Recently, I took a trip to Memphis for a project I’m working on. I’ve always had a real affinity for Memphis. Some of my biggest musical influences come from there; B.B. King, Little Milton, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis of course, the flow of music that has passed through Memphis from New Orleans up through the Delta and northward has probably been the single biggest path of influence in contemporary music. So I went to Memphis to soak up some of those ghosts. Feel the weight of the air that men like Howlin’ Wolf pushed out of their lungs to sing something like Moanin’ At Midnight. Even though I live just 3 hours east in Nashville, the vibe is completely different. There is a rhythm to southern towns for sure but at the same time they are all very distinctive in the way they feel, the way people walk and talk and just the ‘texture’ of them.
I went to Memphis to soak in that feel for a while and see if she would ‘shake the muse’ so to speak. “Hello Memphis, I write songs, whaddya got? Anything left in the old tank?” I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what I found, so I can say Memphis is still there!
The coolest moment of this particular trip though was sort of an unexpected one. We went to the National Civil Rights Museum, which is in the old Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The museum is a profound space. A well done introductory film of Dr. King’s life and his pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement begins a self guided tour and it takes you to the actual motel room he occupied on that fateful day as well as to the room where the shot was fired from. All in all, a very profound and thoughtful trip in and of itself, but we weren’t done. The next day was a cold and rainy one and we were sort of wandering around Memphis, talking about the city and what we were seeing and almost as an afterthought, we decided to drive by the Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ Headquarters; the site of Dr. King’s final speech.
We entered, although I’m not sure visitors are even permitted! We were allowed, after signing in, to go into the sanctuary by ourselves! A huge, stately space. I’ve been in a lot of churches when they’re not having services and I’m always awed by the stately silence they have. Just a deep, peaceful air. This one was no exception, a large room, the center of which was occupied by the podium from which Dr. King made his speech. We approached the spot and when I stood there, the feeling was overwhelming. This was the spot where a man, who knew he was destined to die because of his convictions, boldly stood and espoused those very convictions and exhorted the audience to keep the faith. The air felt solemn, heavy with the kind of somber, passive awareness and resignation of a witness. Thanks to an iPhone and YouTube we were even able to sort recreate the speech. Even from little cell phone speakers, Dr. King’s voice was powerful and we all got chills. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve been listening to a lot of Dr. King’s speeches lately and I’m so grateful for the technology that allows us to access these kinds of things! I hope we can put the ideas of people like Dr. King back into the forefront of our consciousness. Just simple ideas; respect, dignity, peace...really simple.