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john jay hooker

David Schulman, commonly known as Skull, ran Skull’s Rainbow Room — anchoring one end of Printer’s Alley and occupying the lowest floor of the Southern Turf Building — until he was attacked at 80, dying the next day. He occupied a bench at the base of the building most afternoons with his poodles. As a runner for the law firm on the upper floors — Skull’s landlords — I often got to clean shit off of the lower, Printer’s Alley stoop or ferry messages between Skull and the administration. A Hee-Haw regular, he only wore the Hee-Haw overalls, alternating his undershirts, as far as I can remember.


Drue Smith was the first woman to cover Nashville’s Capitol Hill full-time, among other accolades. She was colorful to say the least. I remember feathers and rhinestone glasses, bold flourishes of rouge accenting her cheekbones. But I wonder if I embellish her memory? She passed in 2001, some three years after Skull’s throat was slit and head smashed with a liquor bottle.


It was doubtful at this point that I would go to law school. I protracted undergraduate study to an embarrassing duration. However, my work at a downtown lawfirm did not limit itself to insights on being a lawyer, a vocation I needed to eliminate before taking the plunge of graduation. It offered a vantage on political communications, campaign politics, healthcare and big sports law in the form of a boutique, bi-partisan firm of litigators and lobbyists, future professors and appointees at state and federal levels. One could be proud to work at the majestic Southern Turf Building, climbing up the hill from Printer’s Alley to the 4th Avenue arcade. The corridor between mayor’s office and state capitol, just one street over.


A fight for doctor-assisted suicide; Ross Perot’s failed 1992 presidential campaign; and against Tennessee’s legislative redistricting all comprised John Jay Hooker’s diverse public mission. For the latter, he was special assistant to US Attorney General Robert Kennedy on Reynolds v. Sims. Lawyer and litigant, ‘perrenial’ candidate, publisher, entrepreneur and old Nashville money all factored into his designation as gadfly. Always well put together, his sartorial flare included waste coats, top hats and aristocratic canes … in the diorama of downtown Nashville, it was not necessary to differentiate between his person and his Abe Lincoln-esque caricature.


Just before Hooker’s cancer death in 2016, Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin I. Page produced a study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens (2014) in which the US is characterized as oligarchy with:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

The study set off debates between non-literalists and patriots. To be an oligarchy is to not be a democracy it seems. North America does not speak of its genocide and yet more First Nations were killed than in any other contemporary pogrom. So, why the semantic fuss over ideology and implied theories of justice? Can’t we be both? Good and bad? Bad, and then good?


One day a young lawyer from another firm summoned me to his office where Mr. Hooker was holding court on Reynolds v. Sims, the 1964 ‘one person one vote’ ruling by the Supreme Court, a plank in his most impressive platform.

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