Joe Guse on Chris Farley

Monday, January 23, 2012

Walkin' in Memphis


Walkin’ in Memphis


Just pulling out of Memphis Tenessee. Had a wonderful weekend full of adventure. I got up on stage with BB King’s house band and played (flailed at) the trombone,. I stood at the very spot where James Earl Ray gunned down Martin Luther King.  I held the microphone where Johnny Cash recorded his first song. I sat and mediated at the spot where Elvis played “Unchained Melody” a couple of hours before he died. I’m not ashamed to say I cried when I stood at his grave, thinking 42 was too young for him to leave this mortal coil.

Travel is good for the soul. I’ve always known that, but sometimes in the hustle and bustle of life, I forget it. There is something about being in a strange place that challenges you to snap out of your comfort zone and start again with new people in new places. It helps you grow. I’m sure of it.

So on a whim I went to Memphis. I picked this place after reading a story about Marc Cohn, who wrote the seminal hit "‘Walkin’ in Memphis" back in 91’. Much like I did, he decided to visit this city to see Graceland and find out a little more about the King. While he was there, he had what he described as a “spiritual awakening.” Here is the story,

“Cohn wrote this song after traveling to Memphis to check out Graceland, which is Elvis Presley's mansion and a kitschy tourist destination. He made sure to see an Al Green sermon when he was there, but it was a trip out of Memphis along Highway 61 where the meaty part of his journey took place. In the desolate Delta, he saw a sign that said "Hollywood," which turned out to be the Hollywood Cafe, which is a small diner/music joint in Tunica County, Mississippi. This is where Cohn smelled the catfish and encountered a black woman in her 70’s named Murial who was at the piano. After watching Murial play a variety of spirituals and Hoagy Carmichael songs for about 90 minutes, he spoke with her when she took a break.

Cohn's mother died when he was just 2 years old, and he lost his father at age 12. He spent a lot of time reconciling his childhood, which often comes out in his songs. Speaking with Murial, he got maybe the best therapy of his life. Cohn described this conversation in his 1992 interview with Q magazine, saying: "She was real curious, she seemed to have some kind of intuition about me, and I ended up telling her about my family, my parents, how I was a musician looking for a record deal, the whole thing. Then, it must have been about two in the morning, she asks me up to sing with her and we do about an hour, me and this lady I'd never met before, playing a song I hardly knew so she's yelling the words at me. Then at the end, as the applause is rising up, she leans over and whispers in my ear, “You've got to let go of your mother, child, she didn't mean to die, she's where she's got to be and you're where you have to be, child, it's time to move on."

I was so touched to read that. I think in many ways we are all trying to reconcile things from our past, and the more we resist it, the more it comes back. Stephen King said it like this, “So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting for us rarely crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little. “

So I found myself in Memphis, trying to reconnect with a piece of my own past. Once upon a time I was a young kid at loose in this city. I was practically broke, in love for the first time, and dazzled and a little amazed to be in a new place. I remember at the time reading a story about a young Bruce Springsteen jumping the fence at Graceland because he wanted to show Elvis a song he had written. It always resonated with me. I aspired to be that bold.

As I walked the streets of Memphis all these years later, I heard the song “always something there to remind me” playing in my head. I remember being young and wistful, and I miss those times. But for better or for worse, I have gotten older, and in this and all other incarnations, I play the hand that is dealt. Perhaps Oscar Wilde said it best, “the soul is born old but grows young, that is the comedy of life. And the body is young but grows old. That is the tragedy of life.”

So aside from all the comedies and tragedies of my own life, I had a bit of my own spiritual awakening while I was walking the streets of Memphis. And it wasn’t because I learned something new or came to a different kind of understanding. Instead, I remembered something and someone I once was, and I realized I am still very much that same person. I came to understand that age, at it’s core, is really nothing more than a concept we conceive in our own minds We place limitations on ourselves based on what we “should” be doing, but ultimately the only person we have to account for is ourselves. Of course we try and improve ourselves along the way, but in the meantime, to find any kind of happiness, we have to find a kind of self-acceptance.

So that’s what I found in Memphis. A kind of understanding that in many ways I still am that young, brazen and hopeful young man I once was, while also being a little older and wiser as well. All of the stops on the timeline have their purpose, and shape us in ways we don’t always fully comprehend. The truth is that a life lived well is one we can come back to over and over again. To create these memories we just have to find our courage to try something new and do something different. This is why travel is so therapeutic. So farewell for now Memphis. I shall return.. Thanks for the memories..