As I drove into Memphis, I got a call this morning from a company I pitched a large branding project to before I left New York. They told me I’d won their business, and I’ll be rebranding their company. I spent a week on a pitch deck that I probably didn’t need to do, but I was just starting a freelance career and wanted the work, so I pulled out all the stops. I have a hard time asking for more money, saying no, or pushing deadlines, which was why I’ve been hesitant to be a freelancer in the first place. But hey, I guess you gotta just give it shot and see what happens.
I tried to forget the work, and started touring Memphis by bike. The first spot I came across in the historic district was the National Civil Rights museum. It is a beautifully planned museum and monument to the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King’s assassination. The museum was built around the Lorraine Motel, where King was shot. I came across the motel by accident, but immediately recognized it. I remembered the photograph: Martin Luther King laying on the second floor of the motel with his entourage pointing up at a building across the street where the shot came from.
Seeing that motel moved me much more than any presidential monument I saw in D.C. I was immediately holding back tears. Seeing it there in front of me made the event so real. Somebody assassinated the greatest man in American history. I wondered what he would have done if he was not killed. He spoke out against the Vietnam war, and near the end of his life he was the biggest advocate for peace and non-violence in the country. I hoped his quest for peace was not the reason for his death. I hoped our government was not involved as a way of protecting their interests in the war.
In every city I’ve traveled through there are roads, streets, monuments, freeways, schools, and parks named after this man. Anywhere I saw it, his name brought about a feeling of reverence and respect. I am proud to live in a country that produced a man like this, but simultaneously ashamed to live in a country that killed him.
I had hoped Memphis would have an incredible music scene entrenched in rock & roll and blues. I was a bit disappointed with Beale street. It being a tourist hotspot, I shouldn’t have expected much in terms of new music. Like Nashville, the musicians were aware they were playing for tourists, and were playing the hits they knew the tourists preferred(a lot of classic rock). I don’t think their hearts were in it.
A girl who worked at Sun Records had told me about a Memphis music festival called Gonerfest. Goner Music is a local music label, and every year they put on a festival in support of their acts. I was fortunate enough to be in Memphis while the fest was happening. She told me about a few bars and venues that played music for the festival, and I rode my bike a couple miles to the first one on the list, Hi-Tone. Cheap Time, Midnight Human Eye, and Mudhoney were playing there. The place was a decent size and it was packed, hot, sweaty, and intense, just how I like it.
The first two bands were great punk bands that got the crowd going. As the night wore on, the crowd grew more intense and a huge mosh pit formed in the middle of the floor. I got the urge and jumped into the middle, thrashing, bouncing, pushing and getting thrown around by the crowd. Folks started jumping into the crowd from the stage and we all pitched in chucking them around over our heads. When Mudhoney came on, we went wild for an hour and a half. I was right in the middle of a large, whirling, sweaty mass of people, not knowing which end was up. It was the best time I’ve had at a show in a long time.
Two fellow New Yorkers
At the show I ran into a fellow New Yorker who I’ve run into about six or seven times before at similar shows in New York, and now here he was in Memphis. Small world I guess. He was a hard-core music lover, and seemed to go to every show in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I wound up hanging out with he and his friend all night. At 2:30 am, we went to another bar called “The Buccaneer Lounge” where we listened to more punk bands until the sun came up. I managed to find my way back to the motel where I showered off the sweat, smells, and spilled beer and crashed into bed for a couple hours of sleep.