Saturday, December 6, 2008
From Memphis with Love
Just returned from my road trip through Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. It was an amazing experience with just me and my maps and notes to guide me. Just like the mighty river I followed, I let the tides take me along unknown routes at times, discovering diamonds lurking in the shadows.
One of the new things I learned on this trip was how much the Mississippi River has changed course over the centuries. When visiting the Vicksburg battle ground site I was shocked to see how much the river had moved since 1863. I think this has been controlled more by man with giant earth mound levees, but I can't imagine that it can ever be fully corralled. I drove along the top of one of these levees, in Greenville, at night with the moon casting long, blue shadows. I was driving along a windy two-lane paved road with the disheveled, half-empty town to my left and the mighty river and it's steam boat casinos to my right. Many of the towns along the Mississippi build giant casinos in the river to bring in revenue, while their streets continue to rot next door. Kinda sad.
I ate a lot of bbq, fried chicken and coleslaw while down there.....washing it down with sweet tea. I would drop by a Kroger in the morning to pick up an apple or two to get some vitamin C into my system so I didn't die of scurvey. Mississippi is one of the unhealthiest states in the US, and I can see the main reason is not only the food, but the extreme poverty I saw all around me. Whereas the urban and rural decay looks cool to a photographers eye, one has to remember that this is it for a lot of these folks, and there's no easy way out.
Everyone's real curious about the new tourist in town, and I was constantly stopped to ask where I was from. When I replied "New York" most would state the obvious, "That's real far from here." I would reply, "and well worth the trip!"
Memphis is the so-called birthplace of rock n roll, and while that's way too simplified to be true, it certainly carries much of the title. This is largely thanks to Sam Phillips, one of my heroes. He helped discover Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike Turner, Howlin Wolf, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and BB King. But predating even Mr. Phillips one must tip their hat to Beale Street and all the bands and influence that spawned from that prolific route from the turn of the century through the 1950's. Unfortunately, Beale Street is pretty much gone now. Most of the buildings were torn down in the '70's and '80's and what's in their place is a disney theme park with the tackiest bars imagineable and low lifes tugging on your sleeve looking for a handout.
Beale Street aside, I loved Memphis and it's eccentric residents! I definitely plan to go back, and would even hope to play a gig at one of its many inspiring venues. Memphis, I shall return!!!