July 2011 Archives

ddtam7.jpg The Wall Street Journal (in a free article for nonsubscribers!) features Memphis photographer Tam Tran, some of whose self-portraits are on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., for the exhibition "Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter."

Tam Tran, a Vietnamese-born artist who immigrated to Memphis, Tenn., as a child, turns the camera on herself. Her stylized self-portraits often show her with her usual funky clothes and makeup. Some are subdued and conservative; others decidedly not. "It's a reflection on my roots, in a way," she says. "You adapt to the location you're raised in, but you also try to live up to what your parents want you to be."

Among other recent accomplishments, Tran's work was selected for display in last year's Whitney Biennial expo at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan. At 23, she was the youngest artist showing in the prestigious survey of contemporary art.

PICTURED: Tam Tran, "A Doll on Your Mantel," a self-portrait featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennal.

Via MemphisRap.com ...

Eight-year-old Memphis rap wunderkind Lil P-Nut stars in a remake of the classic Aerosmith vs. Run DMC "Walk This Way" video alongside the purported world's youngest rock band, Haunted by Heroes. The video premiered this week on Cartoon Network, and it's pretty darn cute.

Memphis Redbirds mark 'Organ Donor Night' with body-part jerseys

I didn't get around to posting this one late last week, so here goes ...

Yahoo!'s Major League Baseball blog, Big League Stew, dipped into the minor leagues to recognize the Memphis Redbirds' upcoming "Organ Donor Night" promotion, coming Saturday, Aug. 13. That evening, the AAA ball club will don its home white uniforms, specially decorated with depictions of human bodily organs, like this ...

mustsee_memphis_redbirds_will_wear_organthemed_uniforms.jpg More, from the Redbirds' press release:

On Saturday August 13, the Memphis Redbirds will host Organ Donor Night at AutoZone Park with first pitch scheduled for 6:05 p.m.

The Redbirds will be encouraging fans to sign up to be an organ donor at the National Foundation for Transplants table located on the concourse. Those who sign up or show their driver's license that they are already a donor will be entered to win a keyboard organ donated by AMRO Music, a team autographed jersey, or a heart healthy basket from US FoodService.

And finally some reaction from Yahoo! blogger Duk!:

It's a worthwhile promotion, though as @kevin_reiss remarked, we can only consider the night a complete success if Slim Goodbody is invited to throw out the first pitch. Let's make this happen, Redbirds.

The Miami Herald's wrestling column features an interview with legendary Memphis wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett, who is promoting both the film documentary "Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin'" and his own autobiography, "The Best of Times." Jarrett touches on everyone from WWE mogul Vince McMahon to Jerry Lawler to the great Saturday-morning announcing duo of Lance Russell and Dave Brown.

"At that time, Lance felt compelled to say every card was great. He was the carnival barker. Your credibility is more important than the credibility of our company because if the people don't believe you, who else will they believe. So Dave and Lance would literally tell the people, 'Here's the card Monday night folks. Let's get ready for our next match.' If it doesn't excite them, it doesn't excite fans. If it was a card Lance and Dave thought was great, they would say that, and people would come, because it was great. The people believed in it."
Thumbnail image for jwrobo.jpg Above: Andrew Olney (right) and David Hanson assemble the Philip K. Dick android at the FedEx Institute of Technology in this June 29, 2005, file photo.

Down in Australia, 774 ABC Melbourne's Lindy Burns interviews David F. Dufty, an Australian who has written a new book about some cutting-edge yet quirky research that took place right here in Memphis -- and a bizarre series of events that followed.

Dufty's "Lost in Transit: The Strange Story of the Philip K. Dick Android" tells the story of an award-winning robotics project undertaken in the early and mid-2000s by software programmer Andrew Olney and sculptor/hardware designer David Hanson in a collaborative effort with the University of Memphis' FedEx Institute of Technology and other research centers. Olney and Hanson, working on developing a fully functional human-like android, decided to base the machine's personality and likeness on that of cult-favorite science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose paranoid stories of dystopian futures have been adapted into such films as "Blade Runner," "Total Recall" and the recent "Adjustment Bureau."

In a story in The Commercial Appeal from July 2005 (not available online, but I've pasted it to the jump of this post), Olney, a native Memphian and PhD candidate at the time, described the "phildickian" automaton like this: "It's an interactive robotic sculpture. You can talk to it. If you ask it long-winded Philip K. Dick kinds of questions, it'll come back with real Philip K. Dick kinds of responses, a lot of times drawing from interviews, speeches and stuff like that."

The following January, someone transporting the robot's head to Google headquarters in California lost the bag in which he was carrying it. The head never again turned up.

Working on a postdoctoral fellowship at the U of M, Dufty had struck up a friendship with the robotics crew there. As he told Burns:

"They were doing amazing stuff in conversational artificial intelligence and other things like that. And I just happened to know some guys who were key in this project to kind of reincarnate Philip K. Dick the science-fiction writer as an android. And i saw the whole thing take place, and it was just an amazing series of events."

Dufty called the decision to model the android after Dick, whose stories often involve future societies in which humans and androids live among one another, "stroke of genius."

"It was kind of a bit of a stunt, but it was really just a way of giving form to something they were gonna do anyway: 'Let's actually make it Philip K. Dick, make the android think it's Philip K. Dick, and wouldn't that be totally cool,' and it was.

The Wall Street Journal today features a profile of the late swing bandleader Jimmie Lunceford, who taught at Manassas High School in Memphis in the 1920s and '30s before forming an orchestra that stood shoulder to shoulder with any in the world over the next two decades.

The Lunceford Orchestra had 22 hits in all, including the No. 1 "Rhythm
Is Our Business" (1935), and it was the first black band to play New
York's mainstream Paramount Theater and tour white colleges. Glenn
Miller once said of the band: "Duke [Ellington] is great, [Count] Basie
remarkable, but Lunceford tops them both."

As the writer points out, Lunceford was born in 1902 in Fulton, Miss., and his maker on the Mississippi Blues Trail was just unveiled last month. Additionally, Lunceford is the subject of an exhaustive new set of reissued recordings:

Now Mosaic has released a remarkable seven-CD box, "The Complete
Jimmie Lunceford Decca Sessions," featuring material recorded between
1934 and 1945. The 146 remastered tracks not only chronicle the band's
role in swing's emergence but also illuminate why so many black and
white bands envied Lunceford's orchestra.

Though the Mosaic box does not cover
Lunceford's entire output during these years--he recorded for Columbia's
Vocalion label in 1939 and 1940--the Decca recordings showcase the
evolving skills of the band's arrangers. This group included trumpeter
Sy Oliver, alto saxophonist Willie Smith, pianist Eddie Wilcox,
trombonist Eddie Durham and trumpeter Gerald Wilson.

"The band could swing anything the
arrangers came up with--and a lot of it was tricky stuff, even at slower
tempos," said Mr. Wilson, 92, who is believed to be the last surviving
member of Lunceford's prewar band.

Like too many African-American musicians of the 20th century, Lunceford's life ended tragically too soon. The WSJ points out that he died in 1947, the cause listed as a heart attack but widely believed to have been racially motivated poisoning.

Memphis makes list of 'Small Business Trouble Spots'

Memphis was identified as one of a group of "Small Business Trouble Spots" in a study reported over the weekend in The Wall Street Journal's In Charge blog. The study found that between 2006 and 2008, New Orleans lost 5 percent of its small businesses (perhaps due to post-Katrina outflow of people and money) and Cleveland lost 4 percent. Memphis was among a group of cities that lost 3 percent of small firms. It might get worse, too:

Research has shown that the smallest firms - those just starting up - tend to drive job creation. But the recession bucked that trend as many small firms shuttered or shed staff to keep the business afloat.

This data, which ends at 2008, doesn't show the full impact of the recession. The number of business bankruptcies rose each year from 2006 to 2009, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, and remained high in 2010. That means that businesses continued to shutter during those years, possibly pushing the percentage losses in U.S. cities even higher.

Fox 13, Ben Ferguson take heat for segment on Romney, Mormons

Fox 13 in Memphis and conservative commentator Ben Ferguson are taking some national heat for a Wednesday segment that appears to poke fun at the Mormon religion. The website Mediaite inducted the segment into its "Great Moments in Journalism":

"What were they thinking in the morning meeting? The Fox station in Memphis decided to send reporter Ben Ferguson out to get some "political perspective" by jokingly interviewing the always intelligent and reliable "people on the street," and ask them questions like this: "can you name the candidate for president who thinks if he's a good person he will get his own planet?" One MOS (that's Man on the Street, of course) tells Ferguson he wouldn't vote for a person who believed such things, since it's "a little fruity, a little nutty."

Fox 13 had featured a series of segments about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pegged to the fact that two candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination are Mormons (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman). In one segment, anchor Darrell Greene discusses with Ferguson the topic, "Will Americans put a Mormon in the White House?" Ferguson replies that the Mormon issue had a lot to do with Romney's early withdrawal from the 2008 nomination campaign. He believes that evangelical or mainline Protestant candidates could make an issue of Romney's religion again this time, but he predicted that if Romney is the eventual nominee, his stances on the issues in contrast to those of President Barack Obama could make Republican voters more likely to accept his Mormonism. Then came the "man on the street" segment, played for laughs.

Ben Smith of Politico also picked up on the story, in a post titled "Making Fun of Mormons in Memphis":

I've been of the mind that anti-Mormon sentiment has been overstated, but this segment on the Memphis Fox affiliate shakes that view a bit.

UPDATE: This story is really starting to get some legs. At Commentary, a journal of the Jewish right, Alana Goodman writes:

Poking fun at religion is one thing, but skewering peoples' religious beliefs during a news analysis segment is pretty outrageous. Imagine if a reporter had instead been mocking some of the stranger aspects of Judaism, Christianity or Islam?

That said, I'm not sure whether this video hurts Romney or helps him. On the one hand, getting attacked by a reporter about your religion is pure gold for most Republican politicians, and this clip could certainly help Romney win sympathy and support from the conservative base. On the other hand, the video does portray Mormonism negatively, and it highlights some religious beliefs Romney might not want circulating.

I didn't expect Mormonism to become part of the election, but if videos like this keep popping up, then it might become an issue Romney will have to address.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Alana Goodman at Commentary -- and she's not the only one -- has this story backward, presumably because she hasn't seen Ferguson speaking at the GOP convention or guesting on "O'Reilly Factor." I'm not sure the conservative base might have sympathy for a candidate being bashed on religious grounds by an conservative evangelical talk-radio host, ie, a member of the ... conservative base.

The Los Angeles edition of StreetsBlog.org includes words of praise for Tennessee's recently expanded law requiring motorists to proceed with caution around pedestrians and bicyclists.

Regular reader and occasional commenter Bob Davis is in Memphis for vacation, doubtless having a great time riding their electric streetcar system.  However, he also sends word that not only does Tennessee have a three-foot passing law for cyclists, but the Volunteer State just made the law more powerful and easier to enforce. He writes:

I was in Memphis TN last week, and found an article about laws that would go into effect in Tennessee on July 1, 2011 (one finds similar articles in many states, and in California, there's usually such a list just before New Year's Day).  What's of interest to Streetsblog readers is that, to quote the [Memphis] Commercial Appeal: "Tennessee's 2007 law requiring motorists to leave at least three feet between their vehicles and cyclists they pass is expanded by a new law requiring higher standards of care by drivers, and enhanced penalties when bicyclists and pedestrians are hurt or killed in crashes involving motor vehicles."

Even though I don't ride a bike, and can still move fairly fast when crossing a street, Streetsblog has raised my consciousness on such matters, and I just wanted to let Angelenos know that progress is being made elsewhere.

Here's a link to the article the reader mentions. Says StreetsBlogger Damien Newton: "This article should be required reading for Sacramento lawmakers as they debate our own, somewhat watered down, 3-Foot Passing Law."

As Jennifer Biggs reports in Wednesday's Food section, Neely's Barbecue Parlor -- a new venture by Memphis barbecue celebrities and Food Network stars Gina and Pat Neely -- opens for business next week on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The New York Times' Diner's Journal blog posted more details about the restaurant, which finds the Neelys partnered with restaurateur Abraham Merchant. 

Unlike a number of New York barbecue joints, which emphasize the woodpile, the Neely's conveys more gracious dining.

Wade Burch, who has worked at several of Mr. Merchant's restaurants, will be pulling the pork when Nelly's Barbecue Parlor opens on July 13. The menu will also feature barbecued mussels, cedar-planked salmon, chicken-fried steak, and beer-can chicken in addition to the usual barbecue hot buttons.

See an image of the menu below.

Neelys Dinner Menu[1]

mcfashion.jpg A young Memphis woman is the object of affection for 20 suitors on the new CMT reality dating show "Sweet Home Alabama." Devin Grissom, a 20-year-old student at the University of Alabama, tells Tuscaloosa News that she didn't actually pursue the opportunity but was noticed on Facebook.

"Apparently, they had sent out casting calls and casting agents to Alabama to look for girls for this part, and I had never even heard about it," Grissom said. "All of a sudden, I get a Facebook message that said 'We think you'd be really great for this, can we call you?' "

The 20 hopefuls comprise both country and big-city types, which is part of the show's premise, said Grissom, who hopes to pursue a career in pro sports PR.

"It's a "Bachelorette"-type dating show and the premise is based on the movie "Sweet Home Alabama" (starring Reese Witherspoon) because I'm having to choose between the country and the big city," Grissom said.
The show premieres at 8 p.m. CDT next Thursday, July 14.

PICTURED: Devin Grissom models in a fashion shoot for the Feb. 18, 2008, editions of The Commercial Appeal.

Catching up with Memphis band Lucero on Warped Tour

Lucero playing on the Vans Warped Tour sounded like an odd match, but Ben Nichols, frontman for the popular and venerable Memphis roots-rock band, tells OC Weekly the band is taking it in stride.

"One thing I can say about this summer and the Warped Tour is that the kids watching us may or may not have a good time, but we most definitely will," Nichols says. "It's definitely going to be a new crowd for us, but that's what touring is all about."

Once the tour winds up, Lucero plans to return to Memphis to record its ninth (!!!) album, Nichols says:

"We thought about maybe going somewhere else to record, but the feeling here is really special, and it just made sense for us to stay here for a while," Nichols says. "People come to places like this to get some kind of musical inspiration, and we have it around us all the time."

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