Conspiracy: “We Could’ve Been the Home of Country Music Instead of Nashville!”
Circa: ongoing, since the early ’70s
April 1, 1924
To Mayor Ben A. Morton
Market Square, Knoxville
Dear Mayor Morton:
It has come to our attention that the medium known as hillbilly, or country music, requires a capital city of some sort to thrive. That is, a major country-music radio station, a place for major recording studios, and eventually a country-music Hall of Fame. The convenience of gathering all these amenities in one place, we believe, will be expeditious to all country-music endeavors in the century to come.
So far we’ve done most of our recording in New York, and we fear that fact will undermine our credibility as country musicians.
We of the country-music community have surveyed the country-music region, and we believe Knoxville, a city close to the homes of many of our leading practitioners and home to Sterchi Brother Furniture, which has sponsored some of our New York recordings, including my own, should be that country-music capital. In the future, we propose that Knoxville might even be known as “Music City,” or “That Git-tar City.”
We have considered Nashville, which is near my home. In fact, an insurance company’s about to start a big radio station and has expressed some guarded interest in broadcasting country music. But the only performing space Nashville has to offer us is an abandoned old church in a sleazy part of town. I’d certainly prefer not to soil my boots on the slime of Lower Broadway if I can help it.
To make things worse, the perpetual problem with Nashville, as I’m sure you have observed, is that they seem constantly distracted by the successes of Vanderbilt’s football team. You’ve probably heard Nashville has just constructed a stadium with 20,000 seats—entirely for the purpose of witnessing football games! This is the way these Nashvillians think. They’re football-addled, and I’m afraid there’s no getting through to them about the potential of country music.
For our prospective capital, we thought it would be advantageous to consider a part of our great region that’s not quite so preoccupied with that odd and complicated sport, where working-class people might spend more of their limited resources on simpler pursuits, like attending country music events and buying country-music records.
As I consider the facts, I grow more convinced that there’s little likelihood of sustaining a capital of country music in a city constantly distracted by a winning football team.
That’s why we look toward Knoxville.
We understand that broadcasting is a bit more of a challenge in Knoxville, considering the surrounding hills. Still we believe Knoxville will prove to be the wiser choice in the long run.
All we ask is your indulgence.
David H. Macon, Chairman
On behalf of the Country Music Capital Search Committee:
James “Uncle Jimmy” Thompson, Jr., vice chairman
Deford Bailey, secy./treas.
Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith
Samuel F. McGee
My Dear Mr. Macon:
Tell me, sir, what is this “country music” of which you speak? I have conferred with our public-library staff as well as with our university’s anthropological resources and have yet to find an answer.
We already have an excellent philharmonic group, sir, and frequent entertainments at the Bijou Theatre and also in the old opera house, as well as the angelic choirs who sing in many of our churches each Sunday, supply our people with a perfectly adequate measure of musical entertainment.
We are also contemplating the establishment of a National Park in the vicinity that may command our attention in the years to come.
I can only assume that you are a crank, and will wish you good day. Future correspondence will be returned unread.
Ben A. Morton, Sr.
Conspiracy: “12 White Guys Rule Knoxville!”
Circa: ongoing, since the early ’90s
From the Desk of the 12 White Guys
To: The remaining 6 White Guys
Re: Next Generation of White Guys
As you are obviously aware, our ranks have been reduced in recent years, to the point where the very name of our fraternal organization (or “sausage fellowship,” as some of you prefer) seems increasingly absurd. As you are also no doubt aware, the current city mayoral contest presents the steepest challenge yet to our retaining our place atop the local Decider-sphere. It was bad enough last year when we had to choose between the hick and the hack, but of course they were at least both white guys, if not quite White Guys. Now we may have a mayor who is not even a guy at all, much less a Guy! Efforts are under way to fend off this intolerable outcome, but regardless, it is clear that we need to be thinking seriously about replenishing ourselves. The solution is simple: We need more White Guys. So I propose that each of us identify and begin wooing at least two likely contenders for White Guy-hood. It helps to begin with someone who actually is a white guy, although times being what they are, we need to keep an open mind. Some of our finest White Guys did not start out white. The important quality is a commitment to our principles. And money. (Not that those are necessarily different things.) I seriously hope this year’s recruitment effort turns out better than the last few. We can’t afford too many more Lane Kiffins. He’s the type that makes a White Guy look bad.
Yours in Guy-hood,
P.S. By the way, please don’t respond via Chamber e-mail accounts.
Conspiracy: “We Lost the Aquarium to Chattanooga!”
Circa: early ’90s
September 21, 1985
City County Building
400 Main Street
Knoxville, Tenn. 37902
This letter is to inquire as to the city of Knoxville’s interest in expanding its riverfront development, specifically with a number of attractions designed to bring visitors in from out of town.
As you well know, I have been working with a task force in Chattanooga for several years to spearhead redevelopment downtown and along the river. There has been quite a bit of discussion as to how much money I should donate to these efforts, both from my own family fortune and from the Lyndhurst Foundation. After careful consideration, however, I think my gift would have the largest impact on the region if it were to be divided between my hometown and your city.
It’s true that I love Chattanooga, and that I have a grand vision for the city. And the more I think about it, the grander that vision becomes. Why stop at downtown? Why stop at Chattanooga? Why not redevelop the entire riverfront between Chattanooga and Knoxville? Why not have a connected series of trails that would allow bicyclists to ride between the cities? Why not have luxury resorts in what is now wilderness between the two cities, while yet keeping much of that land in its natural state? Why not have two dynamic, thriving sister cities connected by riverfront development that would be the envy of all the nation? I don’t want people to just think of Chattanooga as a pleasant little city. I want people to think of the Chattanooga-Knoxville metro area!
If you and your city council are willing to come aboard with this grand redevelopment scheme, I guarantee you a donation of no less than $20 million for a large project in downtown Knoxville—perhaps something like an aquarium, to thematically tie in with our new aquatic vision?
I considered my hometown as a site for such a project, but it seems to me this aquarium, which would honor the great Tennessee River we both share, would be more suitable in the city where the river originates.
And that money is only the beginning, once we can involve more local leaders in the public-private partnership. Do let me know your thoughts as soon as possible.
2 Union Square, Ste. 702
Chattanooga, Tenn. 37402
September 24, 1985
Always good to hear from you. As billionaire bottlers of Coca-Cola, I always thought the Luptons were tops.
I appreciate your largesse. Chattanooga’s such a bedeviled, dirty little town that, after we leapt so far ahead with our World’s Fair—I don’t recall seeing you there, by the way—I would have expected you to concentrate on your own survival.
So, a Knoxville Aquarium. And, if you haven’t heard, UT is thinking about opening Neyland Stadium, Too, in Chattanooga.
If you believe that, I’ve got some Gay Street real estate I want to sell you.
Seriously. An aquarium? I should tell you right now that I have some experience with aquariums. My daughter had an aquarium. Here’s the thing about fish. They die. They float upside down and spoil a little girl’s day. Aquariums make children sad.
Do you really think I want to do that on a municipal level? It would be political suicide.
I know what you’re trying to pull. While we’re trying to keep your lame aquarium clean and making our children sad, Chattanooga will be leaping ahead with a new convention center or hockey team or something.
Better luck with your next proposal. How are those Tar Heels doing this fall, by the way? I haven’t noticed them in the sports section lately.
Conspiracy: “The Haslams Control the Media!”
Circa: ongoing, starting in the late ’70s
From: Haslam Central HQ
To: Knoxville media
You may have noticed that your weekly stipends have been reduced, starting a few weeks ago. We regret having to make this reallocation of resources, but with Bill running the state now, we have many more mouths to feed. They’re not kidding about Nashville being a more expensive media market, if you know what I mean. And, honestly, we just don’t need you as much anymore. (I know how you all appreciate candor. But don’t quote me on that! Ha ha.) Nevertheless, in light of our existing agreements and our gratitude for your services rendered to date, we have every intention of maintaining the local Media Rewards Program for as long as possible, at a sustainable level. You will also all continue to earn Pilot Points for each article or newscast, which as you know can be redeemed for gasoline, cigarettes, beer, or lottery tickets. You may hear from us less often these days, but please believe that you are in our thoughts if no longer at the top of our speed dial.
Conspiracy: “Scripps Owns Every Paper in Town!”
Circa: ongoing, starting in early ’00s
Dear Business Owner:
We know you have a lot of advertising options in the marketplace today, but we are proud to say that adequate print journalism is still your best choice for reaching new customers. That’s why we here at E.W. Scripps are making a huge investment in publications aside from the daily News Sentinel: Print is the future! And we aim to remain on the cutting edge of that future with a wide variety of niche papers to connect with every audience:
• Knoxville News Sentinel
• Greater Knoxville Business Journal
• Auto Seller
And just look at what we have coming up! There are some exciting new acquisitions in the works:
• Metro Pulse
• School Coupon Book
• The Sevier Heights Church Bulletin
• Shoney Bear’s Coloring Book
• Fortune Cookie Fortunes
Within the next five years, E.W. Scripps will own every print publication in the city of Knoxville—it’s not just our goal, it’s an order straight from Cincinnati! So now’s the time to jump on board before we raise our advertising rates to astronomical levels once the competition is absorbed.
Contact your sales rep now!
Conspiracy: “Bill Haslam is a Socialist and/or Communist!”
Circa: March 2011, via Tennessee Tea Party
From: Chairman Bill
To: Knoxville Politburo
Re: Great Leap Forward
Comrades Lyons and Martin,
Now that we have achieved the next stage of our glorious revolution, I trust that I can leave administration of our Collective Workers’ Paradise in your hands while I begin the transformation of our state. I do not imagine that it will be easy. The capitalist hoarders and factory bosses will not readily submit, and it is possible that some of their property will have to be forcibly seized. But just think of the greatness we can achieve when we finally put that big Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to its best and highest use: making tractors! Tractors! Tractors for the peasant-folk, so that our economy of the future will be built not on the exploitation of natural resources for some rich family’s benefit, but on the hard, honest work and sweat-drenched brows and backs of our proletariat. Truly, we will march together into that Red Dawn.
Dos vedanya Tovarisch!
Conspiracy: “Tim Burchett’s Going to Outsource Everything in the County!”
Sept. 2, 2010
From: The Desk of MAYOR TIM BURCHETT (!!!)
To: Dean Rice (My Brain! -- haha)
Just following up on some of those ideas from Tuesday. I think we’re thinkin’ too small. Giving up the car is swell and all, but we really need to go outside the box here. There’s a lot of stuff about government that don’t need to be done the way we’ve always done ’em. Here’s some things for you to run through that big ol’ head of yours:
What’s a library? Just a bunch of bookshelves, right? Why do we need whole buildings and all those people and computers and what-all they have in there? (What-all do they have in there, anyway? Can you have somebody go look and see?) I’ve priced some rental lockers out on Clinton Highway -- do you know you can get a month in a storage bin for like $120? And that’s with climate control! To keep the books from getting moldy. And you can get a lot of books in a 10-by-10 bin. I don’t know how many books we have, but can’t be more than a couple thousand, once you take out all the duplicate copies and whatever. So, let’s say, maybe 10 bins? That’s $1,200 a month. $14K for the year. Plus, what, $5,000 in shelves, one-time cost? Then instead of a library card, you just get the pass code to the storage bins. And we could sell sponsorships for the books, too—get an ad pasted on the back cover for, I don’t know, $10 or whatever a book costs these days. (What do books cost these days? Can you get someone go buy one and find out?) Think about it.
One word: Robocops! Seriously. Have you seen that movie? Man, it’s awesome. We got UT and ORNL right here, you tellin’ me they can’t build us some kinda cyborgs? I bet nobody’s ever asked ’em. And we could get them sponsored, too—like, while they’re arresting bad guys or beating them up or whatever, they could have little taped messages: “Have you tried the new Sonic Flurry? It has the right to remain delicious.” (This is funnier if you imagine me doing my robot voice. You know the one.)
Technically not our deal, I know. But if we get the robocops going, probably we could do some teacher models, too. Wouldn’t that be cool? OK, robot voice again: “Johnny, what is the capital of New Mexico?” “BEEP. Young man, go to the principal’s office!” Oh, man. We wouldn’t need Central Office at all. Just a garage and a few mechanics.
We got a lot of highways around here that have been adopted by one group or another, but they’re not stepping up. The way I see it, if you adopt a highway, you adopt a highway. Potholes, striping, all that stuff. We’ve let people slack on this for too long. Can we start citing ’em for neglect or something? I don’t know why the taxpayers should have to foot the bill for roadwork just because the Optimists Club isn’t pulling its weight.
OK, brother. Hit me back when you run some numbers on these.
Conspiracy: “Metro Pulse Only Writes About Its Friends!”
Circa: ongoing, starting in 1991
(See table of contents.)