Ive heard a lot of talk, as Ive gotten closer and closer to becoming a true transplanted Memphian, about how the city as a whole doesnt have enough respect for its past.
The club on Union where the Sex Pistols played during their short-lived American tour is now a Taco Bell. Beale Street, at least as an architectural concept, is perhaps a bit more Disney than authentic Blues. Homes along Vance and Peabody, which once gave residence to the citys founding elite, are in varying states of disrepair.
Nevertheless, I dont think I completely buy the argument. Surely there is some truth to the assertion that preservation could take higher precedence over other civic concerns. Compared to the many subdivisions of my Jersey Shore childhood, however, this city has history oozing from its proverbial pores.
Im sure that there are probably tons of leveling that occurred before I ever considered coming to Memphis. But there is energy here, if a rather complicated and sometimes double-edged energy, that must in many ways come from a past full of innovators whose significance projects beyond whatever physical buildings that might serve as a visual commemoration.
The oral histories, the memories that people are willing to share and celebrate in grandiose style, these are the things that give Memphis a unique charm I havent found elsewhere.
To me, this is what historical memory should be.
Take, for example, last weeks Premier Player Awards, which celebrated the 50-year anniversary of Sun Records. Crammed into the Orpheum Theater downtown, were representatives from an aspect of music history that has reverberated throughout the entire world.
In one room, circa 2002, you had Sam Phillips, Jim Dickinson, Billy Lee Riley, Sonny Burgess and a host of others that altered the course of popular music forever. The beauty of this city is that there are so many things going on at all times that locals are afforded the luxury of being tired of hearing about it.
As for me, I was happy to be the lame Yankee fan of my new home in the South.
Not much of a black tie aficionado, I wasnt entirely sure what to expect out of the evening. Id actually never been in the Orpheum before, though my first job in town was about a block away on Beale.
To be honest, if there hadnt been an event going on, I would have been perfectly happy to sit and stare at the ornate ceiling of that venue and drool for an hour or so.
As it turned out, the awards were a bit less structured than I had envisioned. People were drinking and shouting and socializing like it was going out of style. Glasses from the cash bar were rolling down the aisles. And everybody seemed to be having a damn good time.
If the real Grammys could take a hint from Memphis and make it a bit more of a party, they might be slightly less akin to the sleeping pill-esque broadcast that crashes me out on the couch with every years ceremony.
I, for one, could listen to Sam Phillips preaching for quite some time. I cant remember him ever coming to the Barnegat, New Jersy, community center, thats for sure.
Of course, I was really hoping that Jerry Lee would actually show up for the event, which, as seems to have been commonly expected, he didnt.
Mr. Killer has been torturing me in this way ever since I came to town.
You see, my boyfriend is a huge Jerry Lee fan. Being ignorant of the, well, mixed feelings about him from those who remember him as a rowdy terror, I thought it would be easy to come across some cool authentic Jerry Lee memorabilia for his last birthday.
I guess you could say I was wrong.
After circling the town for hours trying to find someone who could give me a clue as to where this treasure might be, and eliciting a few F*** Jerry Lee Lewis outbursts from some people who werent into it, I ended up at Kinkos. Every single picture I tried to posterize came out horribly, and by the end of the day, frustrated, I had my last cigarette literally stolen out of my hand from a random homeless passerby.
Oh well. Ill find the key to Jerry Lee eventually, and I enjoyed the Premier Player Awards in spite of his conspicuous absence.
Right now, Im reading the muckraking Fast Food Nation
, by Eric Schlosser, in an attempt to rid myself of an occasional infatuation with grease and convenience. In one segment of the book, Schlosser depicts the loopiness of a Colorado Springs that is becoming Californicated in having a strange, creative energy where the futures constantly being made, where people walk the line separating a visionary from a total nutcase.
This type of unbridled energy has been circulating in Memphis for years, and even if buildings fall prey to urban progress daily, I dont see anything that could erase such a vivid historical memory of creativity and innovation from its soul.