Day II: NOLA-Memphis
Beginning the day with some really confusing parking in the French Market area, but when I got my coffee from Caffe du Monde in my car I legitimately screamed. That is a very different taste from anything! Yes I do think that the coffee itself was fine, not like outstanding, but the flavor of chicory adds so much to it and it made the coffee so unique. However, cold beignets weren’t good. I assume that they would have tasted much better if I didn’t get them at 8am and waited till 1pm to have them.
There were quite some wetlands before I left NOLA and it was another really gorgeous view. Driving in the Florida Panhandle has been awful – it was just constantly forest. However, seeing water bodies and more diverse plantations make the drive much more lively. However, it did take me some time to realize that Spanish moss is no longer in sight and that is kind of strange.
As I mentioned in another blog post, I decided to go to Memphis because I became really interested in Elvis after the documentary. It also happened that there might be music that I have not heard before. Visiting Graceland was a big investment. It is potentially the most expensive museum I have ever visited. However, how often would I be in Memphis and visit the house of one of the most iconic musician of all time? I was glad that I did the tour because it was all worth it.
Visiting Graceland mansion was a very unique experience. The audio guide was very well done, even though there are actually not a lot of things in the house to be seen, as they are all moved to the Elvis complex.
The mansion itself is not as flamboyant as Elvis’ costume, even though there were a lot of elements that were obviously very luxurious back in the days. The living areas were just as elegant as many tasteful houses, but it was the entertainment areas that were wild. The fabric walls of the billiard room was too gorgeous, and having a racketball court in the property? How many musicians can afford that?
Thinking about the last recording in the Jungle Room, and imagining what happened emotionally in that room, were quite overwhelming. How difficult it was for everyone to experience that singing and musicking process. I can see the shades of faith and gospel throughout the whole place, and ending the tour in the memorial garden, with all the stained glasses and religios statues…what a contrast between his extravagent life and where his heart eventually rested in.
The rest of the museum is kind of essential, but too boring. I wish all the gold and platinum records could be placed at where they used to be, instead of being taken out of the context, becoming just a big wall. I also couldn’t care less about the cars, though I know that was part of his life.
Visitng Beale Street was as exciting and as wild as my night in NOLA. Street bands were everywhere making music. However, comparing with NOLA, people are playing more diverse stuff, and there were a few places that are much more famous than the others. There are definitely more blues stuff here, (duh) but the rhythm is not as straight as New Orleans jazz, and there are more 12-bar blues going on everywhere, with some kind of country going on at multiple places. If I were to look for the classic sounds in New Orleans, I chose to see what new things Memphis could offer.
I went to an outdoor bar and listen to a trio that is doing some fusion stuff. It was not purely jazz, or blues, or funk, or whatever. It was another sound that I truly adored. They also had a singer who sang a few very basic tunes, which I preferred to have less of that. The instrumentalists were so outstanding and the keyboardist’s improv was tremendous. I wandered around Beale Street just to hear more things, but in general it was not as creative as what I heard in NOLA. There is a little more emphasis on tradition on this street.
I met a Brit who was on a month-long tour around the south, and we basically had a similar agenda. He was so eager to learn about the glorious past of American music, and almost convinced me to go to Sun Records the day after. However, the fact that tourists coming to Memphis, not the other big cities, to learn about music that were born in America is something to think deeply about. Music is how America was known. It is where a lot of the trend-setting music happened and it still does. Where is American music going? How can we, the classical musicians, create such an impact as well?