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It’s my last day in Memphis; Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This is a short post since I only spent half the day in Memphis before heading out to Nashville (also, my memory is getting a little fuzzy. I need to write these posts sooner after they happen.)
1. The Memphis newspaper doesn’t have a lot of comics. In fact they have hardly any comics at all. Only Crankshaft, Peanuts, Frank & Ernest, and Born Loser. By far not the best selection. They all fit on about a quarter of page in the classifieds section! Although, they were in color, which I found strange for a Tuesday.
2. The Sun Studio tour is not much better than Graceland. I’m sure to anger some people by critiquing the sacred Sun Studio, but I got to admit it fell a little short of what I was expecting. The tour guide was cute, but her delivery reminded me of a radio disc jockey (nearly causing debilitating flashbacks to my 14-hour-no-iPod-drive down from Minnesota). They covered a lot of history about the recording facility and walked us through a museum-like exhibition of old recording equipment and clothing encased in glass. Most of the tour centered around Elvis and the tour guide actually provided more historical information than the computerized headset did at Graceland. I think at this time I was experiencing a little Elvis overload, and was really wanting her to get to the Johnny Cash part of the tour, so I wasn’t pay too much attention. I found watching the other people on the tour to be WAY more interesting than the tour itself (at least so far, we were about 20 minutes into it). At certain times the tour guide would wave a remote control in the air like a magic wand to summon some old recording she was referencing in her presentation. These were usually Elvis recordings (some of his earliest). As the music played through hidden speakers more than a few of the other tour participants started tapping their feet, which lead to: hip gyrations, which lead to: air guitar playing, which lead to full on lip synching and actually singing along out loud (strangely, in Dutch accents). These people were obviously really enjoying the tour. I talked to one of the guys later, he was wearing a bowling shirt adorned with flame, and a sticky looking pompadour. He said he and his wife and friends had come from the Netherlands to see Memphis and Nashville. I mentioned that I was also a visitor and was originally from Minnesota. I tried, and failed, to describe Minnesota’s geographic position in relation to Memphis, Canada, The Great Lakes, New York, and Seattle. Finally I just said it was where Bob Dylan was from. His eyes lit up, he started nodding, and began singing Tangled Up In Blue.
3. The Stax Museum is WAY better than both Graceland and Sun Studio. It was getting late in the day, and I still had a 4 hour drive to Nashville, so I thought about skipping Stax altogether. Of all the music tourism to do in Memphis, Stax was the one place I heard the least about. Looking at the map I figured I could hit Stax on my way to the highway and still make it to Nashville at a decent time. So I went.
The original Stax recording studio and record label offices were in an old movie theatre. The original building was torn down but a recreation of the space was built in another building which now houses the museum, and a music academy next door. As I’ve mentioned before, the city of Memphis won’t be winning an beauty contests anytime soon, and the location of the Stax museum may have been why I didn’t hear about it. It’s not really near anything. It’s just on a residential street in a rather rundown part of town. But they do have ample free parking in back, a luxury neither Sun Studio or Graceland had (the parking at Sun Studio was not ample and the parking at Graceland was not free).
There are no cameras allowed in the Stax museum so I can’t show you any pictures (they had me check mine at the door), you’ll just have to take my word for it, and see how cool the museum is yourself. The place is self-guided so you get to wander around at your own pace and look at the exhibits you want and skip those you don’t. There is a lot of audio on the first half of the tour, and a lot of it competes for your attention which is a bit distracting. Once you get to the reconstructed recording studio all that changes. The studio houses the original recording equipment and was said to have been built using the original blueprints from the movie theatre that originally housed Stax. Stepping into the theatre space feels as though you’ve left the museum and are actually there. The acoustics are such that all ambient noise is sucked away, leaving only the sound from actual studio takes by Booker T and The MGs, Issac Hayes, and other Stax artists, coming through the studio monitors. It really is as if you are actually there listening to the play back of these historic records.
Just outside of the studio room is a hallway which showcases every record ever produced by Stax and its affiliates. It’s 50-60 feet long and 12 feet high with album covers displayed edge to edge on both sides of the hallway. It took me 20 minutes to walk the entire length of it! I was amazed. Turning the corner reveals a similar display but with every 45 single ever produced by Stax. Again, 20 minutes. Very few places exist that house such a comprensive collection music that proved to be so influential to music for the subsequent 40 years!
Last but not least is Isaac Hayes’s blue and gold Cadillac. It rotates on a turnstyle as the gold trim reflects light back into the room. It’s like a 2.5 ton disco ball. I cannot describe it, it must be seen to be believed.
4. Always end on a high note. So there were some ups and downs in Memphis. Some surprises and some disappointments. But, all in all I learned a lot. And it felt good making that 4 hour drive to Nashville, with Sam Cooke, Ted Hawkins, and Sir Mix-a-lot.
I wouldn’t mind Hillman Curtis’s films so much if everyone in them wasn’t trying to act so damn cool. The actors in Hillman Curtis films act like real people acting like the actors they see in Jim Jarmusch films who are actually acting like real people.
You might remember my rant about how my iPod died the day before my 14 hour drive to Memphis, thus forcing me to listen to some pretty crappy local radio the whole way. Well after doing a little research on the internet I decided to give good ol’ kick mechanics a try (e.g. knocking it around a little). What did I have to lose? it was just a paper weight anyway. Actually my plan was to turn it into a super fly piece of bling by attaching it to a big gold chain.
I actually did find some supportive testimonials online saying that a good whack will cure an ailing iPod. And my good buddy Tony had done the same thing with good results. So with a couple whacks on the surface of my desk, I plugged the sucker in and lo and behold I could import music with no problem!
I can’t decide if I want to rename my resurrected iPod Lazarus, or Andy Kaufman.
Update: It seems the iPod is still a bit messed. It’s picky about uploading tracks now. I does work. But, only sometimes. So the miracle cure wasn’t as great as I thought. I’ll just have to find something more interesting to do with it. I wonder how much it would cost to shoot it out into space?