June 2009 Archives

Michael-Jackson.jpgThe Daily Star of Bangladesh carries an item from the Times Online that says the Jackson family, at the time of Michael Jackson's death last week, already had been in talks with CKX Inc., the company that took over Elvis Presley Enterprises in late 2004, about transforming the Neverland Ranch (right) into an attraction along the lines of Graceland:

The company's ideas include a traveling exhibition of Jackson memorabilia, the licensing of theme park rides and an updated version of the musical "Thriller Live," first staged in London in 2006.

...

Last year, days before debt collectors seeking $24m in overdue mortgage payments were due to auction it off, Jackson signed a rescue deal with Colony, a Los Angeles property developer. Colony hopes to put the restored property on the market for up to $90m by the end of the year, with a share of profits destined for Jackson's children's trusts.



Michael Jackson and Elvis, in parallel, Part 2 -- The Doctors

 
Writing in the Daily Telegraph of Australia, Tim Blair furthers the Elvis-Michael Jackson-link meme by comparing Jackson's personal physician Dr. Conrad Murray with Elvis' notorious sawbones Dr. George Nichopoulos, aka "Dr. Nick." I can't vouch for the accuracy of all the Elvis lore, but Blair presents it with his usual verve:

At one point the colourful Memphis medico was charged with oversupplying drugs to Presley after a TV investigation discovered that he'd prescribed the singer more than 5300 tablets in the seven months prior to Presley's death. Dr Nick beat the charge. Incredibly, his lawyers were able to show that this huge quantity of drugs actually represented a bid to reduce the amount Presley previously consumed.
The boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, had an appetite for more than just fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Blair moves on to mention that just as Dr. Nick accompanied Elvis during his late-career stand in Las Vegas, Murray had taken a leave of absence from his practice (which happened to be in Vegas) to be by Michael's side during the looming 50-show run in London. And he includes a helpful rundown of the pharmacopia found in Elvis' system, as well as a list of drugs that Michael is believed to have been taking.

Finally, Blair links to an episode of the hilarious online cartoon Achewood that pretty well sums up the impact of Michael's death on us 30-somethings ...


L.A. Times travel blogger follows Elvis' ghost

 
Mark Milian, who hosts a travel blog on the Los Angeles times Web site, added Memphis as a last-minute stop on his "two-week, music-inspired road trip." As a result, he ended up in town fairly late on a Sunday, which is not the ideal time to get the measure of the place -- for example, he found a lot of restaurants and attractions closed, and left unimpressed with what he found:

Readers hyped it up as a cornerstone of American music, but it felt more like a history class field trip. Then again, I might just be bitter about missing some of the classic barbecue joints.

Kudos to Milian for tweaking the unbearable song "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn:

Just as I was driving into the city on Sunday, the teeth-grinding country ditty "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn started playing on the radio. The song basically references the titles of Elvis songs along with places around Memphis to create an overarching story that doesn't make much sense. For example, Cohn says he "saw the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue / Followed him up to the gates of Graceland." OK, that's a two-hour walk, dude.

Follow Milian's travels here, and keep up with him on Twitter here.

Michael Jackson and Elvis, in parallel

 
One of the emerging memes in the wake of Michael Jackson's death last week has been the similarities between his life arc and that of Elvis Presley. Bob Mehr delved into it with a front-page piece in Sunday's editions of The Commercial Appeal. And I've got a stack of articles that touch on the meme, as well. Special thanks to newsroom librarian Rosemary Nelms for sending me more material than I could possibly get through.

Blogging at In From the Cold, Spook86, who says he is a former intelligence agent, compares the initial news coverage of the two superstars' deaths.

(I)n contrast to the media firestorm that ignited with Jackson's arrival at a Los Angeles hospital, initial press accounts of Elvis's passing were almost accidental, more the product of timely tips to the Memphis media, rather than tenacious reporting.

Spook86 quotes extensively from Janice and Neal Gregory's book "When Elvis Died" to trace the timeline of reporting, which will bring back memories for Memphians old enough to remember Aug. 16, 1977.

The post rang a more recent bell for me (I was just 2 months old when Elvis died): Writing in a special section to mark the 20th anniversary of Elvis' death in 1997, former Commercial Appeal editor and publisher Angus MacEachran recalled a reporter telling him, "Angus, there's an 'Elvis is dead' call on line 2."

Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune continues in the same vein, noting that CBS didn't even lead the Aug. 16, 1977, newscast didn't even lead with Elvis' death (a fact that would shape its coverage decisions for decades to come). He also accurately captures the delicate first few hours of the Michael Jackson story, when outlets like ours didn't want to be left behind but didn't want to get caught in a hoax:

Time Warner's TMZ.com and Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co.'s LATimes.com were out front on Jackson's condition, and other outlets -- initially able neither to ignore the dispatches nor corroborate them -- had to tread carefully.

Back on the celebrity angle, British tabloid The Sun catches up with Jackson friend and sometime-Memphian David Gest, who says the stress of preparing for 50 shows in London killed the King of Pop:

"They should have realised doing a concert one day on, one day off, would be tough for any performer, let alone someone who hadn't been on stage for nine years. It was ridiculous. ... "

Some writers are speculating on whether Jackson's Neverland ranch might become a tourist attraction like Elvis' Graceland. The Jackson family did say today that Michael would not be buried at the Santa Barbara playland, but that's beside the point. Here's Sean Hamilton writing in the Sunday Mirror:

And just as Elvis rakes in more now than when he was alive, Michael too will be worth more dead. Even if the family opt not to have Michael buried there, the estate, near Santa Barbara, California, is certain to prove a vast money-spinner for his three children. Although he owed up to pounds 250million, that debt could be quickly wiped out by profits that could rapidly top pounds 300million from opening the estate to the public.

I'll have more on Elvis-Jacko connections throughout the week.

UPDATE: Hamil Harris of The Washington Post happened to be in Memphis when word broke of Michael Jackson's death, and he interviewed Graceland visitors for their perspective on the King of Pop.

Jon Hassell: Native Memphian, musical visionary

 
The name Jon Hassell might not ring bells for a lot of Memphians, but the trumpeter/composer/multimedia artist is arguably one of the most influential musicians to come out of Memphis in the past 50 years, and that's saying something. He was one of the first artists to use sampling in a live context, he created the template for what came to be known as "world music," and he has worked over the years with everyone from Terry Riley to Brian Eno to Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As Bill Ellis wrote in a 2005 profile in The Commercial Appeal (article is not online):

His impact, albeit largely underground, can be felt today in myriad genres from New Age, art rock and world music to techno, trip hop and acid jazz to the sample-obsessed virtual reality much popular music finds itself in.

Hassell, who just released a new CD, Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street, on ECM, is the subject of the cover story in the latest issue of Electronic Musician. The interview gets very technical at times (the magazine is geared toward studio technology heads, after all), but it does give a good bit of context on Hassell's influence:


Second Presbyterian's new music director: Gabriel Statom

 
If you've driven lately down Poplar or Central in the University of Memphis area, you've probably noticed the massive construction project on the grounds of Second Presbyterian Church. Buildings aren't all that is new these days at Second: The church also just announced the hiring of a new music director, Dr. Gabriel C. Statom, who is moving over from First Presbyterian Church of Lake Wales, Fla. The News Chief of Winter Haven, Fla., has a nice profile of Statom, who is described as "an integral part of the arts community" in Central Florida. The Ole Miss grad also has ties to the Mid-South:

"It's very sad for us to be leaving our friends and acquaintances we've had here over the years," Statom said. "We feel that this is God's plan for us as a family."

But he describes his new position as "a dream job" in a church he has admired since he was 18 years old. And Memphis is much closer to his family in Alabama and his wife's family in Mississippi.


Review of Gories/Oblivians at Hi-Tone

 
The Times-Picayune of New Orleans covered one of this past weekend's much-anticipated double reunion shows featuring influential trash-rock bands The Gories (of Detroit) and The Oblivians (of Memphis). The writer notes a large number of Louisiana license plates in the parking lot of the Hi-Tone ("Lounge"), and breaks down the New Orleans connections to the bands:

In the 80's, Bywater resident Peggy O'Neill was living in her native Detroit, playing in the lean, garage-blues trio the Gories. That band was a major influence on the Oblivians, who would form just a few years later in Memphis. One of their most popular albums was 1997's Play 9 Songs With Mr. Quintron, a scorching, speedy slice of gospel-rock collaboration with the Ninth Ward organist which remains a cult favorite. Though both bands were no more by the turn of the millennium, they both attained legendary status in the rock n'roll underground and in the oddly rarefied world of record collectors.

The article goes on to quote longtime Commercial Appeal contributor Andria Lisle, and to lament the stifling conditions inside the Hi-Tone for the sold-out show (conditions which surely aren't as bad as they used to be when smoking was allowed in the club).

Credit to Motor City Rocks for the link, though the site refers to the Memphis band as "The Oblivious." (Of course, a recent front-page promo in The Commercial Appeal spelled it "Oblivions," so no one's perfect.)

For some nice background and context on The Oblivians (and some live song clips), check out this article at Live from Memphis. Some folks posting on the Goner Records Message Board lament a lack of local media coverage of these shows, but as Commercial Appeal music writer Bob Mehr pointed out on a comments thread over the weekend, this was by design ...

I can't speak for the Flyer obviously, but just for the record, the CA decided not to do a cover story on the Gories/Oblivians reunion -- we did a small show capsule/preview in this week's Go Memphis instead -- at the request of the bands and the club, for the very reason that the show had been sold out for months in advance. Both Eric Oblivian at Goner and Dan at the Hi-Tone felt they would be further deluged with requests and calls about tickets if there was a big spread in the paper.

Family finds Griz Marko Jaric's missing money clip

 
I'm back to blogging after a few days off, so let's get to it ...

MEM_Jaric_Marko.jpgA Colorado family vacationing in Jackson Hole, Wyo., found something interesting in pile of melting snow at the ski resort: a silver money clip stuffed with cash, credit cards and business cards. The family tried to track down the owner, and found that the $360 belonged to none other than Memphis Grizzlies guard Marko Jaric. It turns out Jaric dropped the money clip four months ago while in Jackson Hole for his wedding to Victoria's Secret supermodel Adriana Lima. The family intends to track down Jaric, who has been traveling out of the country with his new wife.

NBC2 News in southwest Florida has video.





Comparing Austin and Memphis

 
In case you missed it, Commercial Appeal music writer Bob Mehr weighed in Sunday with an interesting look at how Austin, Texas, emerged as a music capital almost inversely proportionally with Memphis' collapse in the late 1970s. Bob's piece gets a thumbs-up today from blogger Michael Corcoran at Austin360.com, who says that Bob "displays a real feel" for Austin.

38018 called most-affordable ZIP code

 
Cyberhomes.com analyzed 7,000 ZIP codes based on a formula of housing affordability and called 38018 -- that's Cordova -- the most-affordable home market in the country for first-time home buyers. Here's how the formula works:

First we calculated how much buyers earning the median income for the ZIP could afford to spend on a home -- assuming a 20 percent down payment, 5 percent rate on a 30-year mortgage and a house payment of no more than one third of monthly income. We then compared that figure with 2009 median home sale prices for that ZIP. In ZIPs where the affordable home price is equal to the actual median sales price the affordability index is 100. Anything over 100 is affordable. Anything under 100, not so much.

With median income of $86,000 and median home price of $117,000, Cordova scored a whopping 436. The next-highest score was 85044 in Phoenix, Ariz., with 340.

One commenter on the story mentioned the flip side of housing affordability in the Memphis area:

Memphis, TN, is one of the worst cities to live in (I did for many years). Crime is skyrocketing. There are countless sexual assaults in schools, that the school officials refuse to report. The mayor is a self-servicing, glory-seeking, sleeve who keeps putting the city deeper and deeper into debt. People are leaving the city in droves.

4 stars for Martin Luther King Jr. play 'The Mountaintop'

 
The Independent newspaper of London heaps acclaim on a new stage play based on Dr. Martin Luther King's last night alive -- April 3, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. "The Mountaintop," by Memphis-born playwright Katori Hall, imagines the interaction between King -- working on the next day's speech after his penultimate address at the Mason Temple during the sanitation workers' strike -- and a fetching motel maid who delivers room service.

It is a relationship that is breathtaking, hilarious and heart-stopping in its exchanges and in its speedy ability to reveal character and pull the audience into the ring. One minute the Pastor and his new friend are beating each other up with rounds of oratory; the next, they're trying out how to look sexy while smoking. We discover, too, that King has stinky feet, wonders whether his moustache looks good on him or not and has an eye for the ladies. We also learn that he is terrified. Terrified that he is about to die, that the attempts on his life will finally get him. Terrified that he hasn't had the chance to fix the world and that he hasn't said goodbye to his wife and children.

Portraying King is David Harewood, a British actor who stars as Nelson Mandela in the upcoming BBC TV drama "Mrs. Mandela." The Independent's reviewer compares Harewood's performance, with "his mighty grip on character," to Forrest Whitaker's Oscar-nominated role as Idi Amin in the 2006 film "The Last King of Scotland." (Paging Steven Spielberg and the producers of the MLK film in development.)

Another review says "The Mountaintop" loses focus and becomes awkward because of a supernatural twist at the end. However, it says Harewood is "quite excellent," and it praises the play for exploring King's human flaws.

The world premiere run of "The Mountaintop" runs through July 4 at Theatre 503 in London.

About the playwright: Hall, a 1999 graduate of Craigmont High and the Raleigh school's first African-American valedictorian, has degrees from Columbia and Harvard and even did a summer internship here at The Commercial Appeal in 2000.

Memphis and the "shrinking cities" movement

 
The (London) Telegraph mentions Memphis among cities to be included in a grand experiment of urban downsizing. Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, Mich. -- which includes Flint -- and founder of the Genesee County Land Bank, wants to apply a "shrink to survive" approach to 50 cities identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution as needing to shrink substantially. The Telegraph reports that the U.S. government and private charities are interested in the approach:

"The real question is not whether these cities shrink - we're all shrinking - but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way," said Mr Kildee. "Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity."

In flint, this approach has involved bulldozing entire blocks and letting nature take over. Other cities mentioned in the Telegraph article include Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The Washington Independent has been covering the "shrinking cities" phenomenon closely, and has plenty of links to follow to find out more about the concept.

Peabody suing Al Sharpton organization

 
Apollo Theatre 75th Anniver.jpgAl Sharpton's National Action Network faces an $88,000 lawsuit from The Peabody related to unpaid bills from the group's national convention in Memphis last year. The New York Daily News reported over the weekend that The Peabody is suing Sharpton's organization for $70,300 plus $17,000 in attorney fees and other costs. The Memphis Daily News, which broke the story last week, has more:

The complaint filed by the hotel does not spell out if the outstanding debt is a final tab that was never paid, the remaining portion of a bill or some other amount in dispute. Documentation for the agreement between the hotel and Sharpton's group includes an attrition clause. If the group ended up using less than it booked from the hotel, new charges would be incurred.

William Sanderson: Actor and native Memphian

 
William Sanderson.jpgI haven't subscribed to HBO in years, so I usually catch up on the network's great series ("Sopranos," "The Wire," etc.) on DVD. It just happens that my fiancee and I had been revisiting "Deadwood" when I happened upon this interview on A.V. Club with William Sanderson, the veteran character actor who plays the cowardly, conniving hotelier E.B. Farnum on the Western masterpiece. In fact, Sanderson -- a native Memphian who got his bachelor's and law degrees from then-Memphis State University -- is also the subject of a John Beifuss article coming in Sunday's editions of The Commercial Appeal.

It turns out that Sanderson is making the media rounds to promote this Sunday's start of the second season of the HBO vampire series "True Blood." (Season 1 just hit DVD, so that might be our next viewing project.)

The A.V. Club piece gets Sanderson talking about his many roles over the years, from the eccentric Larry on "Newhart" to J.F. Sebastian in "Blade Runner" to Farnum and the sheriff on "True Blood." Also, Sanderson, who comes off as nothing but genuine and humble, recounts some Memphis memories:

One night I saw Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Elvis for a dollar, if you believe that, in an open-air concert. Presley, I got to meet and go into his house and so forth. My wife says I should quit tellin' that story, 'cause they'll know how old I am.

I'll link to Beifuss' piece once it is posted, which should be later this afternoon.

UPDATE: Read John Beifuss' story here at gomemphis.com.

Justin Timberlake's Southern Hospitality

 
Fashion-Geek-Chic.jpgThe New York Press checks in from Justin Timberlake's "Memphis-style" barbecue restaurant Southern Hospitality on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where the new summer cocktail menu was introduced Wednesday night. Judging from the blogger's description, I might describe the restaurant's ambiance as Craig Brewer chic ...

The waitresses scurried around in ironic trucker hats, flannel shirts and (designer) cut-off jean shorts under glowing beer signs as country music blared through the speakers.

The summer cocktail menu features Timberlake's new signature tequila 901, though the NY Press complains that the margaritas are made with sour mix instead of lime juice, and some drinks featured gummy worms.

Nor is the blogger impressed with Southern Hospitality's barbecue selections, which include pineapple-flavored chicken strips. Last year, the restaurant hired the noted Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe to improve the program, which New York magazine called "awful." Lampe specifically promised to introduce "competition-style" ribs, though the NY Press tuts that they were "served with a fork and knife, no bib included."

More about Elkington in Macon

 
The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph covered Wednesday's public meeting on plans for a music-themed entertainment district in the city. The featured speaker was Beale Street developer John Elkington, who told the crowd:

"If you develop an entertainment district, it needs to be unique and different," he said.

Elkington told the crowd it's important to create unique restaurants, nightclubs and shopping for the district and not to populate it with chain restaurants that don't identify the area as Macon.


Memphis' transit challenge

 
Sarah Goodyear at Streetsblog New York City explores Memphis' lack of quality public transit based on her visit to Downtown Memphis for the wedding of a friend (who happens to be CA online audience development specialist Kerry Crawford-Trisler). We Memphians are so unused to public transportation that hotel employees didn't even mention to Goodyear that the Main Street trolley would be a cheap and easy way to get to South Main. Goodyear also links to a Smart City Memphis post that suggests a new law from Nashville could provide Memphis with the opportunity to get its transit act together.

John Elkington talks to Macon, Ga., about entertainment district

 
Elkington.photo.jpgBeale Street manager John Elkington was in Macon, Ga., today for an open meeting on a local group's plan to develop a downtown entertainment district that would brand the city as the "Birthplace of Southern Rock." Specifically, Elkington was to "discuss the creation of an economic development plan to implement such ideas," according to a the nonprofit NewTown Macon organization.

The project would make use of more than 1 million square feet of empty property and build on a musical heritage that includes native sons Otis Redding, Little Richard and the Allman Brothers, as well as the Capricorn Records label whose roster included artists such as the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Widespread Panic and Bonnie Bramlett.

I haven't seen anything to indicate whether Elkington and his Performa Entertainment company would actually develop the Macon project. Recall that Elkington has been involved in a mess of litigation brought by the city and the Beale Street Development Corp., who claim among other things that Elkington and Performa have improperly used Beale Street funds to finance projects in other cities.

P.S.: It's interesting how much Macon's musical heritage overlaps with Memphis'. Redding, of course, was the flagship artist for Stax Records, and Bramlett -- who recorded solo albums on Capricorn in the '70s -- was one half of another Stax act, Delaney & Bonnie with late husband Delaney Bramlett. Bonnie Bramlett appeared at last month's Beale Street Music Festival.

The latest on Little Rock shooting suspect Abdulhakim Muhammad

 
I didn't get around Tuesday to updating my coverage of this story, so here we go ...

Abdulhakim Muhammad, the former Memphian and Muslim convert charged in the fatal shooting of a soldier and the wounding of another last week outside a Little Rock military recruiting center, called The Associated Press collect from jail to tell his side of the story. Muhammad said he doesn't feel he's guilty, and that he doesn't consider the shooting to be murder "because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason." The 23-year-old does, however, consider the shooting an act of revenge:

"Yes, I did tell the police upon my arrest that this was an act of retaliation, and not a reaction on the soldiers personally," Muhammad said. He called it "a act, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the world, and also a retaliation on U.S. military"

In another chat with AP today, Muhammad said he's unaware of any plans for similar attacks against the military on American soil, but he warns of danger ahead:

Thomas Wheeler: 'Finding Sherlock's London'

 
Thomas-Bruce-Wheeler.jpgThomas Bruce Wheeler, a retired postal official from Memphis, knows his way around London, and knows his Sherlock Holmes. The Wichita Eagle talks to Wheeler about his updated Holmes-themed guidebook, "The New 'Finding Sherlock's London,'" which lists more than 300 London sites related to the master detective. The book might come in handy ahead of the expected Christmas release of the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr.

Pictured: Wheeler (left) holds a copy of his book "London Secrets: London Guidebook for the First Time Visitor" during the annual Sherlock Holmes birthday dinner thrown by the Giant Rats of Sumatra at The University Club. The Rats are a Memphis-based Sherlock Holmes fan club, of which Wheeler is a former "First Garrideb," or president.


Real Clear Politics: Memphis is least-safe city

 
Last week's release of the FBI's preliminary 2008 Uniform Crime Report had at least some good news for Memphians -- a 14 percent drop in violent crime since 2006, a per-capita murder rate that placed just 21st among large cities -- but the political Web site Real Clear Politics crunched the data and called Memphis the nation's least-safe city.

And the U.S.'s least safe city? That distinction goes to Memphis, Tennessee, with a crime rate of 18% per capita, followed by Atlanta (16%), San Antonio (15.2%), Detroit (13.7%) and Milwaukee (13.4%). These rates reflect the total crimes detailed in the FBI's report divided by the population of the city.

For her part, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is having none of it:

"The blog's rankings are based on incorrect data; they are contrary to the findings of reputable authorities on crime data; and they ignore Atlanta's 7-year track record of crime reduction," Franklin said Monday in a press release.



Jazz's 'Memphis Mafia' on WFIU

 
NPR's jazz blog A Blog Supreme links to a WFIU (Indiana University) radio program called "The Memphis Mafia: Mabern, Strozier, Coleman and Little," about a group of Memphis musicians who came up together through Manassas High School and achieved wide acclaim in jazz in the late 1950s and '60s. Blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon writes that the Memphis hard-bop scene "begs for a professional history."

The program traces the four -- trumpeter Booker Little, saxophonists George Coleman and Frank Strozier, and pianist Harold Mabern -- from their roots in the better-known R&B/soul continuum of Memphis music through their move en masse to Chicago and their continuing legacy in jazz circles:

Little passed away at the age of 23 in 1961; Coleman and Mabern have performed and recorded together many times in the past two decades, while Strozier is not currently active on the jazz scene. The recordings they made in their youth heralded the arrival of a Memphis hardbop school that has, for the most part, gone unremarked in jazz histories.

WFIU also promises a future program dedicated to famed pianist Phineas Newborn Jr., whom you might have read about on this blog.

Corky's, a Memphis airport secret

 
Brand management guru Bruce Turkel mentions Corky's barbecue as one of his "secret airport vices" in this little Q&A on The New York Times Web site. This short discussion from a couple of years ago on Chowhound weighs Corky's airport store vs. its other locations, and vs. other Memphis barbecue favorites.

Liverpool, be David's Gest

 
Hollywood producer and sometime-Memphian David Gest threw a fundraiser Friday in Liverpool, England, with auction items including a first-class trip to the Bluff City. Honored guests included Jimmi Harkishin of UK soap opera "Coronation Street" and singer Deniece Williams, performing her 1984 No. 1 hit "Let's Hear It for the Boy."

david-gest.jpgGest, known for his friendship with Michael Jackson and his rocky marriage to Liza Minnelli, has become a star of sorts in Great Britain due to his recent stint on the reality TV show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here."

Memphians might remember Gest for his grand return to town in 2004. He threw the controversial "David Gest's All-Star Holiday Extravaganza" -- featuring a curious assortment of celebrities including Tippie Hedren, Jane Russell and Petula Clark -- and treated thousands of needy Memphians to free meals on Christmas Day. Recall that Gest's roots in Memphis run all the way back to his days working in publicity for Al Green in the 1970s.

Further reading: A bizarre 2006 profile of Gest in The Guardian featuring lots of material about Memphis, most of it fairly negative. A highlight:

We leave the buffet and go out on to the roof to survey the city. He tells me he likes its 'third world' quality, which might be one way of saying that here, at least, he glitters like a diamond in dust.





Tropical Nut & Fruit wins safety award

 
784204_TropicalLogo_01_06_[Converted][1].jpgI just ran across this news release about Tropical Nut & Fruit Co.'s distribution plant in Memphis earning the 2008 Audit Platinum Award from the food-testing company Silliker Inc.  Tropical Nut & Fruit has more than 3,000 products, including nuts, snack mixes, dried fruit and the like. Silliker VP Rena M. Pierami praised "the preparedness of their highly dedicated safety teams and the outstanding integration of their quality assurance systems." Recent news has shown that nut-packing plants that don't follow safety guidelines can cause major problems, so kudos to all the workers in the Memphis plant for doing their job so well.

AT&T to announce 'Memphis' phone

 
memphisphone.jpgSmartphone fans, if you want to represent Memphis with something more substantial than the odd iPhone app, AT&T soon will unveil a product for you, according to a number of reports out this week.

On June 24, AT&T is to roll out an HCT (makers of T-Mobile G1) handset powered by the Android platform and featuring a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Get this, the name of the phone is Memphis! (An alternative name for the product is Lancaster, perhaps as a tribute to 3G wireless mania among the Amish?)

Updates on Little Rock suspect Abdulhakim Muhammad

 
Jim Hensley.jpgThe lawyer for former Memphian Abdulhakim Muhammad spoke to The Associated Press today about his client, who is charged with capital murder in the shooting death of a soldier and the wounding of another Monday outside a military recruiting center in Little Rock.

Attorney Jim Hensley (pictured at right) says Muhammad left college to teach English in Yemen but became radicalized while there. Hensley further stated that the FBI hung Muhammad out to dry after he was detained (Hensley says it was because Muhammad's visa had expired; previous reports said Muhammad was using a phony Somali passport).

"Here comes the FBI, who may be able to help this guy or save his life, and then they leave and then he's got to go back in with these hardened terrorists. He's got to survive, how do you live with that?" Hensley said. "He absolutely feels that the FBI and anyone else associated with the United States government left him to the wolves, that's for certain."
ABC News has a long report about Muhammad's connections to a mosque in Columbus, Ohio, that has been known as a jumping-off point for radicals, especially Somalis, before they go overseas to fight jihad.


'Queen of the Blues' Koko Taylor dies at 80

 
KOKO-TAYLOR2.jpgBlues diva Koko Taylor died today after complications from surgery. She was 80.

Though she was born just outside Memphis in Shelby County, Taylor is remembered as a Chicago blues artist, recording for decades with the classic Chess Records label and more recently with Windy City indie Alligator Records. However, her years in Memphis (she moved to Chicago at age 18 with her husband) undoubtedly shaped her sound, according to a quote that AP runs from a 1990 interview:

 "I used to listen to the radio, and when I was about 18 years old, B.B. King was a disc jockey and he had a radio program, 15 minutes a day, over in West Memphis, Arkansas and he would play the blues," she said in a 1990 interview. "I would hear different records and things by Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Sonnyboy Williams (sic) and all these people, you know, which I just loved."

Furthermore, Taylor's final performance was May 7 at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, where she was honored as Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year.

Even at age 80, Taylor had a host of gigs scheduled for the summer festival season, pending recovery from her surgery. Manager Bruce Iglauer tells the Chicago Tribune:

"She was scheduled to go to Spain next week," he said. "She was still performing. At the Blues Awards in Memphis a few weeks ago, she was absolutely glowing. She would be exhausted standing by the edge of the stage, but when the lights went up, she would hop up and dance as soon as the music started. She would always say, 'If I can brighten one person's day with my music, that's what I live for.' "
Chicago Tribune music writer Greg Kot also weighs in with a Koko Taylor best-of list. NPR's All Songs Considered blog has a host of video and audio clips.



Radioactive materials in Tennessee scrap yards

 
Scripps Howard News Service leads a story about radioactive materials ending up in Tennessee's recycling system with an item about Memphis.

When a metal recycler north of Memphis, Tenn., inadvertently mixed radioactive material into a new batch of metal in 1997, employees at the facility didn't know about it for three days, state documents show.

Contained in a piece of metal scrap, the radioactive isotope Americium-241 slipped into White Salvage's scrap-metal supply at its Ripley, Tenn., plant, blending into a new batch of aluminum. The contamination was not discovered until a shipment of the newly made material reached Memphis metal broker Southern Tin three days later.
The case was one of about 880 from Tennessee that are contained in a national database of nuclear-materials events, most of which occurred since 1990.

Americium-241, which the EPA says can pose significant health risks, is commonly found in smoke detectors, and it probably slipped through the cracks and was blended with other scrap.

Still more about the alleged Little Rock shooter

 
I have extensively updated last night's post about Abdulhakim Muhammad, who is charged with capital murder in the shooting death of a soldier and the wounding of another outside a military recruiting center in Little Rock. Any additional updates throughout the day will be appended to this post.

UPDATE: The global intelligence source STRATFOR has sent out a newsletter analysis on Muhammad that is also posted on its Web site. STRATFOR mentions the significance of Muhammad's middle name, Mujahid:

In Arabic, the word mujahid is the singular form of mujahideen, and it literally means one who engages in jihad. Although Mujahid is not an uncommon Muslim name, it is quite telling that a convert to Islam would choose such a name -- one who engages in jihad -- to define his new identity.

The analysis talks about how difficult it is for investigators to home in on "lone wolf" operatives like Muhammad, and how this reality may have tied the FBI's hands in investigating Muhammad after his return from Yemen:


Jammie Poole: School turnaround artist

 
I'll sign off today with a positive story of a former Memphian making progress in turning around one of Chicago's most troubled public schools. The New York Times mentions Jammie Poole, a former girls basketball coach at Melrose High, in this story about efforts to reshape failing schools around the country. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to use some of the policies that he used as Chicago's education CEO on a national level. Poole was recruited and trained by the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership for the ambitious task of remaking Orr Academy High School. The effort was met with skepticism from students and community leaders alike, but now Poole is being hailed for his success. NPR interviewed him in a similar story last year.

Could something like the AUSL tried in Chicago work with some of Memphis' most-troubled schools? Education consultant Bryan Hassel tells the Times that results have been mixed:

"A lot of these school turnarounds are going to fail because the work is so difficult," Mr. Hassel said. "But as a nation, we'll never have the capacity to do this work successfully until we make the commitment."

UT-Memphis researcher: Allergies bad in Latin America, too

 
If you're suffering through late-spring allergy season and you're about ready to move out of the Mid-South to find relief, don't go to Latin America. That's what I'm taking from reports of a study by Dr. Michael S. Blaiss of the University of Tennessee-Memphis. Blaiss found that nasal allergies suck just as bad in countries like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina as they do in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Apparently, this wasn't exactly what Blaiss expected from the research:

"What really surprised me about how much was identical, especially when we got into treatments and quality of life, was that this condition impacts people in Latin America as bad as we saw in the United States," Blaiss said.

However, Latin Americans are able to find relief at least at certain times of the year, which is more than some of us in the Mid-South can say:

"Unlike what we saw in the US, where most patients complained of year-round allergy symptoms, in Latin America, most of the patients had seasonal allergy symptoms," Blaiss commented.

More about alleged shooter Abdulhakim Muhammad

 
Recruiters-Shot.jpgThe news about Abdulhakim Muhammad, who was charged with capital murder today in the shooting death of a soldier and the wounding of another at a military recruiting center in Little Rock, is getting more ominous by the minute.

AP's latest write-through (7:13 p.m. CDT) adds that Muhammad may have considered other targets, "including military sites and Jewish organizations in the Southeast."

ABC News reports on investigators' focus on Muhammad's travel and associations:

Yemen and Somali are known hotbeds for terrorism. Columbus, Ohio, has been an area of domestic concern for authorities who have observed a number of Somali Americans traveling from there to Somali to wage jihad.

Eyewitness News in Memphis tracks down some personal background on Muhammad, who grew up in the Raleigh area of Memphis as Carlos Bledsoe before his conversion to Islam.

Amid reports that Muhammad "admitted shooting the soldiers 'because of what they had done to Muslims in the past,'" as AP quoted deputy prosecutor Scott Duncan, conservative blogs like Power Line are asking for liberal critics of Bush-era war-on-terror policies to take responsibility for the alleged shooter's actions.

UPDATE: (1:16 p.m. CDT) The New York Times moved a story late last night that has more important details. Some commenters at commercialappeal.com have wondered why Muhammad wasn't under surveillance after returning to the U.S. from Yemen, where he had been arrested for using a fake Somali passport. The Times explains:

The episode in Yemen prompted a preliminary inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other American law enforcement agencies into whether the man, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, had ties to extremist groups, the officials said. But that investigation was inconclusive, they said, leaving the bureau with insufficient evidence to wiretap his phone or put him under surveillance.

The Times also cites Little Rock police saying that 23-year-old Muhammad, formerly Carlos Bledsoe, converted to Islam "possibly as a teenager living in (Memphis) Tennessee."

AP uncovers an FBI memo that says the bureau and the Department of Homeland Security notified law enforcement in a number of cities, including Memphis, that Muhammad had been researching different sites for possible targeting.

Fox News links Muhammad to other cases of American Muslim converts involved in attacks against U.S. targets.

Further updates will be made throughout the day in this post.

Art Carden's 'Wal-Mart effect'

 
It might seem counterintuitive that the presence of big-box retailers like Wal-Mart correlates to better measures of health, but Rhodes College professor Art Carden makes just such a claim in an essay posted at Forbes.com:

The University of North Carolina-Greensboro's Charles Courtemanche and I are finishing a study of big retail stores and obesity. In our first round of statistical analysis we found that greater consumer access to a Wal-Mart store was associated with lower body-mass indexes and a lower probability of being obese.

As we gathered more data on Wal-Mart discount stores, Wal-Mart Supercenters, warehouse clubs like Sam's Club, Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club, and other outlets, we found that the correlation holds up under a variety of different circumstances, with a clear relationship between warehouse clubs and better eating habits emerging over time. Further, we found that Wal-Mart's effect on weight is largest for women, the poor, African-Americans and people who live in urban areas.
Carden suspects that these effects are due to the lower prices available at these stores. So people are able to afford more healthful food items, and their overall purchasing power is increased, ostensibly enabling a more healthful lifestyle.

It's a pretty interesting bit of pop-econ. After all, Wal-Mart sells a lot of cheap cases of soda and bags of chips. And its stores are temples of urban sprawl, reachable only by car and floating on seas of treeless concrete. How could Wal-Mart, this icon of old-school non-green capitalism, correlate to better health?

Now think about the flip side of the coin, the disadvantaged segments of society who don't have access to a Wal-Mart or a Kroger, much less a Whole Foods or a farmers' market. Their only available place to shop might be a corner grocery with no fresh produce, no butcher, and no discount card -- but plenty of cigarettes, sugary drinks and snack cakes. If these people were able to shop at a Wal-Mart Supercenter, they could buy more healthful products and still have some money left over to save for a new pair of running shoes or a bicycle. As Carden says, the study shows us "how truly incremental economic progress really is."


Big Star box set coming in September

 
Big Star.jpgAs mentioned late last year in Bob Mehr's look back at the life and legacy of Big Star co-leader Chris Bell, a box set of the influential Memphis band's work is due in 2009. Clashmusic.com reports today that the four-CD package, to be released Sept. 14 on Rhino Records, "will feature alternate takes, live versions and much more besides." To wit:

Containing a raft of unreleased material the collection will run to a total of 98 tracks and seems to be the definitive word on Big Star.

Excitingly, the box set is due to contain an entire live concert from 1973. Amongst the theories as to why Big Star never made it is the notion that the group simply couldn't cut it live - an argument that can now be put to the test by fans.

Rhino also will reissue Bell's solo album, "I Am the Cosmos," which will be repackaged with "a host of rarities," Clashmusic.com says.

UPDATE: While I'm on the subject of important Memphis reissues, I mustn't forget the expanded version of Isaac Hayes' "Hot Buttered Soul" coming out June 23 on Stax. This package includes the single edits of "Walk On By" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" along with a new set of liner notes by Jim James of My Morning Jacket.

UPDATE: Check out this extensive piece on top40-charts.com


Jerry Lawler to appear at WWE Smackdown taping

 
Jeff Powell of prowrestling.net has the scoop on the main event at Tuesday night's WWE Smackdown/ECW taping at FedExForum: Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy vs. Edge and Chris Jericho in a steel cage match. (Powell cites local advertising, so I hope I'm not hopelessly behind the curve. I haven't kept up with wrestling in many years, I'm afraid.) Also, Jerry Lawler, The King of Memphis wrestling, will make a special appearance as a guest referee. As Powell says, "It wouldn't be a wrestling show in Memphis without some involvement from The King." Powell also is looking for people who will attend the show to help him out with a report. Contact him at dotnetjason@gmail.com if you're interested. Go here to buy tickets for $15.

Speaking of Memphis wrestling, if you grew up watching the Saturday-morning broadcasts from WMC-TV 5 studios, you might remember Bruno Lauer, who was a bad-guy manager known as Downtown Bruno and later Harvey Whippleman. Lauer has a memoir available titled "Wrestling with the Truth" that should be worth a read by wrestling fans.

Lauer shot off an angry e-mail to The Commercial Appeal, which he says ignored a promotional copy of the book that he sent to the newspaper. More than that, what really angered Lauer was all the attention given lately to "$5 Cover" creator Craig Brewer:

this had upset me at the time,but now more-so than ever,due to the almost obsessive exposure and ridiculous amount of attention the ca has been relentlessly providing to craig brewer,the film-maker whose claim to fame is glorifying drugs,pimps,and prostitution...a really flattering glimpse of memphis to the rest of the world,wouldnt you say? instead of giving a loca l author exposure for his(my)first book,you feature this ridiculous "5 dollar cover" project in a prominent position in the ca every day,and have ad nauseum for weeks now.

I'm not much of a fan of any of Brewer's movies, and I'll take Alan Spearman's "$5 Cover Amplified" documentaries any day over the scripted MTV show, so I'm happy give Lauer some props and exposure. I'll close out by offering a couple of classic Downtown Bruno clips here and here.
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