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American Road Trip Vol. 3

March 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

stlouis_memphis_tupelo

When we last checked in from our US tour, we were on our way from Kansas City. You will have received our postcards from Albuquerque, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita.

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St Louis, Missouri

Well, isn”t that typical. We turn up at the fair, but where was Louis? All the best laid plans”¦ Without Louis in tow and nothing better to do, we revisit that other great song about St Louis. The Blues named after the city is said to be one of the first and longest-lasting blues cross-over song. Written by W.C. Handy (whose 1923 instrumental recording features here) in 1914, it inspired the foxtrot. Covered by a cast of zillions “” from Louis Armstrong to Chet Atkins to the Flaming Groovies “” wikipedia says the song is often called “the jazzman”s Hamlet”. Travelling the US can be educational.
W.C. Handy ““ St Louis Blues (1923).mp3
Bessie Smith ““ St Louis Blues (1929).mp3

Memphis, Tennessee

Having made a huge detour in our bid to meet up with that schmuck Louis, we heads back south along the Missouri, passing Union City (where Goodyear tires are made) but not stopping because we think Blondie”s song is about the California or Connecticut city of the same name, and arriving in Memphis. Of course, our first stop is Beale Street where we meet a chap wearing “” oh dear, what a cliché “” blue suede shoes blabbering on about how he is a Christian for tonight because of Al Green, or something (to his credit, he also mentions W.C. Handy). We see the same fellow again at Memphis” obligatory destination number 2, Graceland, and quickly take flight when he pretends to see the ghost of Elvis.

Repasting to a bar, we meet a terribly heartbroken fellow from Denver. He tells us his sad tale of how he made the decision to leave for Memphis instead of staying put to be with the girl he loves (and who might have dumped him). “I waited my whole life just to see Memphis,” he says, “now all I can see is her.” As he wells up, we cry cry cry with him.
Marc Cohn ““ Walking In Memphis.mp3
Cry Cry Cry ““ Memphis.mp3

Tupelo, Mississippi

Elvis' birthplace

Elvis' birthplace

We might have cut our visit to Graceland short, but we aren”t going to miss out the place where Elvis was born one cold winter”s morning in 1935, and where his father, Vernon, went to prison for what is said to be the only crime he ever committed. And the town where the Presleys lived in a tiny white enclave in an African-American area, giving the young boy a feel for the rhythms of black music. Two men, a balding Englishman with a languid drawl and a rather peculiar Australian compete to instruct us on Elvis life.

The Australian goes off on a discourse riffing on John Lee Hooker”s song Tupelo and cryptically characterising Elvis as some sort of apocalyptic Messiah. “Yes, that”s nice, dear,” we say, tipping him generously as we turn to the other fellow. Drawlin” Baldy constructs a treatise which holds that after making the movie calamity that is Clambake Elvis lost his way (Baldy evidently has not seen many of Elvis “˜60s movies) and ought to have returned to the innocence of Tupelo. Or something. Which leads us to Krusty the Clown, and whether he has reached his Clambake yet.

I ought to point out that I didn”t choose Van Morrison”s very lovely Tupelo Honey because it”s not about the town but about the tupelo gum tree which gave the town its name via a civil war battle “” but is known in Tupelo as the blackgum tree, horticulture fans.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Tupelo.mp3
Mark Knopfler – Back To Tupelo.mp3

See you in Louisiana next time.

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Previously on American Road Trip

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  1. Mutter’s Mum
    March 25th, 2009 at 19:06 | #1

    I’m pretty sure Blondie’s “Union City” refers to Union City, N.J., which is right across the river from Manhattan.

  2. Garth
    March 25th, 2009 at 19:59 | #2

    Nice few choices there Dude, had only heard Cher’s version of Walking In Memphis before! My uncle always used to think W.C. Handy in fact referred to a nearby toilet…. /facepalm

    “Why does he sing that there’s a toilet near him? W.C. handy?”

  3. Scott
    April 5th, 2009 at 07:43 | #3

    When you drove from St. Louis to Memphis, you were driving alongside the Mississippi River, not the Missouri…just FYI

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