From the Afterword:
Blake and I are both born and bred Memphians and that statement has a much deeper meaning than the fact that we consume music like water. Memphis is its own place with its own mores and society and history. Memphis is the last puzzle piece in a huge jigsaw. You know the piece; it’s the one you can’t find. Perhaps it will turn up when you take the kitchen cabinets out to replace them in 20 years. Perhaps it was the one that your younger brother stuck in his pocket so he could take the honor of putting in the last piece, only he lost it when the punks at school beat him to a pulp. Memphis is a place of it’s own, an alternate dimension in so many ways. I can’t count how many times I have heard someone say, “The first time I came through Memphis, of course I never dreamed I would move here, but…” The point being that Memphis is a flytrap and the smallest city anywhere. There is speculation that everyone can be linked by six degrees of separation, Memphis is more like two and a half. We are all somehow drawn here and then stranded just like more Mississippi river detritus clumped together on a snag. The entire world recognizes that Memphis is different and categorizes that difference by sticking under the label ‘music’ but the singularities here run so much deeper. Many think of New Orleans when the memory conjures up images of southern death and dark magic, but Memphis has had its share of both.
Under ‘Music’ you see the subtitle of ‘Beale Street.’ Beale used to be a dark place before it was sanitized in the eighties. The darkness dating way back, even before Furry ever dreamt of singing the blues. My grandmother took the entire family to Beale when I was ten or so. She said she needed to go back before the cleaning came. She grew up visiting her uncle’s drug store at Lafayette and Beale. Her uncle (a man with a 2-inch pinkie nail for counting pills before cocaine addicts ever dreamt of such) likely treated more syphilis than the health department, since there was a brothel upstairs. And he might well have sent folk a few doors down to A. Schwab for mandrake root and other herbal ‘remedies’ to rectify a pregnancy. I was likely the only seventh grader in my midtown private school to know that roots, primeval concoctions, and correctly colored candles could all be purchased at A. Schwab, just inside the door before you reached any clothing or sundries. (Although many neighbors knew that a St. Anthony statue purchased at the cathedral could be buried outside the house to speed its sale and I’m not entirely sure what the difference was.)
Beale Street has always been the place where two of Memphis’s deepest veins, music and magic, cross. Perhaps they are only one vein buried so far as to be obscured and appear doubled. Life and death twist around each other endlessly here to become the yarn, the tale of Memphis. Memphis may lack the self-assured gentility of other Southern towns, but it has the mojo. Nowhere else have I heard of a 6th grade class going to a cemetery to do gravestone rubbings, but I went on that field trip. I also went to the ancient ammo dump at shakerag and saw the dead white and black beheaded roosters and the markings on the trees… This common history and birthright led circuitously to meeting Blake at a coffee shop during high school. Many teens met over coffee to discuss gods and God, wealth vs. money, and all those topics that youth can dissect so easily. (I am not entirely sure if we were all hippies or punks that year, but that is irrelevant, I suppose.) Three or four years later we met again at college, both hungry art students. Another decade and the net is the meeting place. I had always toyed with the spirit and Blake always keyed in on the music. The musical side is perhaps more linked to the life force, but the magic is ultimately rooted in death. There is nowhere in Memphis that captures this oddly clean and realistic, yet magical view of death, better than its oldest cemetery, Elmwood. Elmwood houses people from every walk of life and is full of tributes large and small, groomed and broken, seen and unseen. This book gives you a brief walk through those magical tributes. Blake has attempted to give you all a glimpse of the reality that has breathed down our necks since birth. A reality many of you will never comprehend, but perhaps here you will be able to at least see it…