Saturday, June 03, 2006

Nashville Music Zines, Part Two

Let's clear the air before we begin discussing The Metro. Gus Palas was an asshole of the first degree, a manipulating conman whose promises never lived up to the reality. Over the seven years or so that Gus published The Metro, he ripped off, pissed off and disappointed a hell of a lot of people. As The Metro's main contributor throughout its run -- the zine's music editor and resident critic, as well as photographer, graphic artist and all-around whipping boy -- nobody (and I mean nobody) got ripped off by or pissed off at good ol' Gus more than the kindly Reverend. After all, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Palas through thick and thin, defended him at the risk of my own reputation, and went out on a limb for the rag more than once.

It all started during the summer of 1985. At the urging of Bernie Sheehan (the madman and visionary that tried to get the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame to locate in Nashville), I received a phone call from Gus Palas. Bernie had told him that I was the "go-to" guy around town, the one writer that he needed on the staff of his new magazine. I bought into Gus' vision of a local music magazine and offered my dubious expertise to get the thing off the ground. The Metro got off to a rocky start, with Gus overestimating the meager (unpaid) staff's ability to crank out a zine every two weeks, and overestimating the amount of ad revenue the publication would pull in. From a gloomy basement office in an alleyway off Belmont Boulevard, we laid out and published the first half-dozen or so issues of The Metro in a cocaine-fueled haze.

Over the next seven years, Gus would keep the rag going by hook or by crook, publishing on a shoestring budget, frequently changing office spaces when the unpaid rent would prompt a "midnight move." When local typesetters would no longer work on the rag without cash in advance, Gus scraped up the money to buy some Mac computers and do the lay-out and design in-house. He ran the magazine out of seedy offices (Melrose, Music Row), a nightclub (The Cannery) and his own apartment. Somehow, Gus got The Metro on the street more often than not.

There was a period, around 1985/86 or so, when Gus was off playing rock star with the Simmons brothers and their band the Stand. During this year, Gus abdicated his role in the magazine to a bunch of Vandy kids, pretty much duplicating the same error that Thom King had made with Take One Magazine a decade earlier. During his absence, this writer was marginalized by the new staff and the magazine took off in a different direction, with a more "artistic," hipper vibe. Palas returned from his hiatus in mid-87 and took over the reins of The Metro from the Vandy grads that were running it.

When this group of disgruntled former staffers were shown the door in a powerplay between them and Palas, they started up the short-lived Fireplace Whiskey Journal. Launched in the spring of 1988 by former Metro editor Kath Hansen along with writer Tom Wood, his girlfriend Nikki Pendleton, Regina Gee and local musician Lee Carr, Fireplace Whiskey Journal drew the line in the sand. You were either for Gus Palas or you were against him.

In the zine's first issue, Wood fired off the salvo "In Defense Of The Metro," a sarcastically titled editorial criticizing Palas for poor business decisions, his inability to keep a strict publishing schedule and...horror of horrors...for wasting ink on bands like Metallica. This writer shot off a response to Wood's smug editorial, defending Palas and The Metro (and, by extension, my own work). The Fireplace Whiskey Journal's ruling council refused to publish my rebuttal piece in "their forum," which, of course, prompted another response on my part. Why dredge up ancient history over two publications that no longer exist? Because I was right, dammit, and they were wrong!

As I wrote at the time, "all of the creative efforts of every Nashville musician, poet or painter won't add up to shit if nobody outside of Davidson County is exposed to them. To this end, The Metro has served to represent Nashville culture to the world...not totally, nor flawlessly, but as adequate and balanced a forum as is possible in what is an advertiser-supported publication." I concluded my tirade with, "like it or not, Gus Palas has done more to promote local talent of ALL kinds, from alternative acts to heavy metal and all who stand in between, than the whole lot of prancing, posing, pseudo-intellectual rich kids and snobbish Vandy grads slumming for a semester or two down on Elliston Place." And, in retrospect, this was true. Yes, we put Bon Jovi on the cover of the very first issue, in August 1985, but we also put cult L.A. cowpunk band the Screamin' Sirens on the cover of number two.

Throughout the history of The Metro, I personally wrote stories on local talent like Dessau, the Dusters, In Pursuit, F.U.C.T., Jet Black Factory, Jason & the Scorchers, Webb Wilder, Threk Michaels, Chagall Guevara and Aashid Himmons, among many others. We also pursued stories of national importance, and provided important coverage to artists like R.E.M., Billy Bragg, Faith No More, Mojo Nixon, the Ramones and King's X. The Metro's eclectic editorial direction often provoked grumbles among local scenesters that we gave coverage to our friends, or that you could buy your way into the rag which, in one sorry instance (the unfortunate Whyte Lace incident) proved true. However, on my part, I wrote about bands that I liked, or those that contacted the magazine and asked for a story, and I was never paid a dime by Gus or anybody else (tho' Tom Littlefield and Kenny McMahan did buy beer on a few occasions).

The Metro became a force to be reckoned with around its fifth anniversary, shortly after Gus had hooked up with Lisa Hays and Lisa became the rag's de facto managing editor. A ground-breaking interview with Tipper Gore at the height of the PMRC controversy prompted an outraged Jello Biafra to pull out a copy of the magazine on Oprah Winfrey's national show, flashing The Metro on screen and quoting from the interview. This led to my interview with the Dead Kennedys frontman and more national attention. We became one of the first publications in the country to write about Living Colour, Sepultura and Stealin' Horses. We published Andrew Eldritch's favorite Sisters of Mercy article and championed free speech in Nashville's punk underground. The magazine sponsored three "Nashville Music Awards" bashes and could boast of readers from across the country and in Europe.

In the end, though, Gus was a pretty shabby businessman and there was never enough money to support The Metro. Although the magazine had always attracted talented writers -- folks like Rebecca Luxford, Brian Mansfield (now a USA Today writer), Bill Spicer and old school scribes like Andy Anderson, Thom King and yours truly -- The Metro went dark sometime late-1991/early-92. When Gus resurfaced after a ten month hiatus, it was to sell what was left of The Metro to WRLT-FM, Radio Lightning, which published it for a few months and changed the name (and editorial focus) to follow the interests of the station. Thus was Bone Music Magazine born, in part three of this series....

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gus was easy to love to hate. I made it a point to be a thorn in his side every chance I got. I too, wrote for the Metro for about two issues before he started changing my words to fit his desires. One good thing he did though was buying the lease to the Pantheon back around 1990. It caused House O Pain to seek out other venues to do their all ages shows which led to a very good run of 6 years at Lucy's Record Shop. Thanks Gus!

DK

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

man, that brought back memories. we got entangled with gus right around the end of your timeline...

eric v

2:53 AM  
Blogger Rev. Keith A. Gordon said...

I have deleted a comment above by a reader named "Marc" that leveled several potentially libelous accusations at Gus Palas.

I haven't had contact with Gus in 15 years, but after receiving a letter from him, and considering his request to remove the post in question, I agree that it was indeed a "malicious attack," and with no way to possibly verify the truthfulness of the post, I removed it from the site.

Funny, though, that Gus didn't question me calling him an "asshole," but I guess that's all water under the bridge. I wish him and wife Lisa the best of luck with their endeavors.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Nicki said...

Thanks for the hat tip. It's "Nicki" Pendleton Wood.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Classic Rock Shots said...

It was I Bernie Walters not Bernie whoever from Nashville that tried to start the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and who was Gus's partner in various ventures for years and yes who finally parted ways with Gus also. He at least TRIED!!!!!

1:59 PM  
Blogger Classic Rock Shots said...

It was I Bernie Walters not Bernie whoever from Nashville that tried to start the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and who was Gus's partner in various ventures for years and yes who finally parted ways with Gus also. He at least TRIED!!!!!

2:00 PM  

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