With every year comes the inevitable loss of community leaders, civic builders and colorful personalities who help give Nashville its character. In our annual In Memoriam issue, the Scene recognizes some of the people the city lost in 2012, vibrant threads we will miss in the city’s tapestry. Some were prominent social and civic figures known to all; some were familiar only to a lucky few. Below, we commemorate lives that left an indelible mark on others, and on the city they called home. Read, and remember.
The Voice of Emma's
By Jim Ridley
If you grew up in Middle Tennessee within the past four decades, you have certain TV taglines and jingles you can recite like the Pledge of Allegiance. Remember "The height of a piggy's ambition / From the day he is born ... ?" Or "Take HAWM! a PAY-uh-KIDGE! uh TAYUN-UH-SEE PRAHHHD!" Topping them all, though, was this elegantly simple four-word incantation burned into the brains of most any Nashvillian: "Emma's — the supoilative florist."
That's right — not "superlative," supoilative. The inflection was the trademark of Ed Stratton, the Nashville announcer and advertising man who not only devised the tagline but read it on TV and radio for nearly 30 years. West End's venerable Emma's Flowers and Gifts, founded in the 1930s, was the very first client of the Merry Sounds Advertising Agency he'd started after retiring from WSIX. As he told Kay West in a 2000 profile, he'd woken up in the middle of the night with a word ringing in his head: "superlative." He had to look it up. The next day, he told Emma's owner Haskell Tidman Sr. he'd hit on "a $50,000 idea" — a campaign that would use landmarks from around the world to brand Emma's as "the superlative florist."
"Stratton may have had the $50,000 idea," West wrote, "but Tidman had the million-dollar hunch that his friend's voice would be perfect for the spot." Thus, in 1983, was Nashville broadcast history made. Stratton had been a college man at Sewanee in the 1930s, an Army machine-gunner in the South Pacific during World War II, and a successful ad man whose record-setting career spanned seven decades interrupted only by the war. But it was that mint-julep drawl and those four words that had people stopping him in stores and restaurants until he died at age 101.
Last year, the florist held a 100th birthday celebration for Stratton in its back room. The guest of honor sat with hands clasped in a rigid chair, mostly silent. But when those present begged him to say the magic words, he summoned a dramatic pause and said, "Emma's — the supoilative florist." He beamed, wholly at peace with his claim to fame.
Program director; DJ, WRLT-FM Lightning 100
By Abby White
One of the first things I did when I arrived in Nashville in 2001 was scan the radio. Quickly bypassing the various commercial country and pop options, I landed at 100.1 FM. It was like someone had made a mixtape just for me: I heard Jeff Buckley, The Beatles, Patty Griffin, the Dandy Warhols, R.E.M. and then a band I'd never heard of — but instantly loved — Jump, Little Children. What was this? Was this a college radio station?
A man came on to identify the station as WRLT Lightning 100. His name was David Hall, and I learned that David Hall rocks y'all. I knew I had to somehow be a part of this radio station, so I showed up at every event they sponsored and stalked GM Fred Buc until he hired me as an account executive.
As a music nerd fresh out of college, this was a dream job. Working with a legend of Nashville radio — who happened to be one of the biggest Beatles fans I'd met — was just one of many job perks.
Hall, who served as program director of the locally owned, independent radio station, curated the extensive playlist with longtime music director Rev. Keith Coes. Hall, who started at WRLT in 1993, hosted the afternoon drive-time shift, and served as emcee for the popular live broadcast of Nashville Sunday Nights from 3rd & Lindsley every week.
Hall started his career in broadcasting in 1972 at WNBS in Murray, Ky., where he attended college at Murray State University. After a four-year stint at WABD in Fort Campbell, Hall joined WKDF, where he worked for eight years as a disc jockey, music director, and assistant program director. From 1988 until 1993, he held the same roles at classic rock station WGFX The Fox before joining WRLT.
"I didn't realize how famous he was," says Wells Adams, who took over Hall's drive time slot. "After he passed, people who didn't know him personally were calling in and expressing their condolences, so that was really heartwarming to hear. ... David had one of the best radio voices you'll ever hear. Looking back, I don't know if there will ever be another voice like that in radio in Nashville."
Media programmer; publicist
By Kay West
Jayne Rogovin was a self-described "nice Jewish girl" who spent her first 11 years in Long Island, N.Y., then moved with her family to Miami. She majored in broadcast journalism at the University of Florida and minored in surfing. After graduating she moved from city to city, station to station, including one short stint in Nashville at WTVF-Channel 5.
Her last TV news post was a CBS affiliate in Dallas, where in early 1993 she spent nearly two months camped in a trailer outside Waco, Texas, covering the Branch Davidians siege until the horrific fiery conclusion that killed 76 men, women and children.
Sickened and disheartened, she packed her bag, her tapes, and headed back to Nashville. She boarded her horse at a barn in Franklin and switched gears from hard news to entertainment, pursuing work in the music video field. I met her in December 1994 when my then-husband Steve West teamed us to work together on the script for the first annual Nashville Music Awards, aka the Nammies, which he was producing for Leadership Nashville. We worked side by side for nearly two months, and became fast friends. After my divorce in 1997, we became even closer, partnered on many more projects, and were usually each other's plus-ones at shows and events.
When video work dried up, Jayne started her own media and marketing firm — The Jayne Gang. She was a driving force promoting the Americana Music Festival, bought a house in a very sketchy part of East Nashville and helped form their first neighborhood association. Jayne tackled every challenge with equal parts proficiency and pragmatism. Not knowing how to do something never daunted her — she simply got it done. She frowned on incompetence, but had a tender heart and a wicked sense of humor. Jayne was fearless, independent and resilient. She called her own shots.
Which made the diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer in July 2010 particularly hard to process. When I got to her house that day, she was sobbing and terrified, and asked me to help lead the fight she knew was ahead of her. She called me The General. One of the first things we did was order knit hats embroidered with the words "Fuck Cancer" for the group of four that went with her to doctor appointments and chemo at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
Jayne was dying, but for the next 17 months she lived large and joyful. She rejected pink ribbons, but embraced fun, adventure, discovery and travel, no matter how tired the disease and treatment left her. In January, she went on the Delbert McClinton Blues Cruise with her boyfriend John, posting photos of herself basking in the sun on deck, insisting on horseback riding at a port stop.
When I picked her up at the airport, it was clear she had declined. She was admitted to Vanderbilt on Feb. 5, still optimistic that her worsening condition was just an infection she would beat. When tests showed several days later that more treatment was not an option, we all cried. The next day, she stopped eating and asked for medication for her intense pain. From then on, she mostly slept, covered with a friend's quilt. One afternoon, she sat straight up with a start, looked right at me and demanded, "Where is my wallet?" I brought it to her. "Where are my credit cards?' I pulled some out. "Where is my license?" I showed it to her. She lay back on the pillow and closed her eyes. "OK," she said. "I'm ready to go."
Those were the last words she spoke. She passed away at dusk on Feb. 13, loved ones holding hands over her, and a bag of barn dirt tucked under her back, a final goodbye from her horse Diva.
Jayne lived life on her own terms and left it that way too, with immense strength, grace and dignity — and not until she knew she was ready to go.
- Scooby (left) and Dolewite
DJ, 101.1 The Beat
By James "Dolewite" Raymer
I first met Curtis Senior as a freshman at Georgia Southern University, in a dorm known as Oxford Hall, which provided the worst living conditions on campus. My first memory of him was on the dorm's basketball court. He was far from the best player out there, nowhere near the worst, either — but he talked more trash than everyone else on the court combined. And he was the best trash-talker I ever came in contact with.
As I got to know him throughout the year, he told me he was interested in joining me one evening on my college radio show, which ran on Saturday nights from 3 to 7 a.m. Week after week, he was nowhere to be found in the middle of the night when it was time to go to the station, but eventually he showed up — and the on-air chemistry between the two of us was there from the first time we popped the mic. Thus Dolewite and Scooby were born.
Throughout college and our run on 101.1 The Beat in Nashville, Scoob never forgot the name of a listener or old friend, and was the guy everybody turned to for advice in a time of need.
He was my business partner for more than 15 years, but more importantly, the best friend I could ever imagine having. And more than that, he meant something to the people of Nashville. He spoke to kids in the Metro Nashville school district and never said no to a charity event. How he spread himself so thin is beyond me, but he did and never complained about it.
On Feb. 18, Curtis passed away unexpectedly from a rare disease called sarcoidosis. He will always be remembered first for his contributions to the youth of this city, and second for his enormous personality and ability to entertain on a daily basis. Forever in our hearts, forever my brother, Forever Scoob!
- Chris and Katie Neal
By Katie Neal
Not long after we started dating, Chris arrived late to pick me up for dinner. He apologized profusely and handed me a stack of CDs, explaining he'd lost track of time burning a bunch of music that he thought I'd like — a Tori Amos EP, Ani DiFranco bootlegs, some Britney Spears dance remixes. "You'll soon learn," he said, a little sheepishly, "that this is how I show my affection."
Truer words were never spoken. Very little in life made Chris Neal happier than sharing music, with friends or strangers. As a writer first for Country Weekly and later for the Scene, Performing Songwriter, M Music & Musicians and more, he cherished the opportunity to endorse great artists, whether he'd worshipped them as a young boy in rural Virginia, or their debut album had just crossed his desk and captured his fancy. (He championed Little Big Town early on, which makes their long-overdue success all the sweeter.) Like a human Pandora, he loved introducing others to artists he thought they might like based on the minutiae of their musical tastes, whether they relished a robust horn section or had a fondness for slow blues. Recently, I came across an 8-track tape of gospel music among Chris' things, and remembered he'd been hoping to convert the out-of-print album to CD for his mom at her request. In his mind, that was one of the kindest gestures he could make: to enable someone to experience the transcendence he believed only a beautiful piece of music could deliver.
In this way, for Chris music sometimes served as an emotional shortcut. Though he had a remarkable way with words, talking didn't come easy. He dreaded cocktail-party chatter, yet he was never intimidated by an interview with a musician he admired. After all, they shared a passion. That allowed him to talk to giants like Sting, Stevie Nicks and Dave Grohl about incredibly personal, even painful aspects of their lives — divorce, loss, failure, death — with utter confidence and compassion.
Many of these conversations ran not only surprisingly deep, but also both ways. I'm not sure how many close friends Chris had confided in about his fear of turning 40. But when he happened to interview Shirley Manson on that birthday, he found himself on the receiving end of some big-sisterly advice about embracing middle age. Somehow, the context of music could open doors he otherwise found daunting.
One of the last albums Chris bought me was Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday. I think he was thrilled that after nine years together, his wife was finally beginning to appreciate his beloved hip-hop, albeit in a glittery, MAC-lacquered package. One day I mentioned I was obsessed with the album, but hated "Roman's Revenge," a track featuring Eminem and his ever-present misogynistic rage. A few days later, a burned CD appeared on our coffee table. "What's this?" I asked. "Oh, I burned Pink Friday and took off that track for you," he said. "And I added a Britney remix that Nicki sings on."
Some men send flowers. Music was always Chris' grand gesture. And lucky for me — for anyone missing him — the music lingers.
Pat Harris, 88, journalist whose résumé included nearly three decades as Reuters' Middle Tennessee correspondent and more than 25 years writing for Time magazine; served as Chicago press aide to Adlai Stevenson during his presidential run against Dwight D. Eisenhower; 12-year employee of the Tennessee Department of Education.
Charlie Lamb, 90, colorful music journalist who founded the city's first trade publication, Music Reporter, noted for its country music chart and bulleted singles; ex-carnival barker born to a trapeze-artist mother and magician father; went on to careers as manager, entertainer and occasional actor.
By Randy Mackin
"Daddy always wanted to see a ghost."
William Gay's daughter Lee offered that revelation when we met for lunch a few months after her father's death in February.
At first I was surprised. William and I never really spoke about the afterlife, but I soon put the matter into the context of William's incessant curiosity: A ghost would have proved for him that there was some existence after this one, that there was a plane "beyond the pale," to use one of his favorite phrases.
William said that writing should always be about something larger than itself, and he was the pernicious student — three novels and a short story collection later — trying to figure out how an artist was able to accomplish a particular effect. On one of my last visits with him he was rereading A Farewell to Arms, immersing himself in Hemingway's technique.
And while we lament the loss of his talent, his work will endure. All we can long for is that the language he was laboring over at the time of his death (two novels, The Lost Country and The Wreck of the Tennessee Gravy Train, and a handful of stories still in longhand) will someday find their way into print.
William, who always wanted to see a ghost, is one now, but it's a haunting we should cherish.
I suspect we'll see him again leaning against a column of some plantation-era home — the paint peeling and the eaves sagging, waiting for a handyman to set them right.
Or his spirit will be the shadow behind Southern fiction still to be written since his influence is undeniable among the best creators of the written word today.
When William left this world and entered the next, I hope what he found was this place which the autobiographical Edgewater from The Lost Country discovered upon waking after a forlorn night in the woods:
"But his heart was lifting and his feet felt fleet and light. The day was new and unused and this day was one that had never existed before and he saw it as a footpath that led into a world that was sensual and manyfaceted and complex beyond his understanding, but for the moment he was comfortable in it and roofs and shelter and ill weathers were things of no moment. He thought the only dwelling he needed was the unconfined and unwalled world itself."
Visual artist; musician
By Kate O'Neill
If anyone could have appreciated the absurdity of trying to distill a colorful, well-examined life down to a few hundred words, it would have been Karsten — my husband, my love, my partner, my best friend. After all, no one I've ever known has had a keener sense of the absurd, or a personal brand more synonymous with recognizing it.
In other words, if anyone could've actually managed the task well, he'd have been the guy.
Karsten was charming, engaging and unique, in large part due to his ability to observe what few others seemed to see. He had a powerful ability to associate seemingly random ideas, an intense curiosity, a wickedly clever wit and a knack for finding the bizarre among the mundane — all of which afforded him a rare gift for reducing abstract ideas to a concise but comical essence. It was the first thing I noticed about him when I met him at a party 15 years ago. (Well, that, and I thought he was cute.)
He incorporated his love of the absurd into his creative output, too. He delighted in spoiling our cats, constantly coming up with new ways to entertain them or indulge them. When he determined that they enjoyed the feeling of being gently shaken, he invented and built a "cat jiggler," enlisting various friends to help develop and improve the mechanics over bourbon-spiked, laughter-filled evenings.
He was a conceptualist even more than a creator, but what he did create — from music to art — was meticulously executed. For that matter, his studio workspace was a visual metaphor for discipline applied to creativity: walls cluttered with reference images but carefully organized, tools hanging in rows, supplies neatly ordered, found objects curated on window ledges in a satirical diorama of a Nativity scene or arranged into a phallic shrine. It was a highly usable space, but also an entertaining place to visit.
His final work, a mixed-media assemblage piece titled Cosmic Primate (An Atheistic Evolutionary Bedtime Story), was a better summary of his personality and perspective than anything I could describe in words. Over a backdrop of chemical symbols, star charts and technical illustrations, Karsten applied the front-and-back painting technique used in cel animation to depict psilocybin mushrooms, a grinning ape and fire, in a triptych narrative of evolution and aspiration that is both hopeful and haunting.
In the days and weeks after Karsten died, a great many friends shared memories and impressions of him through blog posts, Facebook, videos and so on. With remarkable consistency, these themes recurred: He was an unmatched conversationalist; he was a kind and compassionate friend; he was a provocative artist; he was an exceptionally fun party host and guest. That seems as it should be. His legacy among friends, our neighborhood and the community is large, quirky and full of color.
But to me, Karsten will always be most memorable as the guy standing off to the side of the room, grinning, knowing, summarizing the conversation in a punchline that knocks all the pins down and perfectly captures the moment.
JANE GOODMAN BELL
University administrator; former gallerist
By Christine Kreyling
Jane Bell knew how to give comfort. I learned this even before I moved to Nashville in 1985. Her husband, Vereen, recruited my husband, Michael, to teach American literature at Vanderbilt. Jane insisted we stay in their home while we house-hunted. Through one of the city's worst droughts, she faithfully watered our potted lemon trees — émigrés (like herself) from New Orleans — that lived in their backyard until we had one of our own. These small facts signify her essential nature: supremely hospitable, generous way beyond the social necessities and responsive to need in a finely nuanced way.
It was paint chips, however, that forged our friendship. In the early '90s, Jane asked me to help pick out new colors for her walls. I don't recall why. Perhaps she sensed a particularity about design details equal to her own.
Home improvement has a life force all its own. Thus we moved from painting to reupholstering to refinishing to relighting to kitchen renovation. During all this, I learned that Jane was a pit bull — a small, dark, polite one — about getting things exactly right. I discovered her edgy sense of humor and willingness to use the F-word when called for. I became as familiar with her premises as my own.
Finally, it was time to hang art. Having owned and operated the Portfolio gallery — Jane called it a shop — she and Vereen had a fine collection of 20th century prints. When we laid out the plan, however, she made sure it included pieces her children made in school and their favorite posters. Most telling was a whole wall of photographs of family and friends. Jane was a collector of people.
She collected them during her work at the Race Relations Information Center and Vanderbilt's Sarratt Student Center. Then there were the far-too-numerous-to-count gatherings she and Vereen hosted for the Vanderbilt English department, for writers reading at the Southern Festival of Books, to welcome back friends who'd left town but whom they wouldn't let go.
The sense that Jane's house was my house persisted until her end. Two weeks before she died we talked, about the house, of course. Whenever a new lamp or bedspread was in the offing, she'd call. And I'd feel needed. Jane Bell was good at that.
George Lindsey played a taxi cab driver on an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and was the voice of a basset hound in The Aristocats, but will always be best known as "Goober," the slappy-dancing country rube — first on The Andy Griffith Show and later on Hee Haw. He died in May at 83.