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The Update

FWR follows up on a few recent(ish) cover stories

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Many issues ago, FWR ran a cover story entitled “Whatever Happened to…” where we looked at 5 past feature stories that seemed to have no second act.

This story is not one of those. It’s less “Whatever happened to…” and more “What are you up to now?”

Many of the stories we’ve covered do have a second act. And a third. And many of the people we talk to for those stories send us regular updates. So, after receiving a handful of those updates, we decided to follow-up on three recent(ish) stories we covered in FWR…

They came from the 80s

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from 80s hair metal anthems, it’s that you can’t stop the rock.

Case in point: the saga of Nova Rex.

Back in FWR #181, we told you about Dean Robinson’s Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy, a documentary chronicling the life and times of Nova Rex, an 80s “hair band” that spent part of their career based in Indianapolis.

The pairing of “documentary” and “metal” might evoke visions of Spinal Tap, but there’s nothing “faux” about Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy or the band itself. Nova Rex is a real band, and as the film shows, back in the day they made records, toured, and played to sizeable audiences. But a major label deal eluded them, and the explosion of “alternative” rock in the 90s finally ended the band…

…until recently. The release of Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy opened up some new opportunities, and as anyone who has seen the film knows, bass player Kenny Wilkerson — who along with guitarist J.P. Cervoni was one of the mainstays of Nova Rex — isn’t the kind of guy to let an opportunity slip him by.

After the documentary played at a couple film festivals, Wilkerson, Robinson, and Cervoni submitted it to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and had it accepted as part of the institution’s library and archive. Then, they approached the Documentary Channel, inked a deal with them, and now Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy is available via On Demand. Wilkerson also submitted the DVD and some of the band’s stage gear to the Johnson County Museum of History (Wilkerson is originally from Whiteland, Indiana).

“And then Kenny thought, ‘well, why not the Smithsonian?’” says Robinson.

So… yeah. Recently, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History took a bunch of memorabilia from the band, and Wilkerson did an interview with Smithsonian Magazine regarding the donations. (go to blog.americanhistory.si.edu and search for “hair metal”)

And yes, Nova Rex is selling some music, too. Though it’s been over 25 years since bands in spandex tights strode the land, 80s “hair metal” has its devotees, those eager to dig deep in the record bins to discover something they may have missed the first time around. “We’re kind of ‘old’ and ‘new’ at the same time,” Wilkerson says. “People who like this music are like ‘here’s something I didn’t hear back in the day, so it’s new.”

“What’s perfect about it is that Nova Rex have a genuine pedigree,” Robinson adds. “They were doing it from ‘85 on, they were for real. It’s a genuine band from that era, the music was made in that era, but it’s fresh to most people.”

Wilkerson is lining up a tour for the band, and has even nabbed a little corporate sponsorship from Budweiser (he did the same thing back in the 90s). “There’s this ‘hair metal’ circuit, and I’m going to get us on that,” he says. “That’s the plan for 2013.”

One of the things that stands out in Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy is the attitude of Wilkerson and Cervoni. They’re not bitter, not burn-outs, and don’t carry the burden of not having “made it.” They’re even able to laugh at the looks they sported back then. You can hear that same positive attitude when Wilkerson talks about this “fun, busy year” Nova Rex has had, and his plans for the next step. “You ever see that movie Anvil?’ he asks. “That’s what this reminds me of, except we don’t hate our lives. Everything I’ve accomplished, I think it’s funny. It’s awesome. I’m not like ‘oh, they owed that to me.’ I mean, my hometown is going to give me a street sign… So, I’m going to have some fun with all this.”

On a somewhat more serious note, Robinson believes that a lot of the interest that Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy has garnered from outside “hair band” fandom comes from how the film puts Nova Rex into a context. Nova Rex was one band among many that threw themselves behind a trend and committed themselves to a particular look and sound. And when it was over… “They make a good torch-bearer for this ‘hair metal’ stuff,” Robinson says. “The documentary shows you this broader framework, these trends. In the movie they’ll tell you ‘here’s the trend we followed. Here’s how we did it. But while we’re telling you how we did it, we’re asking ourselves: how did we end up looking like girls?’”

Get Lugar

If conservatives are supposed to be confused and anxious over the results of the 2012 elections, Monica Boyer apparently did not get the memo.

Boyer co-founded Hoosiers For A Conservative Senate, an affiliation of TEA Party groups from across Indiana that was instrumental in ending Dick Lugar’s political career after over 30 years in the Senate. We covered their efforts in FWR #193 last March, when the group raised their concerns over Lugar’s residency and his conservative credentials.

Hoosiers For A Conservative Senate backed State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who eventually defeated Lugar in the primaries and became the Republican candidate for the Senate, going up against Democrat Joe Donnelly.

Of course, we all know what happened there. There was a hint of “amateur hour” to Mourdock’s campaign from the start, with Mourdock granting few interviews (even canceling an interview with The Wall Street Journal) and alienating some Republicans who thought they had a sure thing with Dick Lugar (and they probably did). Still, as one of the most PAC-supported candidates in the country, Mourdock ran very close to his opponent… until Mourdock’s infamous debate remark about abortion, rape, and God’s will.

Boyer says she was disappointed with the results of the race, but that ultimately she has no regrets. “Would we have liked to taken the seat? Yes. But I think with Joe Donnelly we came out better than Dick Lugar,” she says. “Our mission was accomplished: we retired Dick Lugar. That was our one and only goal.”

Indeed, Boyer, who also founded the group Kosciusko County Silent No More, stressed back in March that Hoosiers For A Conservative Senate had no life beyond the Senate race. She also stressed that they were not the Mourdock campaign, although after the primaries, they continued to work for the candidate in an unofficial capacity. “We ran what I call the ‘shadow campaign’,” she says. “We had a lot of advantages in that we could do whatever we wanted, but we never really worked for him.”

Those efforts included working with out-of-state PACs that supported Mourdock, like Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity. “We didn’t take orders from them; when they came in we asked ‘what can we do to help you?’”

Still, Boyer says she was occasionally frustrated by some of the choices made by the Mourdock campaign. She doesn’t seem to share, for instance, many of her colleagues seemingly knee-jerk distrust and hostility toward the media. “We used the media to our advantage,” she says. “We had a story we wanted to tell, and we’d tell it to any one who would listen. I believe in using the media for that purpose. Richard tended to not do that. That would not have been a decision I would have made.”

Hoosiers For A Conservative Senate may have ended with the election, but back in March, Boyer told us that the really important thing about the organization was that it managed to bring all the disparate TEA Party groups across Indiana — groups that had sometimes been at odds during the 2010 elections — together behind a single candidate. Though the election results were disappointing for them, that network they established remains strong. “We want to still stay united around the issues that bond us together,” Boyer explains. “Maybe we’ll call the organization something else, but that foundation is still there, and we want to build on that.”

Boyer sees the network turning its attention toward state issues. “The communication system is there, so when legislation comes up that we need to promote or stop, we’ll have a mass communication around the state,” she says.

“With Mike Pence taking office, Indiana is in a place I don’t think we’ve ever been in as a state,” Boyer adds. “We’re in a spot where we can actually lead. So we’re excited about gathering around Mike and working with him on some state issues, some 10th amendment issues, and I think we’ll be of help to him.”

The Abatement Game

In FWR #185, Jim Sack wrote an article entitled “The Abatement Game,” which looked at the effectiveness of tax abatement programs as a tool for economic development.

It discussed the efforts of Tom Lewandowski and Cheryl Hitzemann from the North East Indiana Central Labor Council to identify whether abatement programs have actually lived up to their promise of bringing jobs and other economic growth to Fort Wayne and Allen County.

While we would hardly claim prescience, we may have tapped into something in the zeitgeist, since recently the debate over effectiveness of tax abatements shows signs of becoming part of what politicians and pundits call the “national conversation.” Early this month, The New York Times ran a three-article series on the issue, profiling several Michigan towns that offered big incentives for companies to set up shop, but were left with nothing to show when the companies pulled out. And in April, the Pew Research Center published a study that found many states are unclear whether or not tax abatements are effective.

In “The Abatement Game,” Sack summed up abatements as “one of the most visible incentives in the quiver of the economic development teams. A company can avoid paying taxes on new improvements and purchases. Usually, they are given 10 years of abatement, sometimes less. Applications are scored by local staff to determine the length of the abatement.”

“In exchange” (Sack continued) “the company is expected to create new and higher paying jobs, as well as bringing investment to sagging areas of town. Those are the three keys: new jobs, higher wages, and revitalization.”

To any economic development team, tax abatements make a lot of sense. If these companies really can go anywhere, why not offer them something to make the deal a little sweeter? Critics of such programs say it amounts to little more than corporate welfare, and doesn’t necessarily engender any kind of loyalty towards the city or town on the part of the company, whose ultimate obligation, after all, is towards its stockholders.

The North East Indiana Central Labor Council contends that City and County officials have not measured the effectiveness of these programs locally, and that there has been no follow up to see if those benefiting from the incentives have actually delivered on their promises.

This past year, local officials formed the Joint City and County Tax Abatement Committee to look into the issue and make recommendations. These were sent out in mid-November, with the “unveiling” for the proposed changes set to happen (as of this writing) at City Council’s “5th Tuesday” meeting on January 29th.

In his regular “Political Animal” column is this issue, Jim Sack writes that he doesn’t expect much of substance to come from the committee’s report (you can read the column on page 13).

For his part, Lewandowski described recommendations as “anemic,” but otherwise declined comment for this article, saying only that he preferred to wait until after the late January meeting.

Actually, “ask me later” was the common answer we got when we asked for comment. The best we response was from a source who asked not to be named. Skeptical of the effectiveness of tax abatements and of local government’s willingness to tackle the issue, off-the-record compared the joint committee’s study to an alcoholic’s first earnest but failed attempt at recovery. “There’s one thing good about going through that first rehab and it not taking: that drink is never going to taste quite as good again,” they told us. “The City and County are still passing tax abatements left and right, but they feel a little bad about it now.”

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