We’re going to have to start this issue off with a regret: It is impossible to properly thank all the people who helped create Metro Pulse for the past 20 years.
Hundreds upon hundreds of individuals combined their efforts to put this thing out for two decades: writers, editors, designers, and sales people, sure. But then there have been the unpaid interns, the underpaid freelance writers and photographers and illustrators, the production and business and office managers, the part-time ad designers. Equally important are the businesses that invested in us with their advertising dollars, and the people who took out classified ads. How about those printers who kept the color separations aligned (mostly), the distributors who hefted bundles of papers all over town and beyond, the shops and restaurants that allowed us to put our papers on their countertops or in racks? And, finally, there are the readers who complete this lengthy process by picking us up every week (whether the cover’s good or not so good) and then reacting: writing a letter, adding a comment, making a phone call, or just telling a friend.
So: A lot of people, all of them adding their own ideas, talents, and viewpoints to this entity called Metro Pulse. I’m often boggled when our critics condemn the entire publication with one adjective, as if everyone here marches lockstep under a single banner of conservatism or liberalism, snarkiness or blandness, snobbishness or crudeness, naivete or cynicism, angry youth or fusty age (and on and on). It takes all different types of people to assemble this publication, with all sorts of different outlooks—so, yeah, we’ve had all of that and more on these pages.
But all those different voices do join together with one goal: to tell an interesting story. We don’t succeed every time, but finding new stories about Knoxville has been the entire goal of Metro Pulse since its start. We’ve never really targeted a particular demographic or political agenda with our content—we’ve simply written about the things we were curious about, and figured other people might find them interesting as well. And, yes, we allow our writers to be creative—to tell the truth as they (and the facts) see it. This does not always make for popular stories, but they’re ones we believe in. That’s not often easy to find.
Surviving into its 20th year makes Metro Pulse an interesting story in itself. So, in this issue, we’re sharing the recollections and impressions of many people who had a hand in our history. It’s not complete—there are plenty of other stories to tell—but I hope it captures the spirit of that modern-day rarity: a real damn paper.
—Coury Turczyn, ed.
Ashley Capps, founder, 1991-1992:
In presenting concerts, I always push the envelope a bit—I want to present things that aren’t necessarily familiar to people. And in doing that, you struggle: How can I communicate what this is to a larger audience, and hopefully interest a few of them into taking a leap of faith and checking it out? In some ways, Metro Pulse grew out of the ellaGuru’s [nightclub] newsletter, because we had published this monthly newsletter/calendar that told people who all was coming and who they were—and that was a lot of the motivation for me. After ella’s closed, we were in the Bijou at that point and booking more shows, so we started thinking in terms of reviving that monthly publication that would tell the story of these musicians, and maybe about some of the other things going on in the community that would be of interest. That was, for me, the motivating impulse. And then Rand Pearson entered the scene. He got it immediately. Let’s put it this way: He took it and ran with it.
Rand Pearson, editor and publisher, 1991-1996:
I was 21 years old, armed with little more than a journalism degree, though I did have a vague idea about starting a lifestyle magazine for Knoxville and one day becoming a publisher. But at that time, I could barely write—never mind edit a magazine.
Timing is everything. Jobless, I was looking for away to start my media career on my own terms, but I needed compatriots. To make ends meet, I worked for Ashley Capps as a stagehand for concerts at the Bijou (and a line chef at Cappuccino’s). It’s there I also met Ian.
Ashley was interested in starting an AC Entertainment newsletter, Ian was already in the publishing business with The Lame Monkey Manifesto, and I had an idea for a broader-reaching, urban publication.
Somehow we had tricked Ashley into getting into the publishing business, and thankfully he was willing to bankroll us in those early days. Today, you might call Ashley’s role then as “incubator.” Certainly, without him, MP would not be alive today.
Ian Blackburn, layout artist then later systems manager, 1991-2004:
Ashley was interested in starting up a paper with a music/arts focus, and I knew how to put one together. When I went back to school, I had handed The Lame Monkey Manifesto back to its founder Chris Gray, and I missed the whole process of putting a paper out. I believe Ashley and I talked about that in the spring of ’91, but we both had plenty of other irons in the fire, and it wasn’t until Rand and [managing editor] Margaret Weston came into the picture a few months later that we had the wherewithal, personnel-wise, to launch a paper.
Producing the first issue was like any other project with a deadline, familiar to any college student. You get your stuff together as best you can and then stay up all night putting it together. Somewhere around 4 a.m. the “laughing hysterically at literally nothing” phase set in, but we somehow powered through it and got the issue to press a little after dawn. The first one was laid out on a Macintosh 512Ke, the third Mac model, with a 9-inch black-and-white monochrome screen. The phone in your pocket probably has a lot more computing power than we did at the time.
Jared Coffin, contributing designer 1991, then art director 1992-1995:
I met Margaret Weston in 1991, when she took a job at Java in the Old City. I’d been working there since its debut a few months earlier and had assumed the role of resident chalkboard artist for its menu and sidewalk signage. I’d also started doing small ads for it in the Beacon, Panorama, and the News Sentinel. Java was the second job I’d applied for since moving to Knoxville. The first was for a desktop publishing position at Kinko’s on The Strip. I failed the typing test.
Margaret and Rand Pearson were working with Ashley Capps and the indefatigable Ian Blackburn to start a biweekly arts and entertainment mini-tab. Margaret proudly hand-delivered the first issue to me at home. A few months later she asked me to do the cover illustration for her upcoming Christmas Issue story, “Dissecting Santa.” At the last minute, the story was ground into a more palatable form and renamed “Scrutinizing Santa,” and the drawing of a (presumably dead) St. Nick pinned to a dissecting tray now seemed uncalled for.
Benny Smith, contributing writer, 1991:
Twenty years ago, I was winding down my grad school stint as the program director at WUTK. By default due to so many other clubs going out of business at the same time, I started No Cheeze Music, my event promotion and production company. So many bands were calling me asking where they could play in Knoxville, and who to contact. So I took that ball and ran with it. Luckily for me, Metro Pulse came into existence at the same time. It was something we really needed at the time, as a couple of others were doing an okay job, but we really needed more. And ’91 was an exciting time for indie music nationwide, as well. I knew who the key players were going to be, so that really excited me about Metro Pulse, and about helping me get the word out about the shows I was bringing to town. I was asked to write a story about my buddy Scott Miller. And it may have even turned out to be the cover story. I don’t believe I had written an article since my concert/album reviews for the illustrious Greene & White in high school. Obviously, my journalistic skills were not the best because, well hell, I was a radio guy. But I knew it would be good pub for Scott, and I wanted to help Metro Pulse as much as I could to get it up and going. So that was the beginning of my short career in print journalism.
Scott Miller, musician:
I was on one of the first covers of Metro Pulse (Vol. 1, No. 8 Nov. 25-Dec. 9, 1991). It was a 8 1/2” x 11” booklet then. I didn’t know anyone on staff, and when they called to tell me I was on the cover, I’m sure whoever (it was Benny Smith) was insulted as my reaction was a calculated “underwhelmed detachment” or what I thought how the reviewer of a record and the maker of a record should behave. (Author’s note: I’m extremely shy and awkward when it comes to meeting/talking to strangers anyway. It comes from growing up in the middle of nowhere and the middle of cows; sometimes that can be misconstrued as aloof). But I still have a copy of that issue, and back then in 1991 I made a mock-up of it for my press kit when I was first starting out. Thank you, Metro Pulse.
I didn’t ask for that kind of coverage or support. I certainly didn’t pay for it. But Metro Pulse was a scruffy little paper in The Scruffy Little City and I was a scruffy little feller. We went together like... bull and shit, or metro and pulse, I guess. That coverage was invaluable to me, both career-wise and for those times I just needed a pat on the back. After all, I was entering a rough business where the highs are high and the lows are very, very low. Thank you, Metro Pulse.
Paige Travis, entertainment editor 2003-2005:
Metro Pulse published its first issue not long before I started my freshman year at the University of Tennessee. I picked up my first copy when my mother and I attended a Nanci Griffith concert at the Bijou Theatre. I believe Nanci was on the cover of what may have been the rag’s fourth issue. It was a small paper: spot color on the front cover, black and white inside, the size of the daily’s TV guide insert. I still have that issue, along with many more, layered in a plastic bin I’ve moved probably a dozen times in 20 years.
Over the next four years, Thursdays were highlights of my week. How could one day contain so much pleasure, closing with Friends and ER on NBC’s must-see TV and beginning with a fresh Metro Pulse and the latest Secret History column by Jack Neely. His fascinating stories revealed a place I hardly recognized as my hometown, a place I’d really wanted (but hadn’t tried very hard) to leave. I wrote him a letter to that effect, and he responded in the nearly illegible handwriting I’d come to know later—as an intern in 1995 and a staffer from 2003-2005. I’ve been honored to stay in touch with staffers past and present and remain within the fold as a contributor. After 20 years, the paper is the best it’s ever been.
Jon Wallace, copy editor, 1991-1996:
I remember in 1991 there were three or four fledgling alternative newsweeklies in Knoxville; probably had something to do with the demise of Whittle. All of them were equally badly edited. I needed some extra money. So I picked the one that I knew had real money behind it (Ashley Capps), bled all over it with a red pen, then went in to see the editor (Rand) and told him he needed to hire me. Surprisingly, he did. If I remember right, we were putting the thing on Mac Pluses with, what ... a 7-inch screen?
I used to go in and do my editing when no one was around, at, like, 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, which fit my rock and roll lifestyle well. Nobody at Metro Pulse could spell T-shirt right. Nobody. It was always t-shirt. Or tee shirt. Or some such travesty. (Has that changed?)
The fact is, I had never worked as a copy editor before, and I was making up the job as I went along. But nobody else knew any better, either. On the strength of working for MP, I got my first “real” copy editing job after I moved to North Carolina. It’s still what I do, in a way: I’m the in-house academic editor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.
Allan Miller, Disc Exchange owner:
This was 1991, and I had no idea what to think of Metro Pulse when I decided to advertise, because there was no such thing yet—just Ashley Capps walking around, talking it up. I think the entertainment and business community of Knoxville owes Metro Pulse a huge debt of gratitude. A lot of people don’t realize how much just having an inexpensive way to advertise has contributed to our local music scene and start-up businesses. With Metro Pulse, you could start with a small ad and build; everyone else you had to be fully established and pay like a major advertiser. Who knows, without MP Ashley might never have been able to do Bonnaroo or AC Entertainment.
Kim Trent, executive director, Knox Heritage:
For some reason I don’t fully understand, I vividly remember Rand [Pearson] delivering the very first issue to the restaurant downtown where I was waiting tables. I’d just moved here in April and was looking for a job in journalism. I thought Knoxville—especially downtown—had incredible potential, but I was experiencing a bit of culture shock after leaving a large metropolitan area and moving to a mid-sized city. As I perused that first issue, I was relieved to discover that some of my kind of people were living in this town, and though it took about 15 years longer than I’d hoped, they helped turn it into the vibrant and interesting place it is today.
Soon, Metro Pulse blossomed to full-tabloid size and I got the chance to design a new logo and the first cover in the new format. It was done, the night before it went to press, in Ian’s apartment on Sutherland Avenue, with he and I taking turns on his Mac as Rand worked as over-the-shoulder editor and production manager. It was a hasty and poor logo (the request was for an EVERLAST tribute) and the line screens that were supposed to form a kind of burst-effect printed backwards, making a woodcut-frame-style border instead. I was pretty much the only person in Knoxville that knew, or cared. Welcome to graphic design.
The problem was resolved by the next issue, but that damn logo insisted on remaining homely forever.
For several years, the production for each and every issue culminated in all-nighters. We worked and talked and printed and worked and waxed and juggled and worked. Memes were born and died. There was panic and serenity. It was deeply enjoyable and personal. The intense feeling of relief after the boards went to press, a near-euphoria surely and graciously compounded by exhaustion, has been matched only at the births of my children.
Coury Turczyn, managing editor then executive editor 1992-2000 (now editor 2007-?):
As so many others expats do, I found myself back in Knoxville after spending a few years trying to create a non-Knoxville-related existence. Didn’t work out. So I was back in town, staying at a friend’s apartment, eking out some freelance, mostly at my erstwhile employer, Whittle Communications. But then one day I picked up the full-size tabloid version of Metro Pulse, the first I’d seen. And I thought: “Wow. Somebody’s making a serious effort at this.” That was unprecedented. There were plenty of little, self-published papers coming out at the time, but neither their writing nor design was very memorable (with the exception of The Lame Monkey Manifesto). So, I tracked down Rand Pearson and Margaret Weston, had drinks with them upstairs at Amigo’s in the Old City, and thought, “This guy’s a fervent believer. And Margaret’s smart. Maybe it has a chance to last more than a year.” Afterward, I forced them to start publishing a column I wrote about dive bars, and my destiny was set.
Jennifer W. Spirko, contributing writer, theater, 1992-1995:
The year 1991 ended with the end of my first job, as a features writer at the (then-daily) Knoxville Journal. I was one of the lucky ones, a newbie who’d settled into the newsroom right out of college, a couple years earlier. I felt bad for the veterans who’d counted their time at the town’s oldest newspaper in decades, not years. Still, as we passed the Jack Daniels around and watched the press roll off the last issue, I was one of the ones wondering, “What now?” For me, part of the answer was this scrappy little weekly that had just started up. The people who worked at Metro Pulse seemed cool; I was under no illusions that I was nearly as cool as they were.
My main “job” in 1992 was collecting unemployment and looking for work. But writing freelance for Metro Pulse was a lot more fun (and slightly more lucrative) than doing nothing. I covered theater back then, having done some acting and backstage work. I wrote about this fairly new venture the Tennessee Stage was doing, putting on Shakespeare plays for free, at the Tennessee Amphitheater in the World’s Fair Park. I reviewed Pirates of Penzance at the Oak Ridge Playhouse, and I still remember how much fun that show was, almost as much fun to write about it.
The offices of Metro Pulse were in the Burwell Building. I can’t remember if they were just moving in or moving out, but when I met Coury there in 1992 or so, there were cardboard boxes all over the place, streaked with the golden light from the old building’s hugely tall windows. When I remember writing for Metro Pulse in the early days, the details of the words I wrote, the people I interviewed pale somewhat, limned by streaks of golden light.
Kim Cressell, first Metro Pulse intern, 1992:
I think I first saw Metro Pulse on the street, in one of those dispensers. As a UT student in my early 20s pursuing a journalism degree, I thought it would be a cool place to work. It reminded me of the Village Voice. I knew I had to work there.
If my memory serves, I met with then-Managing Editor Coury Turczyn and Rand Pearson, the publisher at the time, and tried to convince them that they really, really needed a student from the Communications program at UT to be a Metro Pulse intern. It was definitely, to me, a progression from The Daily Beacon, in terms of my interests and aspirations. My big dream was to work at Rolling Stone, but I was in Knoxville and not New York City, so I thought Metro Pulse would be a good stepping stone. I was thrilled, and a bit surprised, that they both said yes.
Laura Atkinson, production manager 1992-1997:
I believed passionately, as I think most of my compatriots in the twisted Oz of my era at MP believed, that we were building something vital, not just publications or a brand, but a real homegrown institution. It was a time in Knoxville when I felt there was an inclination to settle into its scruffiness, as if its citizens were nursing a collective hangover on a weathered porch couch of a city, and something needed to happen to rustle us into action. Metro Pulse at the time was poised to become that good hearty shake I was seeking—and I was all in.
Being in production, where the hot wax hit the road (and let’s take a moment to cheer how far technology has come), I and my team needed to embrace varying levels of mania with a “whatever it takes … but, you’re kidding, THAT? … OK, whatever” attitude. The production team worked 60-plus-hour weeks, had a sleep schedule like first-year med students, found ways to decompress like hammering bean burritos into walls and makeshifting bowling alleys and dropping failed equipment off rooftops (always checking for passersby first, promise). Once, I was ripping through a layout and sliced off the tip of my thumb, spending that Super Bowl Sunday in the Baptist Hospital emergency room. I don’t have a fingerprint there anymore. The whole experience was absurd and exhausting and exhilarating and immensely gratifying, and I have never felt so crazy-awesome about the work I do before or since.
Betty Bean, staff writer, 1992-1999:
One evening in the spring of 1992, I threw myself a farewell party up on the second floor of Hoo-Rays, an Old City establishment that has undergone many reincarnations since—unlike my most recent employer at the time, the late Knoxville Journal, which vanished the previous New Year’s Day, never to be seen again (the weekly publication now sporting its masthead notwithstanding).
I’d accepted a job in Harrisburg, Pa., covering the state Legislature there, and I’d decided to throw myself a wangdangdoodle of a farewell party. Among the attendees was Rand Pearson, publisher of a youth-oriented weekly called “Metro Pulse,” who offered me a job. My first impulse was to stifle a snicker, because Pearson was young and I was old and didn’t know jack about local music, which was pretty much what Metro Pulse covered and he didn’t really have any money to pay me, and besides I was leaving town. Wasn’t I?
By closing time, more than 300 people had come through and I was having such a good time that I dissolved into a blubbering Sally Field-esque “You like me!” mess and realized that I wasn’t going anywhere, probably ever, although I wasn’t admitting it out loud quite yet.
By the next weekend, I’d turned down a good job, unpacked my dishes and summer clothes and started working on a story about why people in Cocke County were mad at Al Gore for betraying their efforts to make North Carolina force Champion International to clean up the Pigeon River (they believed he’d sold them out to get North Carolina votes in his 1988 run for president).
It was a good first effort.
Georgiana Vines, News Sentinel political columnist:
In its early years, newsmakers opened Metro Pulse with fear, wondering what was going to be said about them and how. The same type of news is there today but it’s not quite as biting.
I would imagine from Rand’s perspective that he wasn’t getting the attention he felt he needed from me, that Metro Pulse wasn’t getting the financing it needed. He really wanted to grow it, and I think he knew I wasn’t the person to do that—I was too consumed with other things we were doing. He needed another partner in order to realize what had really become his vision.
The only way MP has made it for 20 years comes down to two things at a critical time in its history: 1) The Knoxville Journal had folded; 2) Joe Sullivan became an investor and majority owner of Metro Pulse in our second year.
Suddenly, we had a place in the sun, commercially speaking. Advertisers could take us seriously. We became weekly and took on the daily newspaper at its own game. It galvanized the team and made us a serious competitor.
Before Joe, we were still those misfits with vague ideas of grandeur. After Joe, we had a budget, a talented staff, and a prestigious office. We had arrived and heads began to turn.
Barry Henderson, editor in chief, 1993-1996, later returning as managing editor/senior editor:
When I came on the scene in 1993, Metro Pulse was trundling along as a bi-weekly. Joe Sullivan hired me on a recommendation from the late Ron McMahan as I returned from a year in China. Joe had me write a cover story, and rewrite it, before he put me on as editor. I quickly convinced him that the publication should be a weekly, and he followed through on that, to my immense satisfaction. I stayed with MP until ’96, spent a couple of years in Prague and came back as managing editor. When I left I was characterized as senior editor, and my enduring recollections are of the staff and contributors, whose abilities and attitudes made my day, virtually every day until things went corporate. I really shouldn’t single out any personalities on that staff for special recognition, but my separate stays at or near the helm were sometimes rendered magical by the work of Jack Neely, Lee Gardner, Lisa Horstman, Chris Barrett, Mike Gibson, Jesse Mayshark and Coury Turczyn. Everyone there was grand to work with, including the one-time publisher John Wright and the jack-of-all-trades Clint Casey. Miss ’em all.
Charlotte Klasson, classified sales and then sales and marketing director, 1993-1998:
I think the paper had been in existence for maybe a year and a half. It was very early on. I was hired as a classified person to build that up. My background was in marketing and advertising. At the time, Rand and I talked about a variety of marketing ideas and things that could be developed. It was very difficult, because people were kind of fearful of what Metro Pulse was. Knoxville is not a very experimental city, where everything new is adopted very quickly. The News Sentinel was very established. Metro Pulse was kind of scary for a lot of people. We were at the cusp of trying to eke out any market at all. We had to convince people that our niche was valid. By the time I left, I felt that we had made some inroads, that we were legitimate and people took it seriously.
Brooks Clark, contributing writer, sports:
In the demise-of-Whittle/rise-of-the-Pulse realm, I recall that four of us from the Special Report magazine staff—Jack Neely, Allison Glock, Heather Joslyn and I—were laid off on the same day in 1993. In a bizarre ritual, we were asked to march with the rest of the staff up to Tom Ingram’s fourth-floor office to sing happy birthday to him before being marched back downstairs to be laid off.
Still, we were the lucky ones, in that we got the next-to-last helicopter out of Saigon, so to speak. The severance was generous—they even stated specifically that we could keep any money we made freelancing and not have it docked from the severance pay. They also allowed us to keep cubicles in the Whittle building for six months while we looked for our next jobs.
Even at the time I remarked, looking at the row of four cubicles, that these were four strange choices to lay off from a company that had any interest in making magazines, which we—being keen observers of business matters—slowly realized that Whittle was not. Jack quickly jumped whole hog into his award-winning career at the Pulse. Allison, now a senior writer for ESPN Magazine among other things, wrote a few cover stories for the Pulse and quickly had four job offers. Heather, an excellent writer and editor and also undiscovered as a crack humor writer, got some dandy Pulse clips, which helped her get her job at the Baltimore City Paper, where a previous Whittle casualty (also a brilliant writer) Lee Gardner also landed. I wrote a cover story on UT’s soon-to-be-former basketball coach Wade Houston. I recall saving the story on a floppy disc and marching it over to Barry Henderson with my 6-year-old daughter in tow. Yes, the Pulse was started before e-mail became the mode for transporting documents.
Cynthia Markert, artist:
I was living in the D.C. area when Metro Pulse came out. Whenever I returned to Knoxville for a visit, the first thing I did was grab a Metro Pulse and head for Java! In fact, on my return to Knoxville, I saw an interesting ad directed to artists in Metro Pulse one day at Java. I slugged down my coffee and walked down the street to 133 S. Central. By the end of the week, I had a lovely display of my art in the window of Key Antiques! The old building that housed the elegant Key Antiques is a ghostly hollow thing now, whereas Metro Pulse and Java are still going strong! Nothing quite like Metro Pulse and a dark roast.
I used to put covers of Metro Pulse on my studio walls. A favorite was the Santa Claus with the magnifying glass and bar code.
Mike Tatum, editorial intern, 1993:
It was the fall of 1993. I was desperate and nervous. I needed an internship to graduate. More important, Metro Pulse was so hip and I was dying to work there. Hard to explain in a world of websites and social networks how important Metro Pulse was to being in touch with what was really going down in K-town at the time. Anyway, I got lucky and got an interview with the entertainment editor. As I shuffled past the TVA employees in khaki pants in the parking lot, I realized I didn’t look terribly different. It was an interview so I had dressed for success... at a marketing firm, not for a place at the edgy center of early ’90s Knoxville. “Should have worn my grunge sweater,” I remember thinking up to the Mezzanine level of that Gay Street building.
That office was funky. The layout was weird. I remember waiting to talk to Coury and seeing Ian walk by. He looked like a real life Muppet with all that hair. In fact, almost all the people I saw while waiting looked so self-assured, nerdy and cool. Finally, I crammed next to Coury’s desk, which was framed by a Check Your Head Beastie Boys’ promo and some Maceo Parker and Parliament/Funkadelic stuff. It was a weird juxtaposition, looking at this workplace shrine to funk behind this laconic beatnik-looking dude asking me questions like “What makes you want to write?” and giving “Hmmm, okay,” answers. Anyway, he must have took pity and he gave this average looking frat boy a chance to be cool. And he changed my life.
Jay Nations, ad sales rep, 1995-1998:
After I closed Raven Records, the ad manager [James Raxter] was all over me to come work for MP. I took a couple months off, needed to decompress, before showing up downtown wearing a tie.
Being a former small-business owner, talking to other small-business owners about small business needs was pretty natural for me.
I soon found out being the ad rep, I represented MP— i.e., if someone was mad about something written about them, chewing out the ad rep was pretty natural to them.
A burger place in Halls had me come out ostensibly to talk about advertising but it turned out to be an ambush—the guy got red in the face about being slighted for not getting “Best French Fries” in Best of Knoxville.
Lisa Horstman, art director, 1995-2002:
When the MP office was on the third floor of the Arnstein Building, each office had a narrow window next to the office door. One day Ian Blackburn was standing outside my office, eating some sort of squishy chocolate cake dessert with a glob of whipped cream on the top.
Maybe he didn’t like the dessert much, or maybe he was full. Maybe he was fascinated by the dessert’s gooeyness. In any case, he had a big spoonful of the stuff, and he wondered this: If he catapulted that big honkin’ spoonful of dessert at the window next to my office door, would it hit the glass and just glom onto it, or would gravity take over? And if gravity took over, how long would it take the glob of dessert to slide down the window to the floor?
We all said “Do it!” and so he did. The dessert glommed.
It took days for the stuff to snail down the glass. Each day, Ian took a Sharpy and marked the glob’s progress. I seem to remember the glob’s number of progression days to be in the 20s, but I might be remembering wrong.
The streaks from the dessert glob were probably there for a couple of years.
Regina Adams, receptionist, 1995-1997:
As the receptionist, I spent much of the day answering the phone. In those days, few offices had voice mail, and everyone was used to taking calls if they were in. That phone rang constantly.
I had gotten to know the business and sales staff pretty well from the beginning, but the artists and writers were elusive. I was young and easily intimidated, and I often mistook shyness for disinterest. I thought they didn’t like me.
One day when things were unusually quiet, I answered a call.
“Thank you for calling Metro Pulse. May I help you?”
“Let me speak to that fascist editor of yours!” a man’s voice screamed.
“One moment, please.”
Barry Henderson had walked in a few minutes earlier. I didn’t want the unhappy caller to catch him off guard, but I couldn’t see Barry in his office. I felt that I had no choice but to announce over the intercom:
“Call for the fascist editor on line one. Would the fascist editor please pick up on line one?”
Silence. Chuckles. Snickers. Giggles.
Barry (a man of no small voice) strode into his office, picked up the phone, and boomed, “This is the fascist editor. What do you want?”
Then laughter from every corner and cubicle.
I think they liked me.
Jesse Fox Mayshark, senior editor then later editor in chief, 1996-2002 (now managing editor, 2010-?):
When I told Harry Moskos I was leaving the News Sentinel to go work at Metro Pulse, he couldn’t believe it. Harry was the editor of the Sentinel at the time and he hated Metro Pulse. The weekly paper was always writing snarky things about the Sentinel, and sometimes about Harry himself, and it drove Harry crazy. I liked Harry, and he liked me, and he couldn’t understand why a real journalist like myself would go work there. I tried to tell him about all the other real journalists who were already there, and the quality of the writing, and how much I wanted to break out of the daily-paper grind (I wrote more than 600 stories during my two years at the Sentinel). Harry just shook his head, and suggested that once I realized my mistake, there might still be a spot for me at the News Sentinel. It was a nice gesture. But I’m glad to say I never found any reason to take him up on it.
In 1997, the Web was starting to gather steam, and I thought hey, we should start putting some content online. I mentioned this to Joe [Sullivan], and he had two questions: “Is this going to cost any money?” Well, yes, it was. Just registering a .com domain name was over a hundred bucks at the time. And: “Can we make any money with this?” Well, er, maybe. Probably not. This was 15 years ago, and print publications still haven’t much figured out how to make a living on the Web. But any which way, yes, it was going to cost money and no, it wasn’t going to bring any in, and that’s pretty much all Joe needed to know about it. I showed him some website, I don’t recall which, and said, “Look! Isn’t this cool? You can put anything on here! And anyone anywhere in the world can read it!”
He looked at me like you’d look at a 5-year-old all excited about a fire truck going down the street (which I’ll readily admit was accurate), and agreed that yes, it was sort of interesting, but it wasn’t something we needed. Okay, I said, how about if I do this on my own dime and if it makes any money, we’ll work out some kind of revenue split? He said all right, sure, go for it, and I ran off chasing my fire truck. Joe was incredibly indulgent of most of my shenanigans (and kindly picked up some of the legal costs I incurred getting a proper contract drawn up, which he did not have to do).
The site never did make any money under my tenure, but to the best of my knowledge, it was the first print-publication website in Knoxville, beating the News Sentinel by several months.
I learned a very tough lesson from Betty Bean about talking to the media that I’ve never forgotten. When the city was in the throes of the debate over moving the minor league baseball stadium from Caswell Park to downtown, I was living in the historic Parkridge neighborhood. My neighbors and I thought that move would be bad for downtown and our neighborhood. We worked together to try and keep the team right where it was and that put us toe to toe with the mayor. Metro Pulse was following the issue closely and I regularly spoke with the editor, off the record, to provide information on our efforts. Well, when he left he told Betty to call me and I foolishly assumed I had the same deal with her. I was wrong. After the mayor gave City Council little baseball bats at a meeting, I quipped to Betty that maybe we should give them some balls since it sounded like they would need them when they voted. The moment when I saw it in print in Ear to the Ground, complete with my name attached to it, will be forever burned into my brain. I can laugh about it now, but that lesson has served me well over the years.
Shelly Ridenour, calendar editor then later associate editor, 1992-1998:
Thirteen years ago, when I left Knoxville and Metro Pulse, the staff put together a bound memory book of photos and inside jokes and stories both cringe-inducing and heartwarming: the kind of thing a parent might present to a child leaving the nest. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to say that the editors raised me. I was 19 when I started at Metro Pulse. The men I spent my days with—Coury, Barry, Lee, Chris, Jack, Jesse—taught me how to edit; to stand up for what I believed in (our great leader, Joe Sullivan, had monumental doubts about putting Superdrag on the cover back in 1995); and that I could use my voice to draw attention to music I thought the world should hear (yes, we all remember the V-Roys and Superdrag and Smokin’ Dave with well-deserved reverence, but there are others whose songs have made their way from crappy cassette to my iPhone: Thumbnail, Satellite Pumps, State Champs, the 1-900$, Immortal Chorus, Taoist Cowboys, Dim Kitchen). They protected me like big brothers (the night Lee Gardner stood between me and a group of skinheads at Gryphon’s); bought me my first legal beers (at the Snakesnatch Lodge, of course); and assured me that sometimes it’s just plain okay to hang up on a club promoter who’s cussing you out (most often, the late Chuck Burnley). Not all my co-workers were great mentors—there was also the lazy guy who wore a T-shirt with the word “Editor” emblazoned on the sleeve (he didn’t last long). But you can’t say I was raised by wolves, either. In the book they made me, one of them—I always assumed Coury—wrote: “Someday, you’ll be looking out over Manhattan from your plush corporate office, and you’ll suddenly be accosted by the image of [former systems manager] Ian Blackburn in a monkey suit. Juggling rubber chickens. As befuddled streetcorner preachers look on. And maybe, for just a moment, you’ll miss it all.” Writing this from my 32nd floor office overlooking Central Park, I’m here to tell you—it’s just one more thing they were right about.
Adrienne Martini, entertainment editor, 1998-2003:
I don’t know that there is one memory that crystallizes my Metro Pulse experience. There are too many—and many of those are only of interest to, maybe, three people. But I can tell you what I miss the most: [reporter] Joe Tarr’s cubicle, which was at the end of the double row of cubicles and closest to the coffee machine. At almost any hour, you could find someone to talk to/yell at/whine around. And at almost any hour, someone would tell you you were full of shit/on to something/loud. That last one was usually Joe, who wanted to get some work done. Which was part of the experience, too.
Dugan Broadhurst, graphic designer, 1998-1999:
My first graphic design job was designing ads for Metro Pulse. Somehow, I was able to turn my non-paying internship with the paper into a five-figure salary. Hint: not even in the low 20s.
Metro Pulse had always been considered by me to be one of the coolest things about Knoxville so despite the no- and subsequent low-pay, I felt incredibly lucky and proud that I landed a really cool job right outta school—one that was gonna afford me the opportunity to take advantage of my position and create ads for my band, The Come Ons, and sneak them into the paper when there was extra space available. Hey, we won an Addy for one of those ads.
Several years, jobs, and pay increases later, I’m still proud to have been at least a small part of Metro Pulse, still, one of the coolest things about the city I live in.
Nelda Hill, former reference librarian, now director of Sights and Sounds department:
One of my favorite pieces of writing, period, is Neely’s parody of “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.” (“Knoxville: 1998”) I remember reading it aloud to people when they came over, which was fine except that my face would go rubbery from laughing and I could hardly form the words. My friends looked embarrassed for me and a little concerned. Over the years, I’ve received links to the piece from far-away acquaintances who declare it the funniest thing ever written. I recall one terse response: Yes, Nelda read it to us.
Then there’s Chris Barrett. The librarians adored him except he scared us a little because he was so smart. And so cute with that steel grey hair and those silver glasses. I still wince to recall the time he rode by me on a bicycle wearing all black and a beret. I was trudging toward the library, three days into a cold and feeling like hammered shit. He waved as if I weren’t wearing bright blue ear muffs, the kind you wore in elementary school because your mother made you. He swears he doesn’t remember. That’s the kind of guy Chris is. He wrote that great piece about “Thunder Road.” I love his writing.
Metro Pulse has always been a good friend to both the concept and the reality of the public library. By making it important in your life, you’ve influenced a lot of people to make it important in theirs. Thanks to Metro Pulse, librarians get to join that elite group of people who are so nerdy they become hip.
Cynthia Moxley, public-relations maven:
I remember sitting at lunch in a Market Square restaurant with Jack Neely telling him he needed to quit Metro Pulse and go to work for the News Sentinel because the News Sentinel was a stable, established newspaper—and who knew about Metro Pulse’s future? That was about, oh, a dozen years ago.
Jesse Fox Mayshark:
The last couple years of the 1990s and the first few years of the ’00s were really important ones for downtown Knoxville. There were a lot of ideas floating around, some of them interesting, some of them crazy, some of them very expensive. Metro Pulse devoted a lot of time and energy to writing about all things downtown—maybe too much, given that “downtown” at the time was mostly empty space onto which we all projected our urban fantasies. We were aware of our myopia; we used to joke that we would write about only whatever we could see from our offices in the Arnstein Building. But in those years, I think we provided an outlet for a lot of voices that were otherwise missing or muted in the local media—people who thought it made more sense, say, to open small shops and restaurants on Market Square than to seize the whole thing through eminent domain and turn it over to a developer. These days, everybody knows that there was once a proposal to put a dome over Market Square. I’ve heard Bill Haslam joke about it. Metro Pulse was the paper that first reported that plan, which had advanced to the conceptual drawing phase. I’m not saying we’re the ones who killed it—it never would have happened, anyway. But I do think we helped provide some space for other, less ridiculous ideas.
Matt Shafer Powell, News Director, WUOT:
From the moment I arrived in Knoxville, it became apparent to me that Metro Pulse was the nexus of cool here, like the upperclassman I always wanted to be like when I was a freshman in high school. You know the guy—the one with the easy laugh, shaggy hair, and premature stubble, the one for whom both cheerleaders and PTA moms swooned. He could quote Voltaire and Dylan and Pacino from Scarface. He could beat the star of the track team in the 100 meters, but wasn’t interested in going out for the team. He didn’t smoke, but he didn’t hate people who did. In fact, he didn’t seem to hate anyone. He was slow to anger, but called out injustice when he saw it. While the rest of us were celebrating our graduation from Barry Manilow to REO Speedwagon, he had already moved on to the Sex Pistols and Richard Hell. And he could elevate your standing in the world by passing you in the hall and saying, “Hey dude!”
That’s Metro Pulse. Long live cool.
Benny Smith, promotions director, 2003-2004:
In 2003, after corporate radio dried up 100.3 The River, I had the opportunity to work at Metro Pulse with one of the finest groups of people I have ever had the privilege to be associated with. I was hired as the promotions director, and it was a very eye-opening experience to see how deadlines are met, and how a weekly was put together. I learned a lot, and it was so much fun to go to work there every day, especially in downtown Knoxville. It was truly a team effort every day. I was able to take a lot of my concert and radio promotions experience, and apply it to print media. I appreciated Brian Conley, Johnny Wright, and Barry Henderson allowing me to do that. I was very proud to have put together both MetroFest, and the grand opening festivities for the newly-renovated Market Square while I was there. I cannot thank all of my MP co-workers enough for the support they gave me both personally and professionally, and for all that they did, and continue to do for Knoxville. Cheers!
Ernie Freeberg, UT professor and author of Democracy’s Prisoner:
There’s been an alternative weekly paper in every city I’ve lived in over the years, but none as good as Metro Pulse. As a relative newcomer, I count on it to give me a sense of this place. Jack Neely’s columns make these old streets and buildings more alive, characters with a backstory. To get a handle on local issues, one Metro Pulse article or editorial works better than a month of reading the local daily, and the letters to the editor are not so depressing. And the calendar tells me about all the great shows I am missing at Pilot Light and the Preservation Pub, most of them long after I’ve retired for the night. Thanks, Metro Pulse. You make me look forward to Wednesday afternoons.
Leslie Wylie, editor in chief, 2004-2007:
When I went to work for Metro Pulse in 2004, it was like a dream come true. I’d had a crush on the alt-weekly for years and would blather on to anyone who would listen about how I wanted to write for it someday.
One night at Preservation Pub, I was irritating Todd Steed with a heartfelt testimonial about my MP hopes and dreams. He suggested I talk to the music editor and, for emphasis, wrote on a beer coaster “Call Joe Tarr manana.” I stuffed the coaster in my bra, found it the next morning, and did as instructed. One thing led to another until there I was, sitting at the head of a giant ’70s-style conference table as the paper’s youngest ever editor-in-chief.
You shouldn’t put a 25-year-old in charge of anything, really, unless it’s organizing a beer pong tournament. I was totally unqualified: Tomato Head server turned journalism grad-school dropout with a limited professional writing resume. But I had enthusiasm, and enthusiasm may have been the shot in the arm MP needed at that time.
Considering the quality of the editorial staff surrounding that table, I had good reason to feel stoked. We were a mash-up of old-guard stalwarts with an encyclopedic knowledge of Knoxville (Barry Henderson, Jack Neely, and Joe Sullivan), talented young writers who were eager to get their hands dirty (Molly Kincaid, Ellen Mallernee, and Kevin Crowe), and the most brilliant weirdo I know (sorry, Mike Gibson, you get your own category). It was a perfect storm for smart, ballsy journalism.
I’ll always be proud of the work we produced during that time. We muck-raked with the seriousness of New York Times reporters; we tackled stories I wouldn’t have the guts or energy or heart to tackle now; at times, we slept in our offices. We took chances and went on wild goose chases, some of which paid off and some of which ended badly. That’s the upside of being young—you don’t have anything to lose.
We also had a lot of fun. There was a wildness in the air, a chaos, a feeling that anything could happen at any moment. We were comrades outside of work and drank one another under the table on a regular basis. There was a spirit of family; the staff veterans looked out for us, and we looked up to them.
More than anything, though, we shared a genuine love for the city that was blooming outside our grimy office windows. Downtown was like a troubled child who was finally growing into herself, and we were the proud parents cheering her on. I think that came through in every story we wrote.
It’s a rare, exciting gift to have the opportunity to immerse oneself in an endeavor like that. Metro Pulse was less a job than it was a once-in-a-lifetime blur of words and people and memories. I’ll always wish the paper the best.
Brett Winston, ad sales rep, 2004-2006:
Before I worked at the Metro Pulse, I would do what every sales rep in Knoxville does each week, which was grab the paper and marvel at how many local advertisers are in it. It was and still is an advertising juggernaut. When I started working there I quickly learned why it was so successful. Everyone worked really hard. I am not just talking about the sales staff, either. I was really impressed by the amount of passion the writing staff put into their jobs. To say it is stressful to sell for the MP would be the ultimate understatement. Kevin Pack deserves all the credit for keeping expectations high while staying positive. A big part of what I know about sales I learned watching him.
A lot went on while I worked there. The owner getting arrested after one of the office parties in the Old City kinda stands out. It turned out it made MORE people want to advertise...go figure. I remember a series of covers so depressing they became known as “the prison trilogy” by the sales staff, and they were hung up so it was the first thing people saw when they entered the office. If I wanted to be sure that a story was never written about in the MP all I had to do was pitch the idea to editorial. That was basically the kiss of death. Kind of like the drummer of a band trying to convince the band to play the new awesome song he wrote.
I remember it being at least a hundred degrees in the office as the building was being renovated and the air was out for a few weeks, and the bathrooms on the sales floor were places no sane person would enter. If you live in a condo above the MP offices it is safe to say someone from the sales staff has used your bathroom while it was being constructed. Surely that will increase the resale value, no need to thank us.
Of course, the story that probably had the biggest effect on me personally was the one Neely wrote about the library director search. [cover story, ca. 2004] You forced the media and the politicians to recognize that what the Library Board wanted to do would have had disastrous consequences. I hesitate to say much about that though as one of the architects of the plan was the father of the current mayor.
Molly Kincaid, staff writer, 2003-2007:
What I remember most fondly were the lovingly dysfunctional staff meetings. Leslie Wylie bouncing in with last night’s hair and bag of Pete’s biscuits. Mike Gibson being wrangled into writing yet another cover story for the pet or pizza issue. Jack Neely muttering about how if only we could recreate this funny little thing in the New Yorker. Paige Travis and Clint Casey geeking out about Gillian Welch or something. Ellen Mallernee and I competing over who got to write the stripper story (her) or the fetish/bondage story (me). Kevin Crowe (back when he was an intern) fetching us “party girls” our Petro’s and mid-afternoon cocktails (just kidding, he was actually always writing awesome music stories). Josh Coldiron grimacing at the unphotographable story ideas we’d all come up with. And who could forget Barry Henderson’s many scintillating boating stories?
But seriously, Metro Pulse has always offered its writers a measure of freedom that’s got to be pretty rare. It also, of course, provides a great service to Knoxvillians by covering that which is not covered in the mainstream. It takes chances on young writers. I remember when I timidly pitched my first cover story, on inhumane day labor practices, and veteran writer Joe Tarr supported me (even though the story was really his beat). Jack and Barry always nudged us in the right direction. And although Brian Conley often caught flack for not being a quote-unquote journalist, some of his story ideas—like the one he got me to do on prison ministries in Brushy Mountain prison—turned out to be the most investigative pieces I got to work on. And of course Ian Blackburn was the backbone of the paper for a good while—always there with that funny little smile.
Frank Cagle, columnist, 2005-current:
After giving up being a political consultant (losing a statewide gubernatorial campaign) I was doing some radio and freelance consulting/writing, including a column in the News Sentinel. When Brian Conley, the then-publisher of Metro Pulse, asked me to have breakfast, I was curious and went to see him. I liked him and he made it clear he really wanted me to write a column for Metro Pulse. He also offered me a little more money. I confess that, while I wasn’t censored at the News Sentinel, decades in the daily newspaper business made me realize there were certain boundaries, subject matters, and language that were just not acceptable in a family paper. Conley assured me that I could write whatever I wanted, without restriction. I was to discover that to be true later on when I wrote a scathing column about a politician related to one of his business partners.
Writing for an alternative paper seemed strange at first. At the News Sentinel I had once been in charge of the news operation with the standing order to kill Metro Pulse. I knew it to be an impossible assignment—the daily paper’s weekly magazine could not be as irreverent, politically incorrect, or as impudent as an alternative paper. It is impossible for an establishment daily newspaper to have an “attitude.”
I had some reservations in that Metro Pulse was known to be a liberal bastion and I was the “conservative” columnist on the News Sentinel’s op-ed page. Of course, it helped that I was more of a libertarian than a traditional conservative and the fit was not as bad as it might have seemed at first. I have never been exactly an insider in the Republican Party—I get off script and forget the talking points frequently. I burned the final bridge when I endorsed my friend Harold Ford Jr. for the Senate.
Some of my friends were shocked at my going to Metro Pulse, but those who really knew me, and knew my real politics to be “contrarianism,” thought it was a good decision.
Current management has been very good to me, allowing me to let my mind wander where it will—sometimes finding something good, sometimes something awkward. Metro Pulse has carved out a permanent place in Knoxville and serves a vital role. I’m glad to be among the talented bunch represented in this anniversary issue.
Joe Tarr, staff writer 1997-2005:
Sadly, the day at Metro Pulse that stands out most to me was my worst one: my last. It was during what some of us call the dark days, when the paper was owned by Brian Conley.
I had come to Metro Pulse long after its reputation had been established, so I rode on the coattails of others—Coury, Joe, Lee, Shelley, Betty, Jack, Jesse, Lisa, Mike, Chris, Barry, Matthew, Ian. I was thrilled to be there and loved the challenge of living up to their examples. But things change. Joe Sullivan sold the paper. I initially had hopes its greatness would continue.
Let’s just say there were differences of opinion about what the paper, and journalism, should be. Good, talented people were fired and replaced by good, inexperienced people. I found myself alone, struggling to carry some torch I didn’t feel worthy to hold, but didn’t trust anyone else with. When it became clear my days were numbered, I left, and I’m sure they were glad to see me go.
There was no party, no goodbyes, not even a lousy card. Only my dear friend Ian Blackburn helped me carry my boxes to my car. It’s silly to dwell on old grudges, but sometimes impossible not to. Metro Pulse broke my heart and the bitterness of that day still lingers.
And yet, the bitterness doesn’t outweigh what came before—or since. Metro Pulse, and more broadly Knoxville, made me who I am. It was a place where I found the freedom to express myself, working along side amazingly talented people. A place I felt certain I belonged.
Since leaving Metro Pulse, I’ve been a sushi chef and a reporter in Alaska, Cambodia, Guatemala, and now Madison, Wis. I’ve worked lots of places but Metro Pulse is the only paper that I ever felt was mine, at least in part. There are still days when I wake up and can’t believe I don’t work there, that I don’t live in Knoxville.
I hadn’t kept up with the paper a whole lot since I left in 2000, though every once in a while I’d hear about some new outrage rocking the message boards—though outrage has always been the case at Metro Pulse, whether it’s in the form of letters, phone calls, message boards, or comments and tweets today. My wife Hillari and I had decided to return to Knoxville (for the second time!) to raise our soon-to-come son Truman, and I’d pick up an issue every now and then and think: “Why did they do that? They should have done this!” Which I’m sure every former editor thinks after he or she leaves their publication. Then E.W. Scripps bought Metro Pulse in 2007. My immediate thought was: “Oh no. How in the world is a national media conglomerate going to run a feisty alt-weekly? That’s the end of that.” My second thought was: “I can make it work.” Which is something I’m still trying to figure out.