"Memphis Rent Party" collects, expands and updates 30 years of work by writer Robert Gordon.(Photo: Bloomsbury)CONNECT>TWEET>LINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE
Good morning in Memphis, one of America's most sober places, but first ...
The most famous Memphis moment on "Late Night with David Letterman" came in 1982, when Jerry Lawler and Andy Kaufman took their little Memphis wrestling feud national. But the runner up, and perhaps just as compelling a piece of theater, came a few years later, when Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, fresh off induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, walked onto the set.
Was this what many viewers saw: A drunk old coot making a scene? Or was it more complicated than that?
Phillips on Letterman is the first chapter in author Robert Gordon's new book "Memphis Rent Party." Gordon wrote about the moment in the Oxford American in 1997, more than a decade after it happened, and adds new thoughts here, a pattern repeated throughout the book, a compilation of previous pieces (a few unpublished) with extensive new notes.
What Gordon sees in Phillips vs. Letterman:
"Letterman's show was a late-night hipster paradise; showcasing the eccentrics and mocking their oddities, he augured reality TV. Irony was as comforting and old-fashioned as the couch from which the viewer lounged and laughed. My guess is that Sam was unfamiliar with Letterman and had been warned about David's potential to ridicule. Sam was wary, and he was accustomed to being in charge. What we get is a battle of producers – who is going to get what from whom. Because same was giving nothing, and certainly not going to prepare a bland TV dinner version of his achievements – dismissive, simplistic, generic."
I would say there's a tell here. Note Phillips' alert, mischievous smile just before the show cuts to a shot over his shoulder and Phillips drawls: "You gotta work for this a little while tonight, son."
Decide for yourself:
Phillips is a big name, one of the biggest in all of American music. But in following him down a cultural back alley, Gordon signals the rest of his journey, which mostly focuses more on subterranean heroes in the Memphis music story, figures such as rockabilly remainder Charlie Feathers, history-at-his-fingertips piano player Mose Vinson, and Memphis' greatest soul man to not record for Stax or Hi, James Carr. (You may remember Carr from one writer's list of the "60 Greatest Memphis Soul Songs.")
In recent years, Gordon has published leading histories of Stax Records and blues legend Muddy Waters, but he's probably still best known for "It Came From Memphis," his earlier cult classic about cult music. And this reconsidered collection is a kind of unofficial sequel. (Disclosure: I published one of them, on Alex Chilton's death, in the Memphis Flyer.)
It's one that conveys perhaps an even deeper perspective in its new writing, which digs beneath the easy to romanticize artistry of Memphis culture. An example, on blues great Furry Lewis:
"Furry adapted to modern times – electric guitars, urban and suburban audiences – but what he played sprang from particular conditions in a particular place; not just the absence of wealth and comfort but the presence of distress and discomfort, the realities of poverty and the joys of transcending it, even if only for a moment. Blues is the mind's escape and the body's obligation. Blues amplifies the relief whenever and wherever relief can be found. The scarcity of that respite makes it ecstatic."
The release party for "Memphis Rent Party" and the opening of photographer Pat Rainer's related "The Chaos and the Cosmos: Inside Memphis Music's Lost Decade, 1977-1986" are tonight at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Bob Mehr talked to both Gordon and Rainer.
I got "Memphis Rent Party" a couple of weeks ago and hoped to have read it all by now. Unfortunately, writing every day doesn't leave as much reading time as I'd like. I've only skipped around so far, but I'm hitting the road for vacation next week and taking it with me. I'm looking forward to reading the rest. Speaking of which ...
Column Hiatus: Spring break! The 9:01 will be on vacation after today and will return on Tuesday, March 20.
Are We Really Going to Take This Standing Up?: So, here's a list of "America's Drunkest States," and Tennessee comes in ... dead last! Get into the details and this is a good thing, I guess. But it also feels like a bit of a challenge, no? I mean, we've got our own whiskey, we've got our own beer, we've got two historic music cities. We should totally be drunker than Rhode Island or Delaware or – I mean, seriously – Utah.
More good/bad news: Memphis isn't even Tennessee's drunkest city by this measure. It's Nashville. Do they have to have everything? I wondered about Nashville being drunker than us, but some social media back-and-forth prompted sound theories I should have thought of instantly. (My thinking slows precipitously late in the week, and I haven't even imbibed this week.) (Part of the problem, amirite?) Anyway ... Nashville: Pedal bars and bachelorette parties. I mean, some Nashville bachelorettes could probably drink Charles Bukowski, Ulysses S. Grant, and Otis Campbell under the table.
So, we're the less-intoxicated city in the nation's least-drunk state. Be proud. Or ashamed. It's up to you.
Tubby Time Keeps Ticking: Tiger hoops survived South Florida in the first round of conference tournament play in Orlando and will move on to face Tulsa at 1 p.m. today on ESPN2. Geoff Calkins from the scene:
In the meantime, the current Tiger team plays on, with hopes of winning the whole thing. That would take a remarkable and unlikely turn of events, of course. But what if Memphis beats Tulsa to get to the semifinals? What if Memphis advances to the championship game?
It would be shortsighted to base any coaching decision on the results of a single tournament. Memphis administrators either believe in Smith or they do not. But could a long tournament run shift outside perception of any decision? Of course it could.
So now it’s on to Friday, and Tulsa, and another game that could be Smith’s last.
Quick-and-Pop: The Grizzlies were idle last night but got some help, with the Brooklyn Nets winning on the road in Charlotte. The Grizzlies enter the weekend with a one-game win-column "lead" on the Phoenix Suns, a two-game lead on the Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, and Atlanta Hawks, a three-game lead on the Nets, and a four-game lead on the Chicago Bulls, who are close to being scratched off the watch list.
The Grizzlies return home tonight against a team that is where they'd prefer to be: fighting for a playoff spot. The Utah Jazz have won four in a row and worked their way above the postseason cutoff line, at least for now. The Grizzlies have, of course, lost 15 in a row. If you can't bear it, at least scoreboard watch elsewhere: Help is on the way in Sacramento, where the Kings host the Magic. Others active: Bulls (at Pistons), Hawks (at Pacers),
- Cybill Shepherd is coming home this month for a pair of film screenings.
- Tom Bailey on three infill projects approved yesterday by the Land Use Control Board.
- Fried chicken or doughnuts? In Germantown, now, it's one-stop shopping.
- There was a messy back-and-forth at the state legislature over a resolution honoring Memphis activist Tami Sawyer.
Happening in Memphis This Weekend:
- The Memphis Comedy Festival continues through the weekend, with shows at TheatreWorks and the Hi-Tone on Friday and Saturday and at Midtown Crossing on Sunday. Saturday night's headlining set is by Lizz Winstead, co-creator of "The Daily Show." Other potential highlights include "Strip Joker," "Black Nerd Power Hour, and the "Character Assassination" of Craig Brewer. Full schedule and ticketing info here.
- MidSouthCon 36 will get geeky at Hilton Memphis all weekend. John Beifuss has details.
- You can join local artists in breaking out sidewalk chalk to transform the Brooks Museum plaza for Chalkfest on Saturday. New Ballet Ensemble will perform. Food trucks will provide sustenance and more.
- Indie rock at the Cannon Center? Seattle folkies Fleet Foxes and Virginia singer-songwriter Prass will bring a different vibe from the Downtown venue's usual bookings.
- Memphis Black Restaurant Week will come to a close with a Soulful Food Truck Sunday at Clayborn Temple.
The Fadeout: We'll go with Robert Gordon's own video for "Lived in Bars," from Cat Power, an indie singer-songwriter who is one of the artists featured in the book. The primary location here is the Lamplighter, on Madison in Midtown.
Reach Chris Herrington at email@example.com or on Twitter at @chrisherrington and @herringtonNBA.
Source : https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/local/the-901/2018/03/09/9-01-robert-gordon-digs-deep-memphis-rent-party-plus-memphis-drunk-enough/408235002/