It’s been a busy, brutal summer. While John Parker (Harvey Wilkes Sirhan Sirhan) Wilson ran through “voluntary” workouts on campus, while D.J. Hall did not, while Juwan Simpson lived out a missing verse to an R. Kelly song, and while Ken(neth) Darby seethed over press clippings, I kept the dog days on a leash testing screw-tops, child-proof caps, and my patience until football season starts. Still, it could have been worse.
Part of the summer I spent on a coincidental Death Tour of Memphis, hitting the trifecta of Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Logan Young’s house. Stately Young Manor is within pissing distance of the Liberty Bowl, so that if you are touring the site of Bryant’s last game and are not good with directions, you will turn right when you should have gone straight and be face to face with the front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal before you have time to sober up. The landscaper will look at you funny and probably call you crazy (you won’t be sure because you don’t speak Spanish), but for a ten spot he will take your picture from across the street.
What more can be said of Graceland? The ginormous sofa. The jungle room. The bullet-riddled television. The monkey.
King, I love you, but your aesthetics are in doubt when even the Japanese – inventors of the robot dog, toilet-based game shows, and Donkey Kong – say, “whoa, I gotta see this!”
The National Civil Rights Museum is perhaps the most misnamed landmark in America. National? Arguably, but it is thoroughly Memphis, based in the same building where Dr. King was slain. Civil rights? Narrowly, yes. Women’s suffrage makes a cameo in the welcome film, Malcom has a poster in the stairway, and the only gay people you’ll see there are probably handing you your credit card receipt in the gift shop. Museum? Well, museums hold artifacts; this place holds ghosts.
Truthfully, the old Lorraine Motel has become the de facto Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. But this understandable identity crisis probably meets enough expectation to do no harm. The same cannot be said for the museum’s annex across the street, where one can see the sniper’s nest and – unadorned, unannounced, unprepared for, in an evidence case with a small pink strip of paper beneath it – the God-damned bullet.
That bullet’s still doing damage, in Memphis and elsewhere. But another part of Memphis may heal the wound. Call it the inner city, the urban area, the ghetto, or whatever, but in the middle of it sits the old Stax-Volt record label. It’s a music school now. And it offers its own museum that may bolster some of the hope you felt drain away looking across the street at wreath on Room 306. Observe:
We learn two things from the above clip: 1) Otis would have made a hell of a tight end. Seriously, look at the size of him. I’ve seen Steve Cropper around town and he’s a big dude, but he looks like he’s playing a First Act Starmaker Special from the kiddie department up there next to the Big O.
And 2) Otis does not thank you.
You thank Otis. You thank God you got to see Otis.