Travelling the Music Highway
What else are you going to name the Interstate that connects Nashville and Memphis? This area really is the birthplace of most modern music as we know it, it’s quite incredible. This southern cauldron that cooked up a mess of the blues, a jambalaya of finger pickin’ finger lickin’ good time music a melting pot of balck and white influences as wide as the Mississippi, and just as enduring. It is truly an honour as a humble exponent of the art to wander these cities, these streets, where legends were born.
We left the Nashville skyline behind on Saturday morning taking the I-40 west – the music highway, as the sun came out, and we rocked out to FM radio, that jewel of American airwaves that puts the UK to shame. Are you listening, Radio One playlist poseurs??? With your obsession with low-grade rap and dance trash that you force feed the masses??? In half an hour on the road I heard The Who, Led Zep, AC/DC, Foghat, ZZ Top, McCartney,Hendrix. You don’t need an ipod or a CD player over here. Some people here still remember what real music is. I felt proud of our musical heritage and ashamed of my country all at the same time.
Manfully trying to resist the advertised foodstops along the highway – Denny’s Dunkin Donuts, Taco Belle – we eventually pulled of at a typical southern truck stop, where we enjoyed a bottomless coffee and kind of burger with egg and cheese in what I can only describe as a kind of scone, as opposed to a bun. It was delicious! The cafe was situated in the middle of some kind of giant two storey hanger full of what we Brits call ‘tat’. That is to say, dreamcatchers, plastic indian heads, rugs, chrome fenders for trucks, mugs with TEXAS on, even though we were in Tennessee- all sorts of thoroughly useless trash. It was fantastic! The diner area had three mannequins dressed as cowboys (one with a skull for a head) who kept us company during our meal. It was the kind of place where Kathy Bates might leap out, whack you over the head and keep you out back for a few years, periodically torturing you. Loved it!
Further on up the road, as someone once sang, we called into the Memphis info centre, where we got clued up on what was to see in the “Birthplace of Rock’n’Roll”. They also seemed to be selling an inordinate amount of merchandise featuring some guy called Elvis Presley. By this time, the rain was coming down, and at the time of writing, the following morning, it hasn’t reallt stopped, and I find myself subcoinsciously humming the Zeppelin classic “When the Levee breaks”.
As darkness fell, noises infiltrated our room, and the dark underbelly of the town was revealed to us. Miki was entirely uncomfortable here, angry shouting and discourse between “da homeys” at 3 a.m. is not condusive to a good night’s sleep. We’re hoping it might just be the weekend clientele, but may seek a change of lodgings if things don’t improve. There was no reason to think we were specifically in any danger, but it created an atmosphere of foreboding. After all, old MLK didn’t have too much luck when he obtained lodgings here in Memphis.
Our motel is situated in downtown Memphis, and I found myself reflecting on a song I wrote as a 14 year old boy who hadn’t ventured further than Wales , called “Does the new song sound OK”, which began with the line “Took a trip into downtown Memphis, on a tour of the USA”. 37 years later, fantasy had become reality.
Why not check out my Nashville music piece over on moore:music?