April 2012 Archives

Britain-Bieber.jpg Years before the towering "hologram" of Tupac Shakur sat in with Dr. Dre a few weeks ago at Coachella, there was "Elvis in Concert '97" at the Pyramid, with The King checking in from beyond via massive video screen to perform with former sidemen and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra on the 20th anniversary of his death. That concert launched a subsequent tour as well as a similar 25th anniversary show in 2002 at the Pyramid. Now the company behind the Tupac stunt is considering other celebrities to bring back larger than life. From NME:

From Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix right through to Michael Jackson and even Whitney Houston - who only passed away in February - the eggheads from Musion Technology Ltd claim they've got a number of dead stars in their sights.

Speaking to NME, Head of Music at the firm Sanj Surati said that seeing Elvis onstage with Justin Bieber "would be a cool thing".

Yes, Justin Bieber. With Elvis. As someone on Fark commented in linking to MTV's story:

Team behind Tupac hologram consider a Bieber/Elvis duo. In other news, entire state of Tennessee being powered by spinning grave

PICTURED: Fans greet pop star Justin Bieber on Friday at London's Heathrow airport ahead of his album launch event.

With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the 100th anniversary of the Titanic converging this year, it's a perfect time to remember the wreck of the Sultana, still the deadliest maritime disaster in U.S. history. (We last remembered the Sultana on this blog back in December.) On April 27, 1865, the steamer, recklessly over capacity, exploded just a few miles from Memphis on its way to Cincinnati. Two-thirds of the 2,400 passengers crammed aboard the doomed steamer were killed, most of them Union soldiers freed from Confederate prison camps.

The Sultana never became a cultural and historical phenomenon on the scale of the Titanic. We in Memphis know something about it as it took place on our doorstep and hundreds of the dead are buried at Memphis National Cemetery. Now, a singer-songwriter from Binghamton, N.Y., has recorded a concept album dedicated to the disaster. "The Sultana: April 27, 1865" will be released at a "reunion" of scholars and Civil War buffs this weekend in Cincinnati. Jeff Stachyra was inspired to do the project to keep alive the lore of the Sultana and the memory of those who died, not Astors and Vanderbilts, but hundreds of common soldiers, emaciated from disease and crippled by wounds.

The whole thing with the Titanic versus the Sultana, where the Titanic gets all the attention and the Sultana gets none, I'm for the man on the street, the average Joe, the 99 percent," Stachyra said in an interview last week.

"Here are the poor guys who are coming home from the war after serving their country and creating the freedom we have today, and they don't get any recognition for that. In our world of fancy and glitzy, we're all driven toward the glamorous story."

Stachyra learned the full story on and off over four years -- as long as the Civil War lasted, he realizes now -- by reading every book on the Sultana and also doing his own research in St. Louis, Memphis, New York City and elsewhere.

Many elements of the sorry tale resonate today. War profiteering may have played a role: The Sultana's legal capacity was only 376, but more than 2,400 were crammed onboard in Vicksburg, allegedly because the captain had taken bribes to transport as many
soldiers as possible. Also, one theory posits that poorly repaired boilers were sabotaged by a Confederate agent getting one last act of revenge on the North.

In addition to his original song cycle, Stachyra recruited an orchestra to record a forgotten 1879 piece called "Sultana" that he discovered at the Library of Congress. A few groups have approached him about developing a "Sultana" musical based on his songs.

Off hand, other musical tributes include the early-'70s funk-rock track "Sultana" by a band incidentally called Titanic, and Son Volt's 2009 song "Sultana," written by frontman and Belleville, Ill., native Jay Farrar (I wouldn't be surprised to hear that one when Son Volt performs next Saturday at the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival.)

Eric Bana says he won't play Elvis in 'Elvis & Nixon'

 
Premiere-Deadfall-NY.jpg The Hollywood Reporter reports that Eric Bana is no longer attached to the in-development "Elvis & Nixon" film. The directorial debut of "The Princess Bride" actor Cary Elwes, "Elvis & Nixon" was to star Bana, an Australian known for doing a good Elvis impersonation, as The King and Danny Huston as Nixon. Bana also had signed on to executive produce the project.

As with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. movie projects, a fistful of Elvis projects are in various stages of development, but there's no telling when or if any of them will ultimately make it to the screens.

PICTURED: Eric Bana attends the world premiere of his new film, "Deadfall," on Sunday at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
Premiere-40th-Anniversa(2).jpg Josh Levin at Slate caught up with an old Memphian for reaction on last week's death of TV and pop culture icon Dick Clark. Wink Martindale, host of TV game shows including "High Rollers" and "Tic-Tac-Dough," grew up in Jackson, Tenn., and got his start in TV here in Memphis after graduating from then-Memphis State. His career basically paralleled Clark's (TV dance shows, game shows), and the two men were friends and business rivals for decades.

Martindale got his start in Memphis hosting a show called "Top 10 Dance Party." A personal friend of Elvis Presley--the King dated Martindale's future wife Sandy before he married Priscilla--the Tennessee native made his name by conducting an extensive early on-air interview with Elvis. Though Martindale has heard that he was under consideration for hosting duties onAmerican Bandstand in 1956, that job went to Clark, who held on to it for more than three decades.

"He was all powerful," Martindale says. The best examples of Clark's star-making ability, according to Martindale, are Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and Bobby Rydell, all of whom became overnight teen idols after being shepherded onto the air by Clark and his producer Tony Mammarella. "Before cable, there was American Bandstand," Martindale says. "That's where Justin Bieber--is that his name, Justin Bieber?--that's where he would [have gone]."
cook4.jpg Remember the Sarah Palin's-head-shaped smoker that Chicago artist J. Taylor Wallace used to cook a pear-stuffed suckling pig at last spring's Art Cookers 4 "Taste/See" at the National Ornamental Metal Museum? I thought it rang a bell. Anyway, the metallic visage of the Pride of Wasilla has found a new home these days. From Complex via Chicagoist (which has a bunch of pics of the Palin head):

Two years ago, Chicago-based sculptor J. Taylor Wallace created this statue in the image of Sarah Palin, and it's quite accurate--it has a big mouth and it takes up space. After unveiling it in Memphis, the piece has found a new home on the South Side of Chicago.

According to Wallace, Palin's decision to thrust herself into the debate about health care reform was the trigger for the piece. Its arrival will be celebrated at the Bridgeport Sculpture Garden, and Bridgeport Art Center will roast a suckling pig inside of the sculpture (it can be used as a stove) on Friday.

The Los Angeles Times, which mentions the Metal Museum, has this statement from Wallace:

The artist told the television station that the statue "was kind of in response to the political climate at that time, when the healthcare debate was going on. I thought she was a distraction from what was important, and it was cathartic to spend three months doing it.... It helped me out a lot."

PICTURED: J. Taylor Wallace with "We're havin' a Tea Pear-ody," his Sarah Palin-shaped metal smoker, at the Art Cookers 4 "Taste/See" show on May 20, 2011, at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis.

The controversy over that photo of a group of black schoolchildren hitting a piñata shaped like a hula dancer during a University of Memphis-sponsored luau party made it this week into the indignation chambers of the conservative blogosphere. Recall that the photo taken last week sparked controversy on social media amid the racially and politically charged atmosphere of Trayvon Martin season and electoral silly season. On Wednesday, Glenn Reynolds posted on his Instapundit blog a link to an item on National Review Online called "Is This Racist?" That post in turn linked to a conservative college website called The College Fix, which at least had included some perspective in its commentary.

At worst, this seems like a bad case of multicultural confusion. (Hawaiian luau + Mexican-style piñata = what cultural tradition exactly?)

Luckily, in this case, the racial dynamics were not reversed, with white students and a black piñata strung up to a tree. Imagine the controversy that would have generated!

Nevertheless, the university was compelled to explain itself after the picture started generating backlash after it was posted online.

It's a sad thing when a few kids can't swing at a piñata without unleashing an avalanche of racial grievances. But that's the reality we live in.

At the Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind blog, while lamenting Tennessee's prominent ranking on a number of "worst-of" lists for quality of life (we Memphians know all about that), Rachel Walden points out something I hadn't seen, either:

And I missed this last month, but the blogger at Lavender and Cheese writes about another embarrassing finding that got basically no media attention here: Black women die more from breast cancer than white women, and that's more true in Memphis, Tenn., than in any of the nation's other largest cities. In Memphis, a black woman is more than twice as likely to die as a white woman.

Lavender and Cheese links to the study from the journal Cancer Epidemiology and lays into the local media for missing the story (After searching the archives, I'm pretty certain we did not cover it in any way at The Commercial Appeal.). 

This is according to a study (pdf) released this week examining racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates. Of the twenty-five largest cities in the country, Memphis topped the list with the greatest racial disparity: the ratio of black women to white women who die of breast cancer in Memphis is 2.09. The study was conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago with funding from the Avon Foundation.

The results were published on Wednesday. It's now Friday.

The Washington Post published a story about this study on Wednesday, and DC wasn't even on the list of cities surveyed. The Denver chapter of Susan G. Komen tweeted a link to a Denver Post article, which is how I found out about the study.

You know where this study didn't make news? Tennessee. Not in Memphis, not in Nashville.

Digging through the study itself, I found some facts that should underline why this study should concern us in Memphis. "RR" is the rate ratio, in this case the racial disparity in mortality; "NHB" is non-Hispanic black; "NHW" is non-Hispanic white.

In Memphis the RR is so high (2.09) because the NHB rate is high (44.6) and the NHW rate is low (21.3). The very low RR in San Francisco is due to the NHB rate (19.6), which is the lowest of all the cities.

As this shows, poor health outcomes in Memphis compared to cities like San Francisco are even worse for minorities and women. Table 2 lists median household income among other correlates, and Memphis is among the very lowest of the 25, just more than half that of San Francisco.


At the Nashville Scene's Pith in the Wind blog, while lamenting Tennessee's prominent ranking on a number of "worst-of" lists for quality of life (we Memphians know all about that), Rachel Walden points out something I hadn't seen, either:

And I missed this last month, but the blogger at Lavender and Cheese writes about another embarrassing finding that got basically no media attention here: Black women die more from breast cancer than white women, and that's more true in Memphis, Tenn., than in any of the nation's other largest cities. In Memphis, a black woman is more than twice as likely to die as a white woman.

Lavender and Cheese links to the study from the journal Cancer Epidemiology and lays into the local media for missing the story (After searching the archives, I'm pretty certain we did not cover it in any way at The Commercial Appeal.). 

This is according to a study (pdf) released this week examining racial disparity in breast cancer mortality rates. Of the twenty-five largest cities in the country, Memphis topped the list with the greatest racial disparity: the ratio of black women to white women who die of breast cancer in Memphis is 2.09. The study was conducted by Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago with funding from the Avon Foundation.

The results were published on Wednesday. It's now Friday.

The Washington Post published a story about this study on Wednesday, and DC wasn't even on the list of cities surveyed. The Denver chapter of Susan G. Komen tweeted a link to a Denver Post article, which is how I found out about the study.

You know where this study didn't make news? Tennessee. Not in Memphis, not in Nashville.

Digging through the study itself, I found some facts that should underline why this study should concern us in Memphis. "RR" is the rate ratio, in this case the racial disparity in mortality; "NHB" is non-Hispanic black; "NHW" is non-Hispanic white.

In Memphis the RR is so high (2.09) because the NHB rate is high (44.6) and the NHW rate is low (21.3). The very low RR in San Francisco is due to the NHB rate (19.6), which is the lowest of all the cities.

As this shows, poor health outcomes in Memphis compared to cities like San Francisco are even worse for minorities and women. Table 2 lists median household income among other correlates, and Memphis is among the very lowest of the 25, just more than half that of San Francisco.


Thumbnail image for APTOPIX-Tennessee-Daily-Lif.jpg The Commercial Appeal photographer Mike Brown's extraordinary action shot of a young woman bobbing for mudbugs at this weekend's City Auto Rajun Cajun Crawfish Festival made the top spot on ABC News' Pictures of the Day blog. See more of Brown's Crawfish Festival images here.

RealAge.com ranks Memphis No. 2 in 'Worst Cities for Sleep'

 
Fox 8 News in Cleveland links to a "Best Cities in America for a Good Night's Sleep" survey on RealAge.com that ranks Cleveland No. 1 among the best cities for sleep and ranks Memphis No. 2 among the worst. No criteria are explained for the sleep survey, but the accompanying text does say that sleep is among the more important factors in RealAge.com's RealAge 2012 Youngest & Oldest Cities Report, in which Memphis ranks 48 out of 50.
The Tennessee state House today approved a bill that phases out the state's inheritance tax along with trimming the state sales tax on food. One of the leaders of the anti-estate tax movement, according to a story this week on Politico, is conservative Nashville-based economist and former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer. Laffer was in Memphis this week to address the Economic Club, and he generally praised Tennessee's pro-business climate:

"There's just one problem," he says. "Don't die here."

The grandfather of supply-side economics -- the man who once sketched the Laffer Curve on a cocktail napkin for a Gerald Ford staffer named Dick Cheney -- is leading a crusade to kill the estate and gift tax in Tennessee.

Laffer describes Tennessee's gift and estate tax in no uncertain terms: He calls it "the proverbial scat floating in the punch bowl" and says it's "the single biggest reason" why wealthy people don't want to live in the Volunteer State.
Laffer, who also met with FedEx founder and chairman Fred Smith during his visit to Memphis, says he moved from San Diego to Nashville solely for lower taxes and that he bought his house in Belle Meade with the cash he saved.

Meanwhile, the estate tax phase-out, which passed 88-8 in the House now moves on to the Senate, where it is also expected to pass easily.

Commercial Appeal photograph included in Easter slideshow

 
An image of the Easter Sunrise Mass at Calvary Cemetery by The Commercial Appeal photographer Jim Weber was selected for a slideshow on The Wall Street Journal website called "Easter Around the World." The photograph appeared on the front page of Monday's editions of The Commercial Appeal.

APTOPIX-Easter-Sunrise-Serv.jpg

The great New Orleans music magazine Offbeat has a long interview with The Bo-Keys bandleader and bassist and Grammy-nominated producer Scott Bomar. The Bo-Keys, of course, mixes younger musicians like Bomar, trumpeter Mark Franklin and sometime-guitarist Joe Restivo, with veterans of the classic Stax and Hi era in Memphis soul -- drummer Howard Grimes, guitarist Skip Pitts and others.

Some excerpts from Bomar below. On playing with venerable bandmates:

We absolutely love playing with the older guys in the group because they have so many good stories and they teach us so much. They have such a wealth of information. When we're working together, I'd say 90 percent of the conversation consists of those guys schooling us on everything they have learned in their careers, and it's super invaluable.

In the time I've been playing music in Memphis, we've lost more and more people as time goes by, and I see how important it is that we have gotten to work with the older guys and learn what we've learned because I think it would get lost like any other art form or music form like jazz or anything like that. I think that we're really fortunate that we have been able to get a little bit of the craft to keep playing that kind of music the right way.

...

On how to play Memphis soul:

Well first of all, you have got to have the right feel. That's the most important thing, and the second thing is to not get too busy. Don't clutter it up; play simple. Simplicity is one of the most important things. Each musician needs to know what their role is and what their part should be.

On songwriting:

For me, the easiest part for writing is coming up with the concept or idea for a song. Those come to me pretty frequently, and they tend to come from the ether. The hard part is sitting down and actually finishing the songs--arranging them, taking lyrics and choruses scratched out on napkins and turning them into a full song. That's where being in a band with like-minded musicians really helps, because the collaboration is really great. Everybody in the group is on the same page, and we really compliment each other's writing.

The Bo-Keys play Friday night at d.b.a. in New Orleans. See previous Links to Memphis coverage of the band here and here.

D.C. StreetsBlog points out another sign of progress toward making Memphis a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly city:

The Bikes Belong Foundation has chosen six cities to fast track physically protected bikeway designs that make cycling safer and more accessible to a wide range of people.

Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco and Washington D.C. will receive a leg up from Bikes Belong's new "Green Lane Project." The two-year, intensive technical assistance program is intended to help these cities develop protected on-street bike lanes and make this type of bike infrastructure a mainstream street design in the U.S.

Here's some background on protected bike lanes, which are a different animal than the basic lined bike lanes that are being installed in Memphis on roads like Madison. Think more along the bike lanes on Broad Avenue that are separated from moving cars by on-street parking. (A bid two years ago by bicycle advocates to install protected bike lanes in Cooper-Young was shelved as part of a compromise with the neighborhood's merchants.)

Protected bike lanes are widely employed in countries that have achieved high rates of cycling, such as the Netherlands. In America they were pioneered by the New York City Department of Transportation in 2007, and have since been implemented in Washington, D.C., Portland, and Chicago.

Protected lanes have been shown to be safer than ordinary bike lanes and more likely to encourage people to take up cycling. But they are considered "experimental" treatments in the gospel of traffic engineering, the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which has stymied their adoption throughout the United States.

The Washington Post checks in today on Memphis City Schools' efforts to adopt the IMPACT teacher evaluation system that was developed in the District of Columbia's public schools under former chancellor Michelle Rhee. Debate roiled over Memphis adopting the system, under which nearly 300 teachers were fired in D.C. However, IMPACT was the choice of Memphis' teachers over other, more popular systems:

Memphis teachers adopted the D.C. method -- in significant part -- over two alternatives that are better known and more widely used. They said IMPACT offers concise, concrete formulations of what effective teaching looks like.

"It really allows you to reflect," said Melanie Fleming, who teaches third grade at Richland Elementary, one of the higher-performing schools in Memphis.

But many of the city's 7,000 teachers are raising grievances about the new system and fears that school officials will use it to purge educators, not help them raise their game. Union officials say teachers feel betrayed, an echo of the D.C. tumult.

"What they are going to do is run some good veteran teachers into retirement," said Stephanie Fitzgerald, a longtime science teacher and former president of the Memphis Education Association.

The Post also points out to the non-Memphis reader that this major change in teacher performance evaluation comes amid a rather tricky political environment:

Teacher evaluations are just one element in a time of immense upheaval for the Memphis public schools, which serve a poor and heavily minority population of 105,000 students. The city is in the throes of negotiating a consolidation with majority-white suburban Shelby County schools, a move compelled by funding issues. The Memphis Education Association lost much of its power after state lawmakers outlawed collective bargaining by public employees last year.

In the midst of political challenges, Cash said he worried about the evaluations being seen as an assault on African American women, who comprise 75 percent of the city's teacher corps. He called it one of the "third-rail issues" of the kind that undid Rhee and former D.C. mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Of particular concern, he said, are about 800 mostly veteran teachers who have scored poorly on evaluations and may not be reachable by coaching or professional development.

Also check out the accompanying photo gallery of images by former Commercial Appeal photographer Lance Murphey. Winridge Elementary in Southeast Memphis and Richland Elementary in my old corner of East Memphis are featured.

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