Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Me ’n’ Old Skipper
I wrote this for the July 4, 1982 editions of The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. It was an installment in my nationally honored Calling Card columns. The newspaper gave me permission to reprint my work, and this column  does appear in the book When Newspapers Mattered: The News Brothers & their Shades of Glory, written by Tim  Ghianni (me) and my best pal, Rob Dollar.
I hope you like it. I loved the man I'm writing about here and we had many fine adventures.

Me ‘n’ old Skipper sat on a bench.
It was hot in Clarksville. Boy was it hot.
But it bothered me a lot more than it did Skipper. A guy who has spent his life wandering the high seas and the carnivals of the world is accustomed to discomfort.
The noxious breath of the late-afternoon traffic was trapped in the brick-lined gulley of 
Third Street.
Skipper reached his arthritis-gnarled hand to the pocket of his T-shirt and fished out a Salem.
“I’ll sit out here until late in the evening in the summertime,” he said. 
Then, as he lit his cigarette, Skipper glanced down Third Street toward downtown. “After six o’clock you can look all the way clear to town and never see a soul. When I first came to Clarksville, there were all kinds of things to see here. Man, it’s dead now. I’ve never seen such a town. Next week they’re going to start rolling the sidewalk up at 9 o’clock and I’ll have to run because I’ll be sitting on the bench.”
The bench is a deep blue wooden bus stop bench, a recent addition to the sidewalk in 
front of The Royal York Hotel.
Skipper is likely to spend much of the rest of his life on that bench. “This is as good a 
place as any.”
And he’s seen them all.
Skipper was born 70 years ago in a small West Virginia mining town.
His wandering began at age 11 when his dad moved the family to Hawaii.
 That was the first of the many sea voyages which eventually gave Skipper his nickname.
Skipper was christened Okey Stepp at birth. “I don’t know why in the hell they named me that,” he said. Now, he goes by several names, including Skipper and Red.
“I answer to anything, just so they don’t call me late to payday or late to eat,” he said, 
breaking into his high-pitched laugher.
Skipper, who describes himself as happy-go-lucky, looks and sounds so much like the
cartoon character Popeye that you almost expect him to sing “I’m strong to the finish 
’cause I eat my spinach.”
“I have been around the world three times,” he said. “I’ve been in every state in the 
union. I worked in carnivals for 25 or 30 years. I was in the merchant marine from 1938-
45. I’ve lived out of a suitcase damn near all of my life.
“I’ve worked everything from rides to concessions in the carnivals. I’ve been a barker. 
I’ve worked in oil fields, as a truck driver, as a name it.
“I liked carnival life the best...always on the move. The merchant marine was all right 
except for all of that water. I guess that’s part of the job. Five ships were shot out from 
beneath me during the war. And, I was shot in the stomach and leg when a Japanese plane shot at our ship.”
Both of his stick-like arms are covered with tattoos: a couple of flowers, one of the ships
he was on is memorialized in a tattoo he received in China and way up on his right 
shoulder is the face of a Hawaiian woman.
“That’s one of my wahinis,” he said, with a laugh. “That’s what they call women in 
Speaking of women, Skipper laughed when asked if he had a woman in every port in the old days. “I would have been a damn poor merchant marine if I didn’t...same thing with the carnival.”
Finally, at 54, he did something he had been “dodgin’ all my life”—he got married. Eight 
years later, his first wife died in Florida.
A buddy up here in Clarksville then asked him to come visit. “I figured I might as well. I 
didn’t have anybody.”
He met his wife, Mary, here eight years ago and that was enough to get him to stay. 
Health problems have cut into their time together. Mary lives in Summit Heights, Skipper in the Royal York.
“I go see her three times a week and she calls me three times a day. But she is not able to take care of me and I’m not able to take care of her. So, we decided it would be best if I lived here.”
That decision was made a bit over a year ago after Skipper was released from the 
Palmyra Intermediate Care Center, where his rheumatoid arthritis and faulty heart had 
kept him for the previous two years.
Living downtown, in a hotel full of self-reliant souls, has been good for Skipper.
“When I came here, I was using a walker. I got rid of the walker and used a cane. Then, I threw the cane out and I ain’t used nothin’ since. 
“A lot of it is the environment. I’m relaxed here. I don’t have to worry about nothing. My
Social Security is taking care of far.”
Skipper dug a bottle of heart pills out of his trousers pocket. “Damn pill is as big as a 
horse pill,” he said, as he washed it down with a healthy gulp of heavily-sugared coffee.
“When I can throw away these pills, I’ll be happy.”
Cold weather and arthritis don’t mix, so in the winter “I just stay in my warm room and 
read. I read historical books about how they settled the west and how they settled 
Kentucky and Tennessee. For Westerns, I like to read Louis L’Amour. But, other than 
that, I like historical books.”
Which is a big reason for Skipper’s vocabulary. “Too many people think I’ve got a better 
education than I have. Most of my education came through traveling.
“I’ve been through college: I’ve been through the back door and out the front!”
Skipper likes the States the best of any country in which he has traveled. But he would 
like to go back to Australia.
“That’s the place,” he said, a glimmer in his worldly eyes as he formed the contours of a 
woman’s body with his hands. Then, he laughed. “I can dream, can’t I?”
The rambling is over. ‘I guess I’ll end up here,” he said. “It’s as good as anyplace. It’s 
home after I have spent my life rambling over hell and creation.”

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A great friend, who gave a shit and a half, is dead: My farewell to old newspaper friend Greg Kuhl

Greg Kuhl, a great friend and reporter who has been loyal to me despite the fact our paths diverged 30 or 40 years ago, is dead.
He was 65. He was running a 5K on Good Friday. He collapsed. Dead.
I have been shaken all day since I learned this.
We’d been in touch, via Facebook and email, on a regular basis, talking politics, journalism, friendship … and he never stopped scouting out job opportunities for me. One of the few who actually did try to help me and my family ever since I was “voluntarily” bought out by the morning newspaper here 12 years ago.
If you’ve ever been 55, almost 56, and all you had ever wanted to be was a newspaperman, then you may have some idea of the pain, psychological and physical, caused by that even.
Greg was among the first to reach out when he heard. He had moved from his own newspaper career, retired early, gone to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where he became a full-time member of the mammoth running community there.
I was trying to write something fancy about Greg here, but it’s hard. Maybe some other day.
Here’s where I started: He ran … well, kinda loped … across Clarksville, usually down Memorial Drive … or wherever he could find a more-or-less flat roadway or trail back when we worked together.
I was, as he joked, The Ayatollah Ghianni, or just Tim. The former, because back then, when we worked together, or 30 or 40 years ago, the Ayatollah Khomeini had caused the political demise of a nicely ineffective president with lust in his heart and fear of attacking rabbits.
Nobody will know what the hell I’m talking about unless you are at least my age. Suffice it to say that the Ayatollah killed the political career of a president who wore sweaters (like Mr. Rogers) and the Iraniann despot at the same time launched another one to power. He raised all flavors of Iranian hell as the despot who forced the corrupt and ruthless Shah of Iran – a pal of the USA – from power before undoing our nation’s political picture.
Greg, by the way, always referred to the new American president as “Ronald Ray-Gun” and make a shooting motion with his fingers. Fingers, by the way, that had him just shy of earning his cup of coffee in the majors during his baseball career. I’m sure he was bitter when he turned in his jock, but he carried on.
Enough of that, but when he called me Ayatollah, I called him “Captain Kuhl.” Just sounded good. Like a cartoon character. And Greg would admit that he had kind of a cartoonish appearance, something that would make a nice caricature.
Anyway, Captain Kuhl, or “Cappy,” was not mocking me or anything. It was newsroom humor, the kinda stuff that, like newsrooms, really doesn’t exist anymore in this politically correct society. Nobody approves of plastic vomit or exploding cigarette jokes anymore. Doesn’t work on Twitter or Instagram….
Yeah, at work, I was pretty much the “second-in-command” of the old Leaf-Chronicle newsroom back then – no matter what my official title. I wasn’t a despot, though. I probably was too nice for my own good. And I sure liked to drink and otherwise enjoy when the workday was done….
So did Greg.
I’ll just say that back then, we were young, generally worked seven-day weeks. We lived hard and worked hard and I always had the backs of my comrades in ink. Always. Right up until some of my comrades participated by turning their backs in my professional execution back in 2007.
Anyway, Greg was the basically gentle reporter with perennial nervous acne who fought with the publisher for the right to cover, with photos, an ongoing and fiery Klan rally just on the other side of Boot Hill, in the New Providence section of Clarksville.
I can’t remember who the publisher was back then, either Jim Charlet, Gene Washer or Luther Thigpen, and I really can’t remember how much of the Klan rally got printed. But whatever he did, Greg did it with passion and a sense of righteous indignation. He would have spat on the imperial dragon or whatever those hateful fuckers call their leader, I’m sure, if he’d gotten close enough. I did once. Or maybe that was just spittle from my mouth while I was talking.
But this is about Greg Kuhl. He was a reporter with soul.
Anyway, I was going to go on and do a long essay on him, but it hurts too much. I did write something for my fellow “News Brothers” that appeared on our Facebook Page today.
Forgive some of the language, but Greg would approve. Well, he didn’t use much foul language, but he’d expect it from the guy he also occasionally addressed as “Dad.” There is a long and traumatic story behind that, but I’ve survived, so I’ll let it go.
Here’s what I wrote earlier:
Greg Kuhl….He died. He was a true newsman.
He left the L-C before our News Brothers era happened, but he stood for all we stood for: Ethics, the truth, fairness, friends and the importance of loyalty.
I communicated with him regularly and we would laugh about what has happened to the world. But he remembered, especially, loyalty to old friends who actually may need a friend or the help of a friend or just a kind word. He tried to get me connected with a publisher in New York. He and I spoke about his beloved dog, Blue. We spoke about the news and the weakness of the media today.
Some of you are still members of the media -- I was cast out and there are those of you who never offered even a consoling word or a note of encouragement.
But Greg, who I hadn't worked with in more than 35 years or longer, he remembered who I was and how I had helped him in his career. To those of you who have forgotten me or forgotten Rob Dollar or Jerry Manley … fellows who you worked with sometime in your lives, shame on you.
Take that Selfie and stare yourself in your eyes and see how you've measured up in the friendship category.
Thanks to Greg, who by now surely has hooked up with Tony Durr and The Stranger and Scott "Badger" Shelton. This world sucks and it is hard to be out here battling when "friends" seemingly don't give half a shit. Greg gave a shit and a half.
With love, Flapjacks … aka, “The Ayatollah.”
Where's everybody else been?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The death of a great human being: Mac Wiseman was a friend of mine, and I loved him

Note: I published this on Facebook on February 27, 2019, the day after the funeral. I moved a copy here so others may read and reflect on the loss of a great man and a true friend. 

SPRING HILL CEMETERY – Mac Wiseman’s casket paused … or really the workmen did … a moment before it was pushed into the mausoleum wall at about rush hour Wednesday.
Most of those who had jammed the funeral home, down the hill in the historic cemetery, left after the service that even brought a bubble of a tear, at least, to this old writer who even in death considers Mac one of my best friends.
Malcolm Bell “Mac” Wiseman … or Dr. Mac Wiseman, according to a well-earned honorary degree ... was celebrated in a manner he would have liked. Humor, music, a few slightly off-kilter comments … and tears (he may have not liked that) filled the chapel for a bit more than an hour.
Most of those who came for the celebration got there early enough to offer condolences to Janie Boyd, his beloved companion and caretaker whose loving attention allowed him to live his years out at home rather than in a nursing facility. “I’ve got to see my baby one more time,” said Janie, after she hugged me and turned back to the open casket.
Mac’s other relatives and close friends filtered through the viewing room. Great radio voice, historian and great friend of Mac, Keith Bilbrey, turned to me and said “We’ve lost a great one, Tim. A great one. Thanks for what you do writing about these people.” Hell, I love these people. Mac especially.
I stood a few feet behind Ricky Skaggs at the casket as he said quiet words, probably about Jesus, knowing Ricky. We exchanged warm greetings. He’s a good guy.
I consider it an honor that I have had the opportunity to write about Mac, and others of his generation, most of whom are dead. But Mac was special. I didn’t just call him to get a story or visit him when the “press” or “media” or whatever they call the pack these days, descended on his tidy home in Lower Antioch to talk about one of his projects, generally recordings he worked on with my friends Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz.
I often called just so I could feel better. Mac was like that. Also, he liked to talk with me. With everybody, I imagine.
This little note though is just to give those of you who weren’t there a taste of the funeral… or celebration of life as the kings of euphemisms call them these days. I doubt you’ll find it covered in newspapers, but they may prove me wrong. Still, I know 2-day-old funerals are about as worthless as 2-day-old ballgame scores in this new age, after the death of newspapers.
Inside the chapel, the service began with Les Leverett, the classic photographer, who offered his thoughts on his long friendship with Mac. Les, by the way, bookended the service by offering the closing prayer an hour or so later.
Next up was Mac himself, a recording of his classic “These Hands,” followed by prayer and scripture from Brother Kevin Rose.
Del McCoury, the gentleman of bluegrass music, performed “The Old Folks at Home,” drawing a rousing ovation.
Usually people don’t applaud at funerals, but I’ve got to admit the stuff this afternoon had me almost feel like whistling along with the clapping.
The most touching, funny at times, melancholy at times, portion was the segment called “Personal Reflections” by Peter Cooper, who I’m proud to call one of my loyal friends. Aren’t many, by the way, but that’s another story. Peter sang Mac verses to carry along his tribute. He also provoked laughter. And raised quiet tears all the way from the podium through the crowd. I’m booking him for my funeral now. I know it was hard for him. He really loved the guy. I was proud of him as a friend and as a Mac enthusiast myself.
One of our most magnificent artists, fiddler Laura Weber White, followed Peter with “Maiden’s Prayer.” If there is a nicer, gentler, more real and amazingly talented woman in Nashville music circles, perhaps I’ll meet her. Laura, by the way, went to the rehab center and performed solo concerts for Mac in his last, painful days of life. It is said he smiled. He smiled at me when I visited, as well, but I couldn’t play the fiddle or sing. I could just be a friend. Just a friend. That’s all I’ve got to offer.
Ronnie Reno followed with personal reflections of his own, laughs so hard you would have thought Mac was in the room. But I guess he was. Or at least that’s what we are taught to believe. Mac did. A benevolent God, open to all humankind, was awaiting him.
Ricky Skaggs & The Whites performed “I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer.” Damn he’s good. Probably won’t like the “damn” there, but it’s the damn truth.
The final song was performed by the greatest singer, the heart with a voice -- or, I guess more properly, "the voice with a heart"... either way works -- the late Mac Wiseman singing lead on the Flatt & Scruggs number “Someday We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart.”
Leverett closed out the ceremony.
I was going to leave, not follow the small procession of mostly relatives and I imagine fans up to the mausoleum, but that’s the direction my old Saab ended up taking me, for the final prayer and to join in a soft-voiced choir of mourners singing Mac’s “Tis Sweet to be Remembered.”
Stepping outside, I watched as they raised the casket up to its resting place in the wall. I watched as they sealed the wall behind it.
He was a friend. I loved him. And I decided I’d better get home before I started crying. Or cursing the skies.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A battered newspaperman takes another stand to help a mom keep her son's murderer in prison

Barbara Mack, the mother of Rodney Long, an Austin Peay State University football receiver who was executed by David Frey and Stephen Drake so they could steal his car to escape authorities 37 years ago up in Clarksville, is not in the best of health.
So she won't be attending the parole hearing for Frey (Drake was shanked in prison long ago) Thursday.
I spoke long ago with my friend, the late John Seigenthaler, the pre-eminent print journalist in Tennessee and in the nation for that matter, about whether it was OK for me to write a letter opposing a parole.
He said that since the murder affected me so deeply -- even served as the setting for a newspaper memoir, "When Newspapers Mattered: The News Brothers & their Shades of Glory," published more than six years ago -- it made good sense and indeed was proper, if unusual.
The book was written by me and by my best buddy, Rob Dollar, who was my cops reporter at the time of the murder.
John loved the book, by the way, and devoted an episode of his award-winning "A Word on Words" TV show to it.
Since the Parole Board meets tomorrow (Jan. 10) to consider Frey's release and since it has only been two years since his last hearing, I wouldn't be surprised to learn he is freed.
I did feel compelled, by my love of Barbara Mack and by the physical and mental toll her son's murder took on my body and soul, to write another letter that I have filed with the Parole Board.
Here it is:

In regard to the parole hearing for David Frey, TOMIS Number 0097856

My name is Tim Ghianni.

I am a freelance journalist, author and adjunct university instructor living in Nashville, Tennessee.

I am writing today to vigorously oppose any potential parole for David Frey, the convicted murderer of Rodney Long.

I spent 34 years as a newspaper journalist before being “bought out” (euphemism for being laid off) 11½ years ago.

I have continued to work as a journalist in a freelance fashion since that time.

Particularly during my newspaper years, I came to know the details of way too many stories of the darkest underside of the human spirit.

I found no darker tale than that of the cold-blooded murder of Rodney Wayne Long. Rodney was a good kid, a football player at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville and the pride of his hometown of Rainbow City, Alabama.

I did not know Rodney when he was still alive.

But, even all these years after his murder in 1982, I feel like he is with me every day due to the vile and cowardly act of David Frey and Stephen Drake. Fortunately, Drake died in prison before anyone could consider the unjust idea of granting him parole.

And if the state does what is correct, then Frey, too, will die in prison. Not violently, like Drake, but as a beaten old man who killed an innocent young man for the joy of killing. Perhaps he has reformed, but that doesn’t cancel out the brutality of the execution of Rodney and the trail of heartache that has continued for the last 37 years.

David Frey and Stephen Drake duped Rodney into giving them a ride to the edge of Clarksville, Tennessee, where I was associate editor of the daily newspaper as well as a human-interest columnist and where Rodney was a receiver for the university’s Governors football team.

After they arrived at the edge of town, they killed him for his car, so they could escape the cops who were looking for them in a string of burglaries.

I to this day, even as a 67-year-old former newspaperman who unfortunately has seen the very worst of society, I have never been able to understand why they didn’t just drop him off on a deserted highway and just keep going.

It would have taken him hours to get back to “civilization” to alert authorities and they could have continued on their merry thugs’ journey to the East Coast, their home area.

Instead, they shot him dead for the cold and cruel thrills of it all.  “Good shot!” Drake said to Frey as he put a bullet at close range into the nice young man’s head.

The body was found two weeks later near a creek in what then was a very rural area of Montgomery County, Tennessee, miles and miles from the nearest house even.

In my role at the newspaper, I came to be in charge of the coverage of Rodney’s slaying as well as that of a young woman named Kathy Jane Nishiyama, whose abduction and murder mirrored Rodney’s. Her killer, Eddie Hartman, died on Death Row.

With two young people, good citizens, murdered at roughly the same time, Clarksville was traumatized.

In my role as editor, columnist and occasional breaking news reporter, I came to know the families of both murdered children.

That meant befriending Barbara Mack, the mother of Rodney Long. The first time I met her, she was in Clarksville leading the search for her son or her son’s body.

After that, I encountered her as she cried uncontrollably over her son’s coffin at the funeral home in Rainbow City.

But our friendship has continued over the decades. Our conversation isn’t always about Rodney’s death.

We talk about his life and the loss of which she has never been able to overcome.

If Frey is released, it will kill her.

He already killed her son.


Tim Ghianni

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Remembering the heroic "Fallen Eagles"

Thirty-three years ago today, I helped (with my boss Dee Bryant/now Dee Boaz) organize and oversee The Leaf-Chronicle's coverage of the biggest single tragedy ever to slam right into my community. I was associate editor of the Clarksville, Tennessee, newspaper and generally worked the evening shift to get the paper out. As such, I'd barely gotten to sleep when Dee called me to say that a plane -- filled with Fort Campbell soldiers coming home from peacekeeping duties in the Sinai and expecting to enjoy Christmas with their families -- had crashed in Gander, Newfoundland. There were no survivors. Just Christmas toys bought while the soldiers were waiting for their plane to be refueled in Gander and remains of 248 soldiers and eight crewmembers, scattered across a frozen field. "Oh shit," I exclaimed to Dee, before I washed the previous night's after-work traditional whiskey and cigarettes away and got to the office about 6 or maybe it was earlier.
We put out a special afternoon edition of what I had titled "Fallen Eagles" stories (Fort Campbell's 101st Airborne (Air Assault) troops are called "The Screaming Eagles") before turning around to put together our regular morning paper.
Fort Campbell, if you don't know, butts up next to Clarksville, Tennessee, and Oak Gove and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and our town was filled with troops and retirees. Even the Clarksville Mayor Ted Crozier was from the military, which is where I first met him during his days as a colonel. He's dead now, but I loved old Wild Turkey, as he was called.
About 1 a.m. the next day, I gathered the reporters (one of them my future wife) and photographers in the newsroom library/conference room and, teary-eyed from exhaustion and from genuine sadness, I congratulated them on our coverage. Thanked, them, really, for two straight shifts of fine journalism. I can't even remember the names of all the fine journalists from The Leaf-Chronicle who participated in what was amazing and melancholy coverage … on two different deadlines in a single day. Of course, there were Dee and this old newspaperman. Others included, if I remember correctly (a risky proposition at this point in life) designer Sara Foley, city editor Suzanne DeWitt (now Ghianni), Fort Campbell reporter Steve Zolvinsky, ace cops reporter Carol Davis, photographers Robert Smith and, I think, Toby Tobler, fine human being and reporter Harold Lynch (since deceased, but I think about him every day), copy editor and religion writer/columnist Jim Monday (still a very close friend) and copy desk chief Paul Carlton (since deceased.) Perhaps sports editor Bob Davidson and his crew jumped in as well. Or at least they cleared their pages early for camera room wizard Ronnie Kendrick, who "shot" the pages that were turned into plates for the press. In addition to working in the newsroom and burning cigarettes all day, I had even gone out (at Dee's insistence, because she knew I wanted to write something) that evening to cover the first memorial service at Wilson Hall on the Army post. (I wish I still had that edition, but most of my old newspapers were victims of the 2010 Nashville Flood's cruel invasion of my house.)
Back home for another glass of whiskey and cigarettes by 2 or 2:30 a.m., I sat and thought about that huge disaster and the lives-- I knew some of the soldiers -- lost.
Then I went to sleep and prepared for the next day's round of coverage, which would focus on the mourning community. President Reagan -- from back when presidents were good people even if you disputed their politics -- came to help the families mourn. I never was in the military. Fortunately, in the first draft lottery to select troops for the Vietnam War (I was classified 1A), I drew No. 280, which was good, as I had no desire to die in the jungle nor did I relish the thought of Canadian winters. Still, I've always supported the military, especially the soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines who put their lives on the line for us. I am fortunate that I developed ties with so many soldiers during my 14-year career at the newspaper in Clarksville. On this day, annually, I stop to remember the soldiers and to recall my dealings with Commanding General Burton Patrick (a wise and friendly military soul) as he worked to help the families and to make sure the community remembered the "Fallen Eagles." Bless the souls of those long-departed heroes.

Monday, November 12, 2018

36 years ago today, Flapjacks, Death and their News Brothers saved souls, captured Clarksville

It was 36 years ago today that Flapjacks and his pals captured hearts and souls at the Roxy

A small brick of granite on the shelf in my garage could be interpreted as my tombstone. It says “Flapjack” on it – not “Flapjacks,” which is my News Brothers nickname. That’s because my dad, who fell in love with the stray mutt I’d adopted one cold Clarksville night 35 years ago or so, kept the dog I named “Flapjacks” when my life’s circumstances made it temporarily impossible for me to do it. He shortened my old dog’s name – I named him after myself, in a way -- to Flapjack.”

Even when I became able to take a dog into my restored life, I left old Flap with my dad, who needed face-licking cheering up as my mom’s health continued its mortal struggle.  She’s been gone 19 years now and Flap quickly followed.

I had the dog’s tombstone carved, but never planted it at the pet cemetery mainly because of the poor practices there that had led to the losses of stones I had made for my other pets and for my folks’ animals.  Now I keep the ashes of my dead friends of the animal variety on the top of my dresser with instructions to have them join me whenever and however my own body is disposed of…. Sooner or later. My hope is later, of course. At least most days.

Getting a little somber and sober here, but that’s not the spirit I maintain as I sit here and write about what happened 36 years ago today and tonight, November 12, 1982, when the real Flapjacks – me --and my band of merry men took over, literally, the city of Clarksville for one night … and the succeeding dawn.

This marks the 36th anniversary of the “world premiere” of a 45-minute movie titled “Flapjacks: The Motion Picture.”

It starred and was produced by me and my pal Rob “Death” Dollar. The cast included the rest of The News Brothers with nicknames “Flash,” “Chuckles,” “Dumbo,” “Street” and “The Stranger.” Jim Lindgren was Flash and Jerry Manley was Chuckles and they were the two other main News Brothers. Others came and went, depending on their jobs and their personal lives. Those included Ricky “Dumbo” Moore, John “Street” Staed and the late, great and extremely kind Harold Lynch as “The Stranger.”

John Glenn, the great astronaut, also appears in the film and I’m told it was, other than his first triple orbit of the earth and his Space Shuttle journey, among his life’s biggest thrills. I don’t know who told me this. Perhaps it was Rob. Or I may have been talking to myself.

Since Rob and I wrote it and are in every scene and even did a good bit of the filming – I’d hold the camera while he did a scene and vice versa when we couldn’t summon our pals like prize-winning photographer Larry McCormack (who now seems scared of us, but that’s another discussion for another day) and Robert Smith, a great photojournalist who only recently was put to the curb by Korporate Amerikan journalism.

It happened to the rest of us – well “Dumbo” seems safe in Chattanooga -- years ago. I led the soft parade to the korporate curb 11½ years ago when Gannett tired of its poor, lonely, huddled masses, or at least its older staffers and offered the “generous” buyout, a conscience-salver for the givers, a few bucks for the receivers who had to restart their lives at 55 years old, nearly 56.

That movie, though crude by today’s standards (I don’t  mean crude as in nasty, just crude as it was filmed long before the emergence of home video, so we shot it on Super 8mm film, pieced it together (thanks Robert) and synchronized a soundtrack, some of it spoken, other sections carried by music from my record collection (pre-CD as well).

It was a Beatles-emulating newsman’s version of “A Hard Day’s Night” or perhaps it was closer to The Monkees stuff. After all, we used “Last Train to Clarksville” to provide the sonic backdrop for our climactic pie fight scene, which included a police officer (a real one who had blue-light chased us to the railyard where the fight began) and The News Brothers at their best and brightest.

There is much to tell about the film, but I’ll spare you here. Only note that it really is quite good – although it was best when shown on the big screen at the Roxy Theater in downtown Clarksville 36 years ago tonight.

In addition to the film, we had aid and entertainment from the Clarksville High School Cheerleaders, the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Jazz Band (from nearby Fort Campbell), The Clarksville Police Department and the Fire Department, which delivered The News Brothers to the theater while we clung to the sides and rear of the wailing tanker truck.  The friendly coppers busted the film showing and arrested us as a means of getting the garbage can filled with admission money out of the building in what was then a desolate and disturbing section of Clarksville.

Oh, we had visits from ET and also from Santa Claus (former and somewhat disgraced editor Tony Durr, who died alone many years ago now and I miss every day).

The mayor of Clarksville, Ted “Wild Turkey” Crozier – a friend of mine until his death a couple years or so ago – proclaimed it “News Brothers Day” in Clarksville. And the local radio station newsman Scott Shelton – who later became “Badger” News Brother – broadcast the proceedings. Scott’s dead now, too. As are Harold “The Stranger” Lynch (who starred in the Sergio Leone gunfight scene), Durr, a pal of ours named Okey Stepp, an old man who lived in the local flophouse who we loved and called “Skipper.” He dressed up in a bellhop’s uniform and looked like a member of Sergeant Pepper’s famed outfit as he presided over the money-collecting. Also dead, of course, is my dog, “Flapjacks” aka “Flapjack,” who was one of the sweetest animals I’d ever rescued from the streets or orphanages. That’s another story as well.

The reason for the community enthusiasm? We were showing the film for charity. “Laugh for a Good Cause” said the marquee outside the Roxy. All money gathered – we had a suggested ticket price of $20, but people could give what they could afford – went to charities of the Police and Fire departments as well as to the Mustard Seed, a homeless-advocacy agency in downtown Clarksville.

Hell, Rob and I even paid $20 apiece to get into our own movie, mainly because we hoped it would seed a trend for those at the 8 p.m. and midnight showings.
Another thing that happened is that once city leaders saw how nice the Roxy looked after we scrubbed and waxed the dusty, old abandoned theater, it was not demolished to make a parking lot. It instead became a community theater.

The News Brothers story is not as simple as that one-night takeover of the 200 block of Franklin Street in downtown Clarksville. That was just a wonderful and starry, starry night for us.

If you are interested, Rob and I wrote a book: “When Newspapers Mattered: The News Brothers and their Shades of Glory,” two men’s trek through the newspaper business, that was published six years ago. If you are interested, you can buy it at

At the time it was published, many of our newspaper friends – of the employed variety – refused to buy it, snidely claiming that they still had newspaper jobs, so they refused to embrace a rebellious and fun book with such a title.

Now, most of them have felt the ax and have plenty of time to read.

My late friend John Seigenthaler, the legendary journalist, embraced the book as “M*A*S*H in a newsroom,” by the way, and he featured me and the book on his local PBS author interview show. He loved the book and could relate to the decades’ worth of tales and anecdotes of journalistic fear, loathing and enterprise collected there. I know it provided him a few good laughs there near the end of his life.

But enough about the book. This little tale is about the movie that opened to drunkenly raving reviews and howling audiences on a cold November night in an old, abandoned movie house we had revitalized for the showing.

Details may be found in the book, which you will like, I promise, which was a blockbuster seller on its first printing and just about made up the costs Rob and I put into its glorious publication.

One of these days, I’ll post this little movie, but it hasn’t held up well in its translation from film to VHS to DVD, so it never will be as good as that first night’s viewing.

Today, 36 years later to the day, I sit here at my basement desk, trying to find my next freelance story, nursing a really nasty black eye (another sad story) and remembering that night when The News Brothers presided over Clarksville and the world was a much nicer place.

Now, I believe I’ll go out into the garage and get the “Flapjack” tombstone on my shelf. One of these days it may come in handy, though I have no idea how they’ll add the “s.” Won’t be my problem.

Have a damn nice News Brothers kind of day.    



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Since Ol' Scotty left me...the accurate story detailing the death of my friend Scotty Moore

Winfield Scott "Scotty" Moore was a dear friend of mine. The guy who invented rock 'n' roll guitar died Tuesday in his bed at his home in a rural and rugged part of Metropolitan Nashville.  
There were many errors in the wire stories people picked up for local newspapers. And no one called me to write something, even though the last published interview with Scotty was written by me back when I worked for the morning newspaper here in Nashville. He told me it was the most-accurate interview story he'd ever been involved with. In an attempt to help clear up the information, I interviewed his caretaker/friend and wrote something I tried to peddle to the Nashville Scene. I didn't hear from them until way past time to find a new home for it.
I will be writing more about Scotty, mostly as my friend, and as a guy I was proud to know. But, in order to correct inaccuracies reported elsewhere, let me offer you this story tonight.
A public memorial service to celebrate the life of Scotty Moore -- the man who invented rock ‘n’ roll guitar -- is being planned for sometime in the near future in Nashville, according to the woman who was closest to him.
Moore, 84, who provided the licks for the songs that helped launch the Elvis Presley phenomenon, died in his sleep Tuesday morning, according to Margi Lane, his friend and caretaker.
She said Moore died peacefully, sometime after 7 a.m., the last time she checked on him.  He wanted to stay in bed a little longer because his back, because of degenerating disc disease, was hurting.
But he never reopened his eyes to this world, anyway. 
“Everyone else wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty,” famously said Rolling Stones guitarist and founder Keith Richards, who was among Moore’s friends.
A small family funeral will be held Thursday (June 30, 2016) in Humboldt, Tennessee, which is about five miles from Gadsden, Tenn., where he was born Dec. 27, 1931.
Lane said after the burial is taken care of, she’ll begin to explore the when and where of the Nashville tribute concert.
“I’m sure we’ll have friends who come in from New York, London and Los Angeles,” Lane said. “We’ll want it to be top-notch and classy, like he was.”
Lane began taking care of the great guitarist after her own mother, Gail Pollock, Moore’s long-time companion and protector, began the struggle with cancer that ended in her death last November.
Moore was the last one left of the four men who were in the room on July 5, 1954, at Memphis Recording Service, when they cooked up their version of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right,” launching the rock ‘n’ roll era. 
Bill Black, the standup bassist who provided the rhythm for what were called, variously, "Elvis, Scotty and Bill" or "The Blue Moon Boys" died Oct. 21, 1965. Elvis died Aug. 16, 1977. And the producer of that Sun Records release, Sam Phillips died July 30, 2003.
And Scotty now is back with his old friends making some beautiful  noise with that weird teenager with pink shirts and greasy hair and the more subdued bassist. And it's sure that Sam is wild-eyed as he watches what is transpiring. 
Lane said the humble Moore “would have absolutely hated the gossip” published earlier in the week that he died feeble and crippled up, a shell of himself.
“He was still with us,” said Lane, noting that while Moore did suffer a bit of dementia, he still was up and about, with the aid of a walker due to the degenerating disc disease in his back.
When he wasn't napping or talking to old journalists on the phone, Scotty daily enjoyed watching cowboy shows before Margi made dinner, something her mother had done for decades.
She said right up until the end, Moore entertained friends who would visit him in his rural Davidson County home and studio.
Wednesday morning, Lane was going through Moore’s mementoes –“pictures, gold records and all this other memorabilia,” which will be going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where he is enshrined.
Because of a variety of health woes in the last couple of decades, Moore no longer played guitar, and in fact his collection now belongs to various museums and collectors.
“People occasionally would bring a guitar over to the house, but he wouldn’t play it,” Lane said. “He wasn’t sad about it. He said he was through with it. He had done it. And it was over.”