ace then and now
reflections on the city and the paper

You can't let all the power and fame make you lose sight of that naive, innocent kid who was always in it for the money -Bruce Eric Kaplan

Like Elton John asked in that lion flick, "Can you feel the love tonight?" Well. Can you? Because that's what this issue is about. Feelin' the love. As in, love to love you baby; I think I love you; sea of love; endless love; love me do; all you need is love; tainted love; love hurts; love bites; groovy kind of love; when love breaks down; love American style; only love can break your heart. It's about the love we feel for this town. You think we jest, but, our heart will go on.

Sure we bitch, but we bitch out of love. We bitch because we love. "I bitch, therefore I am," as Descartes might have said. We criticize, nag, complain, whine, cajole, wheedle, snipe, and occasionally say mean things. We're like those pushy parents who try to bully our slacker child into living up to his potential - potential that we know is there - even if he is unemployed and living in our metaphorical basement. Because we just know if he'd put down that bong long enough to apply himself, he'd get a life and stop embarrassing us.

It seems like only yesterday that the very first issue of ACE Magazine made its debut in May 1989. If you don't remember the ticker-tape parades, the endless round of parties, and the non-stop buzz surrounding the inaugural issue, you can stop fretting that you've ingested too much aluminum and your memory has failed. There wasn't any. Weighing in at 32 pages (about three of those devoted to ads), the cover announced its mission, "a monthly tribute to contemporary and traditional expressions of the bluegrass."

A banner proclaimed that this debut was a "complimentary copy (usually $1.25)," but we're not sure anyone ever paid for an ACE. It's possible, but we don't have any evidence of it. (And if you did, you might want to keep it to yourself, lest you be forced to wear the scarlet S for sucker.)

An editorial by founder Jennie Leavell proclaimed of the quarterly arts-zine: "ace is dedicated to enhancing the way people spend their free time."

At the end of May in 1994, ACE made another debut, when Jennie Leavell sold the paper to new publisher, Susan Saylor Yeary and two partners (Peggy Blythe and Susan Harkins, who later sold their interest in the paper back to Yeary).

That issue was a scant 20 pages, though about half of them were devoted to advertising, so things were looking up.

The cover read, Arts Commentary Entertainment and advertised an inside spread by Wendell Berry, writing about "Sustainable ARgriculture." (Oh ho, we laf about it now, secur in the knowleg that our typo daze are behind us.)

Berry's introductory quote read, "I raise my own food organically. And I raise pacifist chickens. Of course, I can't vouch for what they do before I wake up."

So, every May, ACE celebrates a birthday. Which birthday depends on whom you ask. When media critic Henry Walker marked the Nashville Scene's 10th birthday last year (our new sister paper - or maybe more like our Father paper - which also experienced a midstream leadership change and wholesale conversion to an alternative newsweekly), he wrote "Like a vain, middle-aged woman, the Nashville Scene likes to pretend she's younger than she is. But mastheads, like tombstones, reveal the truth."

The same is true for us. Our masthead clearly puts us in our 12th year, but most of us here think of 1994 as our real anniversary (even though there are still a few survivors from the old days within our ranks of staff and freelancers).

For the purposes of this issue, we'll look back at the town and the paper, since 1989 (and some memories that go back even further) - because the growth of the paper has been inextricably tied to the growth of the city. 1989 - the magical year in which the world was cutting the rug to the likes of Paula Abdul and Milli Vanilli. (You youngsters snicker, as you try not to get trampled in the Backstreet Boy stampede.)

So listen up, Lexington. We may be a little misty-eyed about the past and all choked up to think of the promise of the future. But make no mistake: We're still cranky. Now get ready to feel the love.

Things We Kinda Miss
About the Old ACE

No one tells you how difficult the transition is from colorful eccentric to out-of-control crackpot. -Bruce Eric Kaplan

·Rambling 1st person stream-of-consciousness narration

·Page after page of art and text, unimpeded by the intrusion of advertising

·What Lexington Needs

·Restaurant Reviews

·Founder Jennie Leavell's old blue and white ACE-mobile

Things We Kinda Don't
I started out in life asking, 'how do people get rich?' The answer was never the answer you wanted to hear. The answer was never 'Poetry-their money's from poetry, Fran.'" -Fran Leibowitz

·Rambling 1st person stream-of-consciousness narration

·Page after page of art and text, unimpeded by the intrusion of advertising

·Working for free

·The Technology - or lack thereof (the old ACE was a victim of the pre-tech revolution, and couldn't import "foreign disks," so most text was re-typed - with an average typo ratio of about 11 to a page - words and phrases were often inadvertently left out, while still others were randomly inserted. ACE still doesn't have a proofreader, but we aren't transcribing the text from cocktail napkins any more.)

· Acronyms (arts/culture/entertainment... arts/commentary/entertainment... we were glad to see those banners disappear).

·Prolonged "historical/anthropological" cover series reprints that begin with the Ice Age

·The monthly pub schedule

What Lexington Needs
Hey, you've got a helluva town here. I know with a couple of Valium, I could really learn to love it.-Woody Allen, Wild Man Blues

·A grocery store downtown (we might settle for a Dean and DeLuca)

·A Bogart's-size venue for Bogart's-size acts

·a real airport (as opposed to the pricey and inconvenient "boutique" variety we have now)

·a Bardstown-Road style restaurant corridor, to borrow a page from Louisville when, normally, we wouldn't (non-chain ethnnic restaurnts, diners, veggie-friendly options, mom and pop establishments, NY-style delis, white tablecloth cuisine -stretching as far as the eye can see). If you build it, WE WILL COME!!!!!

·an Art Museum

·more dog-friendly running/exercise areas

·more bike paths and cyclist-friendly road system

·mass transit

·a literary magazine (While there are efforts in this direction [e.g., Wind, and Limestone, UK's journal] - there is ample talent in this town to warrant an actual literary magazine. Cincinnati has Story, prompting us to think, "Hey, we could do that.")

What Lexington Doesn't Need
We have been taught by Jefferson's struggles with Hamilton, by Calhoun's with Webster, and in the woods at Shiloh or along the ravines of Fort Donelson where the long hunter's rifle spoke defiance to the more accelerated Springfields, that the triumph of industry, commerce [and] trade brings misfortune to those who live on the land. -Andrew Lytle, "The Hind Tit," in I'll Take My Stand

·an Applebee's on every corner

·another Meijer's (unless it's downtown)

·any more multiplexes

·more Suburbans (the trucks, the people - take your pick - we're already over our limit)

·more malls (and their denizens)

·more sports venues

·a new #@$!!*@! Area Code!!

Stuff We Miss About the Old Lexington
The sad fact about the modern American small city is that it has none of the strength of the metropolis and all the ugly pettiness. Dismal streets, dismal lives. Thousands of drunkards in bars. -Kerouac's journals, February 25, 1949

·The Wrocklage/The Bottom Line/Babylon Babylon

·The Bistro

·When Woodland Park was a lake (as opposed to a softball field where public urination is embraced as a sport). None of us remember those days, but we support the concept.

·the trolleys

·"Do we miss Bear's Wax? I sorta do. It was nice to have a place that dealt with mainly vinyl, obscure and mainstream. And Bear was like a guru in a weird way. He could tell you all kinds of stuff about bands, albums, etc. Granted, he was opinionated, but he knew his shit." -Chris Webb

·Boots Bar

·Hypnotic Eye

·"Then there's Bradley Pickelsimer. Miss Bradley is not dead by any means. He's now living and performing in L.A., but his clubs, first Club A Go Go on Winchester Rd, then Cafe LMNOP on Main St., were the happen-est spots in town with great drag shows, punk music (occasionally even somebody like the Psychedelic Furs) and truly bizarre guest artists (Divine)." [photo on page 15 and text by Guy Mendes]

·"two bars that I miss from back in the 60s: The Paddock (where Baskin Robbins etc. is now on Rose and Euclid) and The Nook (right on the corner of the strip mall where Lynagh's is now). The former was a melting pot of boho student drunks, lefty professor drunks, self-proclaimed anarchists, hedonists and various other kinds of ists. The latter was a low down local bar o'errun by besotted college students, many of them of the fraternity persuasion." -Guy Mendes

·the old Kentucky Theatre calendars (a fixture on every fridge in town).

· "I miss the old High on Rose, pre-92. From my perspective, it was great because you could get a good meal and a good buzz for under $10. They had a great jukebox, including "Old Rattler" by Grandpa Jones. They had bands upstairs, free music every night... maybe a buck cover every once in a while. It was a true melting pot: frat people, yuppies, bums, art freaks. $4 or $5 for a PITCHER of margaritas!" -Chris Webb

Hall of Fame: (In Memory)
This is great. I'm going to cultivate friendships with people who have dead parents, or dead friends, or dead partners. They're the most interesting people in the world. And they're accessible too! They're all around us! Even if astronauts or former Beatles or shipwreck survivors did have more to offer - which I doubt - you never get to meet them anyway. People who know dead people, as Barbra Streisand might have sung but didn't, are the luckiest people in the world. -Nick Hornby

·Little Enis (1934-1976) "The All-American Left-Handed Upside-down Guitar Player" (as immortalized in Ed McClanahan's Famous People I Have Known: "And I was imitatin' Elvis Presley quite a bit in those times; and so I just said, Well he is quite famous, I'll just foller along and do like he does..So they was this joke goin' around, see, about Elvis the Pelvis? And his little brother Enis?...So they just looked at me, I was stocky and all, and they said, Enis..."

·actor Fred Scott Downing (1935-1999)

·artist Henry Faulkner (1924-1981)

· Walter Tevis (1928-1984, author of The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth)

· Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)

·Cowboy Steve Taylor (1923-1993)

"You know Cowboy lived and had his little 3-watt radio station [WSTV] about a block and a half from [ACE's] new offices. So it would be good to invoke his spirit. His C&W show went out a block or two every day for an hour. It wasn't a hi-power clear channel megastation, in fact sometimes you had to park right in front of his house to listen. But the point is that it was regular, it was honest and it came from the heart. Sounds like an Ace mission statement." [Photo And Text By Guy Mendes]

· Laurie Bottoms (1939-1999, founding director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning)

·"Sweet Evening Breeze, a.k.a. Sweets, a.k.a. James Hearndon, was a character unlike any other. Not even his running mate Tripping Through The Dew (I'm not making this up) could match Sweets in the style department. Sweets sashayed up and down Limestone Avenue between his home in Pralltown, the small black community across from UK, and Good Sam Hospital where he worked as a nurses' aide for many years. He was renowned for his cakes, which he carried down the street like some hytone other-wordly maitre d', all in white, including little white gloves. He bestowed his cakes on the mayor and other important downtown bigwigs, as well as the police officers who often gave him a lift home after a night at The Bar, or the Gilded Cage, as it was called a long time ago. It was hard to tell how old Sweets was or what gender he was. The prevailing mythology was that he was, in local parlance, a Martha-Dyke, that is to say, a real transsexual. With all the parts. But a reliable source told me that Sweets was actually a Gay man, and as Sweets himself told me in an interview sometime in the early 80s, he used to run this town. "Back then, a man just wanted to get his rocks off," he lamented. "Nowadays they want you to LOVE 'em, too!" He seemed to disapprove of the trend toward long-term same sex relationships, preferring romance of the short and sweet variety. His legend lives on, of course. There's even a character in a James Leo Herlihy (who wrote Midnight Cowboy) novel patterned after Sweets. So here's to Sweet Evening Breeze, long may he flutter in the collective memory of our little burg. In some notable instances-Henry Faulkner comes to mind-this town has tolerated its eccentrics." [Photo NOT available, sadly] -Guy Mendes

Shit We Can't Believe
People suck and that's my contention-I can prove it on scratch paper and a pen. Give me a fuckin' etch-a-sketch and I'll do it in 3 minutes-the proof, the fact, the factorum-I'll show my work. Case closed. I'm tired of this backslapping bullshit. We're a virus with shoes. That's all we are. - (the late) Bill Hicks

·That a first grade teacher arrested for prostitution (but more importantly... that she once went on a date with a former member of the ACE staff)

·That a strip club owner ran for mayor... and LOST!

·That the normally apathetic, self-absorbed UK student populace actually cared enough about an issue to get themselves arrested in a demonstration!!

·That the state government would pass another unconstitutional bill posting the 10 commandments in schools (oh, wait...we CAN believe that one)

·That a basketball museum is actually faltering in this town. It sort of gives us hope.

Ten stories included in the first issue of ACE (1989)
I'm inclined to notice the ruin in things, perhaps because I was born in Italy. -Arthur Miller

·Artist Profile: Art Snake by Melissa Lamb

·May Arts and Heritage Festival by Kate Savage

·KET Special Feature: Annual Equine Competition by Kim Sisk

·Paddington Bear Encourages Reading, "this article was submitted by the Lexington Public Library"

·Mother Jesus, an excerpt from novel-in-progress, Little Splinter Creek by George Ella Lyon

·Columns from the Capital [sic]

·The Bluegrass Trust proposed alternatives for sites of world trade and cultural center, four drawings by David Greene

·Maintenance and Preservation of the Kentucky River, "open editorial" by Jennie Leavell

·The Riddle of the Kentucky Theatre: Revival or Just Plain Survival? by Jo Ann Circosta

·Theatre News

·Lexington Philharmonic Announces Brand New Season, staff report

Ten Stories (ok, there were only 8) included in the post-purchase ACE (1994)
The media can turn anything into a lethal threat to you, your children, even the elderly. Some say that's irresponsible. Those people have been fired. -Jon Stewart

·What Lexington Needs, by Jennie Leavell (on the importance of small businesses)

·Illustrations of Revelations: Artist Gloria Thomas Revives the Renaissance, by Kathy Larkin

·Through the Looking Glass: Mariette Pathy Allen Challenges Gender Stereotypes, by Karen Wedinger

·The Pleasures of Eating by Wendell Berry (excerpted from What Are People For?)

·Kidz Biz by David Lowry

·Brains on Music (Bruce Cockburn, John Trudell) by Brad Becker

·Brains on Film (Bad Girls) by Linda Dimon

·Smiling Through the Apocalypse by Bonnie McCafferty

Alternative Uses for ACE suggested by readers over the years
Journalism is not a profession or trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits - a doorway to the backside of life, a filthy, piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo cage. -Hunter S. Thompson

·birdcage liner

·kitty litter

·paper training puppies

·ummmm.... tissue (a scatological theme emerges)


·"inspiration for daily columnists too lazy to find their own goddamn stories"

. A Brief History of ACE

Don't know much about history? Hell, we don't either. That's why we keep all the ACE archives to prop up our sagging recollections.

And so it was half a score and a couple of years ago when .ACE made its big ol' debut, capturing in those first few years an image of Lexington (or at least a vital segment of it) from the late 80s and early 90s.

The inaugural issue's cover featured art by Rodney Hatfield, and an interior story "introduced" the longtime Lexington musician to his burgeoning identity as "Art Snake," identifying him "as an actor..." (based on his speaking debut in that thoughtful thriller Next of Kin starring master thespian Patrick Swayze and pre-Star Wars Liam Neeson). The article mentions the faithful Main Street's following of the now-semi-defunct Metropolitan Blues All-Stars, and the band's third appearance on NPR's Mountain Stage where they were erroneously "billed as a new sound from Mexico, Los Focas Ristas."

The issue also included a rave review of (now-completely-defunct) Vale of Tears, and a lament on the then-dormant Kentucky Theatre. Jo Ann Circosta observed, "The Kentucky has languished in suspended animation since October 1987, when a fire in the adjacent Fleur de Lys restaurant forced the closing of both establishments. The restaurant moved within a matter of months and is doing a thriving business on Upper Street. [It was supplanted by a succession of restaurants: Joe's Fleur de Lys, Sine Qua Non, and now Mia's.] The Kentucky Theatre, however, continues to sit quietly, waiting to be revived, 'closed temporarily' being its limp lament." She concluded, "The Kentucky has been a factor in forming the special ambiance of downtown Lexington. What its contribution will be in the future remains to be seen..."

There's an ambitious list of "movies we've missed," that includes Tampopo, Swimming to Cambodia, The Thin Blue Line, Babette's Feast, and Ken Russell's Lair of the White Worm (which is included twice, once as Liar of the White Work and again as Liar of the White Worm).

Re-reading Circosta's heartfelt (almost) requiem recalls a particularly dark episode in downtown's history with a surprisingly happy ending.

The same could not be said of her sadly prescient interview with Mayor Baesler in the Fall 89 (Vol. 1, #3) issue, "Mayor Baesler on the 'State of the Arts in Lexington." Asked to predict the future of Lexington's arts scene, Mayor Baesler foretold, "I'd like to see us have a facility downtown like the Cultural Center that will be outstanding, a museum where you could bring Smithsonian exhibits and things like that... I think that will happen in about four or five years."

Eleven years later, what we have downtown is cultural center funding expended on things like a (faltering) basketball museum.

But asked "if it was within your power to bring any artistic event to Lexington, what would it be?" Baesler responded, "does Willie Nelson count?" (And lo - in a dare-to-dream moment of greatness - it was so. Nelson has showed up several times in the intervening years. And played in the restored/revitalized Kentucky Theatre.)

In that issue's editorial, Jennie Leavell recommended Monday Night Expression Sessions at the old High on Rose (a staple of the late 80s/early 90s literary ritual). And Lucinda Masterton Hall reviewed Cafe Max (subsequently replaced by Ed & Fred's Desert Moon before it relocated to Grand Boulevard, and now occupied by Portofino).

By 1990, the first ACE Picks showed up (Vol. 2, #1). Recommendations included Manon of the Spring (encouraging readers: "Foreign films are not all inaccessible. The characterization of all European films as 'difficult' or 'overly intellectual' is just as absurd as a generalization that all American films are musicals or gangster movies." Not that we remember a time when anyone generalized that all American films were musicals - though there was that ill-fated Olivia Newton John Grease-to-Xanadu genre.)

By the Autumn issue of 1990, ACE began publishing an Editorial Credo (apparently lifted - according to various letters from readers over the years - but the source was not credited): "to speak from our hearts and not our pocketbooks, to applaud creativity, to reinforce and embody freedom of expression, to divulge injustices, to defend the defenseless, to respect our heritage, to tell it like it is, to tell it like it ought to be, to illuminate-rejuvenate-educate, to find a rainbow of hope even when it seems mighty bleak, to struggle through challenges all day but end up relaxed at a cozy cafe around dinner time, and to wash the dishes at least once a week."

In April 1991, the cover reflected the tweaking of the mission - switching from "Arts, Culture and Entertainment from the Bluegrass" to "Arts, Commentary & Entertainment."

"Events and Messages" began to appear as the early forerunner of what is now The ACE List.

In May 1994, ACE was purchased by Susan Saylor Yeary, Susan Harkins, and Peggy Blythe.

They opened with this statement (which ran alongside a foxy photo of the three of them posed with a big Harley) "As the new publishers of ACE Magazine, we want to invite you to join us as we embark on a grand adventure; encountering all manner of things, people, issues and events that engage, inform, delight, surprise and challenge. Our vehicle is the ACE Magazine we've come to depend on over the years. What fuels our travel is the desire to investigate, to learn, and to speak up. ACE returns to the street this month ready to examine the personal responsibility that rests with each of us in regard to sustainable, earth-friendly agriculture. Along the way we find answers from one artist who has found her unique expression in a classic style and vernacular forms, while another leaves us with the question of gender stereotypes and social acceptance. So settle in. Buckle up. And keep an ACE in your face."

Their first move was a physical one - to downtown. The publishing schedule was immediately expanded from 11 times/year to 12 times. "Arts, Commentary, and Entertainment" was retired from the banner later that year. (Though it refuses to die.)

Yeary bought out the original interests of Blythe and Harkins, and by 1997, the production schedule increased to 20 times per year. The format changed from broadsheet to tabloid size. The cover format switched from black and white to four color. In 1998, ACE got really busy: publication schedule increased to 26 times per year, every-other Wednesday. ACE launched a website at (soon to be The paper applied for membership to Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (and was one of five papers to be accepted, out of sixteen applicants).

And here we are today. We're moving again, at the end of this month (to the corner of Jefferson and Second, across from the old Fish Net, which will soon be Carleton Wing's gallery, Wingspan). We hope to see the same ongoing revitalization of that neighborhood that we've enjoyed observing at N. Limestone.

And we're expanding again - finally - to our longtime goal of weekly. Look for us every Thursday.

So now we all know a little something about hist-o-ry.