I was raised, probably just like everyone else, with the ethos “if you haven’t got anything nice to say”, you know the rest. And I also know I am treading on thin ice with what I am about to write but it has irked me for years that I am just bound to “do a little number” about a song. Let me preface this with: I am not being negative in the slightest and I have nothing personally against what I am about to wax on here and do not know the creator of what I am going to write about in the next 600 or so words. And I doubt they would care one way or the other but much like John Lee Hooker in Boogie Chillun “it’s in him and it’s just got to come out.” I personally do not like the song “Walking in Memphis.” Here is why.
It rubs me the wrong way and has for years. This is nothing new, I did not like it the first few thousand times I heard it. It rubs me the same way that people hear “Free Bird” or “Sweet Home Alabama” and assume that the rest of the rednecks yelling the lyrics out encapsulates me as a southerner. And it rubs me, oh man does it rub me, the wrong way when people use it as some sort of sound track for their first experience in Memphis.
I have been to Disney (East and West) and did not walk around, through my entire experience humming “It’s a Small World.” The song itself is OK and passable so I am not slamming the writer, it “ain’t” his fault and he has no control of what others do after it is released but people, for god’s sake, “Walking in Memphis” is way down on the list of songs you should associate with Memphis.
I get that the tourism board probably loves it and I don’t blame them, it is made to order as far as a tourist song goes. I am very sure the writer of the song loves it and has reaped a just reward. I have no problem with this. The Don Corleone mindset (“It makes no difference, it don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand.”) is my view. Yet for the rest of you, do some homework and realize Memphis is a deep, ocean deep, place filled to the brim with culture. It is a Mecca. So much art has been created, unique to American culture, it boggles my mind and I have done my homework, my entire life and still learn things that still amaze and humble my soul.
So I am not attacking the song. Its lyrics are a bit trite for my taste yet also I get it. The guy was stupefied by his experience and I think this is probably a very honest response and in song no less. Just for the rest of you please, pretty please, do not make it the soundtrack for your journey to Memphis.
Read this book:
Deep Blues by Robert Palmer
or this book
It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon
Listen to these songs:
Booker T. and the M.G.s– Green Onions
There are tons of Stax songs and I encourage anyone to dive in but if I had to pick one I thought captured the sound it’s gotta be this one.
And I would suggest going to Sun Studios
The Stax Museum
Of course there is the King and Graceland
but also for an alternate take on where Memphis Music is now you might want to give a listen to Jack Oblivion who has done and is doing some very interesting music.
Memphis is basically stacked with history and culture unlike any other place in the world. Just don’t let one song from one guy temper your vision before visiting the Bluff City.
* Also for the record I love me some Lynard Skynard, the original boys. Just so you know.