It's been a scary year. Even as cartoon characters were taking potshots at our beloved Sunsphere (hey - name one other city that has one, okay?), giant proposed buildings were hovering over downtown and novody knew where they were going to land. And still don't. Meanwhile, we've got big employers threatening to vamoose even as Pigeon Forge is growing ever-larger (talk about scary...). On the plus side, Margie's doing the weather again.
At any rate, here's our survey of the year's events, guaranteed to make you squirm in your chair, or your money back. See you next year.
"Unification--it just makes sense." Countless media spots regurgitated this message ad nauseam during a $400,000 campaign for merging city and county governments. But 57 percent of Knox voters didn't buy it, and uni-gov went down to defeat for the fourth and probably final time. Getting rid of duplication was one of the prime reasons its establishment backers claimed it was so sensible. But, as County Commissioner Frank Leuthold pointed out, "They seem to have forgotten that people who live outside the city only have one government to begin with."
As an added attraction, registrar-at-large Irene Lovely, who draws $63,000 a year to see that the Election Commission office is run right, wreaked havoc when she forgot to separate city votes from county votes in the unification referendum. Political realities kept her board from firing her, and her commissioners have opted to "evaluate" the office instead. Even that feeble measure has displeased Lovely, who evidently believes that being registrar means never having to say you're sorry. Will she still be around when her term expires in April? If so, will she resign gracefully? Or will she outlast them all and go on to bungle elections in perpetuity? Smart money is on the third option.
But When Does He Get His Own Nickname?
New kid on the block Nick Pavlis has had a tough rookie year as city councilman. He ticked off the old guard during the '95 campaign when he had the effrontery to run a tough campaign for an At-Large seat against the three incumbents and actually (gasp!) outpoll them all, even habitual top-vote-getter Jack Sharp. So Pavlis has endured a year of snide asides and lopsided votes against his initiatives--treatment heretofore reserved for the likes of Carlene "Too-Tall" Malone. Watch for Pavlis, apparently a disciple of the Nietzsche/G. Gordon Liddy "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me strong" theory, to just keep on keeping on.
Who's on First
No, Where's on first. Siting the proposed replacement for Bill Meyer Stadium isn't as simple as it was when Mayor Victor Ashe announced his first choice this summer. After getting council to put a casual $12 mil in the budget for the new ball field, the mayor first picked a tract behind the city Safety Building. That hit a snag and World's Fair Park came into play. Then a lot of people who weren't supposed to be players ran out on the field. Near neighbors from Fourth and Gill and Parkridge wanted to keep it where it was. The Smokies wanted it anywhere but where it was. A bunch of people didn't want it on World's Fair Park. Nobody knew where everybody wanted it till the utility left-fielder, Councilwoman Carlene Malone, caught the mayor sitting on a poll which said that city residents (a) like it where it is and (b) really don't want it on State Street, which has become the Smokies' site of choice. At last report, relief pitcher Laurens Tullock had been called to the mound to try for a save. Where's it going? I don't know. (Third base.) I don't give-a-damn. (Shortstop.)
Too Cool For School
The school board lost its most progressive member this summer when Democrat Anne Woodle was ousted by D.M. Miller, a retread from the old city school board. Also joining up is perpetual school activist Steve Hunley, who is showing signs of breaking ranks with the hard-core school critics he used to run with before he was elected.
In November, the Knoxville Police Department finally rewarded Metro Pulse poster-cop Charles Coleman by giving him a long-overdue promotion to captain. Coleman is an African-American featured in a story on the joys and griefs of being a black cop in Knoxville, and his promotion was widely applauded in the community, which has been wrought with contention over KPD conduct.
If you happened to be walking down the Cumberland Avenue Strip or through the Old City in early fall, you may have noticed that the decibel level was considerably elevated from years past. A sudden proliferation of outdoor music sent the sweet crooning of patio bards wafting through the air, and thumping dance beats spilling off disco decks. But such joyful noise was a little too much for some area residents. After a spate of noise complaints in both areas, the Knoxville Police Department sent an ominous letter threatening to close the establishments in question if the patio racket didn't cease and desist. (KPD also managed to drag up a 30-plus-year-old statute that outlaws outdoor amplified tunes.) After a series of alternately quiet and contentious neighborhood meetings, the parties reached a tentative agreement to let the music play--as long as it doesn't play too loud. The compromise may have been aided and abetted by the fact that it was by then growing too cold for most of the clubs to keep their decks open anyway. Has the noise about noise finally quieted down? Stay tuned this spring.
You Mean There Are Still People in Knoxville Having Fun Late at Night? Let's Put a Stop to It!
Ever concerned about temperance and our collective moral welfare, city fathers abruptly decided in November that brown-bagging--the practice of BYOB at clubs without bars--should be prohibited between the hours of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. An ordinance to that effect passed by a unanimous vote upon second reading in city council, although council members Nick Pavlis and Carlene Malone raised several questions that were largely ignored by Mayor Victor Ashe and their fellow aldermen.
KPD chief Phil Keith spearheaded the ordinance, citing rampant problems (underage drinking, excessive calls for service, etc.) with brown-bagging establishments. This was news to folks at the Boiler Room and the Old City Late Nite Club, the two long-running clubs that serve as the city's primary after-hours hotspots; owners say you can count the annual calls for service to both establishments on the fingers of one hand.
That wasn't the only point Keith was a little shaky on; nor was he alone in his disingenuousness. After all, this council boasts several of the same moral stalwarts who went nearly a dozen years without revoking a single beer permit in the city.
In the meantime, Boiler Room and OCLNC ownership have joined forces and hired a lawyer; expect a judge to review the new law in early '97. And Boiler Room DJ Rob Taylor (a.k.a. Stormboy) reports that business is down but not out. "We still have a healthy dance floor crowd, but the rest of the club is almost empty," he says. "A lot of these people have been working all night, and they'd like to go somewhere where they can drink a beer."
OLD CITY BLUES
Admit it, Knoxville. You've never trusted the Old City. You used to say there were too many Whittle kids there. Later, you said there are too many frat kids there. Or foreigners. Or musicians, or something. But when you tried to say there were too many criminals there, you were stymied by the fact that in recent years, more outrageously violent crimes have transpired along Kingston Pike than downtown. Now, with the carjacking of a teenage couple in a parking lot near the Old City, you have one story you'll quote for years.
No question, safety's a bigger worry than it was before.
Some figured fear would take its toll on the OC's health. And this year, two of the anchor businesses we once thought we could count on forever closed: Lucille's, heir to Annie's, which was the germ from which the Old City grew, closed, and so did another Old City charter member, Manhattan's. Throw in the demises of the Big Easy, Spaghetti Warehouse, and Amigo's, and you'll hear prudent Knoxvillians and longtime Old City skeptics saying, "told you so."
But if you haven't been there lately, you might be surprised to hear that in 1996, as many Old City businesses opened as closed. The Summit Diner, which closed a couple of years ago, reopened as Sullivan's Diner. An all-vegetarian restaurant that goes by the dusky moniker All Night Eggplant opened. In keeping with that nocturnal theme, Blue Moon, Knoxville's only modern retail bakery that doesn't specialize in birthday cakes, opened. So did the next-door ice cream parlor, the Big Dipper. Even Manhattan's has just reopened after being dark for several months. Amsterdam Cafe, which opened about a year ago, expanded onto patios fore and aft to become a crowded exotic-beer-and-live-music sensation. And Copper Cellar King Mike Chase bought into Hooray's, adding a note of stability.
Will the Old City ever see Old Age? We think maybe so. Despite closings and rumors of closings to come--such as the Blue Moon Bakery itself--these city blocks will remain, and people will come to them.
Meanwhile, On the Waterfront...
Knoxville emerged where it did as a riverfront port town, and for 150 years, the riverfront remained a lively place, first for commerce, later for gambling, bootlegging, and sundry other subversive pursuits. But in the 1950s, as part of "urban renewal," the shabby waterfront vanished from Knoxville's consciousness, paved over as sleek Neyland Drive, with only a sliver of grassy median between the pavement and the drink. In 1996, years of speculative discussion and an $8 million investment by the city began to culminate with the construction of a new pedestrian bridge across Neyland and the landscaping of a long, narrow sidewalk (er, park) along the river, embellished with serpentine walls, fountains, and strobe lights--with the promise of astonishing new developments to come. We'll wait and see. But it's clear, at least, that it'll be easier for the downtown lunch crowd to walk to Calhoun's...
Wow--A Downtown Addition That Doesn't Destroy Local History
East Tennessee had never had a comprehensive history museum until January, when the historical society opened the second half of the new East Tennessee History Museum on the first floor of the already-historic Customs House on Market Street. The prize draw this year has been Davy Crockett's actual rifle, Ol' Betsy.
Big (Little) Steps
A grand design for downtown revitalization emerged last winter from a "Big Steps" planning process co-sponsored by the city and the Downtown Organization. But when it came to implementation, not much has happened by year's end.
The grandest of the designs: converting much of the World's Fair Park into an entertainment and shopping Mecca got a big boost from developer Earl Worsham. His $125 million (for starters) plan for attractions patterned loosely after Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen (yes, Denmark) was unveiled with much fanfare in October. But his ability to raise the money, including $9 million requested from the city, has met with skepticism from Mayor Victor Ashe.
A committee of the Downtown Organization that has a city mandate to make recommendations on use of the World's Fair Park was due to meet on Dec. 11, but that meeting got postponed. The committee's chairman, James Haslam II, has so many other commitments that scheduling is very difficult, according to DTO president Richard Cate. Ditto for convening another DTO committee, co-chaired by Haslam and TVA's Craven Crowell, that's supposed to be making recommendations on another biggie: a new convention center.
The DTO-appointed "champions" of two other Big Steps projects also confess they've been too busy to spend much time on them. Developer Kristopher Kendrick is charged with spearheading the renovation of the landmark Sterchi Building on Gay Street as a condominium complex to foster downtown residential growth. But he's been fully engaged converting the Emporium Building at Gay and Jackson into a decorative arts center and the former Blakely Hotel (now the St. Oliver on Market Square) into a stylish set of apartment/hotel suites.
Similarly, Andrew Nelson of Cyberflix has been too busy promoting the wares of the one high tech venture already domiciled on Market Square to figure out how to convert the entire square into a cyber enterprise zone. It could just be that sticking to one's own knitting does more for downtown development than weaving master plans.
STATE AND NATIONAL POLITICS
In June, the ragged-edged state of Tennessee celebrated its 200th birthday with a Nashville bash we heard about only through faint echoes bouncing over the Cumberland Plateau. Like a mutt that doesn't recognize its own mother except as a food source, Tennessee hardly threw a milkbone in the direction of Knoxville, the birthplace of the state, the home of outlaw patriarchs Blount and Sevier, the burg that was this state's first capital, the Philadelphia of Tennessee. February 6, once celebrated as the state's birthday, was unrecognized except by a motley assortment of Tennesseans who stood in the snow on the forgotten Gay Street site of the Constitution's signing, defied the open container law, and offered some sour mash to the spirits of Jackson and Sevier.
So What Does a Republican Have to do to Lose an Election Around Here, Anyway?
State legislative races were a little quiet this year, except for the one in Blount County where Democrat Mae Owenby tried to unseat arch-conservative Carl Koella. Races don't come much uglier than this one, which saw Owenby supporters circulating 20-year-old pictures of Koella's beat-up ex-wife filched from a court file and Koella charged with leaving the scene of a bloody, fatal traffic accident after allegedly clipping a motorcycle rider and bouncing him into oncoming traffic. Koella won this one by a whisker after Owenby had already done a victory lap.
Koella/Owenby made "Gentleman Ben" Atchley's race look like a tea party. Becoming Senate Majority Leader didn't guarantee Atchley genteel treatment when challenger John Emison took a run at him in the Republican Primary. Atchley, who gained notoriety last winter with his resolution to post the Ten Commandments wherever two or more of us gather, is still smarting from Emison's rude treatment, which included painting Atchley as a friend of sleazy liquor lobbyists. Emison generated more noise than light and got a swift kick in the butt from Republican voters.
Don and the Giant Peaches
Lamar has his Honey, Al has his Tipper, and now Don has his Peaches, proving once and for all that a woman doesn't have to have an adult name to play with the big boys. Peaches Simpkins, a Nashville politico who doesn't let party loyalty stand in the way of ambition, came out swinging in '96, leaving Tennessee Higher Education Commission chief Bryant Millsaps without a job and UT President Joe Johnson in the dog house for refusing to fire Peaches' enemy, Billy Stair. Finally catching on that his deputy was beginning to overshadow his own office, Sundquist cut Simpkins loose a couple of weeks ago to pursue a private health-care business, which she had already been going after despite inconvenient conflict-of-interest regs. Is there a Peaches in our future? Without doubt.
Former Supreme Court justice Penny White made history this summer but not the way she wanted to. White, a Democrat, became the first high-court justice to lose a yes/no vote on whether she should be allowed to stay in office. The Tennessee Conservative Union used a couple of lines of one decision to tar White as an anti-death-penalty liberal and, sensing a chance to rouse the rabble, the Republican establishment signed on, defeating White and giving Gov. Don Sundquist a chance to name his own Supreme Court justice. Feeling their oats, the TCU is now looking over White's replacement, Memphian Janice Holder, and grumbling about her liberal leanings.
Cast Your Choice: Pick-up Trucks or Flannel Shirts?
Big Ol' Fred Thompson is guaranteed to become a media darling in '97, as he takes the reigns of the Senate Whitewater investigations from the slimy hands of Al D'Amato. There are rumblings that Thompson is being looked at as a potential GOP candidate for president in the year 2000. That despite the fact that White House Fever still burns bright in the belly of his old pal and fellow Howard Baker protŽgŽ Lamar Alexander, who is handing out plaid bumper stickers even as you read this. With Al Gore a strong bet as the Dem standard-bearer, the nation could be hearing a lot of Rocky Top--oh, happy prospect.
Location, Location, Location
It seemed simple enough: Reorganize TVA to prepare for the free-for-all looming in the electric-utility industry; consolidate the customer-service guys in Chattanooga with 60 employees from Knoxville's development office in a single location. But that location happened to be Nashville. As TVA staffers prepared to hit the road, the spin hit the turbines. Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe hinted of hidden agendas and complained that Knoxville had had its share of TVA reductions. GOP congressmen echoed the mayor, and TVA Chairman Craven Crowell was forced to study the issue further. Earlier this month, a reduced transfer was announced, one that moves only 11 jobs from Knoxville, simultaneously scratching TVA's itch to switch and the mayor's itch to bitch. An MP prognostication: Look for TVA's economic development staff to swell in Music City as it shrinks in K-town.
Hey--There's More Than One Game In Town!
The Lady Vols snagged an unprecedented fourth NCAA championship in March and started a new season in November with a young, relatively unseasoned team. But returning is Chamique Holdsclaw, everybody's All-American in her freshman year, so how bad can things be?
A Ray of Sunshine
Knoxville Sports Corporation head Gloria Ray, UT's first women's athletics director, snagged plans for Women's Basketball Hall of Fame away from Jackson, thereby spurring talk of K-Town becoming a Mecca for women's sports. And why the heck not? We're good enough for Pat Summitt to call home. June saw the national gymnastic championships, which brought those bendable kids who would be stars to town. Ray, by the way, is well on her way to the role model hall of fame, having finished off a big year by getting named to the KUB board of directors.
Bigger and Better
On the cusp of only his third season at the helm of the UT men's basketball team, firebrand coach Kevin O'Neill scored what might be the biggest coup in the program's history by bagging the state's top two prospects, Nashville's Charles "Big Hat" Hathaway and Chattan-ooga's C.J. Black. When added to several other fine new recruits, promising sophomores such as Brandon Wharton, and next year's signing of all-world Memphis point guard Tony Harris, the duo should give a shot in the arm to a program that, under O'Neill's care, has already risen from the doldrums of a five-win season (under previous coach Wade Houston) to an NIT berth last year.
Our Tears Run Deep Orange...
In any other year, the Vols' football season would have had us all bragging. We beat 'Bama--not to mention Georgia, Arkansas, and UCLA--and finished the regular season 9-2. But this wasn't any year. It was 1996, the most-hyped Big Orange season in generations. The Vols opened the season as Sports Illustrated's number-one college football team in the world, led by the junior many considered the greatest college quarterback in the world, Peyton Manning, the summer's odds-on favorite for the Heisman. On top of all that, we suddenly had the largest football stadium in the world, to accommodate the crowds that would witness the Vols' triumph.
Then came the rainy 21st of September, the date of what CBS had touted as "The Game of the Century," when the largest crowd in college football history watched in horror as the Gators snacked on the mighty Vols. Six weeks later, when the Big Orange lost for the first time ever to unranked Memphis (and later struggled to beat perennial bottom-feeder Vanderbilt), the great '96 Vols were beginning to seem like another shaggy-dog story: down to #9 (AP) and #10 (CNN) at season's end, and scorned by the big-daddy Bowl Alliance bowls. The Citrus Bowl is still ahead, but against #11 Northwestern, there seems more to lose than to gain. Manning hasn't decided whether to return for a senior season.
There's always next year. But when we said that last year, it was easier to believe.
East Tennessee's center for live jazz for over a decade, the original restaurant that set off the Old City, and one of the region's finest continental-style restaurants, Lucille's (and its near-identical '80s predecessor, Annie's) was the place many of us took newcomers to give them a lively first impression of the city. The crowds never slackened, and the live music, often featuring pianist Donald Brown, seemed to get only better. But late this October, Lucille's closed for reasons we've heard had little to do with their volume of business. The restaurant allegedly was unable to recover from incurring five-digit fines earlier this year for selling liquor on an expired license. There are rumors about its imminent reopening, but for the moment, we're still waiting.
The Knox County Regional Farmers' Market, that whipping-post of local politics in '94, is hanging in there. LeeRoy and Tootsie Neely departed the premises in the spring, and the county handed over the lease to a new manager from Chattanooga. Local farmers filled the open-air shed outside the main building with produce all summer, and the place is full of Christmas greenery at year's end. The future? Vendors say they'll let us know in March.
Turning Out the Lights
Since the 1970s, Philips Consumer Electronics has kept their headquarters in a building somewhere in East Knox County; that's what we've heard, anyway; we've never actually been there. (Have you?) In May we started to hear rumors that Philips was planning to move their headquarters even farther away, like maybe to another state. But with sale of its Greeneville plant this month--and the December 20 announcement that its marketing and sales divisions were heading to Atlanta--it seems the rumors have become fact. For a time, the company was developing that elusive quality known as "synergy" with Whittle Communications; Philips wed Whittle in a corporate ceremony in '92, and some Philips executives moved in with Whittle for awhile. Maybe it was Whittle's demise in 1994 that left Philips feeling lonesome.
What if you looked around one day and everybody was old? Welcome to the University of Tennessee. That's one of the problems the university is facing over the next two or three years as administrators and senior faculty, hired in the '60s and '70s, reach retirement en masse. President Joe Johnson and Chancellor Bill Snyder are within shouting distance of out, as are such administrative stalwarts as Emerson Fly and Walter Lambert. The only spring chickens, relatively speaking, are Sammie Lynn Puett and Homer Fisher, and there's no heir apparent for Johnson's job. Already stressed by budget cuts and its first-ever layoffs, the university is also having to cope with a decidely unfriendly governor who keeps using them as a bad example of budget-cutting. In '97? More budget woes and--maybe--a change or two at the top.
Oak Ridge, for decades the home of gee-whiz scientific advancements, had another marvel to ponder this year: "Gee whiz, the jobs are drying up." Despite the promises of Democrats (VP Al Gore) and Republicans (Third District Rep. Zach Wamp), Department of Energy jobs in the Atomic City continue to wither. With all the fat long gone, DOE contractors began cutting into flesh in '96, with 1,600 to 2,000 workers leaving without benefit of attrition. And '97 holds more of the same; DOE offices themselves are likely to face the next round of cuts. Will the last one out please turn off the Chamber of Commerce?
Now That's Swanky!
Knoxville was a well-known beer-brewing center 90 years ago, and a little company on East Depot proves there's still a head on that tradition. The New Knoxville Brewing Company released its first ales, Swanky and English Mountain, and Old Pal (some named after old Knoxville brews) which earned them local adherents despite the premium price, plus nationwide recognition from several beer-connoisseur clubs. The company's chief brewer, Al Kruzen, is also taking command of the vats at Great Southern Brewery on Gay Street.
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
The demise of the late financier Joe Taylor figures to leave close to 200 East Tennesseans out much of the estimated $60 million they put into his Ponzi scheme. (The current guess is 50 cents on the dollar.) But their misfortune is the opposite of same for the scads of lawyers involved in Taylor's bankruptcy proceeding. Legal fees could run as high as a million dollars, and the bankruptcy trustee, William Hendon, could collect close to another million for his services.
Inner City Burning
It's been almost a year since the Inner City Church was torched by arsonists on a snowy night last January. But neither the FBI nor any of the other law enforcement agencies involved have been able to finger the perpetrators. Their inability to do so leaves the community tarred by racism's ugly brush, even though scarcely anyone involved believes the church burning was really racially motivated. Just as bad, or worse, it leaves a cloud of suspicion overhanging the church's ministerial Upton brothers whom the FBI hasn't seen fit to clear after initially branding the arson as an "inside job." That cloud, along with numerous death threats, has lamentably caused one of the city's most dynamic black leaders, Jerry Upton, to go into somewhat of a shell.
Sometime last summer, Sequoyah Hillsbillies were startled to see heavy machinery rumbling into the neighborhood like Soviet tanks; lined up like stockpiles of missiles, enormous pipes materialized in Sequoyah Park; a grassy riverside meadow turned into a large fenced-off industrial compound; several roads from the Boulevard to Kenesaw turned into war-zone rubble. Sequoyah Hills was, finally, getting new sewers. For years, Knoxville's Old Money has been content with Knoxville's oldest sewers, but they were unable to stop the march of sanitary progress. The neighborhood's Roman Empire-style sewer system, which dates back to the 1920s and mixes raw sewage with stormdrain runoff, is being replaced. Sequoyah Hills has always been a labyrinth for visitors; now, as rubbly streets are opened and closed to traffic, it's a maze that changes every day, like the New York Times crossword. It'll be several months before it's all done. Now might be a swell time to buy.
Gang wars caught everyone's attention this summer when a 5-year-old Lonsdale girl, Brittney Daniels, was murdered by an Eastside bullet meant for a Westside teen. A few weeks later, a young man minding his own business near Five Points was gunned down by an unknown shooter on a nearby roof. The violence seeped westward into a club on the Cumberland Avenue Strip, and beyond, as another young African-American man was killed in the parking lot of a Cedar Bluff hotel.
A Difficult Trial
Of all the criminal proceedings that caught our attention this year, none was more poignant than the Delaware trial of Knoxville restaurateur Mike Chase, whose toddler son Mikey died in '95 after being left in a hot car. Chase, indicted for criminal negligence, stood trial and was acquitted after the jury deliberated about a New York minute. Afterward, several jury members would denounce the prosecution.
Back to the Zoo
Knoxville's first serial trial ground on, with accused Thomas "Zoo Man" Huskey getting convicted early in the year of a gaggle of rape charges. Still to come is a quadruple murder trial, where he (and perhaps a couple of his multiple personalities) faces the death penalty if convicted of strangling working women he (they) picked up off the streets of East Knoxville.
Six months after Metro Pulse's examination of the financial straits of Planned Parenthood of East Tennessee, the agency is operating in the black. Taking a cue from the corporate sector, Planned Parenthood adopted a less-is-more philosophy toward doing business, eliminating three positions (one in Oak Ridge, two in its Chattanooga offices), consolidating two Oak Ridge offices into one, and trimming back operating expenses wherever possible. That the community responded to Planned Parenthood's monetary dilemma with generous donations hasn't hurt their plight, either. "The community really responded to our needs, and we appreciate their continuing support," says PPET executive director Debbie Blair. "I'm happy to say that we're now operating in the black, and meeting our expenses."
We're a Hit!
Why Knoxville? Still unable to project a viable national identity, Knoxville keeps getting referenced in the national media as America's All-Purpose Municipal Buffoon. Inspired by an outdated World's Fair tour book, Bart Simpson barrels into town with his pals in an episode of The Simpsons. The bully Nelson, disgusted to find the World's Fair was over and the glorious Sunsphere is now only a wig outlet (in the cartoon only, we understand), hurls a rock at the rusting icon--which teeters, falls, and smashes the boys' car. Misadventures with slow-witted rednecks follow. Other references in a +, skit this fall, in the New Yorker (an exploding pen intended for Bob Dole does in the mayor of Knoxville) and in Harper's (an excerpt from a Film Comment comment that Independence Day "President" Bill Pullman "looks like he might make a good junior vice president at the southside Wal-Mart in Knoxville, Tennessee") have us scratching our lice-bitten heads.
Frankly, My Dear...
The News-Sentinel got a new managing editor for Christmas last year. Frank Cagle, who has been with the paper since the mid-'80s, quickly put his own stamp on the N-S's most powerful job. Contrary to at least a half-century of tradition, Cagle became the first N-S managing editor to write a weekly political column, and his idiosyncratic conservatism quickly won a following on Capitol Hill, which is only slightly more isolated than the N-S newsroom. The targets of his punditry were House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (Cagle tried to raise funds for an obscure woman who challenged the speaker for his West Tennessee seat), environmentalism, and the goodies the Democratic Legislature withholds from Republican East Tennessee. Granted an exclusive look at Cagle's obsessions for '97, Metro Pulse advises you to read the following 52 times real fast: East Tennessee is being cheated; environmentalists are wackos; Jimmy Naifeh is the anti-Christ. There--you won't have to buy a Saturday Sentinel all next year.
We Want Our Bob-TV
Arguably the funniest man in Knoxville TV history since Cas Walker, Bob Deck was sick of being called "the David Letterman of Knoxville," so he left Knoxville's struggling cable project TNi to become "the David Letterman of Nashville." But his arrival at That Guitar City unhappily coincided with a coup at the station, which canceled his show before it ever aired. He returned to Knoxville, his home since he was a cook at Piccolo's in the early '80s, and is now doing private TV production work. We've seen him lately; his face is still as stubbly, his wit's still as sharp. We say, "What the Heck--Bring Back Bob Deck!"
TV News Boldly Marches On
Lots of changes happened out in TV land, where all three stations saw top-down shake-ups, with Channels 6 (WATE) and 10 (WBIR) getting new news directors, both women. Channel 10's Marti Skold left for the warmer climes of Miami, Florida, while Margie Ison returned to the air and is telling us which way the wind blows on Channel 6. And at year's end, Channel 8 (WKXT) is preparing to launch a whole new look, vowing to beef up its staff and become competitive.
And They Said It Couldn't Be Done
Well, the competition did, anyway. But despite their cruel cynicism, Metro Pulse hit its fifth anniversary in August, stronger than ever. From its humble beginnings as a bi-weekly entertainment rag to its current position as a weekly community voice, Metro Pulse has managed to wedge itself into the currents of Knoxville life. Celebrating its anniversary with a bash at the Knoxville Museum of Art's "Alive After Five" (ah, such sweet irony!), the party set a KMA attendance record with over 800 people showing up. (Now, if only they had brought birthday presents...)
A Full Life
Carolyn Jourdan, a UT-educated engineer and graduate of UT Law School, finished up the project she started after shucking her job as counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment five years ago. Her film, Half Lives, aired on local public television October 10 after showing in other cities related to its subject: nuclear waste and the Manhattan Project. Response here leaned toward the same gushing praise she received in national press and television. The film will receive a national PBS broadcast next year (check your MP calendar for dates). In the meantime, the ad-hoc fund raiser, director, and producer is dodging pitches from Hollywood and elsewhere, wondering just what she's got herself into.
Rising From a Watery Grave
The computer-game company known as Cyberflix, heady with national praise for its 1995 interactive CD-ROM western, Dust, released Titanic--a game that's an amazing interactive mystery that doubles as an eerie self-guided tour of the Titanic on its last evening. The release of this long-awaited project came at a serendipitous moment, just after the aborted raising of the Titanic's hull and simultaneous with a smarmy TV melodrama about the big tub starring George C. Scott. Cyberflix has sold close to 30,000 copies since November, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The game is, at this writing, sold out in many stores nationwide, a potentially embarrassing predicament for the pale geniuses of Market Square.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Music Scene Roundup
The middle ground in local music narrowed considerably this year: while a fistful of local bands found the kind of success this town hasn't seen since the Everly Brothers, the Koxville scene limps into the new year with more than a few bruises.
The big news, of course, was Superdrag. Their much-anticipated Elektra Records debut, Regretfully Yours, came out to a flurry of critical praise (including earning an "A" from Entertainment Weekly), and their first single, "Sucked Out," hit the Billboard charts and was sucked dry by MTV, which aired the accompanying video religiously all summer. Meanwhile, the band toured relentlessly and stared out at us from the pages of every cool music magazine. The V-roys hitched up with country-rock vet Steve Earle and released a killer disc of kinda-sorta-mostly country tunes, Just Add Ice, on Earle's e-squared records. They, too, hit the road, opening for Earle in the U.K. and burning their way across the states alone. And RB Morris finally got around to doing what most people thought should've happened years ago when he linked up with John Prine's Oh Boy! Records. Expect the results early next year.
Well-dressed punk boys Thumbnail found their way onto the roster of Cargo/Headhunter Records, who re-released the band's self-titled record. (Look for the brand-new Red! Dead! in the coming weeks.) Pop-punk maestro Mike Smithers finally found a permanent rhythm section for 30 Amp Fuse, who signed with Dedicated Records and recorded a full-length sizzler with Stephen Egerton and Bill Stevenson of Descendents fame. Songs by slaphappy pop-punksters Torture Kitty showed up on an assortment of national compilations, the Prime Sports Network, and their own House O' Pain Records-released EP. A CD by former members of Evan's Dilemma--now in an outfit called My Friend Stephanie--showed up in Christian bookstores.
Things weren't so bright for Fort Records. Guy-on-the-scene Mark Murdock had no sooner announced the formation of his fledgling indie label when two of the participating bands--Stinkfoot USA and the Family Jewels--broke up in the same week. Only Leaf remained, and by the end of autumn, they too had shriveled up and blown away.
Meanwhile, scene vets HyperTribe moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to Movement, Smokebomb bombed, Numskull cracked, Wateva foundered, and a whole flock of musicians (including John Paul Keith, Rick Tiller of Leaf, the Doubters Club--and drummer Dave Jenkins' Disgraceland Studios, and Eric Otto of the Scenesters) migrated to Nashville. Thankfully, the Holy Ghosts, Beeswax, an overhauled Dynamo Humm, Ragazzi, the Satellite Pumps, Kissing Virus, Autonomy Vs. Shame, and others proved to be vital new additions to the Knoxville scene.
Or, we should say, what was left of the Knoxville scene after venues Lucille's, Amigo's, Manhattan's (which later re-opened under new ownership), the Library, the Living Room, the Electric Ballroom, and cooly store Landspeed Records closed. On the Strip, newcomers Dante's, McGhee's Irish Pub, and Rudy's tried to absorb some of the loss, while Old City reggae nightspot Bullfrog's became The Frog and expanded its format. And on Painter Avenue, an unassuming abode--which came to be known as the Autonomy House--offered a much-welcome haven for punk/emo fans of all ages.
So what will the new year hold for live local music, especially now that Mercury Theatre has been slapped by neighbors with a lawsuit bearing a variety of nuisance charges, and Sassy Ann's is threatened by possible interstate expansion? Why do clubs continue to fail even as the music continues to thrive? Hopefully, instead of just bitching and moaning about it (and/or giving up and jumping ship), someone is quietly brewing a grand scheme for jump-starting the sluggish state of venues. (What's the clichŽ about dark clouds and silver linings?) Otherwise, Knoxville might just be in for one of the deepest cyclical downswings in local music history.
Dance Hall Daze
One thing became adamantly clear over the past 12 months: Knoxville is a dancing machine. Not only did live music fans lose the Electric Ballroom to the boogie-down crowd, a whole slew of new nightspots cropped up, including the Sound Factory, Ivana's (formerly Trump's), and Neon Nites. Line-dancing became a showdown, with neighboring country mega-clubs Cotton-Eyed Joe and the new challengers at Gunner's facing off for the hearts of the boot-scootin' masses. Accusations and shady stories rocked both sides, but Gunner's finally waved the white flag and closed their doors in November. Plans call for the club to re-open with a Top 40 format, but sources report that this is not quite as certain as the daily paper has reported. Meanwhile, count Cotton-Eyed Joe among the walking wounded. Strange and often unpleasant rumors continue to swirl around the club, as its management has been under investigation for money-related shenanigans.
Freedom May Not Reign, But The Zombies Are Alive And Well
A scheduled Freedom Hall concert by Top 40 industrial-metal-camp-mirth makers White Zombie was axed in February by the Johnson City City Commission after JC residents decried the band's alleged ties to Satanism. The town immediately became the whipping boy for several national media outlets, with MTV news jock Kurt Loder describing the venue as having the "apparently ironic name of Freedom Hall." Meanwhile, the Johnson City Press quoted town Vice-Mayor Bob May as saying, "I don't care if it's the First Amendment. [White Zombie's music] is a disgrace." For their part, the band simply moved the event to Viking Hall in Bristol.
The Jazz Exchange Organization--sponsor of both the Jazz in the Park series and the educational Jazz in the Schools program--finally found a permanent home (after existing for years in Ella Rogers' living room) with the opening of the Jazz Exchange Center at the Moses Center. The Music Association of Knoxville returned after a lengthy slumber, promoting its 1996 BMI Showcase--which turned out to be a bigger success than anyone expected, electing new board members, and then growing mysteriously quiet again. And the Knoxville Blues Society came about as an effort to increase the recognition of the blues greats (Brownie and Stick McGhee, Ida Cox) who've hailed from our fair city, as well as new musicians. Unfortunately, a damper was put on the society's progress when co-founder Lynn Stinnett's niche record store the Blues Depot closed.
Ashley Capps' AC Entertainment, the little music promoters who could, bit off a big piece of pizza pie when they took over the management of the air-conditioned jazz-age Arabian fairyland known as the Tennessee Theatre just as country-music megastation WIVK donated the shrine to the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation. It's a natural move for a group known for bringing big-name acts to venues we know they'd skip if they had any sense. But when they announced they were going to show old movies--well, we worried about those boys. The last folks who tried something similar went broke trying, and the years since have only more and more old movies on cable and VCR, more reason for six-year-old kids to say, "Daddy, I've already seen Breakfast at Tiffany's." But with more of an eye for Glamour and Flash than previous efforts have mustered, Ashley's Folly seems to be calling its own bluff, pulling in packed houses to see movies we've all seen before, just to be there. Hanging over old Gay Street just like some electrified legible papal balcony, the Tennessee's marquee keeps reminding us that the Tennessee Theatre is Knoxville's Grand Entertainment Palace, and, damnit, it is.
Local modern rock station 94.3-WNFZ exhibited a commendable desire to push the envelope of commercial radio by hiring former WUTK Wednesday night shock jock Col. Bacchus to man the mike during their evening post-drive-time slot. Bringing with him some of the same shrill antics and loopy soundbites that made him a minor legend at UTK (not to mention the occasional format-flouting song selection), the good colonel has quickly established himself as one of the most exciting DJ's in town.
The station also deserves extra kudos for slipping some local music in with all the standard modern rock fare; besides putting the latest Superdrag single "Destination: Ursa Major" in heavy rotation, the 94.3 crew have regularly spun tunes from the Doubters Club, the Opposable Thumbs, and the nationally-released-but-not-quite-part-of-the-commercial-alternative-format V-roys.
Still a Golden Boy
It was the worst of times, then the best of times for former Olympic swimmer Melvin Stewart this year. The former UT pool jock lost a chance for what could have been his second gold medal when he was upset by two upstarts in the Olympic trials this year.
But within days of his come-uppance, Stewart received a call from ABC-ESPN, which has since tapped the adopted Knoxvillian as the youngest sports correspondent on national television. Stewart, who told Metro Pulse that acting and broadcasting have always been part of his larger plan, also co-wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in Jesse's Girl, a local independent film about two mismatched roommates. He's currently shopping the film to studios for possible video release.
Nearly two years after completion, the film that tied up Fort Sanders traffic and nearly all of Knoxville's actors for a month, Joint Adventure, is still for sale. Producer Michael McDermott does say that a Houston distributor (Warwick Films) is extremely interested, though. Jaded Los Angeleno that he is, McDermott says he'll believe it when he sees it, but Warwick seems sincere and has been involved in pre-purchase preliminaries for over two months. What got the distributor's attention? Nothing less than the "Best Comedy" award that the film snagged at the Houston Film Festival in April. Keep an eye peeled for the filmmakers' next project--Saturdays and Sundays, featuring names you'll recognize from sources other than your high school yearbook, like Charlton Heston and Ben Stiller.
Meanwhile, our other shot at movie fame, Tom DiCillo's Box of Moonlight, has yet to peak out from behind the clouds. Although producers vowed to enter it in this year's major film festivals, not a mention of the film has made it into print or onto the Internet.
After years of rumors and deals-that-got-away, East Tennessee finally hosted Lollapalooza, the traveling alternative music festival and carnival of subcultures founded by former Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell. This year's rock-intensive show (featuring such heavies as Metallica, Soundgarden, and Rage Against the Machine) was staged in Newport, of all places. While a few local residents protested the influx of heathen "alternative lifestyles" into Cocke County--the pot-growing, 'shine-making capital of Tennessee--the July show was nevertheless fairly well-attended and went off without a major hitch.
See Live Tourists!
It's beginning to look a lot like Branson (Mo., that is) over in Sevier County, as East Tennessee's own tourist Mecca has been adding a slew of new music theaters to its already-imposing line-up of theme parks, outlet malls, and putt-putt golf courses (oh yeah, they've got the Great Smoky Mountains National Park tucked away over there somewhere, too).
Metro Pulse reported earlier this year about the development of such new music-related projects as the J.D. Sumner-linked Southern Gospel Hall of Fame and cafe that will go along with the theaters already in existence there (T.G. Sheppard, Lee Greenwood, et al). Since that time, the county has seen a few new announcements and several shake-ups. Crooner B.J. Thomas was tapped for, then booted out of, the existing Rainbow Music Theater, and construction of his own concert hall is apparently now somewhat in doubt. Meanwhile, Sheppard is abandoning his great glass temple in Pigeon Forge for the Eagle Mountain Theater (which currently features Con Hunley and The Four Guys). As for the new stuff, country band Alabama has opened its Alabama Grill, a Hard Rock Cafe for country music, while songstress Louise Mandrell has announced that her new theater will hit Music Row sometime in '97. Up the Parkway toward Sevierville, another as-yet-unnamed act will occupy a new theater in the multi-million dollar Governor's Crossing development.
But the news that really has folks in Sevier waiting with baited (pardon the pun) breath is the impending announcement from Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society as to where they will locate their massive new theme park and headquarters. Sevier County is one of only three sites left in the running (Daytona Beach and Birmingham are the other two), having survived several "cuts" in a selection process that began with more than 70 cities a year-and-a-half ago. Although B.A.S.S. corporate heads have belabored the announcement long past their original self-imposed deadline, local officials privately believe they may have landed the big one.
TVA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation fielded questions and comments on Dec. 10 to help them decide whether they should issue a wetland development permit to a local limited partnership. Turkey Creek Land Partners and Farragut Land Partners hope to develop a long idle 360-acre former farm adjacent to Lovell Road. And the city and county want to build a road across the wetland to relieve congestion on Kingston Pike and I-40. The developers and citizens have been hashing it out for over a year now, and public officials who once had no idea what a wetland is have been treated to a crash course from local and visiting experts. Look for decisions from the permitting agencies late in January.
The Smoky Future of the Smokies
Environmentalists had the opportunity to view Governor Don Sundquist from just about every angle this year. Early on, his office issued a "Memorandum of Understanding" with business interests promising relaxed regulations for new and expanding polluters. Naturally, the citizenry jumped on him like he was the neighbor's trampoline. Since then, we've seen him play hardnose with Champion over the Pigeon River and make gestures in support of the new and improved EPA regs. What next? He's probably home hugging his Christmas tree right now.
Fighting the Champ
It was another weary year of fighting Champion International for those weary defenders of the Pigeon River. The good news is public opinion, which of late has been rather moribund toward the reeking river, appears to have taken a strong turn against the polluters at the North Carolina papermaker. The bad news is that the EPA is ready to approve a new, Champion-friendly discharge permit.
It's Been a Colorful Year
In September, Bennett Galleries hopped across Kingston Pike to turn the former Capri Theater into a 20,000 square foot behemoth of an art boutique. While there was justified skepticism beforehand--does Knoxville need, want, have the ability to support the "largest art gallery of its kind in the Southeast?"--it's been a success on all fronts. Decorators and chronic re-decorators are swooning over the cascades of swanky home accessories, and the fine art space (the dominion of one visionary Marga Hayes Ingram) is top notch, as has been the work with which they've graced it.
Knoxville artist Andrew Saftel (recently relocated to new studio and digs in the Sequatchie Valley) received a commission to participate in the Atlanta airport's "Airport Art" program. He installed his large and luscious "We Can Go," a montage of his signature style just-this-side-of-abstract paintings seen through large minimalistic sculpture, in mid-June. Now everyone who goes (or comes) through Atlanta's international concourse is treated to the talent we've been happy to take for granted.
And speaking of significant commissions, discriminating readers all over the world have been toasting Knoxville glass artist Richard Jolley. He executed a handsome vessel in his signature style that readers of Atlantic Monthly, American Photographer, Audubon, Wine Spectator and a zillion other glossy mags have encountered as "The Bombay Sapphire Martini, As Interpreted By Richard Jolley." Next month the artist will have the opportunity to re-interpret said martini if necessary--Carillon Importers, distributors of Bombay products, will host a special martini reception in honor of the opening of his three-month long show at the Mint Museum, in Charlotte, N.C. (And if you need a special excuse to purchase a gentleman's magazine, the ad featuring Jolley's glass is in the January issue of Playboy.)
The Knoxville Museum of Art made it to the light at the end of a two-year-long tunnel of evaluation, study, and downright hard work in December when it received accreditation from the American Association of Museums. Accreditation means that AAM acknowledges KMA's high professional standards and quality programming. (Tell us something we didn't know.) It also greases the wheels of the arduous borrowing process when KMA goes after blockbuster shows like the Red Grooms exhibition that opens next summer.
Photographer Jan Lynch passed away early on the morning of November 5 after a prolonged bout with AIDS. Lynch was known internationally for his titillating nudes and erotic imagery. Closer to home, however, he captured the local gay lifestyle on film, with all of its wonders and warts, and passed it along for insiders and outsiders to share. With a quiet wit and caring eye, he played diplomat between cultures that otherwise probably never would have known where to start.
Cry, cry, darlin'. The Father of Bluegrass, Mr. Bill Monroe, bowed out on September 9, just shy of 85 years old. With a hand for a hammer and a mandolin for an anvil, Monroe forged a style of music that would come to reflect and represent East Tennessee and the rest of Appalachia. Since he passed, the Blue Moon of Kentucky has never been more blue. But how can you really miss somebody who not only left behind three barns full of beautiful music, but also taught hundreds of others how to play it?
He left town about 60 years ago, but we still count him as our own. Legendary bluesman Brownie McGhee was born in Knoxville in 1915 and grew up here and elsewhere in East Tennessee, singing and playing his homemade guitar in the streets. He went on to an amazingly diverse career as a sideman for the likes of Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson, promoter for the American folk music revival in Europe, half of a unique country-blues duo (with Sonny Terry) and movie star with work ranging from Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd to Steve Martin's The Jerk. He was also a fine guitarist and songwriter. It was a Brownie McGhee song, "Robie-Dobie Boogie," that in 1948 inspired a reviewer to write, "it rocks, it rolls," thus giving a new genre of music a name. He died in February in Los Angeles.
They called her the Belle of Bethel when she was institutionalized at that New York asylum. Rose Williams, the emotionally troubled older sister of playwright Tennessee Williams, had a hard time getting along with her St. Louis family and spent much of the '20s and '30s seeking refuge with her Knoxville aunts. Feted at Cherokee Country Club, she was a Knoxville debutante in the '20s. But even eccentric Aunt Ella and sensible Aunt Belle couldn't work wonders on schizophrenia. Rose Williams was institutionalized, and one of the early victims of an exciting new surgical procedure called lobotomy. Rose Williams and her horrors inspired several of her brother's best-known works, especially The Glass Menagerie and Suddenly Last Summer. A trust left by her brother kept Rose in luxurious comfort during her last years. She suffered delusions that she was a member of the Royal Family and reportedly kept a framed portrait of General Hospital's Robert Scorpio on her wall, but some who knew her insist that her later years were, against all odds, happy. She died in New York in September.
Educator Dick Yoakley, as good a friend as Knox County's kids ever had, died this year after a short, futile battle against a ferocious cancer. Yoakley, who was supervisor of the Department of Pupil Personnel, had the loaves-and-fishes job of stretching too-few resources to serve too many special needs kids. The Center for Alternative Learning, which he helped found, was renamed the Richard Yoakley School in his memory.
Delmar Dennis lived the last half of his life in Sevier County, where he made a living as a printer. This quiet, ordained preacher with a predilection for right-wing politics (he ran for President once, and was a long-time member of the John Birch Society), was an unwilling hero of our times. Dennis, who grew up in Mississippi, spent his youth as a member of the Klan; repented as a young man, and earned the undying enmity of many fellow Mississippians by turning informant. He was instrumental in solving the case of the three murdered civil rights workers whose bodies were buried in an earthen dam; he saved Martin Luther King Jr.'s life by getting word to the authorities of a bomb planted under a bridge along the route of a freedom march, and finally, his testimony was the crucial link in cracking the 30-year-long unsolved murder of Medgar Evers and puttering the doddering racist Byron de la Beckwith behind bars. Not a bad resume.