Thursday, September 09, 2010

Road Trip: Memphis, Here Comes The Sun

Today in Memphis we took the Sun Studio tour. "Tour" is a strong word for something that is actually only one room big, if you don't count the secretary's desk and the control room (which you don't tour), but it was far more interesting than I thought it'd be.

I mostly think of Howling Wolf when I hear the words "Sun Studio" and so it was a little odd to be pressed in with about 25 over-50 year old white people on this particular tour, but all was revealed when the guide asked how many of us were Elvis fans and everyone bellowed yes (in a refined way) except for me and Kali Durga, and when she asked if all of us had been on the Graceland tour everyone said yes, except for me and Kali Durga. I felt like some sort of infiltrator in an enemy camp...but the information was all good. The guide, a pretty blonde woman with a giant black letter text tattoo across her collarbone which I couldn't help thinking she'd end up regretting, enthusiastically recounted Sun and Memphis tales. These included insights on to why giant cocks seem to be a Memphis obsession (one of the artists whose name now escapes me used to have a big rooster that hung out on his shoulder and occasionally drank his whisky, until animal cruelty laws made him retire the bird), Elvis's Social Security Card with Aron with one "A", how to cut a demo acetate in Sun Studios (Elvis paid $3 for his, but Sam Phillips ignored it, and you can now cut your own for $30, but it's karaoke), and that the "X" that marks the spot where Elvis recorded something or other (I forget) was once visited by Bob Dylan, who kissed it and then walked out.

I didn't know Sun Studio had been closed for many years and re-opened in the 80's. Apparently the later occupants never replaced the floor tiles or the Popular Mechanics' 1948 article-inspired zig-zag acoustic ceiling configuration, nor the primitive acoustic tiles. The control room is off limits because the original room is once again a studio at night, and it is modernized. There are a dozen guitars banked against the wall, a drum kit, Elvis's original Shure mike (on a modern stand) which we were encouraged to pose with, although I passed on that, pleading old war injuries, and, in the museum upstairs a variety of ancient recording equipment which I'm sorry to mention was still state of the art when I first discovered music.

Wandering around the delta yesterday taught me a lot about the life in the South at the time, but I think when I was at Sun Studio I first got an inkling of how black and white musicians were mingling and rock and roll came to be. An epiphany of sorts - imagining how Sam Phillips, guy who wanted to record edgy black music, came to ask his white recording artists "Why don't you try it it this way?" And the record shop and gift shop were cool too.

Then we went to the civil rights museum, and I learned a lot more about that kind of thing, but it wasn't exactly fun. More later.

Oh, and I had some oysters at somebody or other's Irish oyster lounge, which has signs up about diving goats. We asked about the goats and their diving and the waitron said they no longer dove. They used to drink beer and dive enthusiastically, but animal cruelty laws meant that they were no longer allowed to drink. And at that point they gave up diving. First cocks, now goats. These animal cruelty laws have a lot to answer for.


Malia said...

Great post, felt like I was right there with you feeling awkward about not being an Elvis fan, although I wouldn't have missed Graceland for anything given it's sheer tackiness. Glad you had a goat moment, even if they couldn't drunkenly dive for you

Jeff from Sun said...

Thanks for visiting Sun!

Peromyscus said...

Thanks, Jeff! It was a wonderful place to visit and your staff are great.


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