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Legislature “Running Amok” on Education Reforms

March 13, 2014

When the Commercial Appeal begins to cover a topic from both sides, you know it’s become so hot it can’t be ignored. (Oh, that we wish it were not so, CA, but you are what you are.)

Today’s edition included a story by Richard Locker about 55 Shelby County teachers busing off to Nashville to rally against what Memphis-Shelby Co. Education Association president Keith Williams said is a legislative agenda “running amok on public education.” The teachers’ union is concerned about vouchers, tying teachers’ evaluations and licensure to standardized testing (e.g., the forthcoming PARCC assessments), allowing for-profit charter schools to enter the state, and ~ ahem! ~ Common Core.

Elsewhere in today’s CA, Mr. Locker reported on Gov. Haslam’s appeal to members of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce to stand firm against Common Core pushback, using the long-discredited talking points that the initiative ensures “higher standards and better outcomes in Tennessee.”

With all due respect, Gov. Bill ~ baloney!

baloney meter

Grassroots protestors of Common Core and its attendant Race to the Top (RTTT) school reforms have been turning out in large numbers at the Capitol this week, and are expected to be present again tomorrow (Thursday) when House representatives vote on an anti-Common Core amendment attached to HB1129  by Rep. Rick Womick of Rutherford County. Rep. Womick is one of the few Tennessee legislators who has taken the time to research the facts underlying RTTT and Common Core. Over time, he has become an outspoken foe. Although Rep. Womick has no announced rivals for his seat, capital sources say that Gov. Haslam has vowed to finance opponents to run against any Tennessee legislator who dares t0 take a stand against Common Core/RTTT reforms.

Education bills have abounded in this session of the Tennessee General Assembly. On one side, there are those pushing and protecting the Bill Gates/Arne Duncan reform agenda, including Gov. Haslam; State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman; Bill Frist’s SCORE;  business and chamber of commerce groups who bought into “higher standards” and “college and career ready” rhetoric and now find themselves in a public fight they never expected; and legislators like Shelby County representative John DeBerry. Rep. DeBerry, who sits on the House Education Committee, arguably owes his  last re-election to $112,113 in campaign financing he accepted from Students First, the Washington, D.C.-based school reform advocacy group run by Comm. Huffman’s controversial ex-wife Michelle Rhee.

The opposing side is a mix of odd bedfellows including many teachers and teachers unions; Momma and Papa Bears; public school supporters; high-information voters; and a few brave legislators who have done their homework, like Rep. Womick and fellow Rutherford countian Rep. Dawn White. They are fighting for repeal of Common Core; preservation of local control over education; barriers to further privatization of schools (which locks out parental and public input); an end to standardized testing with high stakes for teachers and students; ending inappropriate data collection on students and their families; and reinstatement of certain essential instruction in schools, such as cursive handwriting and U.S. government.

People in many states, including Tennessee, are just beginning to realize the harmful impact of the radical reforms ushered in under the auspices of pig nosesRTTT, Arne Duncan, and Bill Gates. Politicians like Gov. Haslam (and his predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen), who eagerly drank the Kool-Aid when Race to the Trough Top rolled out and Billy G. was lavishing money around like the proverbial drunken sailor, will find the next few months and years challenging. Coming too close on the tails of the Obamacare scam, voters are fed up with federal over-reaching accomplished through political trickery and deceit.

rttt cartoon

This will not end well for Gov. Haslam. Yes, it’s embarrassing  and  messy for a politician to reverse course on an issue he or she has championed; but the governors of Maine, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana have drunk the antidote, and now oppose Common Core reforms.  As more facts come out,  teachers find their voices, and more parents see absurd and outrageous homework and class assignments, reforming school reforms will become a dominant political issue.

If you have been reading Joe Saino’s MemphisShelbyInform blog this week, you already know that a meeting to discuss Common Core will be held this Friday, March 14, from 5:30-7:30 at The Church of Christ at White Station, 1106 Colonial Road (second floor). The speaker will be Arkansas parent Karen Lamoreaux. Since Mrs. Lamoreaux’s passionate and informed four minute presentation to her local school board about Common Core was posted on YouTube three months ago, she has been interviewed by Glenn Beck and Fox Business News,written about by national columnists, and become one of the most recognized voices in the opposition movement. The video has had over 600,000 hits.

If you want to know what the CA and local news lapdogs are not telling you about this transformation of American education, go hear Karen Lamoreaux on Friday night.  Additional meetings are planned with local teachers as speakers. Back in River City will keep you informed.


Smut Is the New Bobbsey Twins

March 9, 2014

Thanks to a Momma Bears blog post, today we learned that certain Shelby County elementary schools  have been offering positively-reviewed materials like Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age. 

stuck in the middle

According to the publisher, this

“anthology of illustrated tales about the agonies and triumphs of seventh and eighth grade” has “an important message to share:  Everyone can survive middle school!”

Comics about middle school life? Sounds like fun!  We all survived that that awkward period, and all have embarrassing stories as souvenirs.

“With a sense of humor as refreshing as it is bitingly honest, seventeen artists share their stories of first love, bullying, zits, and all the things that make middle school the worst years of our lives.”

GoodReads reviewers (541) rate it 3.39 stars out of four. Good enough. So, what’s the problem, Momma Bears?

Read the post here. Then come back and we’ll talk. (Our extreme, Miss Manners-like sense miss manners bookof propriety here at Back in River City prohibits us from reprinting the post, which contains images of pages from the book containing language too raw for our Old Memphis sensibilities.)

You’re welcome.

time out

Read it now? Are you outraged? If you aren’t, we live on separate planets. Eddie and I don’t want our nine year old granddaughter to learn about oral sex from a comic book she checked out of the school library. But then, we’re just old fashioned that way.

A little online research today revealed that Stuck in the Middle is on the American Library Association’s hall of shame list of banned books, right alongside To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank. It was pulled from the shelves of a Sioux Falls, Iowa middle school library in 2009, two years after its publishing date, when the parents of a sixth grader made a fuss. Here’s how an Amazon reviewer sees that scenario:

old lady cats drawing” . . .  I was having a problem while digging through this finding anything that would be objectionable to anyone but the straightest-laced tight[wad]s. I have this mental image of tea-drinking old ladies with three dozen cats each in the basement of a South Dakota saloon forming a censorship cabal, and let me tell you, it’s terrifying. Especially because they all brought all their cats. It’s like a cat swap meet and censorship committee meeting, and what could be scarier than that?”

It’s hard for those slick, cosmopolitan folks who didn’t grow up in  a flyover state to consider that some prepubescent children in Tennessee do manage to maintain a soupçon of  innocence well past their tenth birthdays. This is due primarily to the efforts, Todd Starnes would say,  of proud, finger-licking, Bible-clinging, gun-toting, son-of-a-Baptist Papa and Momma Bears.


Here’s what Eddie and I want to know (and we are posing these questions to every member of the Shelby County School Board):

  1. Do our public school officials believe this book is suitable for SCS elementary school students?
  2. Who approved this book for the shelves of an SCS elementary school (K-5) library?
  3. Did it slip through because a librarian only read the publisher’s glowing and innocuous version of its content; or did the librarian think it was a solid choice for our children?
  4. What are the policies governing the purchase of SCS library materials?

This is just one book, one incident, that came to our attention due to an alert and outraged Momma Bear. It represents a vast number of things that parents and even non-parents should know, but don’t, about today’s public school experience in Greater Memphis.

It’s time to get involved. It’s time to take a stand. Remember the slogan of Tennesseans Against Common Core:

if you aren't outraged

[For the benefit of those Back in River City readers below-a-certain-age who are scratching their heads, wondering if the Bobbsey Twins are hot NFL cheerleaders, uh, No. Here's their picture, and  you won't find them in manga or the aforementioned book.]

bobbsey twins in tulip land

Financing Retiree Health Care: What Can Memphis Learn from Shelby County?

February 27, 2014

Leaders in both Memphis and Shelby County are searching for savings in bloated government budgets. It’s hard to find the proverbial low-hanging fruit – i.e., easy cuts that are politically palatable.  Joe Saino, efficiency in government advocate and co-blogger, wrote last week about local government expenditures for retiree health care.  Why does Memphis spend approximately $3000 more per retiree for health care than does Shelby County? MLG&W’s cost per retiree is  over $1800 higher than Shelby County’s.

Find out  more below or at And while you’re there, sign up to follow Joe’s renowned watchdog blog.

Add your voice to the debate in our comments section below or on Back in River City’s Facebook page.

memphis shelby inform logoby Joe Saino

February 20, 2014

Health Care For Public Retirees

This is another huge cost area for which the taxpayers are paying. You are paying 70% of the health care cost for City of Memphis and Shelby County retirees and 75% of the cost for MLGW retirees. The bills come each year for medical care for retirees and their families and the current annual bills are paid by the City, County and the MLGW as they occur.

But like pension liability, there is a future cost liability that is supposed to be taken care of by the OPEB funds (Other Post Employment Benefits), mainly future health care costs and life insurance for retirees). This is where the problem lies, mainly with the City of Memphis, and to a lesser extent with the MLGW and Shelby County.

The unfunded OPEB liability for the City of Memphis is $1.29 billion dollars. For the MLGW it is $420 million and for Shelby County it is $305 million. That is close to $2 billion dollars.

In 2012, I calculated the cost of retiree health care cost per retiree paid by the taxpayers. For Memphis it was $8533, for MLGW it was $7440 and for Shelby County it was $5605.

Most of this problem comes from the following practice. When one retiree worked for the City of Memphis, MLGW or Shelby County, the other spouse and any children usually go onto the public plan as it is better and cheaper than any private insurance plan available to those who worked or work in the private sector. This is especially true since public people could retire after 25 years or less and would be well under social security age.

Shelby County recognized this problem in 2007 and required those retirees whose spouses were on Medicare to make Medicare the primary payer and Shelby County secondary. The City of Memphis is only now proposing to do this. Also the County cut back the 70%/30% sharing of cost to less generous sharing if the retiree had less than 25 years of service. The City is only now proposing this.

All in all, the City has dug their own hole and is only now trying to fill in the dirt they ignored. The MLGW has areas also that need reform but it is not yet come to the attention of the public because their finances come from your utility bill, not property taxes and they are on a calendar year whereas the City and the County are on a July1/June30 fiscal year. Also low cost natural gas (due to technological innovation) has worked to keep your utility bills down.

There is so much to be done during this critical budget season and we need the public to let their voices be heard for real reform and fiscal sanity.

Memphis and Tennessee Moms Bearish on School Reform (#5 in a series on Common Core)

February 23, 2014

Some things nobody needs to tell you. If you’re over 10, you just KNOW. Like,

Never Mess with a Momma Bear!

big mama bear and cubs

Momma bears have plenty to do, and will more or less go on about their business unless you start to messin’  with their cubs. But if you threaten the welfare of those little ones, watch out, because you can’t run fast enough to get away.

running bear

Momma Bears  in Shelby County have organized to protect their cubs  as the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative and related  school reforms has begun to reveal startling facts and yield disturbing results. The Momma Bears are one of a multitude of groups spanning both sides of the ideological divide that are pushing back hard and strong on what promises to be one of 2014′s hottest political issues in local, state, and even Congressional elections.

stop cc buttons

The massive school reforms now being implemented across the country will affect the life of every child and adult citizen, and are reshaping the philosophy and process of how America prepares future generations.

Now’s the time to know the facts (not just what you hear on radio commercials or what the local news lapdogs decide selectively to report)  about the sweeping changes in America’s education system  that are often collectively referred to as Common Core. If you are new to  Back in River City or have not followed our coverage on Common Core, check out our previous posts. Or, better yet, for the full story, take the time to watch the outstanding  video series produced by the American Principles Project available on YouTube.

Narrated by attorney Jane Robbins, the highly watchable series runs about  31 minutes  for all five videos. It provides a complete overview of the Common Core reform package ushered in by President Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) grants, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In 2010, forty-five governors committed their states to sweeping education reforms in competition for $4.35 billion in federal funds. In 2012, the Department of Education connected No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to RTTT reform commitments. Waivers have been  sought by at least 35  states to protect them from the harshest penalties associated with failure to achieve school performance goals set by NCLB for 2014.

stop common core symbol with points

Click on the links below to watch the video series.

Part 1: Stop the Common Core

Part 2: Stop the Common Core

Part 3: Stop the Common Core

Part 4: Stop the Common Core

Part 5: Stop the Common Core

Since Back in River City began  looking at the  Common Core State Standards Initiative  a year ago, nationwide resistance has snowballed, creating unexpected alliances that include unions and conservative politicians; progressive and traditional educators; child psychologists; “Badass Teachers” (BATs); and parents representing every ideological and sociodemographic category. Individual communities as well as the internet are ablaze as frustrated teachers and enraged parents report real-life results of the implementation of Common Core and the RTTT reforms, including:

  • K-3 standards that are developmentally inappropriate and are said by child psychologists to be “abusive to children”;
  • high-stakes testing that consumes literally months of classroom instruction time, including tests on material that children have not been taught;
  • widespread incidents of students – including the brightest and highest ranking – developing anxiety disorders and emotional/behavioral issues as they are subjected to unrealistic expectations and held to unreachable standards;

crying child cc

  • collection of non-academic, sensitive personal data about students and their parents made available to commercial vendors and researchers for questionable purposes;
  • privatization of public schools that threatens parental and local control;
  • standards-based teacher evaluations that are driving out even our best teachers in favor of inexperienced new college graduates who lack both education degrees and long-term commitment to teaching.

Two  Knox County, Tennessee high schoolers  attracted national attention for their eloquent denunciations of what Common Core was doing to their school. Ethan Young’s ethanfive minute school board presentation to the Knox County Board of Education (KCBOE) on November 6, 2013 has scored over 2 MILLION views on YouTube. Ethan gave a succinct expose of Common Core’s history and concept, which he called “an industrial model of school,”  and called for re-emphasis on America’s traditional teaching goals:  to free minds, to inspire, and to stimulate creativity and the joy of learning. He condemned punitive methods of teacher evaluation that ignore classroom factors beyond teachers’ control, such as student participation and interest.

Watch Ethan’s speech here.

Ethan’s  classmate Kenneth Ye appeared before  the KCBOE in December. Kenneth, an outstanding scholar with a long list of academic achievements, spoke as a product of bothkenneth ye the U.S. and Chinese educational systems. He compared the Common Core model with its dependence on standardized testing to a “one-size fits all factory of education,” saying that Common Core would squelch the “creative and inquisitive mindset” that distinguishes America’s system from China’s.  According to Kenneth, the primary product of the Chinese system (which Common Core emulates) is “test cramming.”

Kenneth also decried the corrupt process that is allowing for-profit companies to have deep influence over America’s public education policy. He cited as an example the billions to be made by Pearson Education,  U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest book publisher.

Click here to watch Kenneth’s video.

The Shelby County-based Momma Bears group organized after members of the Shelby County Council PTA  began sharing concerns about school issues affecting their children’s health, education, and privacy. Their diligent efforts have included a petition to recall State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, intensive research and preparation for resolutions passed by the Shelby County Council PTA to protect student privacy  and end high stakes testing, and a highly popular blog. Momma Bears are also sponsoring public meetings across Shelby County to raise awareness of consequences of school reforms implemented under RTTT/Common Core. Teachers and parents attend these meetings to share specific details about reform-era classroom life that are unknown to (and perhaps deliberately withheld from) many parents and Common Core supporters.

Most teachers are warned by their principals not to speak out against Common Core. Those who do, fear they are putting their jobs on the line. Despite the risk, more and more teachers are finding ways to expose the detrimental effects to children and learning that are taking place in their classrooms every day throughout Shelby County.

Momma Bears (and one Papa Bear) openly challenged State Senator Dolores Gresham when she spoke at the February Dutch Treat luncheon (videotape part 1 of 3 dolores gresham feb 15 2014here). Sen. Gresham is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and has accepted campaign funding from pro-Common Core advocacy group Stand for Children. She announced she has submitted several bills to the Tennessee General Assembly for consideration this session that will curtail or amend reforms put in place by First to the Top, as Gov. Haslam has dubbed Tennessee’s RTTT-funded education reform initiative.  The Momma Bears contend that none of Sen. Gresham’s bills has “teeth” to stop the abuses they see under First to the Top.

Momma Bears are all about teeth.

angry mama bear

Tennessee Against Common Core, headed by East Tennessee grandmom Karen Bracken, continues to lead a formidable effort against Common Core reforms, engaging voters and lobbying state legislators. The grassroots advocacy group publishes an information-packed, twice-weekly newsletter; is holding weekly conference calls throughout the legislative session; and keeps tabs on Common Core advocacy and push-back efforts throughout Tennessee and the U.S. The group is currently raising funds to broadcast radio commercials telling the whole truth about Common Core to counter those now being aired by Businesses for Tennessee Prosperity, a coalition of the chambers of commerce for Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.

State Senator Mae Beavers and House Rep. Rick Womick have tn capitolintroduced bills to repeal Common Core State Standards in Tennessee. It is uncertain if they will receive the necessary approval by education subcommittee and committee chairs to reach a floor vote. It is highly unlikely that any bill undoing a commitment made in Tennessee’s Race to the Top application would be signed by Gov. Haslam, who sits on the board of Achieve, the Gates-supported not for profit organization responsible for orchestrating the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

At the end of the day,  federalism is a key issue determining the future of First to the Top in Tennessee. Can a state law be enacted that reneges on commitments Tennessee made to the federal government in exchange for $501 million? RTTT compliance requirements stated in the November 18, 2009 Federal Register suggest that a state awarded RTTT funds that fails to meet its “goals, timelines, budget or annual targets or is not fulfilling other applicable requirements” could be subject to enforcement measures including being put on “reimbursement payment status” or having funds delayed or withheld. 

Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Pearson, Achieve and other too-smart-for-the-rest-of-us reformers engineered a brilliant political scheme to wrest control of local education from 45 states and change how students are taught, what they are taught, and why – that is, for what purpose – they are taught.

They pulled it off without a hitch, with lots of feel good, hope-and-change pants on firerhetoric; public relations smoke and mirrors; rivers of cash from Gates et al;  business leaders and politicians who bought the lie of more rigorous standards, a silver bullet for failing schools, and better prepared workers/college students (shades of “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”); and a wealth of lazy or complicit journalists. Their agenda is now locked into place, secured by the threat of losing ongoing federal funding or paying back billions already received.

Or is it? Just as  Obamacare began to unravel when we found out what was in it, the truth about Common Core is coming out every day in classrooms from K-12 all over the country.  Brave teachers are exposing the egregious flaws in the system.  Children are bringing home absurd and appalling assignments and telling their parents about invasive surveys integrated into standardized tests.

math homework

Big Data, Big Textbook Companies, Big IT, and Big Government should not assume their dreams of wealth and power will all be realized, because now the Momma Bears and Papa Bears are on to their game.

The conversation about education in America is only beginning for parents who demand what’s right and best for their children. It’s your turn, Momma and Papa and GrandBears.

democracy and cc resistance

Back in River City will continue to highlight Common Core and school reform issues affecting Greater Memphis. But school reform is frankly too big and complex for our little blog to cover in detail, so we encourage you to follow or join one of the groups listed below for daily news and in-depth coverage on this important subject.

Momma Bears of Tennessee

Tennessee Against Common Core

Tennessee Parents Reclaiming Public Education

Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREES)

Stop Common Core in Tennessee (Facebook group)

Stop the TN Testing Madness (Facebook group)

As always, we welcome your comments, here and on our Back in River City Facebook page.

5 things to stop cc

Looking Closer at Memphis’ Line of Duty Disability Payments

February 14, 2014

What could be more essential to a City of Memphis  budget than protecting our courageous, frontline fire and police protectors from the financial ravages of disabling line of duty injuries?

Unless it’s making sure that line of duty disability payouts are made after careful scrutiny of applicants’ cases, and that all approved cases are merited.

Today at, our favorite government watchdog Joe Saino raises the issue of line of duty disability reform. Twelve million dollars a year is a significant budget line item. Joe wants to know why City of Memphis line of duty disability payments are ten times that of Shelby County Government or MLG&W. Fair question.

jason webbJoe also wants to know why Jason Webb, a rather infamous, twice-fired Memphis policeman who filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Memphis Police Department, was recently awarded $3000 a month for life in line of duty disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you aren’t already a subscriber to (and you should be), Back in River City is reprinting today’s article below.

Share your thoughts with Joe Saino here or at


Line Of Duty Disability Reform

by Joe Saino

February 13, 2014

There are lots of things that need reform in the Memphis pension system and we have talked about the need for going to a defined contribution system rather than the current defined benefit system. Hopefully we will get there if the Mayor and the City Council do the right thing.

However I have often spoken about the need for line of duty disability reform. The Memphis pension board regularly approves applications for line of duty disability applications and has ten times more former employees on line of duty disability than Shelby County government or the MLGW. (These people on line of duty disability get 60% of their final average salary for their lifetime tax free).

Now I find out from Jeni Diprizio (a great reporter for Channel 24) that last month (January 30, 2014) Jason Webb applied for and received approval for a line of duty disability at a yearly disability payment of $34,103.28, tax free for life. Here is the City of Memphis pension board agenda in January.

Who is Jason Webb? Here is the channel 24 article about him.  According to Jeni Diprizio, the line of duty disability application was approved because Mr. Webb said that he had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as a result of the Lester Street killings.

Let me know what you think about this line of duty disability giant hole in our City of Memphis pension system. Through this hole we are pouring out over $12 million dollars per year, ten times as much as Shelby County government and the MLGW.

Memphis’ New Financial and Strategic Plan – Just What You Need to Know

February 12, 2014

What’s your take on Memphis’ newly released Multi-year Strategic Fiscal and Management Plan? You know, the 182-page document that outlines recommendations and strategies that will determine what our city will look like in 2019?


Or maybe your To Do list has a few hundred items of greater urgency ahead of that light reading. Not to worry. Joe Saino of MemphisShelbyInform and Back in River City are on task. We are both in the process of reading and analyzing the plan and will highlight specific issues that you should know about in a series of future posts. Already, Joe has published a post explaining  his own Hybrid Pension Plan that could save the City money and give public employees a better deal than Social Security. Read his  February 3, 2014 post, A New Idea, Trust Free Enterprise here.

hands off pension and benefits

On February 6th, Joe exposed gross waste and inefficiency in the management of the City’s employee health care contributions. Read $9 Million Blown Over Three Years here and today’s follow up, Health Care! What Does It Cost?here.

searching dog with magnifying glass

Joe spares no detail when he investigates public spending. Greater Memphians are blessed to have a government watchdog of his caliber on duty, and Back in River City is proud to be in cahoots with him. 

So, rest easy. Read to your kids, have a glass of wine with your spouse, or  grab a good book for yourself with that 20 minutes of discretionary time you’ve managed to squeeze out of the day. We’ve got you covered on this one.  Remember, it’s everybody’s city; we’re all in this together; and these tough times call for wiser and better decision-making from our elected and appointed officials.

Watch for our updates here at Back in River City and and get involved!

Confessions of a Memphis Beatlemaniac

February 10, 2014

February 9, 1964.  A day that birthed a generation. A day that rocked my snug little twelve-year old white Memphis girl world and changed it forever.

john and paul singing

Even today, I cannot listen to a song from their early albums, cannot view a black and white photo from those three historic performances on the Ed Sullivan Show, cannot watch a clip from A Hard Day’s Night, that my heart doesn’t swell in my chest so that I can scarcely breathe, that it doesn’t threaten to burst with the wrenching, pulsating ache of still-vivid memories of those magic years, those precious few years.

“Hello, my name is Eve, and I’m a Beatlemaniac.”


I was born at the perfect time to adore the Beatles. In 1964, I was in the seventh grade at Richland Jr. High. (It’s now the site of White Station Middle School, the Spartans having won the ultimate battle over the Raiders, green-and-gray trumping blue-and-gold.)

Memory flashback:

Our small, seventh-through-ninth grade suburban school was  filled with good teachers and decent kids, presided over by the fearsome (to our eyes) principal Mr. Barnes. As I recall, the most serious discipline problem Mr. Barnes faced  from our class that year came from  the girls. Fashion-conscious boys that year were wearing button-down collared, oxford cloth shirts with pleats in the back. Your shirt had to have a pleat in the back to be  authentically cool. And not just a pleat, mind you, but a pleat crowned by a loop of cloth. Wear that number as a cute seventh grade boy at Richland Jr. High in early 1964, and you were chick bait, Mister. All the girls would gaggle up (def. gaggle: gather up with giggles) after the first class period to share intelligence about which boys were wearing loops today.  Then, the few, the  brave, the truly bold (as few of us pre-teen girls were at that age and in that age)  would claim our prey for the day in a defiant whisper:

“Today, I will take Bobby Schindler’s loop!”

Sometime, during the day, when the opportunity presented itself, the female warrior, with stealth and cunning, would sneak up behind her prey, with one swift movement snatch the loop and jerk it from the shirt, then disappear with shrieks of laughter into the waiting gaggle. If this covert operation was executed properly, the startled youth would never be quite sure which girl had grabbed his loop.  Most of the guys went along with this deviant social behavior for awhile.  A patched shirt was props that girls had singled you out for attention. But, alas, our hijinks were short-lived.  Regrettably, the more expensive the shirt, the less willing its fine stitching was to yield the desired prize. Too many shirts were ripped, mothers were riled, and then the jig was up. (Ah, but ’tis fine memories they are to us gray-haired grannies.)

(Shout out to Ray Gill: I still have your loop.)

As seventh graders, we were all eager to taste the sophisticated, grown-up world that beckoned to us from just beyond our next birthdays, when we would be Teenagers. (Cue trumpet fanfare. No, make that Memphis horns.) Oh, the fun we would have!  For the very axis of our big green marble turned around the exciting life of the American Teenager, we were most certain.  It was barely two months since our first gymnasium sock hop had been abruptly cancelled on Friday, November 23, 1963. We were still shaken a little, confused, alarmed, wondering what it all meant that a president of the United States could be gunned down in a welcoming parade.  But we could forget all that tonight, when the Beatles would be on Ed Sullivan!

Although the youngest of the three Yeargain girls, I was the only one of us who had already become a fan.  One day in late January, I was invited to a neighbor’s house after school, where she unveiled her latest aspirational teen treasure, the just-released Meet the Beatles. The unfamiliar music took time to find my comfort level.   The half-shadowed, mop-topped faces on the cover were more curious that fetching.


But over the next few weeks, as we listened and learned about the British phenomenon that was soon coming to our shores, my excitement and affection for the music grew. Something wondrous was about to happen, something that was captivating to Teenagers, and I knew that I was entering the much-anticipated chapter of Eve’s personal New World Order.

And the night of February 9, 1964 did not disappoint.

What was it about the Beatles that upended normal teenage life in countries around the world? Many books and dissertations  have been written on the subject.  But on behalf of those of us who were there, who lived it from the beginning and are still infected with a few drops of Beatlemania in our blood, I’d say it was timing, timing, timing, and yes, it was also the music. Their music will outlive Paul and Ringo, and everyone who ever heard the Beatles live or on vinyl or film during the 1960′s.

But what made the Beatles different to me was their joy. To see these young men on their first  trip to America in 1964, in the earliest days of their worldwide fame; to see them in A Hard Day’s Night; to hear them on those first, few drug-free albums; was to see pure, unbridled joy, a dream come alive for four ordinary young men. You could  see the wonder in their eyes, the Is-this-Really-Happening? puzzlement. You could almost see Ringo thinking, “Well, this is a bit of a giggle  for now, but if it goes away I can still go to hairdresser’s school.”

But my Beatlemania was also about being just the right age for a first mad crush, and being able – no, expected! – to share details of the object of my innocent passion with at least one-quarter of all teenaged girls everywhere I went. To be female and a Beatles fan, it was requisite to be hopelessly enamored with one of the band members. You had to choose one to be the sole object of your devotion, one name to scream, one to pin the hopes of your romantic future upon. Your choice said something about your personality, so whenever you met another Paul lover, or George lover, or Ringo lover, you knew instantly that you shared certain traits. John, unfortunately for him, was considered hands-off, being then married to Cynthia and unattainable.

By the summer of 1964, I was hooked. My life revolved around music and Paul McCartney. It was the summer of the British Invasion, and never before nor since has so much extraordinary music been released over such a  short span of time. My friends and I listened to WMPS and WHBQ all waking hours when we weren’t listening to Meet the Beatles, The Beatles Second Album, A Hard Day’s Night, or Something New. Or writing our own “Beatles Stories,” infinite variations on the theme:

He saw me sitting in the front row. His eyes met mine, and he knew I was different from all the other girls. . . 

I went to Camp Miramichee that summer. All I could think of was that when we returned home to Memphis, A Hard Day’s Night would be out. It was showing at the Park Theater. I think the first showing was around noon. I convinced my mother to drop my friend Kathy and me off at 7:30 a.m., where we were first in line, but not for long. I don’t recall what provisions we brought for the long wait, but I do remember the sheets. I had the brilliant idea of bringing old sheets and pillowcases to the show.

park theater

I really should stop here and give a prize to the first one who is successful at telling me what the sheets were for.  Anybody?

I don’t remember if I was the only one in the theatre with this particular prop. No one existed in that movie theater for me but the four young men on the screen. It was all too overwhelming, too much to bear. There they were, in front of us – bigger than life! in close-up! singing! Being joyful and entirely too adorable for words.  So, we did what we had to do. We SCREAMED! Hundreds of us, screaming, shrieking, crying, bawling, mewling, while our heroes frolicked and sang on black and white film,  winning our hearts with sheer winsomeness.

Okay, so here’s where the sheets came in.  To give an outlet to my unrequited passion, I tore the sheets up while I screamed. It was sheet therapy.

The following summer, the Summer of ’65, I was just as in love with music, and just as obsessed with the Beatles.  I wrote a fervent letter to Ed Sullivan, thanking him for making my life worth living. I also entered – and won! –  WMPS’ Meet the Beatles contest. To enter,  I explained in 25 words:

 Why I’m Going to Spend the Summer with WMPS

Hearing my name called out as the winner on the radio was a moment that cannot be equaled for sheer shock and elation. The prize was two tickets to see the Beatles in New Orleans on their second U.S. tour. That August, my mother escorted Kathy and me on a trip that was surely memorable, but more for the rarity of the event than the experience itself.  Watching four stick figures on a stage halfway across a stadium (in an era preceding today’s high quality amplification and massive projection screens)  left a bit to be desired. Since we couldn’t hear anything above the screams, they could have been anyone up there.

It was much better the summer before in the dark Park Theater with the big screen and my sheets.

As the summer of 1965 waned,  little did I suspect, so was my Beatlemania. I was furious when I heard Dr. Joyce Brothers’ explanation of my lovesickness,

“There is nothing so passionate as a 13 year old girl.”

She further ascribed the ardor young girls had for the Beatles as a safe experiment: romance without sex. The long hair – girlish, unmasculine, safe. I hated her.

But Dr. Brothers was right –  about me, anyway.  As the Beatles journeyed into the darkness of  drugs and “enlightenment,” and I learned with horror that they weren’t quite the clean-cut, wholesome lads that Brian Epstein had Colonel Parker-ed them into to heighten their  mass appeal, my inner flame began to flutter.  I was what I was – straight, provincial, an innocent  little Memphis girl, not quite ready for the rest of the sixties.

After Beatles ’65, their songs didn’t automatically thrill me. While I maintained my loyalty to the genius of the music for many more years, the Beatles – John, Paul, George, and Ringo – moved on, and so did I. By August 19, 1966, it was over. When the Beatles made their first Memphis appearance at the Coliseum, Kathy’s mom and dad graciously bought tickets and invited me to join the three of them. It was a bit awkward. Kathy and I were no longer good friends, and neither of us needed a sheet to tear.  I felt sad that night. Another flutter of the flame.

But the heart knows what the heart loves. Through the years, as I more or less confronted adulthood and accepted that life and people have flaws, I began to love the Beatles again. The more I aged, the more acutely I remembered the joy and the passion and the sheer unadulterated rush of being twelve and thirteen and on the very threshold of life, and the miracle of having something wonderful and glorious that all teenagers shared.

ringo mr conductorBeatles tribute bands don’t bring it back for me, nor did taking Nelson to see Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band play in San Antonio years ago. (We both so wanted the nerve to shout out, “Mr. Conductor!” at a quiet moment in the concert, but we were too chicken. I still regret that.) But some things still bring it back, that old feeling of my heart about to burst from my chest, of ripping sheets and experiencing elation:

  • Hearing Beatles music, suddenly fresh again, as interpreted by the bluesy Memphis sound of Fried Glass Onions, or
  • Listening to Phil Collins rock “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” on  George Martin’s In My Life album, or
  • Watching That Thing You Do, Tom Hanks’ Valentine to boomers, which captures that tng you dothe time and the feeling like no other movie for me (especially the scene where the band hears their song on the radio for the first time and flies into the appliance store to share the moment with the Bass Player and his too-dorky parents – pure joy!) and
  • Anytime I see a Mike Mitchell black and white photograph from this date, 50 years ago:


Table 24, your pizza is ready.


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