March 2012 Archives

BBC's Mark Kermode show some classic Memphis movie theaters

BBC film critic Mark Kermode uses the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street as a backdrop for a video-blogged condemnation of the film industry's plans to increase ticket prices for traditional 2-D movies to subsidize the struggling 3-D format. He seems to be implying that such Hollywood shenanigans will continue to push audiences away from the communal viewing experience represented by the grand old movie houses.

Kermode, who says he likes to check out the old cinema houses when he travels to new cities, also points out the "nickelodeon-style" 1920s architecture of the "Old" Daisy Theatre across the street. He even gives a nod to the Memphian Theatre in Midtown, which Elvis used to reserve for his friends to screen "Patton" and other favorites. The building is now the old Playhouse on the Square/new Circuit Playhouse.

USA Today lauds Cozy Corner: a true Memphis barbecue 'joint'

ddcozy2.jpg Maybe because the peak tourist month of May is approaching, national travel writers seem to be flocking to Memphis in recent weeks. The latest is Larry Olmsted, who devotes his Great American Bites feature for USA Today to one of my two or three favorite barbecue spots in Memphis: Cozy Corner.

Like all the great Memphis barbecue places, Cozy Corner puts a few signature twists on the usual template, and Olmsted astutely points them out. First up, the Cornish hens:

I am not a huge fan of barbecue chicken, and at the end of the day a Cornish game hen is just a small chicken, but it was very good as BBQ chicken goes, and unlike the full-sized version, you get to eat the whole thing. Since the meat is never far from bone and pieces small, the interior stays juicy, with white and dark meat relatively indistinguishable. You simply dig in and devour the little bird in gloriously messy fashion.

Then, the little cup of barbecue spaghetti on the side:

At Cozy Corner it is the opposite of al dente, overcooked to the mushy consistency of Spaghetti O's, which causes the noodles to swell and coat with even more sauce. This works here because the sauce is so good - the pasta is more of a vehicle for sauce delivery than anything else.

And, finally, the choice of connoisseurs' (Get there early in the morning before they run out):

But what I loved above all else was the rib tips. Rib tips are to barbecue what hanger steak is to butchery, a chef's cut, lesser known to the public but beloved in the trade. In homes occupied by barbecue fanatics, rib tips are often a treat for the pitmaster and never reach the table. Basically if you take a whole rack of spareribs, which is trapezoidal, and cut down one side to make it more symmetrical, leaving the similarly shaped ribs known as "St. Louis" cut, the thin strip leftover is rib tips. Each bite-sized morsel has some fat, bone and cartilage in it, and they are smoked, tossed in sauce, and piled high on a plate - a plate of barbecue hog heaven.

NPR on Memphis: 'Jack Robinson on Show: Portraits 1958-72'

Jack-Robinson.jpg NPR's The Picture Show blog today mentions the recently released "Jack Robinson on Show: Portraits 1958-72," a collection of iconic celebrity shots from Vogue and other publications by the eponymous photographer whose work is archived and sold at the Robinson Gallery on South Main in Memphis.

The Commercial Appeal told the story behind the book when it was released in January: Robinson lived in Memphis for the last 25 years of his life, almost in seclusion, rarely talking about his past work with his celebrity subjects and his carrying-on with the Andy Warhol gang. After Robinson's death, his employer, Dan Oppenheimer, happened upon a treasure-trove of work at the photographer's apartment, much of which made it into this new volume.

From NPR:

The career lasted 17 years before Robinson came undone and moved to Memphis. There, he sobered up and took a job as a stained-glass designer. By the time Oppenheimer met him, New York City and photography and alcoholism had all been buried in the past. And there's really no one who knows much more -- at least not outspokenly.

"I kept waiting for some family member to step forward and make arrangements, and to this day no one has stepped forward," Oppenheimer says on the phone from Memphis. Robinson, it seems, left everything to Oppenheimer on purpose -- knowing it would be in good hands. He was right; Oppenheimer still gets excited when he talks about it.

"I wouldn't have known what Tom Wolfe looked like 45 years ago but I knew the name," Oppenheimer says. "It overwhelms people to this day to see all of the icons of your youth ... to see all of these people when they're 20 years old."

PICTURED: Self-portrait by Jack Robinson.

Continuing a cross-country road trip diary for The Huffington Post, travel-guide writer and -show host Rick Steves stops through Tennessee to compare and contrast the three grand regions represented by the white stars on the state flag. His pointing out that there are differences throughout Tennessee made me consider actually posting his travelogue (I usually don't bother linking to such pieces, which usually rehash the usual Elvis/barbecue/blues/barbecue/Elvis tropes.). There was also the fact that he referred to Memphis' skyline not only as "little," but also as "smart." He actually seems to like it here.

Memphis, with its smart, little skyline, overlooks the Mississippi River. It was one of the first cities to fall in the Civil War, so it wasn't destroyed but occupied. After the war, freed slaves came and helped power the local factories, mills, and cotton shipping. Its industrial wealth shows itself in fine, old neighborhoods filled with grand, "Four Square" houses--two-story homes of equal width and depth, many with a breezeway right through the middle that vents the four, equal quarters.

As this has long been an African American center and an industrial powerhouse, it's where black and white culture come together musically, too. Rock 'n' roll has its roots in African American and blues music. And Memphis is therefore logically the city for blues and rock 'n' roll--and the home of the man who helped black rhythm and blues enter white culture, Elvis Presley.

Moving on to Graceland, Steves repeats what seems to be becoming a common reaction to Elvis' old Whitehaven estate: In the post-"MTV Cribs" age, it seems quaint and unpretentious.

The mansion itself was nowhere near as gaudy as I expected. Elvis bought it when he was 22 for $102,000. It's a stately mansion with big white pillars out front. Like so many nice homes in this part of the country, it overlooks a sprawling and fun-loving estate. The interior is a trip back to the 1970s--shag carpets, mirrored ceilings, all the finest low-tech accessories of the age with Elvis' flair for fancy. While my house in the 1970s was tiny and humble compared to Graceland, the decor, furnishings, kitchen, and so on were remarkably similar.

From Memphis, Steves moved on to Atlanta. Read all about that here.

whalum.jpg Former Memphian and rising jazz player Kenneth Whalum III gets a mention this week in NPR's A Blog Supreme jazz blog. In a post about the mainstream attention being paid to new hip-hop- and pop-oriented albums by crossover jazz artists Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding, blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon reminds readers of the two musicians' recent work as band members on projects fronted by other musicians.

Whalum, son of minister and Memphis school board member Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr., had performed with Glasper as a member of soul singer Maxwell's band, and he enlisted the keyboardist and the Experiment rhythm section for his latest album:

While Glasper and Spalding were developing the conversing-with-pop-radio music on their new records, they were also playing this sort of music. The same piano-bass-drums unit of the Robert Glasper Experiment plays acoustic on saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III's To Those Who Believe, released in late 2010; Glasper and Experiment drummer Chris Dave also play on bassist Robert Hurst's trio album Unrehurst, Vol. 2 from earlier in 2010.
An article in the March-April issue of The Washington Monthly called "Terminal Sickness" blames the 30-plus-year policy of airline deregulation for not only increasingly limited and expensive air service in the American heartland but also potentially disastrous further economic consequences for cities such as "Cincinnati, Memphis, and St. Louis."

Delta CEO Richard Anderson recently defended his airline's cutbacks in daily departures from Memphis International Airport since its merger with Northwest, but Washington Monthly writers Phillip Longman and Lina Khan point out specific recent instances in which Memphis' air-service situation has harmed business here (links are my additions):

When (Memphis International) was designated a hub by Northwest in 1986, the airport undertook record-breaking expansion projects to house the airline and its regional carrier, Northwest Airlink. As in other cities, lack of competition at the airport led to record-high airfares. These high fares are still in place, but they haven't been enough to preserve service. Delta's acquisition of Northwest allowed the executives of that Atlanta- based airline to diminish the airport's hub status. In March of 2011 the post-merger airline announced that it would cut 25 percent of its flights from the city. This loss of connectivity affects Memphis in ways both big and small. The Folk Alliance music conference, held annually in downtown Memphis, recently announced that it would move to Kansas City starting in 2014, due in part to airport hassles. The Church of God in Christ, too, recently decided to move its yearly convention out of Memphis, breaking 100 years of tradition. When Mayor A. C. Wharton visited church leaders to lure their 50,000 convention attendants back to the Bluff City, he learned of the material culprit that had pushed the spiritual gathering away: high airfares.
Mavericks-Kings-Basketball.jpg links today to the cover story of GQ's new "Style Bible" issue, a profile of hip-hop megastar and cultural touchstone Drake. It's common knowledge that Drake, who was born and grew up in Canada, has roots in Memphis by way of his father, drummer Dennis Graham. The father spoke on his son's success in a recent interview with a Memphis TV station, and in GQ, Drake gives his take on the nature of their relationship:

Less than four years ago, he was just Aubrey Drake Graham, a high school dropout and former child actor writing rhymes in the basement of his mom's house in Toronto, stopping only to trip out on text messages from girls or find out where that night's party might be. Drake's parents split up when he was 5, and he lived in a bifurcated world, between everyday life with his mom--affluent, white, and Jewish Canadian--and the special visits and occasional summers with his father, who's black, from Memphis, and a bit of a ne'erdo-well. When I ask him about his dad, his voice tightens, and he looks away. "Me and my dad are friends. We're cool. I'll never be disappointed again, because I don't expect anything anymore from him. I just let him exist, and that's how we get along. We laugh. We have drinks together. But I spent too many nights looking by the window, seeing if the car was going to pull up. And the car never came."

Still, he identifies with his father and his ability to hustle, to get what he wants while having a good time. "I've never been reckless--it's always calculated," Drake says. "I'm mischievous, but I'm calculated."

PICTURED: Drake waves to the crowd during a timeout during an NBA basketball game between the Dallas Mavericks and host Sacramento Kings on March 9.

British newspaper The Independent gave five out of five stars to the new UK-released CD compilation Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios.

Conceived as the soundtrack to a new book, this inspired compilation celebrates Chips Moman's American Studios, whose Sixties productions for a variety of labels made it a major Memphis hit factory.

There's 24 songs, from soulful pop (Dusty's "Son of a Preacher Man") to soulful country - (Danny O'Keefe's immortal "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues"), but the real deal is hard-core southern soul from studio stalwart Bobby Womack, James Carr and many more.

CNN had a story today about the forthcoming name change of a portion of Linden Avenue to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The name change was unanimously approved by the Memphis City Council in January, and it is scheduled to go into effect in time for April 4 observances of King's death by assassin's bullet that day in 1968 in Memphis. CNN frames the move as Memphis finally moving to overcome its bad feelings about being the site of King's death.

Forty-four years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, the Tennessee city is overcoming what some call protracted guilt and embarrassment, and naming a street in his honor.

And here's an interesting factoid from CNN:

More than 900 U.S. cities have streets named after King. The largest concentration is in the South, led by Georgia, which has more than 70 roads named after the Atlanta native, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
ValerieJune6.gif Ahead of a show next week in Houston, sometime-Memphis singer-songwriter Valerie June talks about her as-yet-unsigned new album, which she wrote and recorded last year with help from Black Keys vocalist/guitarist and in-demand producer Dan Auerbach.

"Some of it is country, although very heavy country," she laughs. "Some of it is like Ray Charles and the Supremes doing some of Ray's country stuff. And we've got a song called 'Tennessee Time' that sounds like Porter and Dolly, which I love."

The collaboration with Auerbach came about when June's manager played some of her songs for the manager of another hot producer, Kevin Augunas, who has recently worked with similarly rootsy acts such as Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Florence and the Machine. Augunas thought to call up Auerbach, whom Augunas credits with helping June tighten up her sound.

"When we got together and started arranging stuff, one goal was to get to the point quicker, get in, get out. Her natural solo style can be a bit loose-ended, and we wanted to tighten things up," says Augunas. "She took a risk letting Dan and I push her, but I think we came out of this with a great album that has a lot of commercial potential."

So what's next for Valerie June? The album is being mixed in Los Angeles, and Augunas and June's manager say the plan is to release the album first in Europe -- where June has an established backing band and has already toured -- and "let the buzz she built over there work its way back to America." Fans in Memphis can also catch June on Saturday, May 5, at the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival.

PICTURED: Valerie June performs last March in Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest music festival. (Photo by John Anderson)
Fox News taps DeSoto County, Miss., as one of the counties to watch in tonight's Republican "Dixie Primary." Can former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum can continue the strong showing in Greater Memphis that he had in last week's Super Tuesday Tennessee primary? It's key to his continued viability that he not come in third in all six states of the old Deep South.

DeSoto County is a heavily Republican suburb of Memphis and Santorum did very well in Metro Memphis last week. This is the buckle of the Bible Belt, and should be good to the champion of social conservatism But, unlike the rest of Metro Memphis, this is a majority-Republican county. Results here will be revealing for Santorum.

David Fricke of Rolling Stone checks in today with a short review of the deluxe re-issue of Alex Chilton's lost 1970 solo recordings, "Free Again: The 1970 Sessions."

In 1969, even before the end of his Top 40 band the Box Tops, singer
Alex Chilton started making his first solo album. In 1970, he abandoned
it to co-found Big Star, the Memphis version of the Beatles. Free Again
finds Chilton, not yet 20, in fast bloom. The title track, "The EMI
Song (Smile for Me)" and "Every Day as We Grow Closer" are ravishing,
original amalgams of the Beach Boys, the British Invasion and country soul.

The sessions for this material took place at Memphis' Ardent Studios while Chilton was between The Box Tops and Big Star, and at a professional and personal crossroads, as explained on the Ardent website:

For the past year, Chilton had been strapped in a creative,
professional, and personal straitjacket. He was the lead singer of a
million-selling band, The Box Tops, but felt like little more than a
puppet of the group's producers. In the era of free love, he'd been
pressured into a shotgun marriage and fatherhood. And he'd ultimately
come to see himself as the pawn of an unscrupulous business machine,
sent to grind it out on the road in a series of silly lip-synched TV
performances and one-night stands while someone else cashed his checks.
As he entered the studio that summer to make his first solo recordings,
the man who would come to define the very spirit of musical independence
was still bound in chains. At a time where liberation and
self-expression were rallying cries, Alex Chilton was about to break

PICTURED: Alex Chilton is shown in a 1970 promotional photo from Ardent Records. (By Michael O'Brien)

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