Marketing strategies (which, after all, is all that categories are) may rise and fall, but to the democratic listener they are beside the point. The music calls attention to itself, and then takes you somewhere else. It isn’t really any different than going to Memphis was for me in the first place. One thing inevitably leads to another, and before you know it, you are caught up in the ecstatic dance, the ecstatic trance of the music.
An exerpt from The Screening Room: Family Pictures.
“Did you know how your grandfather M.A.’s heart attack really happened?” Lennie says to me, smiling slyly and sipping her bourbon. “What do you mean?” “Exertion, bien sur. The best kind. And not with your grandmother.” Lennie lights a new cigarette and wriggles her stocking covered toes, poised to let fly another story. Cousins nudge forward in their reclining chairs. Someone moans from the pool, the next generation, and Lennie exhales a cool cloud of blue smoke.
The Memphis Country Blues Festival had a shoestring start in 1966, organized by the Memphis Country Blues Society, an ad hoc group consisting of counterculture figures, musicians, and fans, including Robert Palmer, who would go on to write the seminal book Deep Blues. His daughter, Augusta Palmer, a Brooklyn filmmaker, is seeking to tell the story of the festival in a documentary called The Blues Society.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
It was devastating to find how much I enjoy quiet. For a person whose life is consumed by music, it felt like blasphemy. The first time that I sat down to play guitar and nothing came out, I was terrified.
“No one can tell you why Memphis is as magical as it really is,” said artist and washboard player Jimmy Crosthwait when I interviewed him for The Blues Society, my documentary film-in-progress about the Memphis Country Blues Festivals of the late 1960s. He wasn’t talking only about the magic of a beautiful sunset, a joint, and the sound of the blues, all of which were in profound profusion at the festivals. He was remembering something more elemental, what one of the organizers, the irrepressible Randall Lyon, called the eroico furore, or poetic fury: “It was beautiful to be involved with people who had this heroic enthusiasm for what they were doing.” The Memphis Country Blues Festivals, held yearly from 1966 to 1969, changed the way Memphians—and Americans—think about the blues, and they couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
The images in Ryan Steed’s Went Out for Cigarettes span four Southern states but are occupied by a common “physical and psychological landscape” shaped by the act of travel itself. Marked by the omnipresence of roadside signs and messages scrawled on windows and walls, Steed’s project is concerned with the witness and discovery inherent in any journey.
Devin Lunsford’s All the Place You’ve Got documents the changing landscape along Corridor X, a newly completed interstate project that connects Birmingham to Memphis through a once-remote part of northwest Alabama populated by desolate towns and shuttered coal mines.