Friday, December 3, 2010

Memphis.

Sweet Memphis.

We stayed in this Christian place called the Pilgrim House run by Young Christian Leaders. We got there and were given extensive instructions (about 20 minutes worth) by a girl named Katie. She did send us to a great BBQ place though. Ahhhh, ribs.



Memphis is a strange place. After ribs and pulled pork we went to see some Memphis blues on Beale street. Very much a repeat of Chicago, touristy, but this time with really terrible music. All the lyrics were things like "Here you are on Beale street, This is where the blues are happening, Hooray for you and Beale street." but backed by something that used to be a wonderful Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker track.

We started the following day with an embarrassing (for me) tour of Sun Studios, "where rock and roll was born". I wrote quite a bit about that which can be found at the bottom of this blog entry (didn't want to make you read too much if you didn't want to). Here is a picture of me to entice you into reading though. Awkward...



After that we went to the Civil Rights Museum as well and saw the spot where Martin Luther King was killed. It was really sad. Then we went to see Megamind, which was not as sad and in 3D.

The Stax Museum was pretty awesome as well. Soul musicians, who I had never given much thought too, have thee funniest album covers of all time. So good. Also Isac Hayes had the coolest car in the world.

Memphis is a gorgeous city, green with wide streets and incredibly diverse architecture. The city was fairly empty though. Part of that is that we keep arriving on like a monday night and going, "where is everybody?" It was also amazing the number of boarded up buildings. We tried to take photos of them but it rained a lot of the time. It was strange, there were whole blocks of really nice looking brick houses as well as blocks that would have rows of occupied buildings and then one boarded up house just stuck in the middle. We asked a few people about it but nobody even really seemed to know what we were talking about. Normally that wouldn't strike me as weird, but this time it did.



Today in Memphis I went with Keppie to Sun Studios, "the birth place of rock and roll." We paid for a tour and were led, along with twenty or so other excited tourists up a squeaky mustard colored staircase, lined with records and photos, into their gallery.

We milled around for a bit marveling at important nicknacks (Elvis' tweed coat and leather guitar case, howlin' Wolf's favorite toothbrush, etc...) until our rockabillie tour guide El Dorado (no joke) began to gather us around him like hungry cats.

"Whhellcome to Suhn Studios folks!!!!!", he drawled enthusiastically, "This is where it all began..." He was a tall pudgy guy dressed all in black (Johnny Cash inspired no doubt), his face round and understated when compared to his sideburns. He had glasses and tiny eyes.

There is something about being a tourist, in a place that survives on tourism, that makes me feel like I am tied to a plank (along with 19 other people) and being dragged around on it. Kind of helpless, but more than that, this feeling of, "how did I let someone tie me here?"

Periodically throughout the tour El Dorado would play songs that had been recorded at Sun Studios for our group. He encouraged audience participation whenever possible, utilizing classic techniques like finger pointing and winking, leaving out names of famous musicians that the group might know, thus drawing them into action.

"Elvis!!", they would scream happily, jumping, clapping for joy, sweating and beaming at their families.

"Thhhaaat's righhhht!", El Dorado would cry, dropping theatrically to his knees and stretching his long arms toward the ceiling, "Thhhaaat's righhhht yhesss ssirrr."

The tour of the upstairs gallery ended abruptly after a viewing of Elvis' first television appearance (which was actually pretty cool) in which he sang "Shake, Rattle and Roll". El Dorado pushed us gently down a record lined stairwell whispering sweet nothings to us as we shuffled along. "Please, hold onto those questions... No flash photography... Careful on those stairs, they're carpeted!"

Finally, the legendary recording studio! We came out of the stairwell, through a drab little office bristling with photos and into a well lit open space with a drum kit, amps and about eight guitars. The ceiling an walls were lined with once-white sound proofing tiles that had over the years taken on an odd yellow hue. There were also loads more photos of famous Sun musicians; Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc...

As if repeating our performance upstairs we all milled around until El Dorado once again took up his desperate narration.

"Wehhlll, this is whaayre the magic happened! Right hhyre!!" Each exclamation also served as a question, like, "can you believe what I'm telling you? Really?" He walked a delicate line with no finesse at all.

He leapt from one unsteady joke to the next with stiff nauseating showmanship, cartwheeling around the space, wiggling an eyebrow here or flirting with a chubby tourist there. I just zoned out at that point. I think I started thinking about how when I was younger I lived in a very touristy town. The population was about two thousand people in the winter (if that) and about five in the summer due to vacationers (Keppie is convinced its vacationeers). I was thinking, "If this was my town, I would probably know that guy!"

This was the point when El Dorado decided to have me perform for the rest of our tour group. He thrust a guitar into my left hand and a pick in my right and said "Whelll thhere you go!! Now Struuhm!"

I was totally bewildered. The guitar slipping and trying to hold it and strum and listen to this man prattle on. Something in me kind of gave out as I got progressively more embarrassed. My face was burning red and I turned, stunned and confused, holding this guitar in this weird mangled way, strumming and looking at El Dorado like, "Really? You want ME to do this? But I don't even like Elvis!"

I just stopped. He was playing music over the stereo for me to strum to, illustrating how Johnny Cash used to weave a dollar bill through his strings to make some clicking sound. I stopped, and the music kept playing. And everybody was looking at me. I turned one last time to El Dorado for some help and offered the guitar and pick up to him.

"Please?"


On my way out of Sun Studios he said, "Hey tharr, sorry to put you on the spot like thaaht."


"Oh, its okay man. Now I can play just like Johnny-fucking-Cash."

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