A Short History of Nashville Fandom
[Believe it or not, this actually has been pared down a bit, by TKFW.]
1963-70 - In various combinations John , Ken & Dan go to worldcons in DC (1963), Cleveland (1966), St. Louis (1969), New York (1970) and Boston (1971). The trio start going to MidwestCon every year and to the Atlanta DSCs.
++++The Nashville Science Fiction Club
1971 - In the spring, John receives a flyer from Meade Frierson promoting the newly founded (by Meade) SFC. It contains a list of all known fans in the south. This inspires John to start a local SF club with a mass mailing based on Meade's list. The club meets in an upstairs storeroom of the Green Hills Theatre, which is managed by Richard Cornwall, a friend of Ken’s. The meeting room boasts 2 metal chairs, a broken couch, a large pile of bags of pre-popped popcorn and one bare light bulb dangling on a frayed cord from the ceiling.
In May Dan returns from graduate school for the 2nd meeting of the club, at which John is elected President, Dan is elected Secretary/Treasurer. Eric Jamborsky, who is also a movie buff, provided occasional programming by showing 8mm movies in his collection on a borrowed projector. Other members from this period include Alan Luck and Brandy Brandon.
After-the-meeting meetings immediately start at Joe's Village Inn located 2 blocks away. Dan & John go to their 2nd MidwestCon. Each thinks the other brought the flyer with the map. Arriving in Cincinnati, Dan immediately takes the wrong interstate. "This does not look at all like the road we used last year," he says. Now it is discovered there is no flyer (or map). Dan gets a wild idea, rolls down the car window and sticks his head outside. "Con, bheer, con suite," he mutters, as he sniffs the air. The sniffing is entirely symbolic, as Dan has no sense of smell at all. Dan then navigates entirely by instinct and soon arrives at the con motel. Later, looking at a map, it is discovered that he took the most direct possible route to the motel. This ceremony is used again several times over the years, always with the same positive results.
1972 - The club attendance stabilizes at around 12 people per meeting, but the mailing list grows to 120 people. The club gets stuck with the next Upper South Clave (Kubla Khan I). Irvin Koch becomes a regular attendee, along with his infamous "Black Box," a small trunk filled with those fanzines he wants to get rid of. Irv usually sells about half of them at every meeting. Irv, unlike most fans, is not infected with pack-rat syndrome.
Sometime that year, Dan, who is writing the monthly flyer (on a post card to save postage—remember the 120-person mailing list) decides the club would retain more members if we moved to a better location. More than one light bulb would help. The first Club Palace Coup is organized and Dan becomes club president. It is unclear who became Secretary-Treasurer.
1973 - The club grows due to an influx of fans, such as Dick & Carol Stafford, from the first Kubla Khan in May. By the fall, the club and Kubla are being "run" by a fairly tight, self-appointed oligarchy of Ken Moore, John Hollis, Dan Caldwell, Eric Jamborsky, Dick & Carol Stafford, and Brandy Brandon. They irreverently refer to themselves as "The SMOF," because they aren't secret and can't manage anything. Sometime in the fall, The Smof begin a winter of non-stop partying. They met at someone's house during weeknights and on weekends hold 48 hour non-stop sessions at Dan’s place — actually it belongs to his mother and Dan is basically housesitting — the rent is cheap. It is a largish 2 story, full attic, full basement, 4 bedroom monster with 3 double beds, 2 single beds, and 2 couches. Everyone has at least part of a mattress to sleep on. Several of these follow NSFC meetings, with out-of-town fans, and resemble small relaxacons.
NSFC meetings will no longer fit into Ken’s house, so sometime during the year, Ken finds us another meeting place in the club room of the Melrose First American Bank. bheer & ice procurement, (and keeper of the bheer monies) becomes an important official position. Allen Steele, age 15 (now world famous S.F. writer) is appointed Official Juvenile Delinquent. Attendance swells to 35-45 fans per meeting. Eric Jamborsky shows films almost every month, as this is the most popular programming item, and keeps the maximum number of members (mostly) quiet during the meeting. About 1/2 to 1/3 of the attendees congregate in the parking lot to discuss other things.
The club has active members in Louisville, Milan TN & Chattanooga. fans from Knoxville, Memphis, Atlanta and Huntsville occasionally visit. Meeting attendance peaks at 55, with fans present from all the above locations except Atlanta. The mailing list keeps trying to top 200, and is kept in check only by culling every 3 months or so. Irvin announces that the Nashville club has the largest active membership of any SF club between the east and west coasts. Eventually, many of these out-of-town members will start clubs and/or conventions in their hometowns and stop coming to NSFC meetings.
Sometime in 1973 Dan meets Fran Bray while collecting dues at a club meeting. Dan has been sending flyers to both her mother, Mary Bray (who can get to meetings only occasionally) and to a Courtenay Bray. Dan looks at Fran and says "Why you must be Courtenay's sister." Wrong!! Fran is Courtenay. One thing leads to another and, in the fall of 1975, Dan and Fran Bray take up residence together. This will last through various moves until 1982. In 1994, fate arranges for Fran to become Dan’s landlady.
1974-9 In Nov. 1973, Dan resigns as club president because of job schedule conflicts. Eric Jamborsky takes over in 2nd Club Palace Coup. Ericresigns in summer 1974. Ken becomes Club President-for-life, or at least until 1990 or so.
The club grows again due to a large influx of fans from Kubla II. At some point the Melrose Bank closes its meeting room. The club moves to a similar meeting room at the Fidelity Federal bank on Nolensville Road.
Khen proposes that we have a chili bash at one of the winter club meetings. This activity becomes one of the club's most popular events (feed the starving fen and they will crawl out of the woodwork). It is usually the largest meeting of the year. In Feb. 1977, attendance reaches an all time high, when 60+ fans attend the club chili bash that month.
The last meeting at the Fidelity Federal is in August because the bank wants its meeting room back. In September the club meets at Ken’s house. In October the club moves to the Cumberland Science Museum, where it still meets today (1996).
About 1985, the NSFC Christmas and Chili bash parties were so large that we could not fit them into the regular meeting space or a members house. So they were moved to the former Days Inn motel on Murfreesboro Road. The motel is known to fans as the "Blue Bag Inn" because the new owners dealt with the old Days Inn sign by simply putting a large blue "bag" over it.
The motel had a large number of small suites with a sitting room, sleeping room and a small kitchen. It was a great place for parties that lasted all night, as many fans could sleep over. And no one had a house to clean the next day. The NSFC had its Chili Bash and Christmas Party there for several years.
[IMAGE: Kubla Khan Census Logo]
In 1986, 80+ fans attend the NSFC club Christmas party at the Blue Bag Inn. Rickey Sheppard brings a seafood gumbo concoction named Khen's Horror because it consists of seafood, rice, toadies (mushrooms) and cottage cheese, all of which Khen loathes.
Strange things used to happen at Joe's. Both Kubla I and a bheer were planned there. One night several fen were sitting in a booth and John was staring at a sign of a pleasant wilderness scene with a waterfall. John suddenly realized that it would look great as a label for a bottle of bheer. The other fans started thinking up advertising slogans, and even a name for the brew. Thus was born AULD BLADDER-BURST, "The Father of Waters," "the bheer that made Milwaukee run."
John decided that a bottle with such a fine label really deserved some contents worthy of the name. Eric Jamborsky had given John a beer-making kit, which John had already successfully used, so opening a micro-brewery was mostly a matter of expanding existing production.
A few months later John took a sample of the new product to a club meeting. Reaction was…mixed. There were these strange brown bottles, each with a handmade Bladderburst label, containing a strange tasting, thick brown liquid. It was not a "clear" bheer, John explained, because he had to use the natural carbonation process, by adding more yeast just before he bottled it. The yeast produced CO2 and died off, leaving a thick sludge in the bottom of the bottle. On the other hand, the stuff was as high a proof as a bheer could get without freezing it.
On the other other hand, this meant that the bheer was under considerable pressure. Unfortunately, John 's capping machine was barely adequate and top were prone to burst off at odd and unpredictable moments. Like the time John was taking a new batch to Eric Jamborsky. The jostling of the car only increased the pressure, tops flew, and bheer spewed over the car interior and John . John arrived at his destination, wet, but grateful for not having come to the attention of the fuzz and trying to explain that he had not had a drink…honest.
John made a batch every so often with varied results. Some batches were almost undrinkable and others very good indeed. The problem was that John did not have the equipment to maintain the yeast strains and had to start with a new packet of yeast each time.
Of course, Auld Bladderburst was in the Kubla bathtub that year. Some fans drank several bottles of it, others took one sip, looked at the contents, put the bottle down and walked quietly away. Still other were inspired to concoct new slogans for the Bladderburst advertising campaign and tape them to the bathtub wall. Like "At last a bheer you can chew on," and "Not a bheer to be drunk early in the evening."
John 's enthusiasm waned as the problem of flavor quality remained unsolved. Eventually, the giant crock in which Bladderburst was brewed was broken and never replaced. Auld Bladderburst is now but a fannish memory. Besides, now we have Swill.
++++The Invention of Swill
About 1983, maybe earlier, a new drink is invented at a NSFC party. It consists of vodka, with orange and grape juice which supply vitamins that the alcohol kills off in the body. It is actually good for you…well, less bad for you than straight booze. A contest develops for a name for this concoction. Dan suggests Nashville Kikapoo Joy Juice —but no one recognizes the reference. Dan then suggests SWILL, a name which seems to describe the product, especially as real swill is always made in trash cans (for the flavor). The drink has been prominently featured at Nashville room parties ever since. "The roar of the blender, the smell of the Swill."
[IMAGE: Swill Recipe]
In 1979, an alternate club Sercon was formed. As the name suggests it was to be devoted to "serious" discussions of almost anything. The members were all drawn from the NSFC. Meetings were held at various members' houses, including Barbara Harmon's and Dan & Fran's. Meetings lasted about 6 months, but the club never caught on and eventually died.
In 1980, Dan and Fran returned from their short stay in Louisville and Ft. Wayne. Dan felt that club programming got in the way of what everyone really wanted to do—talk non-stop. During a club meeting everyone would be happily chatting away when they had to be stopped (sometimes forcibly) for announcements and what programming was scheduled for that evening. So in Oct. 1980 Dan started BEMS, a separate club, which met in the duplex apartment on Caylor Drive that he and Fran shared.
BEMS was composed mostly of fans from the NSFC, with a few others who had dropped out of the club. Attendance averaged between 20-30 fans. Late in 1982, when Dan & Fran split up, BEMS moved to Castle Chaos on Compton Ave. inhabited by Fran Bray, Maurice Lewis, Melissa Walker and Sharon Roberson. Dan still ran the club until the fall, when he moved to Atlanta for 7 years. Fran then took over as the head of BEMS. In Feb. 1984, Fran moved out of Castle Chaos and BEMS met in various houses for the rest of the year.
In 1986, we used the same suite for BEMS on Friday night and a NSFC club party on Saturday night. Several people including Steve and Sue Francis came in from out of town. A lot of people slept over both nights. On Saturday night, around 4 am, a very brazen and quiet burglar came in through an unlocked sliding door into a suite where at least a dozen people were sleeping (ok, some were passed out). Dan woke up when he heard the door slide shut. Eventually, everyone was awake and checking his/her belongings. A few had purses rifled or wallets lifted, but Rocky Halleron had lost his pants.
For some reason, no one wanted to go back to that motel, so in 1987, BEMS and various NSFC parties moved to another motel further down Murfreesboro Road. It sported a variety of names, over the years and was last known as Travel Lodge South. This motel was even better, because it had a pool we could use during the summer months.
In 1992, Fran went into gafia and gave up control of BEMS. It met for a while at Rick Dunnings' apartment and then quietly died. There was a hiatus of several months until Dan moved back from Atlanta and revived BEMS, again at Travel Lodge South. In 1994 we started having trouble with our reservations there and moved everything to the houses of individual fans. BEMS currently rotates between the homes of Dan Caldwell (summer only), James Fulkerson, Tom & Lee Billings and occasionally others.
While BEMS was started by those who felt the NSFC had too much programming others felt that the NSFC was not serious enough, and had too little programming. In July 1986 a group led by Nancy Holland, Barbara Harmon and Beth Gwinn split off from the NSFC to start MTSFA (The Middle Tennessee Science Fiction Association). MTSFA also took up residence at the Cumberland Science Museum, meeting on a different night from the NSFC. Although there is a considerable overlap in membership, about half of the MTSFA members dropped out of the NSFC meetings.
++++Nashville Clubs Through the '80s & '90s
All 3 clubs had a large overlap in membership. Both BEMS and MTSFAs had memberships almost as large as NSFC for many years. But in the '90s they all dwindled considerably. Many of the younger members went off to college, to new jobs or just drifted away. Although individual members of the various clubs tried to recruit new members, the intake of new fans was never able to keep up with membership losses.
The New Year's Parties at Ken's Place
In 1973 Ken threw a New Year's party. A lot of people came, some from out-of-town. The next year even more people came. Things went on like this for several years. It mostly resembled a room party totally out of control or a small relaxacon. Eventually, several people began to set up huckster tables and any difference from a con vanished.
Usually most of the attendees slept in the living room and den, completely covering the floor (thin rug, no pad) in the best sardine-can style. One year, Koch even brought a small portable bed, which many people were deeply envious of.
Shortly after the NSFC was founded, Ken decided that a summer party around the 4th of July would be a good idea, especially if we held it at the lake where we could go swimming. Ken said he had a great spot in mind and would draw a map for the flyer. About half the attendees got lost, because Ken had left an important left turn off the map. When his error was pointed out, Ken justified his map by claiming that "everybody knows you are supposed to turn left there." The club unanimously voted to remove Ken from map duties forever. Several people came from out of town, including andy offutt, and all had a good time.
Thereafter, the summer bheer bash was held at Khen's place and someone else drew the maps. In the early 1990s we had the bash at the Travel Lodge South for a couple of years, where we had air conditioning and a pool. In 1994 the bash was held at Dan’s house (see below) and, in 1995, at the Kubla motel, so we could use its swimming pool.
Excess Firewood Removal Parties at Dan’s Cozy Cottage in the Urban Boonies
In 1993 Dan rented a small house from Fran. Although only 5 miles from downtown Nashville, it sat on several acres of fields and woods. The house was over 100 yards back from the street, where it seemed like you were 50 miles out in the country. In 1993, the NSFC summer bheer Bash and Bust was held there. At dusk we saw 2 deer on the opposite side of the field. The party started on Sat. afternoon, lasted all night and most of the fans came back on Sunday to do it again.
It was so popular that in the fall Dan held 2 more "Dheer Watchings," both of which lasted all weekend. By then it was cool enough to have a bonfire at night. Mostly everyone sat around outdoors by the fires and talked all night.
That was the winter of the Great Ice Storm, during which nine, repeat 9, trees came down in Dan’s yard. So in the spring of 1994 Dan held the 1st Excess Fire Wood Removal Party, for the purpose of using up as many tree parts as possible. The all-weekend parties were so popular that they took place almost every dry weekend in the spring and fall of that year and again in 1995.
Tales from the Sardine Can
Nashville fandom did a lot of things as a group. We ran a club, put on a con, went to other cons, and partied together between cons. The Nashville style of con-going mostly resembled a portable slan shack. We were all low on funds, so we shared a single room to save money. Before Kubla I, it involved only a few people and easily fit into a single room.
Then there was Torcon, the Toronto worldcon (still one of the best ever). Ken reserved a single room. In the south this meant a regular room with two beds and only one registered occupant (and only one key). But in Toronto, this meant a small room with a couch that folded out into a bed. As Ken was on his way to the room, he met friends looking for crash space, and he told them they could stay in "his" room. We ended up with 13 male fans, 1 femfan, no privacy, and a permanent line into the facility. At night, the floor resembled a sardine can, hence the name.
Unfortunately, as Nashville fandom grew, we kept going to cons as a group. It was common to have 10 or 12 people in the room. Then it grew to 2 rooms, with one for the Kubla party, the other for those who went to bed early (like 3 am). Still 10-12 fans per room. On the other hand, we were never robbed, because the room(s) were never empty. We also had an official guard dog. Mel Clark & Dave Roble had a German shepherd named Bojay. They would get him a con badge, and he would stay in the room throught the con (except for facility breaks). Bojay knew all the Nashville fans and growled loudly when strangers (especially hotel security) appeared in the door.
Then there was the Nashville "hot bunk" system. Some fans went to bed early, others not until dawn, and a lot of the group took naps at various times. Since beds were prime sleeping spots, they were rarely empty. You could go to sleep next to a good-looking person of the opposite sex, and wake up to find someone/thing totally different in that spot.
This led to creative solutions to finding a space of your own. It was desirable to find a spot out of the traffic pattern so you did not get stepped on in the dark. Joe Celko liked the closet floor, others tried sleeping under the table (and cursed when they forgot and sat…well tried to sit up, in the morning). Allen Steele even tried the bathtub once. Maybe it was the only horizontal space left. Then Khen came in at dawn, and without looking (nobody sleeps in bathtubs…right) reached in through the bath curtains and turned on the shower. Of course the water started out ice cold, and the resulting yell woke the entire sardine can. Needless to say, the bathtub remained unpopulated thereafter as crash space.
All too often, Ken would arise early (circa 7-8 am) and want company for breakfast, while some of us had just gotten in at 6 am. Ken would throw back the curtains and yell "SQUEET" (let's go eat). Many people had the urge to kill, but no one had the energy.
Khen and John are still noted for the fact that once asleep they might as well be in a coma. Only mother nature can rouse them from their slumbers. A group of Nashville fen were at Rok-Kon I in Little Rock. It was near dawn and all the sardines were asleep or some facsimile thereof. The spring night was warm and the room window was wide open as a thunderstorm erupted over the hotel. This bothered no one at all until a lightening bolt struck a power transformer on a pole about ten feet from the window. The blast was as much felt as heard, and the light made people think of H-bombs at ground zero. The Vietnam vets were already under the beds yelling "INCOMING!!!," while others levitated several feet in the air from a horizontal position. Even Khen and John woke up. When we looked out the window to see what had happened, the transformer was smoking and the window panes were still shaking. Khen, like most of us, never did get back to sleep, but John , being made of sterner stuff, went right back to sleep.
Sometimes it was the trip that was memorable. Arthur Townsend's car was so unreliable that he carried a large box of spare parts with him, so the car could be fixed when it broke down. From which come several tales of roadside repairs at odd hours of the night. Or stopping to fix a flat and discovering that a dead skunk lay only a few feet from the car. We set a world's record for the time to unload a station wagon to get to the spare tire. Or discovering Khen's car broken down in the middle of nowhere and trying to find a tow truck or garage on Sunday afternoon.
Or the wreck of the Wolf wagon on the way to Discon II. It was a new VW van that Larry Wolfe had just bought. The 5 am accident destroyed the motor but Larry did not have the money to replace it, and had to sell the body (still in good shape) for about 1/4 of the van's value. The van's inhabitants had to collect all their schtuff (one was on his way to the Pensic Wars and had all of his SCA gear with him) and wait all day by the side of the road in the nearest (small) town for the one bus that made a stop there—at sundown. We called the Nashville sardine can at the con but no one was willing to drive 100 miles to pick us up. We tried to pass the time with an impromptu fighter practice, but had to give this up as it excited the local fuzz way too much (don't you-all know duelin's illegal?).
Eventually, most of us got better jobs and could afford to share a room with less than a small army. Now at cons, Nashville fandom has several rooms, each with only 4 or 5 people in them.
1972 - November - Khen & John go to Irvin Koch's Upper South Clave in Johnson City, TN, way up in the northeast corner of the state. Irvin (easily) persuades Ken to have the next one in Nashville in 1973. Dan, John and Ken hold a war council at Joe's Village Inn after the club meeting. John and Dan decide that since Ken got us into this, he can get us out. Ken is elected con chairman by a vote of 2 to 1. Dan & John want to hold the con in the fall of 1973 to give us time to get some publicity out. Ken can't wait and insists on having it in May.
ChambanaCon was coming up and it was one of the few places we could put out a flyer in those days. But to have a flyer the con needed a name. After AthenaParthaCon, AutoClave, and Ghengis Khan were rejected, Dan came up with Kubla Khan and wrote a flyer draft based on the Coleridge's poem "Xanadu."
Also, see: Xanadu
Other fannish organizations in Nashville: