RANDOM THOUGHTS: AN INCOMPLETE GUIDE TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS

William Faulkner, Rowan Oak
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Italian smartass Niccolo Machiavelli is acknowledged for writing the widely used playbooks for jerks and weasels. After reading The Prince it is ridiculously easy to see through politicians, professional agitators, lobbyists and bureaucrats. Machiavelli was correct about everything he addressed but you can learn a lot more about how to walk through life from studying the moves of Olivia Pope in Scandal or the Micheal Corleone character in the Godfather II film...

The true badass players of the world don't seem to crave the limelight of public attention while politicians, sports announcers, college professors, professional protesters and failed musicians insist on showing their ass in public at any given opportunity. In Memphis, Fed Ex founder Fred Smith absolutely and positively maintains a low profile. Mr. Smith has been elevated to folk hero status and Memphians realize that if there has ever been anyone as cool as Elvis Presley, it is big Fred. Apparently, he spends half his time running Fed Ex and the other half helping other people. There are a lot of big checks written for worthy causes and it is done under the radar, not for the sake of public relations.

On February 20, 1981, Andy Kaufman was the guest host of ABC Television's "Friday's" late night comedy show. Without any question, it was the night for the greatest moment of true dada and surrealism in television broadcast history.

Kaufman had a strong anti-drug stance in his personal life but was placed smack dab in the middle of an early 1980's drug-type comedy routine. During the broadcast of the skit he appeared to break out of character, apparently forgetting his lines and wandering away from the other actors. In a moment of true comic genius Michael Richards walked off stage, grabbed the cue cards and slammed them on the table in front of Kaufman. Maryedith Burell appeared stunned as Kaufman threw a glass of water on Richards and started a mini-food fight with Melanie Chartoff. It was a beautiful illusion of chaos as Jack Burns ran onstage and called for the control room to go to a commercial break just as a perceived shoving match broke out.

Everyone thought it was for real. The cast, audience and everyone watching on television thought they were witness to the worst train wreck ever broadcast on the airwaves. Only Kaufman, Burns and Richards were in on the joke that could have been remembered as the most amazing choreographed stunt in television.

When they returned from the commercial break Kaufman and Burns were still going at each another with crew members restraining them. You know, one of those fake fight deals that you see in professional wrestling or on the playground between two jabronies who do not really want to fight. In an instant, you could sense the whole thing had been staged--they almost pulled it off.

Whitney Houston's song "I Have Nothing" is the finest 4:48 of music that has ever been created. David Foster is the master craftsman who perfectly captured the most beautiful voice of our generation at it's prime. Bravo!

Unfortunately, the song has become a standard for every want-to-be diva attempting to launch a musical career in an amateur talent competition. You should remember Ms.Houston fondly the next time you find yourself held captive in a restaurant during karaoke night forced to suffer through the torture of hearing some annoying jackass butcher this wonderful song.

Memphis newspaper columnist Bill E Burk was a trusted acquaintance of Elvis Presley (earning the nickname "007" from Vernon Presley) who often met privately with the king to plant info/stories in the Memphis Press-Scimitar. Years later, Burk championed the German heavy metal group Scorpions before their first Memphis visit in 1980 only to be snubbed for an interview at the start of their next tour in 1982. Burk retaliated by phoning a contact at the Leber-Krebs New York office with a false claim of owning "incriminating" and "homo-erotic" photos of a certain group member taken at the Hyatt Regency during their last stop in Elvis-town. Burk claimed they were "too graphic" for publication in the local newspaper and threatened to "give them to a friend at Stern magazine in Germany." Within minutes the band's publicist called to apologize followed with desperate calls from three members of the band (calling in sequence from various locations on the globe) for phone interviews. It was an eventful evening when the Scorpions played the Auditorium North Hall in Memphis (with opening act Iron Maiden) on the tour--the concert was temporarily stopped after audience members jumped the into the orchestra pit as the makeshift flooring (pieces of 1/4 inch plywood with a thirty foot drop below) began to give away! In the weeks before the Memphis Press-Scimeter closed it's doors, Burk excercised his "five finger discount" privilege and helped himself to all things Elvis that were in the newspaper's archieve--spending the rest of his life publishing the images in a fanzine and traveling the world speaking at Elvis conventions...

In 1977 at Sherwood Jr High in Memphis, Tennessee there was this kid who always fell asleep in Ms. Gladys Scott's music class. On more than one occasion Ms. Scott directed the students to exit the classroom--she refused to embarrass the child by waking him in front of others. While standing in the hallway with other students, you could hear her comforting the boy as she escorted him to the assistant principal's office-- where he could finish his nap. Years later, I learned that during this time the boy's parents were in a very bitter and violent divorce (his father was a Vietnam vet who had just returned home addicted to drugs while his mother had a new boyfriend that did not want the child to live with them) and she was protecting the boy when he had no one else. It was the highlight of my life to walk into her classroom -- she made learning fun. Scott was a classicaly trained opera singer who exposed students to all music and explained music theory in a way that 12 year-olds could grasp. She was a diva who knew her stuff! I distinctly remember her dissecting Natlie Cole's song "Our Love" while methodically explaining how the background vocals were stacked and using Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and Maurice Ravel's "Ma Mere I'Oye" (also known as the "Mother Goose Suite") to illustrate how different string players worked inside of a chord. Unfortunately, there are not enough teachers like Ms. Scott (with the love of teaching and passion to mold young lives)-- many enter the field for the job security offered with government employment (and two months vacation every year) while riding the clock until they are eligible for a state or city pension.

Much has been written about the observation of musicians exhibiting a spiritual/psychological connection with a favored instrument. There has never been a more fitting example of this type of emotional bond between a player and their favorite axe than when blues master Albert King salvaged his prized Gibson Flying V guitar from his flooded home in West Memphis, Arkansas. The instant that he was allowed to drive through the police barricade and into his house, King waded into his bedroom to rescue the guitar and immediately drove over the bridge to Pyramid Guitars in Memphis. He was soaking wet when he handed the instrument to luthier Rick Hancock (there was still a considerable amount of water leaking out of the unopened case) and asked him to "just fix it." Apparently King was so reluctant to view the guitar in a damaged condition that he did not even attempt to open the guitar case before trusting it to Hancock and refused to return until the restoration was complete!

This guy who calls himself Elvis Costello is the most extremely overrated jabroni in the history of pop music and A Taste of Honey was the best thing to come out of 1978--far better than Costello, The Cars, or Toto. In retrospect, it is fair to reason that the song "Boogie Oogie Oogie" saved my life in 1978. Where in the world is Hazel Payne today?

Television evangelist Jim Baker claims that when he was in federal prison his cellmate Lyndon LaRouche received daily phone briefs from someone speaking in German. If this is true, who the hell has been using the 92 year-old LaRouche as a mouthpiece all these years and wouldn't it be great to see a Bohemian Grove-style mud wrestling match between Henry Kissenger & Lyndon LaRouche at the next Wrestlemania?

Led Zeppelin were musical heroes for a lot of junior high school guitar aficionados in the 1970's but their obvious plagiarisms have started to catch up with them. With all the money in their Swiss bank accounts they could easily spread some cash around with the families of the people they ripped off. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to ever happen. Grand Funk Railroad and the classic-era Aerosmith were much better with the 1970's guitar band approach anyway...

There is nothing enjoyable about a visit to McDonald's, but you can get a tea for 99 cents and it is mildly entertaining to watch the employees curse and fight.

1985 was an extremely depressing year but Tina Turner strutting onstage to join Mick Jagger for a couple of songs at the Live-Aid concert in Philadelphia on July 13, 1985 was an epiphany of cheerful comfort that lifted the most hopeless of dejected souls out of distress. In fact, the cold chocolate milkshake from Nutbush wrote a prescription that cured more ill than a truck-load of prozac. Frank Zappa claimed the show was "probably the biggest cocaine money launduring scheme of all time" and it appears doubtful that any funds raised aided victims.

It's good to know that "World Boogie is Coming" but how about a clear definition of what it is and an explanation of the effect it will have on my daily life once it arrives?

Visit Graceland at least once in life but get the hell out of the neighborhood before sundown. Planet Elvis is located smack dab in the middle of the most dangerous hood of the city with the second highest murder rate in the nation.

The Memphis Zoo smells like an elephant's toliet. The pandas make a visit worthwhile and it is difficult to get good photos-- it is impossible to predict when they are released to their playground.

Do yourself a favor--stay away from the nasty tourist trap Beale Street and enjoy the major league resurgance of commerce along the Highland Strip located in the heart of the University of Memphis district. It is amazing what they have done with the newly re-opened Newby's--the first class renovations looks sharp and the new menu is absolutely killer. Probably the best live music venue in the city...

Don't beleive the media hype surrounding Memphis barbeque. Despite the claims of local folklore, the undisputed truth is that the world's best plate of "Q" can be found at Papa V's Deli (438 E Main St., Tupelo, MS 38804). The Robbins family have been North Mississippi business mainstays since the 1930's and their small, efficently operated restaurant offers a comfortable and spacious feel with it's high ceilings and emaculantely clean dining area. Customers enjoy a down-home, general store type of vibe without suffering through the junky and dark feel of a Cracker Barrell franchise or one of their slop house imitators. Papa V's boneless ribs are always tender and perfectly seasoned. Every side item offered serve as a perfect compliment to any entouree and they are presented in a freindly, down-home manner.

If you want the real deal, don't waste your time with the annoying popcorn and the greek seasoned grub at Charles Vergos' Rendezvous tourist trap, the over sweetness of East-Memphis take from Corky's, the women wearing their hairnets at any ghetto location of Topps Barbeque or any of the third rate dives on crime-ridden and urine-smelling Beale street.

The hard-working folks at Payne's Bar-B-Que (1762 Lamar Ave, Memphis, TN) are some of the nicest people that you ever meet holding a meat cleaver in their hands. If you can't make the drive down Highway 78 to Tupelo it is in your best interest to toss any allegiance to the tourist traps aside and grab some authentic "Q" smothered with Payne's wonderful mustard slaw. Memphians know that is the real deal--dive in!

The Overton Square renaissance is absolutely amazing and the best pizza in Memphis is the wood-fired oven Palermo from Bosco's. Sweet italian sausage, pepperoni, portabella mushrooms, pizza sauce, and whole milk mozzarella.

The great chicken debate in Memphis pits Jack Pirtle's Fried Chicken (811 S Highland St., Memphis, TN 38111) againist their downtown out competitor's skillet fried counteroffer at Gus's Fried Chicken (310 S Front St Memphis, TN 38103). Gus's has more of a spicy kick (their batter recipe is the best kept secret in Memphis) to it and a thinner crust but Jack Pirtles has the down-home overload that kicks Col. Sanders to the curb...

Jason's Deli (3473 Poplar Ave, Memphis, TN 38111) have earned a lot of respect for becoming the first major restaurant chain to eliminate MSG, transfats and the evil high fructose corn syrup from their menu. They offer a huge selection of healthy and delicious soups and sub sandwiches but Jason's is without a doubt the best place in town to grab a salad. Their buffet style layout offers a killer selection of the freshest spinach, onions (white or purple) and tomatoes with several different types of cheese. You will be surprised with the healthy offering of nuts and raisins located next to the dressings and vinegar.

The best Sunday brunch options are Owen Brennan's in east Memphis or the Capricco Grill located in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel.

Gibson's Doughnuts is an east Memphis institution...all the college kids have made a midnight run through there at one time or amother...

Q: Aren't you the guy related to Joe Walsh? My band recorded a tape for him at Kiva in the 1980's, what happened to those tapes?

I am not related to Joe Walsh. Years ago, when Walsh was the opening act for Stevie Nicks, he let me sit in on his afternoon soundcheck at the Humphrey coliseum in Starkville, Mississippi. Behind the "How ya doin'?" crazy act is a musicial genius and while rehearsing "Over and Over" he improvised a collage of the most amazing guitar textures and phrasing ever heard. It was a fun afternoon--Wyzard (the bass player from Mother's Finest) showed me his alembic bass and we talked shop while Nicks was beautiful, gracious and smelled better than any woman on earth. I have no idea about how to retrieve any master tapes from Kiva studios but rumor has it there were tons of local artist recordings, late night jam sessions with Albert King and a Jim Varney comedy album that never saw the light of day.

Q: Why are there so many bad drivers in Memphis?

Unless they are being chased by a police car, the majority of Memphians are responsible drivers. The wreckless speed demons who ride your rear bumper are from Arkansas and if someone pulls in front of you and drives 10 m.p.h., they are probably from Mississippi.

Q: Do you remember that song Rick Dees did making fun of Elvis?

Why did Rick Dees seem to have it in for Elvis Presley in 1976? If the "He Ate Too Many Jelly Doughnuts" parody was not enough, he made three unsuccessful on-air attempts to crank call the King at his bedroom phone. Ginger Alden answered the hotline all three times and refused to hand the phone to Elvis while interrogating Dees ("How did you get this number? We just changed it.") on how he had become privy to the most secretly guarded phone number in Memphis. Sources claim that Alecia Kerwin set him up for the ambush (she was in the works to be the next girlfriend and Alden was to be kicked to the curb) and leaked info about Elvis's private number during visits to Dees' house on Sardis Lake. She told Mr. Disco Duck that Elvis would return from pre-dawn racquetball sessions and listen to WHBQ-AM waiting for Dees to play either Stevie Wonder's current hit song "Isn't She Lovely" or "When I Need You" from Leo Sayer before he would fall asleep.

Q: What is the story behind Led Zeppelin recording in Memphis?

Page had his finger on the pulse of the Memphis music industry during his tenure with the Yardbirds and wanted to work with Terry Manning after hearing his Home Sweet Home album.

For the sake of accuracy, Led Zeppelin did not actually record anything in Memphis, Page mixed part of their third album (and tracked some overdubs) at the original Ardent Studio that was located at 1457 National Street. Sorry to burst your bubble if your band paid the bucks to cut a demo in the beautiful cutting edge studios on Madison Avenue thinking you were walking in Mr. Zoso's shoes, he laid down the guitar solo from "Since I've Been Loving You" inside a shack (today it is a convenience store) in the Nutbush section of town.

Q: Why do the locals refer to the University of Memphis as "Tiger High School"?

The university suffers from bad self esteem and has little or no respect from the local community. Things are starting to improve--primarily because of Fed Ex. Big Fred's machine paid for the beautiful addition to the business college and before the economic downturn, they hired many Fogelman school graduates. If anything renews interest in the school's dismal football program it will start with a fun tailgating environment at the new Fed Ex-financed "Tiger Lane" area near the Liberty Bowl. The baseball program was gifted with the "Fed Ex Field" renovations, it is a great place to take your kids to watch some college baseball. And yes, campus icon "Stan the Man" is still alive and well, taking care of those batboy duties. Everyone loves him.

Q: Why are there so many good musicians in Memphis?

It seems that everyone in Memphis plays music--even the homeless people have guitars and harmonicas. Local musicians leave Memphis and find work with the best and most successful artists on the planet. Jon DeCleux use to theorize there is something in the water aquifer that creates all of the Elvis' and Arethas when they are in the womb.

Q: Did you see Evel Knievel jump at the Mid-South Coliseum? What year was that?

Sorry, but I missed that one. One thing is for sure, he was a crazy son of a bitch. Who in their right mind would jump over stuff on a Harley Davidson motorcycle? When they write the book on the history of the world the chapter about crazy people should include a mention of Evel Knievel. Years later, Knievel was so annoyed at getting the Elvis: What Happened? treatment from Shelly Saltman that he used an aluminium baseball bat to break Saltman's arm and beat him unconscious. It ruined the daredevil's career but the publisher killed the book.

FAQ: Is the Mid-South Coliseum still there?

It's still here but closed for business and the local politicians are scheming on a plan to demolish it. Professional wrestling icon Jerry Lawler is a prominent voice in the opposition but it appears that everything "is already rigged" and the deals have been made. You know, the same stunt they pulled with the Carpenter library at the university a few years back--abandoning a public building in order to get federal money to build something else. I was joking about the silly situation with one of the county commissioners last summer and she suggested the city should turn it into a homeless shelter.

FAQ: Did you ever meet Elvis?

I was waiting in the ticket line at the old Paramount movie theatre (in the Eastgate shopping center) with my father one afternoon in the spring of 1977 when Elvis pulled up and parked in the alley between the movie house and where the Shoney's use to be located. One of his entourage exited the car and entered a side door of the movie house (to rent the theatre for a private showing?) while the King and another member of the Memphis mafia signaled my father and backed their still idling vehicle beside him--they spoke for a few minutes. Afterwards, my father explained that he knew the Memphis mafia member from the Scottish Rite and was suprised that Elvis used the secret handshake. It happened so fast--but man, do I regret not walking over and saying hello to Elvis.

FAQ: What happened to Memphis radio?

In the old days, Memphis always had the great radio shows. Everything in the industry became McDonaldized in the 1980's, the stations look and sound the same in every town. Rick Dees and Bob Landree were hilarious on WHBQ AM during the John Long era. Ron Jordan was perfect for the AOR audience on the old FM 1OO airwaves. I miss Oliver C. Reed from WMC AM, he was a class act on and off the air. Yes, I was the caller known as "Dave from Senatobia"- it was a semi set-up he used to spice things up when the broadcast was dull.

FAQ: What is really going on with the feuding about Beale Street?

Despite all of the whining local "musicians" directed toward John Elkington, anyone who can turn an abandonded slum street into a major tourist attraction deserves a truckload of gratitude. There is a lot of jealousy based in the simple truth that Elkington was a good businessman and most of the players on Beale are not true musicians. The tourists enjoy the smell of piss and rubbing shoulders with street hustlers and criminals while cruising down the third-rate version of Bourbon Street, but Beale is not the place to find good food or the best music in Memphis.

FAQ: Hey! You plagiarize Anthony Bourdain!

That is a lie. I have been using hyphens since elementary school-long before anyone knew of this Bourdain character. He should eat more and talk less.

FAQ: I grew up in Memphis, are things there as bad as they say?

It's worse than what you have heard. The local governments are corrupt, the crooks that were running the show when you lived here now have relatives and cronies in their place. Crime is out of control and the police focus on issuing traffic tickets. The school system is merely a training ground for future criminals and most of the small business sector has moved out of the city limits. But hey, it is still Memphis.

LIFE IS NOT FAIR...

  "Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. After all the student rebellions in the 60's, civics was banished and replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees- a contract between the citizens and the government- now nobody knows what's in it. It's one of the best-kept secrets. So, if you don't know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them?"

  Frank Zappa-- Spin Magazine 1991

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