I was not going to feel the need to actually defend Memphis against Hamilton Nolan and company. I was going to let it go the way of yesterday's news. But . . . this morning, wending my way to the train, it all came over me anew. You see, recently I've made a concerted effort to be less of a cynic. I don't think my old contempts were natural; they were a pose of youth. The opening and softening of my opinions and sensibilities has been revelatory, quite pleasant. However, even I was shocked at the "softness" of the thoughts occurring to me this A.M.: Memphians have poetical souls. Only poetically-souled people could love a dying city. The phrase "poetical souls" was a particular surprise. But there you have it.
Memphis is a tricky place. The crime rate is high, the gap between rich and poor enormous, the city government wicked and farcical. Much appears to be decaying about one, out of use, out of order, a lover struck with plague. But—partially because of, not in spite of its troubles—the place is full of human beauty and richness (if you don't trust the biased natives, just ask Jim Jarmusch or Cat Power). None of this artfulness is an accident. It is the product of the incredible highs and lows, near magical forces at work. It is the product of poetry, Memphian soulfulness. SOUL MUSIC!!!!! I may live in Brooklyn now, because it's where a young artist ought to be, but it's not for lack of love for my hometown or the glorious friends that I have there (Pillow and Alpha!). Look across this country and you will find so many places loved by poets, loved because of their inherent flaws and feats, downs and ups, loved without hope or promise. Where are you from Hamilton Nolan? What do you love? Are you one of those people who only love clean, easy, hermetically sealed places? Soulless places? Harrumph!
It would be pedantic of me to make a list of all of the great soul records made in Memphis, for there are many many many, but I will provide a snippet sampler (Otis at Monterey!):