of AAA league and into the majors was that Rob Whedbee was accused of frequently beating and raping his wife in the months prior to the alleged murder attemptwhich may explain why Lisa stood in the doorway with a baseball bat while Frazier approached her husband's bed with a knife. It was an all-American story straight from the heartland and ready for syndication.
John Turturro is standing outside of Bambi'shome of the fabled "donut dance"with his pants around his ankles and a man clutching at his waist. It's 12:20 a.m. on a chilly October night, and the man in question is stunt coordinator Tom Barringer, who's adjusting a stomach pad so that Turturro can safely get the stuffing pounded out of him by a character named "Doob." They started rehearsing this fight scene about five hours ago, and so far they've only completed a few takes. There'll be about seven more hours of filming before they're done creating just a few minutes of Box of Moonlight, a low-budget, independent feature that will supposedly open the Knoxville floodgates to a torrent of Hollywood productions.
Coury Turczyn and Hillari Dowdle
Bill Appleton hopes to reach the point where CyberFlix is releasing three or four titles a year. With 30 employees, a large, well-appointed office, and millions of dollars worth of equipment, he's already worlds away from his basement on Wagon Lanebut Appleton knows that CyberFlix will have to grow to play in the big leagues. "I'm really pleased with the way everything has gone," he says. "But I really do feel like a medium-sized fish in an ocean of sea monsters."
Karl Wagner would entertain fans (who often knew his work better than he did) all night long with discourse and drink. He was a splendid raconteur, but he could make everyone else in the room feel a bit superfluous. In the morning he would come around to my room and press still more alcohol upon me. "There's two ways to deal with a hangover, Mayer. You can treat it with aspirin, anti-nausea drugs and other nostrums ... or you can postpone it indefinitely," he said. And he'd pour himself another tumblerful. Straight.
At long last, Knoxville has become a prominent media landmark. No, not just in your random News of the Weird item, but in the leading lights of today's news outlets: People! Hard Copy! The National Enquirer! Court TV! Name your brand of tabloid trash, and Knoxville was probably featured in it somewhere. This year we had some of the tawdriest trials of this quarter-century, from pedophiles to love triangles.
1995 Year in Review
It was the lure of the Clinton administration's program for bestowing federal megabucks on selected cities with Empowerment Zones that brought this assemblage into being. Establishing a grass roots-based plan for the use of those funds was essential to gain an EZ designation, and Knoxville labored mightily to do so. When the list of winners was announced in December, 1994, Knoxville wasn't on it. But the city's director of community development, Laurens Tullock, vowed that the city would nevertheless pursue the lofty aims embodied in its EZ application.
It was perhaps the most dramatic of many changes made at WUOT at the behest of the station's new executive director, Regina Dean, an Arkansas-bred public broadcaster who moved to Knoxville to take the WUOT job last April. Her mission was clear and unenviableto take over a venerable broadcasting institution and force it to cope with a shrinking federal budget for public broadcasting. It may have been inevitable that whatever choices she made concerning the station's format and staff would cause a furor, and they haveas evidenced by a stream of hate mail and a campaign charging the station's management with racism. Dean began by increasing the number of nationally syndicated shows, especially National Public Radio (NPR) news, at the expense of many hours of locally produced programming.
Firehall 666: It's hardball time in the Knoxville Fire Department. Five ranking officers, four of whom supported challenger Ivan Harmon in the last mayoral election (the fifth, Assistant Chief Red McGinnis, by all accounts remained neutral), have filed a grievance charging the city with political retaliation over a spate of restructuring, which has demoted or exiled them out of jobs they held prior to November. Deputy Chief Bill Potter, Assistant Chief Frank Potter, Captain Phil Boling, Captain Kenny Scarbrough, Deputy Chief Pat Cummins and McGinnis have retained attorney Wanda Sobieski to fight the department's actions. "People are scared to death, afraid to stick their heads up, even people who support Victor," a KFD source says, calling the wave of transfers "selective elimination."
Ear to the Ground
One thing missing from all the visionary undertakings on the BIG Steps list is any notion of who will pay for them. In the absence of investors who are prepared to put big bucks behind them, the grand designs of our illustrious assemblage of urban planners may prove illusory. The public discussionand attendant promotioncould spur investor interest that might not otherwise be forthcoming. But local developers are skeptical as to the effectiveness of a master planning process. "You just can't force-feed these things," says former mayor Kyle Testerman. "When the time is ripe for a development, people will start coming forward with their own ideas for how to make it work."
Then, just as the group appears almost mesmerized, a young woman speaks, an almost startling event after the silence. "Fear not, I am with thee; O be not afraid, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I'll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand." As the words of the familiar hymn fade, the silence returns, and more time passes.
The year she turned 13, Gloria Ray's family doctor told her it was time to give up football. She suspected his motives.
"I just thought it was because his son was the backup quarterback to me, and if I'd quit he'd get to play first string," she remembers.
But the doctor didn't say she couldn't play tennis, and by the time she graduated from Fulton High in 1965, she'd won a state doubles championship.
"It all sounds so contrived now," admits Smilin' Jay McDowell, stand-up bassist for this band they call BR5-49, in a recent phone call from Chicago. "Here we are, this band, whose name comes from a Hee-Haw skit, who dresses retro and plays retro songs for tips at a bar with boots on the wallsthen we get a major label record deal. But it happened naturally."
Taking No Chances. The Rev. Jesse Jackson had more than one agenda when he visited the Inner City Church on Monday night. Pledging to "fight fire with votes," Jackson called on audience members to raise their hands if they were eligible to vote but were not registered. A handful of young people came down to the front in response and began filling out the paperwork. He continued to urge nonregistered people to the front. Finally, he asked all registered voters to raise their hand and repeat after him: "If I'm lying ... I pray for seven years of odd luck ... no job ... and never to hit the Lotto." At the last phrase, several older adults left their seats and moved forward to do the registration forms.
Ear to the Ground
Stephen Smith is not afraid of big tasks or daunting odds. He seems to relish the role of underdog, a David who, as quick as he gets a lick in on Goliath, goes looking for another giant to rock. In the late '80s he took on the United States Department of Energy over the manufacture of nuclear armaments and the toxic pollution that results. Some, including people on the other side of the issue, credit him with making a lasting difference in the nuclear-environmental debate, not only in East Tennessee but nationally. His next opponent was the Tennessee Valley Authority, the country's largest utility.
So why are we devoting an entire cover story to our own existence?
Well, franklylike so many of our other storieswe're the only ones willing to write about it. And the existence of Metro Pulsethe first major local media resource to start up in Lord knows how longis indeed a story in itself. After five years of struggling to carve ourselves a niche in Knoxville's competitive marketplace, the fact that we still exist is just shy of remarkable.
Regardless of what Tennessee's adolescents learn about sex in health class in middle school, by their first day of high school half of them have already had sex, according to the state's Youth Risk Behavior Survey. By the time they're seniors, three out of four will have had sex, and more than one-third of them will have had at least four sex partners. "By the time we get them, it's really too late," says one high school health teacher.
Clanton's friends carried his bleeding body into a confectionery at the Lamar House. They counted 20 wounds in Clanton's right side, at least 15 of which pierced his chest, severing arteries, and piercing a lung. Clanton's corpse lay in state at the hotel's library, where his body was available for public viewing. A block away, mortician L.C. Shepherd advertised that with the help of Taylor's Patent Corpse Preserver, "I am prepared to keep bodies from four to six days before putting them into coffins, when desired." Clanton's party didn't bother. They carried his body straight down Gay to the train station, for the midnight train to Alabama.
"GOOD MORNING, GOOD MORNING, GOOD MORNING, KNOXVILLE!" pipes Brother Louis Thompson across three counties every weekday morning at 5 a.m. From the small cinder block bunker of a studio that houses WKGN-AM, he sends out what may be the most joyous wake-up call available in Knoxville. "This is the time of day when I just like to raise my hands to the heavens and thank Jesus for letting me see another day. Won't y'all join me?"
An unreleased survey done for the city of Knoxville shows solid support for a keeping minor-league baseball stadium at the current site in Caswell Park near Winona Street. At the same time, the poll, which was done in late October, shows very weak support for putting the proposed new stadium on Gay Street at Summit Hill Drive.
It's been a scary year. Even as cartoon characters were taking potshots at our beloved Sunsphere (heyname one other city that has one, okay?), giant proposed buildings were hovering over downtown and nobody knew where they were going to land. And still don't. Meanwhile, we've got big employers threatening to vamoose even as Pigeon Forge is growing ever-larger (talk about scary...). On the plus side, Margie's doing the weather again.
1996 Year in Review
Hooters West is by no means the first such anthill to feel the weight of Robert Loest's size 10-and-a-half sneaker. Whether he's barreling down a crowded city street on a pair of rollerblades, swimming across Norris Lake in the middle of a frigid autumn downpour, or staging guerrilla poetry readings amongst besotted football fans, it often seems that the 53-year-old president of Knoxville's Investment Planning Services finds words such as "caution," "prudence," and "tact" anathema. "I'm a bomb-thrower," he admits. "I'm sure I've pissed off lots of people off over the years."
"This is," I said to myself, "rather ironic." And not ironic merely because we were trying to get a decent meal and a good buzz on in Louisville after 10:30. In truth, if drunk was what we wanted, there was no shortage of strip clubs in the surrounding blocks that would have been more than happy to rip a hole in a few beers for us. No, the irony was that we had come and interviewed one Hunter Stockton Thompson and born witness to his apotheosis into the Viking pantheon of GREAT AMERICAN WRITERSand we were stone cold sober.
In a carefully stage-managed press conference, complete with a Greek choir of enthusiastic civic boosters, Ashe brushed aside two notable failureshis effort to locate a baseball stadium downtown and his offer to put a new county justice center on the site of the city's Safety Buildingand dusted off a vague, long-incubating plan for a new convention center as the be-all and end-all of urban revitalization.
Jesse Fox Mayshark
Like the farmers and the ranchers in the wild west of yore, Farragut homeowners and developers tend to be natural enemies. Since turf wars are mostly subdued in this genteel suburban town, the battle lines are sometimes hard to follow. But the upcoming April 8 election for mayor and two of the four seats on Farragut's Board of Aldermen is clearly a power struggle between pro development dissidents and the town's homeowner establishment headed by Mayor Eddy Ford.
You may have noticed him around 1990, an old black man with a graying mustache hanging around Cumberland Avenue, sitting on the retaining wall next to Burger King, gazing out at traffic. You might not have been surprised to know that he grew up in East Knoxville and that he had known poverty. But Joe Delaney was different from most octogenarians wandering alone on Knoxville sidewalks.
Unlike most homeowners, however, Jenny's things-to-do list might include such items as "hose down steel panels on the front of the house," "wash and wax bedroom walls," or "apply Rustoleum to dining room buffet." You see, Jenny Lefort's house is made completely of metal. From the walls to the roof to the doors to much of the built-in furniture, every surface is 100 percent steel. Known as a "Lustron Home," the small grey house is one of five such residences located in Knoxville.
Katie Allison Granju and Stefani Angstadt-Leto
Local TV stations promise a lot. They promise to give us reports that are "special," "exclusive," and "in-depth." They promise news "Straight From the Heart," "Coverage You Can Count On," news that's "In Touch with East Tennessee." But how "in touch" is it? How well does it reflect who we are, what we care about, and what's really going on in our community? "It's difficult for me to watch it, as a professional," says Jeff Wilkinson, an assistant professor of broadcasting at the University of Tennessee and a former TV and radio reporter. "I don't get my news from TV news."
Jesse Fox Mayshark
Those crazy cats in the Satellite Pumps have been invited to play a showcase in Chicago next month, by cool country label Bloodshot Records. It seems Bloodshot really dug the band's tape, Rock 'n' Roll Kissing, and wants to check them out live. Of course, there's hope that the whole thing will lead to a deal, but singer/guitarist/eternal pessimist Adam Hill isn't letting his imagination run too wild just yet. "I keep waiting for them to give me the line girls always do," he says. "'Oh, I like you, but not like that.'"
Eye on the Scene
Tim has no illusions about the everyday life of the heroin addict. A 40-ish musician who started using heroin as a young adult, he says, "Unless you've been there, you have no idea what it's like. You begin to love the criminal part of it. Hopefully, it's just theft, but you don't mind bopping someone on the head either."
What Commissioner Mark Cawood and his constituent saw were various games involving three girls in bikinis...as well as condoms, bananas, and hot-dogs. There was Pass the Banana (in which the girls passed bananas from mouth to mouth, then from knees to knees), Wrap the Banana (sliding condoms over bananas), Balloon Animals (the girls blew up condoms and made them into animals), and of course, Bobbing For Hot-dogs (self-explanatory). To Cawood, this is clearly not what public-access cable was intended for and not what the city and county should pay for; he's placed the topic up for discussion on Monday's intergovernmental committee meeting.
Only a few hardy men are now alive who truly remember Tennessee's last unbeaten football team. And their lustrous memories of that 1938 season are tarnished just a tad by the sight of being relegated to second place in the pollsters' national rankings behind, uh, TCU. The mythical national championship claimed in 1951 was tarnished all the more so by the thrashing the Vols took from Maryland in the Sugar Bowl that season.
At the tender age of 28, Danny Mayfield is a little green and a lot innocent as he prepares for his first foray into politics. One of the two leaders of a Mechanicsville youth ministry called Tribe One, he has taken on the formidable task of seeking to unseat entrenched Sixth District incumbent William Powell, who is seeking a third term and enjoys the barely-disguised support of Mayor Victor Ashe. The daily paper is replete with city administration-generated Powell photo opportunities, like the recent Habitat for Humanity ribbon-cutting featuring the grateful new homeowner flanked by Ashe and Powell.
That is the kind of publicity money can't buy, even if Mayfield did have a fat campaign kitty, which he doesn't. "Bill Powell will be re-elected," Ashe declares to anyone who cares to ask.
"First of all, we're not closing. Somehow that rumor has been spread, but it's not true. We have no plans to change at all," says Judie Luna, community relations coordinator for Davis-Kidd.
And in a small, sterile cinderblock chamber just off Riverbend's main inmate visitation gallery, encircled by blue museum-lobby ropes, there is the chair. It is wide and tall, five feet or so of solid wood painted a dark muddy brown, with heavy seatbelt straps criss-crossing its front and a small pillory at the foot with two legholes. The seat is a thick sheet of plastic, perforated with dime-size holes. Below it is a plastic tray several inches deep. Somewhere behind a blackened window to the left is a switch that will send 2,640 volts flowing to a small gray box on the floor behind the chair's rear left leg, and from there through three gray electrical wires that run to the legholds and padded headrest.
Jesse Fox Mayshark
It's official; this week the boys of Boy Genius became the umpteenth Knoxville band in the last couple of years to sign with a biggie label when they inked a deal with Warner Brothers subsidiary Tommy Boy Records, a label usually better known for rap/R&B powerhouses such as Coolio and Naughty By Nature.
Eye on the Scene
[Turkey Creek] is also the kind of development that has come under increasing fire for furthering the demise of downtowns, the cannibalization of the retail sector, the autocracy of the automobile. And in a city where those exact issues have produced a lot of hand-wringing lately, Turkey Creek has its doubters. Freshly re-elected City Councilwoman Carlene Malone is one of them. As on many other issues, she's been the only Council member to consistently question Mayor Victor Ashe's support of the project. "Let's spend $4.1 million on a project as far from the center of the city as you can go and still be inside Knox County," she says. "Then let's moan and groan about revitalizing downtown. Are we schizophrenic? Are we nuts? Why not just build the convention center out there?"
Jack Neely and Jesse Fox Mayshark
Yowza. The year is almost over, and it can't end a moment too soon for Knoxville. Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Seven was the Big Uneasy, the year when we couldn't count on anything. There were a lot of breaksemployers breaking down, sports teams breaking away, Charles Woodson breaking Vol fans' heartsand sometimes it seemed they would never go our way. Our previously indomitable mayor started off the year on the wrong foot and never seemed to catch his balance. County government managed to turn a simple search for a justice center site into an odyssey of mythic proportions (albeit one more reminiscent of Homer Simpson than Homer). And in the background was the steady drumbeat of uncertainty, from the twin towers of TVA to the glowing acres of Oak Ridge.
1997 Year in Review
People are stupid. Incredibly stupid. And we should like them for it because this single facet makes them interesting and successful and funny. This I have learned from countless Hollywood productions from the last few years: If you're stupid, you're cool. Just ask Jim Carrey or Tom Hanks or Beavis and Butthead. Never before has the cinema been so prepossessed by the antics of the ignorant, when the whole point of certain movies was that their characters were mental midgets.
There is no sense of cool jazzbo reserve in the onslaught; after one particularly ferocious roll, he stands and lets out a resounding whoop of unhinged glee. Like bewildered weathermen staring at murky radar screens, the other players can only vainly search the charts on their music stands, as if the tiny black dots and gridlines on the stenciled pages will yield some clue as to the length and severity of this sudden percussive hailstorm.
At long last, the drummer stands again and cries out with hoarse ebullience: "I need help now!" Then, as a mischievous grin seeps across his facea grin that outshines even the drum kit's burnished bronze halo of cymbalshe pauses, looks around knowingly as if to measure the impact of his own spectacle, and settles back into his chair with a playful, rump-wagging shimmy that leaves Holloway nuzzling the thick neck of his stand-up bass in an effort to suppress a giggle.
As Brown leads the ensemble back into the heart of the song, the crowd erupts with unruly cheers, shattering any remaining sense of uncomfortable dignity. It's the kind of effect that Samarai Celestialcult-jazz luminary, empyrean savant, and celestial skinsman par excellencewill have on many more Knoxville audiences to come.
I spend most of the uneventful flight looking over performer bios and working up a good circus mooddid I mention it's 6 a.m.? Due to the mercurial nature of McGhee-Tyson flight schedules, we actually fly into Orlando rather that St. Petersburg, which does in fact leave me feeling a little circusyI rarely have work-related duties that require setting foot in four different cities before the hour which I'm usually getting up. I'm also pleasantly disoriented by the balmy Florida weather, in which Rachelle unknowingly becomes a feature presentation in my own personal little circus. There's a constant, multidirectional Gulf wind blowing, and in about a half-hour's time I look like I'm wearing a toupeé made out of fried rats. Rachelle looks like she just stepped out of a boardroom. I wonder if anyone would pay a quarter to see the Wild Boy of Borneo and the Imperturbable TV Anchor.
Amidst the hum of massive machinery, workers are making things. All sorts of things. They're making seatbelts and hot dogs and thermostats and adhesive bandages. They're making garbage cans and motorboats and peanut butter and razor blades. They're making stereo speakers and wallpaper and oil filters and bathroom sinks. Wearing hardhats or hairnets, earplugs or safety glasses, they turn knobs, guide routers, thread spindles, pack boxes. You may never see them. They work in a huge factory in a crowded industrial park in East Knox County. And in a huge factory in Powell. And in a small factory in Bearden. And in an old plant downtown. And in another burgeoning industrial plant off Pellissippi Parkway. They're all over the county, tens of thousands of them, the secret manufacturers of Knox County.
Frank Jones (a pseudonym) doesn't think of himself as a deadbeat dad. Jones, a 39-year-old car salesman, is the divorced father of two sons, ages 13 and 9. This soft-spoken churchgoing man describes himself as " a good father." He says that he loves his sons, lives for their well-being, and "would do anything for them." According to the state of Tennessee's Office of Child Support Enforcement, however, one thing Jones doesn't appear willing to do for his two boys is pay child support. This Knoxville dad is now approximately $7,000 in arrears for unpaid child support, and his ex-wife has turned to state authorities to see that he meets his obligation under the law to provide financial support for the care of his minor children.
Katie Allison Granju
The click is the sound homeless people hear at a Broadway or Gay Street intersection when the car-door locks of normal citizens slam down. If you're homeless, you never really get used to it. "They think we're all armed and dangerous, and morons to boot," adds Bernie, a serious Florida State football fan from Panama City.
Some of the city's estimated 2,000 homeless are criminals and not exactly waiting for a call from Harvard's admissions office, but stereotyping can get you in trouble, too. Some of them are college educated, took a wrong turn, and are on the way back. Like Bernie. For others, there's no hopethrow away the key. They are predators who seem to enjoy being homeless. Knoxville is considered one of the most homeless-friendly cities in the South. With a half-dozen shelters and several food banks, there's always plenty of free food and lodging. And for the predators, the four-letter dirty word to dread is w-o-r-k. They con, they steal, they set their own hours.
There's a strange dichotomy at work here: To the average citizen the crowd of unshaven panhandlers dotting the landscape outside the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission on North Broadway isn't a pretty sight. But get beyond that, and the picture becomes muted. For every alcoholic and crackhead there's a homeless person who screwed up and is fighting to return to a so-called normal lifestyle.
It's my last real addiction, the one I chose because it is least likely to turn me into yet another poster-child for the evils of our modern age. Everything fun has become dangerous: Sex with strangers (or almost anyone) can kill, as can cigarettes, booze, and fatty foods, not to mention a whole host of highly illegal substances that are too taboo to even mention. And I've quit them all, more or less. Just, please, don't take my coffee.
Bernard Bernsteinchairman of the commission charged with reviewing the KPD and its policiesbristled at what he saw as a threat. "I think it would be a mistake not to recognize that the police have more guns than anybody else in town," Bernstein responded.
"That's not true anymore," shot back the Rev. Harold Middlebrook, a black minister lobbying for a review board. Knoxvillians aren't arming themselves for a shoot-out in the streets. But the talk of guns shows that there are grave political and emotional tensions bubbling beneath a calm that has temporarily graced the city.
"Neutron science has taken on a larger share of our work here," says David Glasgow, a researcher in the HIFER's "beam room." HIFER's neutron-scattering capabilities are often employed in forensics, providing for the analysis of microscopic shards of evidence. The HIFER lab reviewed samples from the John F. Kennedy assassination; more recently its researchers scrutinized material samples from a triple homicide at Taco Bell in Clarksville, verifying that a small piece of plastic embedded in the killer's shirt was indeed a souvenir from the crime scene.
"Neutron science is a way of finding the proverbial needle in the haystack," grins Glasgow, one of several HIFER scientists, explaining the appeal of his chosen field. "Neutrons are pretty good things when you get to know them, and we've got plenty of 'em here."
It started when Digger talked Cas Walker into burying him alive. The result was spotlights and disc jockeys and big crowds peering at a man way down in a hole while Walker dispensed popcorn and Cokes and barbecue. There was a corrugated metal thing that mean little boys, compelled by the unshakable conviction that he had snakes down there with him, would scrape sticks across to drive Digger even crazier than he already was.
Nobody knew how to draw a crowd like Caswell Orton Walker.
Looking at Fort Sanders, you're tempted to paraphrase Dickens. It's Knoxville's best neighborhood and its worst. Our most beautiful and our ugliest. Our most promising and our most doomed. Some of the finest and best-kept houses in Knoxville are in Fort Sanders, sometimes selling at prices comparable to West Knoxville palaces. And they're next door or down the street from houses that are boarded up, or disintegrating, burnt out, or clean goneand around the corner from modern apartment buildings that, in drab cheapness, rival Soviet housing projects.
Purists might say the neighborhood's been deteriorating in one way or another since landlords started subdividing the Victorian-era houses into apartments in the '20s. But in 1998, houses in Fort Sanders are being demolished at a rate unmatched in recent decades.
"I don't want to be one of these people who sits around and says 'Oh, I was abducted by aliens," says Bob, now 40, speaking to a reportera friend of a friendvia phone with the promise of complete anonymity. "But there were definitely some very strange things that happened to me, things that don't have any easy, logical answers."
Amber Braxton's auburn braids are streaming out around her face.
The swings slow down and the girls disembark, their feet barely hitting the ground before they dash off to tour the Tomb of Gloom, after which they take a whirl on the Gravitron and then head down the way through the tunnel back to the east side of Magnolia Avenue.
Over there is more midway magic, with fast rides and bad food and barking carneys and a giant rat and a man-eating snake and a headless womanEast Knoxville transformed into a cash-siphoning cotton candy wonderland not five blocks from their Fifth Avenue neighborhood. It is a fitting end to summer, and Amber and her best friend Nicole aren't even worried that tomorrow is a school day. There are lots of other things they're not thinking about, too, like the fact that this probably marks the last summer of their childhood. Life is about to get serious. Twelve is an uncertain, in-between age for a girl child in any part of town. This is the story of one city girl's life and how she views it.
This stretch of road is Knoxville's version of Skid Row. The mission just up the street and the Salvation Army next doormodern facilities dedicated to the hopelessdon't convey the decades of drunken desolation this crossroads symbolizes, not like the 5th Ave. does. This building scares and entertains people, fills them with contempt and curiosity.
What would it be like to live here? Is it really so dangerous, so depraved? I've been gawking at this place ever since I moved to Knoxville a year ago, and was curious to know what it is really like.
So I moved in.
Semeka Randall fires up a 15-foot jumper and whoops for joy. It's money, and she dances as it rips the net.
"Woooo-ooo!! I'm hot!"
Tamika Catchings powers through traffic and slams to the hole, finishing a leaping lay-up with an easy finger roll.
Chamique Holdsclaw flies. Literally flies, hovering around the rim like some backboard angel, hitting the ground only after she plucks off a rebound and slips it through the rim.
There is a fable about Larry Bird walking into the locker room before a three-point shooting contest, surveying the room and asking: "Who's going to come in second?" This year, nobody thinks it will be the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, who are riding the crest of a 45-game winning streak, and preparing to take it higher. Never have the experts been so unanimous about who's number one. But Coach Pat Summitt is not Larry Bird. She works at keeping this team wary, because she knows that staying there will be harder than getting there.
Now, if you will, imagine the entertainment year similarly divided. The balanced offerings of most of the year, say, January through August, would make a chef proudfor every envelope stretching Sam Shepard drama produced, a traditional light-hearted Neil Simon comedy can be found. But the whole menu goes horribly awry as the year draws to a close. The heartwarming dramas that populate the "holiday" months, with their endless stream of Tiny Tims and Claras, are the cheesecake of the otherwise perfectly balanced performance year. And, usually, there is no counter-balance, no contrasting beverage to pair with all of this saccharine sweetness.
Enter the Actors Co-op with The Importance of Being Earnest.
One O'Doul's Too Many
This year had been plenty tough enough for Officer Scott Coffey, who had been one of the cops involved in the apprehension of Andre Stenson, whose death while being taken into custody aggravated tensions between the city's minority population and the KPD. Coffey, who was cleared of Stenson's death by two investigations, had been transferred to the Fountain City area, far away from East Knoxville, where he had become unpopular. Months passed uneventfully, until one night when Coffey noticed a car pulling out of the Litton's restaurant parking lot and swerve into the oncoming lane. Coffey fell in behind, and turned on his blue lights. The car in front of him continued a block or two, stopped, and Chief Phil Keith stepped out. The ensuing action, captured by a video camera installed on KPD cruisers after Stenson's death, included Keith passing a field sobriety test and Coffey saying he didn't look like he'd had "that much" and suggesting Keith get a ride home. The following day, Keith told a reporter he'd been drinking O'Doul's non-alcoholic beer, thus giving rise to months of bad jokes (even the mayor has cracked a few O'Doul's funnies). Not laughing is Coffey, who keeps applying for transfers.
When the sidewalk charged up at me I tried to fend it off with my dependable right elbow, which had successfully blocked sidewalks in the past. When it hit, I felt that familiar electric-fence pang you get only in your funny bone, and I heard something like a crack, but I thought I might just as well pretend I didn't hear it. I knew nothing was broken. My bones don't break. I was always the only kid in the wrecked wagon at the bottom of the hill who didn't get hurt. I'd hopped freight trains, slid down mountainsides, slamdanced at hardcore punk shows, been sideswiped by a semi, skied on solid ice down 17th Street, and I'd never broken a bone. That crack I heard was probably just this old sidewalk settling.
First, you have a dream.
Then you let it die a few times.
Finally, however, it stays alive long enough for you to convince yourself to do it: to make your own movie. It's the most American way of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, to show your unique vision to all the world while catapulting yourself to media renown. But first you have to borrow some money from your parents. Then acquire some equipment from the pal who knows a guy who works at that place. Then get a few "technicians" and a couple of "actors" to contribute their talentsit's for art, you tell them (or fame, whichever works best). Then you have to shoot, shoot some more, delete a few scenes, rewrite the ending, bail out the lead from jail, scream at the guy who was supposed to get the doughnuts, pull out your hair, consider suicide, and then edit it together into some semblance of coherence.
Lying on the floor in front of my grandmother's new color TV, sometime late in the Kennedy administration, I grew fascinated with one particular commercial that I came to like more than most of the TV shows. "Let your fingers do the walking in the yellow pages," a cheery female chorus sang, as a disembodied hand strolled across an open phone book. "Why don't you?"
At age 5, I believed these sirens were singing directly to me, luring me toward some mystical adventure, daring me to join these intrepid fingers as they sojourned across an unpredictable yellow plain. I imagined that grownups played this game all the time, and the prospect made adulthood seem much more promising than it had before.
Thou Shalt Not Piss Off the Sheriff
Best quip of the day during Monday's County Commission meeting was uttered by John Griess, who didn't vote for the Ten Commandments resolution, (he abstained), but did support giving Sheriff Tim Hutchison a brand-new helipad.
(The Ten Commandments resolution is one that is being circulated around East Tennessee by a Spring City woman who suggests that elected officials who vote against it will be struck dead.)
"I'd rather vote against the Ten Commandments than the sheriff," he told a colleague.
One wag in the audience muttered that while the repercussions of voting against the former might be more severe, the consequences for voting against the sheriff would certainly be more immediate.
Ear to the Ground
A friend of mine offered an excuse for Star Wars. He said that the center of George Lucas' universe wasn't the Star Wars franchise or better audio standards for movie theaters, it was his children. Mind you, he didn't mean an excuse as to why the movie suckedhe thought it was damned entertaining. He meant that the movie was designed to please, and ostensibly protect, children. Which puts Phantom Menace on the long list of the crimes perpetrated in the name of children.
Children, it seems, are best raised on a strict diet of banality, portentousness, flaky philosophy, mindless violence, dubious politics and thinly veiled racial stereotypes. Most damaging to their tiny, still-soft heads are interesting characters, coherent plots, physical affection and any emotion not generated by adrenaline.
The last time I was this close to a pair of bared breasts was probably 1992. Not that breasts aren't lovely things. They're quite possibly the best pillow ever created, combining comforting maternal memories with the indescribable softness and texture of human skin. But sexually appealing? No. That's right. I was the experiment of the evening, the gay male deposited into that ultimate den of male heterosexualitythe strip club...At first, questions floated into my mind. How can one possibly get the surely unnatural fibers of a thong clean? Who ever decided that precipitous platforms and heels were sexy? And, most importantly, why in the hell did I choose a seat right by the stage?
The day begins with a body toss. Dressed in surgical scrubs and wearing back support belts for heavy lifting, animal shelter staffers form a firemen's line. It begins in the shelter's walk-in freezer and leads to the back of a pick-up truck that's headed for the county landfill. One by one, the frozen corpses of unwanted cats and dogs thump into the truck bed. Each is stored in a red plastic bio-hazard bag, which is slipped on the animal immediately after it's put to sleep. As the shelter staffers pass the bodies along, the bags open slightly, revealing stiff paws and frosty tails.
The sprawling way we build these days is a double edged sword that might just might slay us all, downtowner and suburbanite alike. Out in the county it's development pressure that's behind the problemsannexation, traffic congestion, tax increases, and school overcrowding. (Funny how politicians always embrace growth but then recoil from the cost.) The other edge of the blade, disinvestment, has cut the heart out of the city: impoverished neighborhoods, boarded up houses, rusty factories, and empty schools. People, those with a choice at least, are crowding into the very places that consensus says we don't need any more of. Think about it: What 's the first thing most of us do as soon as we buy a house in the suburbs? Bitch about the house going up next door, of course (or the convenience store just beyond the subdivision gates, the shopping center at the intersection or, dare I say it, the cell tower around the corner).
The notion that a municipality has to keep expanding its boundaries in order to prosper is malarkey. Most large cities ran out of annexation room long since, but those that have been resourceful in redeveloping their urban cores have become metropolitan models. Atlanta, for example, hasn't extended its city limits since prior to 1954, but the Atlanta area continues to boom like no other in the South.
The bus boys looked baffled and wary, not certain what they were getting into. Oh sure, there'd be chicks making out and that's always cool, but would the few brave men daring to desecrate the proceedings be horsewhipped? Burned in effigy? ....A pair of bubbly teens from the bus (I'll call them Desdemona and Cassiopeia), invited me to tag along. Desi was an old pro at this Lilith thing, although she expressed squeamishness at the trend towards open couples. "GrrOsss!" Cassie spat at the sight of a shaven-headed vixen holding hands with a girlfriend so overpierced she looked like a colander. "They're lesbians," she whispered to me conspiratorially. (I know. I was shocked, too.) Evidently, at least in the South, Lilith has only recently become a love-in.
A self-proclaimed enemy of political correctness, Nugent goes to great lengths to be sure that the public is aware of his uncompromising ideas. He tours half or the year, hunts the restall the while writing several newspaper columns, hosting a morning radio show in Detroit, producing an outdoor magazine that he writes entirely by himself, serving as a member of the board of directors of the NRA, participating in the D.A.R.E. and M.A.D.D. programs, and a multitude of other projects. Nugent claims that his outspoken ideas have resulted in a lack of airplay for his music.
"It's outrageously apparent that great, great music created by me and my brilliant, virtuoso collaborators, or the unprecedented sales of my guitar instruction video is being ignored by the media," says Nugent. "It's outrageous, but on one hand I celebrate it because do you know how proud I am when assholes hate me? If the assholes hate you, it proves you're not one of them!"
I hang stoically against my seatbelt and notice a pitch indicator on the side of the gondola: 45 degreesit feels like we're pointing straight down. I become sweaty and grow silent. Adams notices the change.
"You're not prone to vomiting are you?"
"Well, I've never actually thrown up from motion sickness," I say. I surreptitiously pick up a barf bag.
"Just keep your eyes on the horizon."
...My lips tingle. I realize they are white. I grab my bag and evacuate my breakfast with heaving surges, sweat wringing from my forehead.
The front of the cabin is silent.
It's 2 in the afternoon on Monday, and I'm drinking a glass of Scotch.
I'm afraid. After this anodyne is gone, I will have to walk back to the office and call Sally Timms on the phone and interview her.
Sally scares me.
Kim is holding a child, her child. His name is William and he's a fair-haired 14-month-old in short blue overalls. He's asleep now, a bottle with a little milk left in it still loosely held in his small hands. Kim holds him close and tight, like she's afraid he'll disappear if she lets go. She rocks him. She watches him breathing.
"I just can't imagine life without my baby," she says, then looks up with a half-smile. "And I used to say that about drugs."
Jesse Fox Mayshark
Cheerleader Nikki Goss is crumpled on the padded gym floor and crying. What happened was this: As she flew into the air, flung up there by three other girls, Nikki felt something in her back pop. When her basesthe three girls who threw hercaught her, she was folded up like a taco and couldn't unbend herself. In less than a week, this Knoxville-based squad will be competing for a bid to the Universal Cheerleading Association (UCA) Championships in Orlando in March. If Nikki isn't healthy, they'll have to do it without the girl who has been front and center in their routine.
Who cares? It's just cheerleading, right?
In little more than three years time, Ipix imagery has made huge inroads with real estate companies (Coldwell Banker, ERA, etc.; offering Internet tours of properties); the hospitality and travel industry (Hyatt, Marriott, Carnival; on-line viewings of accommodations); a host of diverse e-commerce players (IBM, GM, etc.); and the entertainment industry, where Ipix technology offers virtual tours of everything from movie sets to sporting events.
These successes have blown the once-tiny company up from 15 employees in 1996 to nearly 200 (a figure that will rise again when Ipix completes an announced merger with bamboo.com, a Palo Alto company that produces virtual tours.) Its market valuation, meanwhile, has ballooned from little more than $20 million to $1 billion, a figure that ranks Ipix far above any other net-related enterprise in the state.
Rumble in Ritta
The outlook is grim for H.T. Hackney's plan to put a wholesale distribution center in rural Ritta community. Although Hackney last month won a round at the Metropolitan Planning Commission level, which voted to reject its own professional staff's recommendation and allow commercial zoning in the agricultural/residential area, it is unlikely that County Commission will follow suit when the community's appeal is heard this month.
Ear to the Ground
In the meantime, Mayor Victor Ashe says he wouldn't want to delay development proposed by PBA for a downtown plan that might just "sit on a library shelf." But since Ashe was the one who put the convention center and related development in motion, why wasn't a planning process started at the same time? On that count, the mayor is candid. "I'll just confess that I'm human. I can only bounce so many balls in the air at one time. That may be a fair criticism, but I just didn't get it done."
Jesse Fox Mayshark
Elian Gonzalez has run Rick Bragg ragged. The 6-year-old Cuban boy's story has dominated the news in Miami since last fall, and Bragg, as the head of the New York Times Miami bureau, has grown to hate it.
"It's the dumbest thing I've ever covered," Bragg says in a telephone interview, just after returning from one of the many Elian-related press events staged in Miami on a regular basis. "Some people think hell is a place where you wake up in the morning in a bed of coals. I think it's where you wake up and find out you'll be writing about Elian for the next 643 days."
Matthew T. Everett
Mounted by tireless Jan Lynch supporter and good friend Ed White and former Arts Council member Gina Anderson, this exhibit is composed of work prints from White's personal collection and that of Nashville resident Phillip Haynes. When White mentioned Lynch's name to a Knoxville Gay Pride volunteer and was greeted with a blank stare, he realized that the time had come to rejuvenate interest in one of Knoxville's most colorful personages.
When you've got Buddha, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary lined up in your front yard in orange bathtub shrines next to a black and white cow that started life as a 250-gallon kerosene tank, you're bound to attract a lot of uninvited guests, but Bobby McNeal kind of figures it's an occupational hazard. John Hitch, on the other hand, was a little scared that his passion for turning his back yard into downtown Mayberry might cause him to be considered a crackpot, but so far, the response of those who come to see Aunt Bea's kitchen, Floyd's Barbershop, Wally's Gas Station, and the Bluebird Diner has been quite positive. And when somebody says Julia Tucker's home is her castle, they mean it literally, and she, quite frankly, doesn't really give a damn what they think.
The local media seemed to do everything it could to avoid indigenous culture, printing or airing features on stuff that could happen anywhere (or was in fact happening somewhere else altogether). Why weren't the little pockets of culture I saw happening being reported or appreciated? I soon learned the unfortunate truth of Knoxville life: Knoxvillians have an inherent distrust or disdain for anything genuinely Knoxvillian. While an outsider such as myself could readily see the value of its hometown creations, natives mostly wrinkled their noses at them; the town has an inferiority complex.
District Attorney Randy Nichols, a Democrat and no political friend of Sheriff Tim Hutchison, may be seeking to cast himself as a cost-cutter when election time comes. Local defense lawyers, suspicious of Hutchison to start with, question the need for grand designs. Schumpert and his consultant, Bob Goble, claim to be driven mostly by statistical planning and economic efficiency. And Hutchison himselfwell, Hutchison's not talking.
All of which leaves the general publici.e., the Knox County taxpayerto wrestle with a few fundamental queries: Do we need new jail space? If so, where will we put it, and how much should it cost?
The Actors Co-op has been on an odyssey of its own lately, in terms of searching for a permanent home for its outstanding work. For now, the company has been producing shows in the attic of Jackson Ave. Antiques and the performances have been fairly well-received despite the unusual quarters. The company has won a slew of Knoxville Area Theatre Coalition (KATC) awards but, more importantly, produces interesting work that challenge the actors and audience alike. Laestrygonians fit quite nicely into this category; the play does touch on some sensitive issues about sex.
When Knoxville Community Investment Corporation opened in October 1994, national voices heralded it as a model for future inner-city development. Its founder, the Rev. Jerry Upton, met with Vice-President Al Gore and Henry Cisneros, then head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to announce the corporation in 1993. The city of Knoxville paid $165,000 to establish the investment corporation, and National Football League star Reggie White promised $1 million to capitalize the corporation's lending pool for small business and consumer loans. Now, just six years later, it's all gone. Both the development corporation and the community investment group have disappeared, and Upton is serving a 10-year sentence in a federal prison in Arkansas on gun and drug trafficking charges. The promises Upton and his organizations once represented remain, to a great degree, unfulfilled.
Matthew T. Everett
Over the course of the year, Denise will swallow about 6,570 pills.
"I take medicine for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, congestive heart failure. I think that's about it. That's enough," says the 42-year-old, who started taking drugs for arthritis when she was 16.
"Oh, and my stomach," she adds, a second later, as she sits in her apartment off Sutherland Avenue. The small living room is filled with stuffed clowns and eagles of all sizes, which she collects. Near her stereo is a plastic box with little compartments that divide the medications she takes over the week. "I also take vitamins, calcium and aspirin."
It might or might not be a new millennium, but there was much familiar about 2000 in Knoxville. The same old tensionscity vs. county, schools vs. County Commission, developers vs. residents, Vols vs. Floridaplayed out in some of the same old ways. On the other hand, there were hints of change on many fronts, from the overdue compromise on annexation to the brouhaha over downtown development. The Vols had what they call a "transitional" year. You could say the same for the entire city.
2000 Year in Review
Of course it's still how rather than what one paints (or assembles), but after decades of art emphasizing mass media, popular culture, archetypal minimalism, and, sometimes, downright bullshit, we're enjoying a return to that which is personal. Whether it's Longobardi's acid-etched copper beneath images of knots assigned various meanings or McCarthy's canvases split into sections conversely restricted and unleashed, an underlying narrative is served. The assertion that one's own idiosyncratic perspective can be the subject of art and mean something to others is gutsy as we head into a new millennium.
Vagina. The word is enough to send shivers down the backs of administrators at Maryville College. Next weekend, colleges around the country will be performing The Vagina Monologues, a play by Eve Ensler, as part of the national "V-Day" event. The play examines the shame that exists around women's private parts and the abuse that shame can cause. Students at Maryville College are going to take part in the awareness-raising celebration, but not without some trepidation on the part of the college's administrators. The school's president, Gerald Gibson (in consultation with Dean Nancy Sederberg), has barred the students from advertising or promoting the play in any way.
And gone is the man who would be Gene HarrogateJohn Sheddan, scholar, schemer, hustler, melon paramour. He died in recent years, at age 62, purchased by the ravages of his own excess. Gone are the Roxy Theatre and the Gold Sun Cafe and the motley vendors who every weekend peopled Market Square, ghosts of mid-century Knoxville held forever in the attitudes of the living in the pages of Cormac McCarthy's Suttree.
On the last day of his life, Danny Mayfield's family gathered around his bed and urged him to breathe. A tumor in one lung and pneumonia in the other were making this most basic life function increasingly difficult, and each breath grew more ragged than the last. Finally, when he just couldn't do it any more, he pulled down the mask and said a single, final word to his wife, Melissa:
Who Would You Vote Out of Knoxville?
MAYOR VICTOR ASHE
We expected this result, really. But even the Ashe-bashers here at Metro Pulse were stunned by the magnitude and decisiveness of our long-long-longtime mayor's, uh, triumph in this category. He didn't just win the dubious distinction of virtual expatriationhe got 10 times the votes of any other finishers, including such quasi-contenders as Sheriff Tim Hutchison, ex-UT basketball coach Jerry Green and downtown developers Worsham and Watkins.
What can account for the depth of antipathy toward a guy who has been elected four times, most recently by overwhelming margins?
Best of Knoxville 2001
The first protesters who reach the fence don't know what to do. One or two climb to the top to take pictures or just hang there for a moment, but they scramble down quickly. After about 15 minutes, though, there's a critical mass of several hundred pushing against the barrier. They start throwing things over it: rolls of toilet paper at first, then empty plastic bottles. Then come the golf balls and hockey pucks, most landing before they hit the police but a few balls pinging off their helmets. There's still a festive air, but there's also rising tension. A few people next to me throw peanuts at the police and make monkey noises. A short guy with a beard and a red rubber clown nose climbs a spindly tree and throws two whipped-cream pies in the direction of the troops. Further back in the crowd, a homemade wooden catapult hurls an array of stuffed animals over the fence. But now there are chunks of pavement too, landing near the police with threatening clatters and skipping across the asphalt.
Jesse Fox Mayshark
Ultimately, it may be this ability to swoon and trust that determines whether or not you personally are willingeager evento fall into this self-consciously theatrical and love-filled film. If you stop to pick it apart, to mock its big, soft, gooey center and resist what it wants to show you, you'll hate its seemingly overblown, almost operatic emotional swings and rhythms. But if you let it go, turn off your inner critic and hold Moulin Rouge's heart in you hands, you'll be richly rewarded by this lush, engaging, incredibly original piece of movie-making.
This approach will generate continued fear, ill will and confusion among the people who own property on the Square. (And doesn't it bother anyone in the city government how blithely they've defined those ownersthe people who most palpably give a damn about Market Squareas problems rather than allies?) And it also, as experiences in Winston-Salem and many other cities attest, is neither the best nor fastest nor smartest way to do things. The problem is, it's the only idea the collective heads of our city-state haveand even though it's a pretty fuzzy idea and one they don't actually understand it, they lack either the willingness, the ability, or the sense God gave a pig to figure out how to generate other, better ideas. A good planning process for Market Square could make an amazing difference in attitude and approach within the next six months. Instead, at that point, we'll probably be fighting the same old battles all over again. It's too sad to be funny, too pathetic to be sad, and mostly just frustrating as hell.
Jesse Fox Mayshark
We Have Ways of Making You ...
Speaking of KnoxRecall, as Metro Pulse went to press this week, the five plaintiffs challenging the Election Commission's decision to disqualify their move to recall Ashe and Council members Jack Sharp, Ed Shouse and Larry Cox were preparing to be deposed by City law Director Michael Kelley and Ashe lawyer Robert Watson. Earlier in the week, Chancellor Daryl Fansler had set a July 26 date for the hearing. Since the case hinges on the narrow legal issue of whether the Knoxville City Charter prohibits recalling officials who, like the current targets, have not yet served two years of their current terms, Kelley's plan to depose plaintiffs Diana Conn, Steve Dupree, Regina Rizzi, Brent Minchey and Greg Ganues is puzzling.
Ear to the Ground
The stalemate is doing grave damage to this state as reflected in the erosion of its credit rating, its state university and its standing in the nation's eye as a result of near riots at the capitol by anti-income tax zealots. Moreover, the damage promises to get worse next year when the state's nest egg of tobacco money will have been exhausted.
His name often comes up in conversation, but you rarely hear anyone ask, "Ian who?"
August 2, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 31
© 2001 Metro Pulse