Memphis Musings


May 2002; Memphis, Tennessee

…The Memphis, Tennessee rock n roll museum was absolutely splendid. My generation seems to know so little about the tremendous socio-cultural changes said to have transformed American society in the 1950s and ‘60s. All we “know” is that Elvis Presley “changed” music, and “launched” rock and roll. But we don’t understand what that means, or why, or how. Although I recently painted “The King”, I myself didn’t know the story behind the legend, but was simply intrigued by historical factors underlying the Elvis character, chronicles, and fame. Following a trip to the museum, I am better able to relate to and respect Elvis — for being who he was, for being himself, for being uninhibited by the societal forces which sought to rein-in the creativity which compelled him. I knew virtually nothing about the black gospel foundation upon which almost all “American” music is based, and have loved talking about the evolution of music, the “language of the muses”, with CDR Walker and others I’ve met around town. Earlier this week I ate lunch at the All Hands Club with a guy who works at Navy Personnel Command. He’s a former Navy enlisted cryptologist who used to track Russian subs, travel to Russia to inspect its nuclear missile treaty compliance efforts, and worked with Navy SEALS and Divers to bug Russian subs in their own waters. He left military service to pursue a professional music career as a guitarist and bassist, then came back into the Navy later. In-depth discussions with him and CDR Walker, as well as my visit to the rock n’ roll museum, have helped me realize the similarities and differences between country music, hillbilly, rockabilly, rock n’ roll, rock, gospel, rhythm n’ blues, soul, rap, go-go, and go-go/blues/rock. It’s been a fabulous walk through time, history, culture, and the evolution of sound, rhythm, song and dance, lyrics, dance styles, teenage rebellion, and social and societal upheaval, or at least upwelling.

It had also been a while since I’d cried. Going to the hotel where MLK was shot — I already forget its name, became its own upwelling. I was so awestruck — that he was there, standing on that balcony, looking down upon the people, his people, our people, the people of this nation who believed in him, and that he was enjoying the music in the courtyard patio below, when someone took his life. I was slightly overwhelmed at MLK’s power, and the power of that rifle, and the power of hate, and endeavored to control my own feelings of hate for the man who killed him. I was angry. Irritated and annoyed. Frustrated — at not being able to change or rewrite history, or influence immediately the goodness and evil of humankind for the betterment of this world. Imagine what the world, our world, would have been, if that man, MLK, had lived.

The sun was in my eyes as I looked west, toward CDR Walker and the people we’d met at the fence and whom we’d starting talking to; my resultant squint hopefully concealing the tear I felt forming in the corner of my eye. I decided not to think about it too much, lest I become too upset, and struggle uselessly against a past I can neither amend nor revise. CDR Walker understood, and said it still pisses him off that John Wilkesbooth shot Lincoln, but what can we do about it?

I think we can strive to live the lives that Lincoln and King both wanted us to live, but I don’t think a lot of people get it. My own friends/colleagues still can’t comprehend why I become so “involved” with the homeless & helpless people I meet in the Memphis streets, and everywhere. But isn’t that the point – to get involved, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to communicate, engage, and help each other stand up with dignity, pride, and self-worth — not just because we’re Americans, or Christians, Jews, Muslims, or anything or anyone else, but because we’re capable of doing so? Why have we sworn to give our lives for our country, we Naval and Marine officers, who belong to a fraternity the strength of which has never been seen before on this planet? The reason we belong to that fraternity is because we believe in power for peace, because we believe that people are not always going to respect each other, that nations will not always be able to resolve their differences diplomatically, and because we understand, as Clausewitz said, that war is an extension of politics. Well, politics is the governing of the polis, by the people, for the people, to ensure that the rights of all men — whom we believe to have been created equal — are preserved, respected, and enforced – the right of all mankind, whether homeless, jobless, or self-esteemless, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Isn’t that the true measure of a man’s character – how he treats those who are unable to help themselves, those who are totally useless to him, or who don’t provide some reciprocal benefit to him? But I don’t think that we do a good enough job of articulating and contemplating these issues, and what it’s all for — either as Sailors, Americans, spiritual beings, or as altruistic human beings in general.

Ken Walker later finagled his way into playing a few songs with the same live band he’d drummed for on Beale Street last week, and had a blast. We were all happy for him that he was so happy. Music is his passion. I guess dancing is the way the rest of us — who aren’t able to coax rhythm and song from musical instruments — express and enjoy and share and participate in that same passion. I certainly had another blast dancing up a storm. We went back to B. B. King’s and wore out that linoleum dance floor, met other tourists and locals, and were awestruck by the prowess of the band up there on stage, and the two black guys who wowed the place with their gymnastics and breakdance-type moves out there. Our civilian friends pretty much understood and agreed at the end of the night that the Navy’s not just a job, but — true to its 1990s advertising slogan, a real adventure.

So much to tell, so little time, so much left out — like the NBA finals featuring Shaq and Kobe, the Swisher Sweet cigars, Mountain Dew, our romp around Beale Street. Gotta get some rack time now, though. We said our goodbyes, I caught up with Theresa a little bit, and called it a night. Tomorrow’s another day — of fueling vehicles, turning in keys, packing it up, and heading to Nashville. Going to see Scott, and Margaret. Don’t even have a solid job lined up when I get back to Miami yet, but boy, at least I’m enjoying the ride.


Written by Glenn Yeck | Comments Off on Memphis Musings