A Day of Ghosts, A Day of Kings

8 02 2011

My first time in Memphis. Southaven, Mississippi, really. But close enough, just over the state line; you fly into Memphis. Usually on these work trips I never get to see or experience anything that brings the place renown, anything touristy. Hence my over-elation (perhaps) at the smell of barbecue right off the jetway. Who knows? This may be the most culturally significant experience of the entire trip.

At baggage claim, where I rendezvous with the rest of the crew, the director informs me that our services will not be required until late afternoon the following day, and that in the morning we will be taking a field trip into downtown Memphis (my heart leaped) to the world famous Sun Studios (out of my throat and across the lobby). And if there is time, we’ll go to Graceland or the Civil Rights Museum. All gravy, as far as I am concerned, some real Southern-fried sightseeing.

Walking into the one room studio at Sun, you think you’re going to be prepared. How mind blowing could it be, such a simple room? Well, I think that’s exactly how they must want you to feel…because all the history begins to flow through your mind (Karl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, U2, oh, and that Elvis guy. What’s his name?) There’s even a picture of the Million Dollar Quartet on the wall. The wall itself looks identical today.

But that’s nothing compared to when they play you the music. You look around, hear the music soar through the room, and you know there are ghosts in there with you. The feeling is undeniable. There’s the microphone that captured all the voices for decades, right next to an ‘X’ on the floor where Elvis stood when he first auditioned for Sam Phillips. He wasn’t quite The King yet; that would take another, oh, couple weeks! You feel it in your gut, all the history and mystique wringing out all your adrenaline.

I take a picture with the microphone…and buy a t-shirt.

After that, and a few miles down the road, we go to the National Civil Rights Museum. Quite a timely visit, February being Black History Month. The whole turn of events is becoming more serendipitous by the second, given my meeting Myrlie Evers last week. We pull into the parking lot, and begin walking towards the complex, something seems very familiar, and I begin to experience a feeling similar to that I felt at Sun; my adrenaline was charging and the place had a certain spirit. But the spirit here takes on a somber tone, a funeral hymn. I find myself standing in front of the Lorraine Motel: the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King.

To call these hallowed grounds would be inadequate, like calling the Himalayas “hills”. Nothing prepared me to see the place where King fell, the newer square of concrete poured to replace the blood-stained piece that he left, the beautiful gospel music playing in the shrine. This wasn’t simply a feeling of ghosts, but of a much greater tide of spirit, much more emotional. The combined sorrow of an entire people, past and present.

It’s an emotion that’s hard to describe. This place, so wrought with sorrow at the loss of leader, a huge blow atop a mountain of centuries of pain and injustice. You feel something greater than yourself, you feel that weight. The gospel music comes through the speakers, the water wells up in your eyes, you can’t help it.

It’s quite a way to experience Memphis, or any other city, with one site so celebratory and one more contemplative. It’s a collective experience not shared by many other cities I have been to, at least not on that level. Though every town must have its legends and fallen heroes, accomplishments that deserve to be remembered and respected, gifts and deeds that changed lives, maybe not on a global scale like those of Kings, but at least on a local one, where you can interact directly and frequently with those leaders, any one who sacrifices time and even their lives to share with others, to lift them up, to make the world a better place for everyone.

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Too Much Inspiration

23 01 2011

Could there really be such a thing? 

Without a doubt. Especially when faced with menial tasks, such as cleaning the house. It seems my inspiration likes to peak at these times just to challenge me, as if it had signed a treaty with the more domestic side of my personality. Bastards!

I am living proof that you can have too much inspiration. Our house is currently undergoing a post-construction deep cleaning. With no privacy, I had to get out. So I took Roxy for a walk, and on the way, I had ideas for three blog entries. This being one and one each for two other blogs I am attempting to get off the ground. Being that I am giving this writing thing a go, I’ve GOT to follow through on all of them…tonight. Sleep? It’s cheap, when you’re not working.

Here’s the thing about inspiration though: it can be a bit like an ecstasy high, once you blast through all your serotonin, there’s a crash and until your brain builds it back up you remain a hair inconsolable. Thus, so exist the cycles that make creative endeavors so catalyzing (when you’re up) and frustrating (you get it).

Man (sorry to jump) isn’t it great though when it hits? It’s like you’re directing connections with a seventh sense; synapses in a stellar brain cosmos connect and fire with the point of your finger, and it then it gets so good you don’t even have to point, or barely even think it. The magic happens.  You don’t worry about whether people will like it, or get it…until later.

“Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.” That’s my favorite thing Frank Zappa ever said. I imagine when he said that, he was far past the place of caring what most people thought about what he did (as long as they paid for it!). One thing I do know about Zappa is that he didn’t take his fans for granted. He knew the number of records they bought would largely dictate the budget for his next record and thus the ambitious range it could contain (though I admit it’s against nature to imagine Zappa limiting himself creatively).

Here’s a clip of Zappa on Letterman talking about how he went about getting the London Symphony Orchestra to play his music for an album, and why he probably wouldn’t be doing that again any time soon (the video quality is bad, but the sound is pretty good):

Zappa was an anomaly. He not only had a steady stream of inspiration his entire productive life, he had the intelligence to translate it for his band members, the technical knowhow to bring it to the public himself, the experience to know when to tell the industry to go fuck itself (which was, and remains, often), and the balls to do it all.

It’s a powerful thing, this ethereal commodity, without which all our lives would be emptier, darker, colder. Even those who never get to experience it firsthand at all, who never get to feel their heart about to explode because they can’t get it out fast enough. Those of us who do get to bathe in that rush, that godly deluge…man, we are a lucky bunch.