Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memphis - A Pilgrimage of Sorts

When I was a college freshman, I wrote a paper on the American pilgrimage to Graceland.  It was basically a lark. I wrote it because I was a little prat, and I wanted to respect and mock my teacher at the same time.

This weekend, I made my own pilgrimage to Memphis, wife in tow. I suppose justice has been served.

This has been the most tumultuous year of my life. My father’s illness first struck in February of 2010.  Lauren and I married and honeymooned in July. August marked our move to Chicago, a move away from ten years of friendships and a comfortable life in California. Our only breaks from the biting Chicago winter were trips to Tampa -- trips to be with my father, who died this January.

During the course of this year, I twice bought tickets to see Band of Horses. They’re a rock band. Their music did not change my life. I just like them.

Long story short, I had to sell my tickets to both shows at the last minute (see two paragraphs up). At the time, I had bigger things on my mind, and so it didn’t really sting all that much to miss the concerts.

Then a few weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffeeshop, trading emails with my friend Emily, listening to Band of Horses on my headphones, and reflecting on the year. And for a moment, things crystallized in a way that was very simple and very unusual for me: “This has been a hell of a year. I really like this music. ... I should go see this band.”

Lauren was supportive, as always.

So! This weekend, we caught a Saturday morning flight to Memphis, enjoyed a ridiculous plate full of ribs at the Blues City Cafe for lunch....



...marveled at the neverending stream of Elvis references (favorite example: Elvis on men’s room signs)...


...had dinner and drinks at the excellent Rum Boogie Cafe (where we must return with Lauren’s dad, Robin, someday)...





...went to the concert (Band of Horses was opening for Kings of Leon, another great band)...






...treated ourselves to breakfast the next morning at the Blue Plate Cafe (“best collard greens I’ve had in my life,” reports Lauren)...



...and boarded a Sunday afternoon plane back to Chicago.

Memphis seems lovely. We’d love to return for a normal visit some other time. Beale Street seemed like some weird combination of Bourbon St., Disneyworld, and Dollywood, but I’m glad we walked it, and I’d like to walk it again. So many things in Memphis revolve around music; we could spend a week soaking in the local music scene and not make a dent, I’m sure. I’d like to sneak off to the Gibson guitar factory tour. And the civil rights museum is supposed to be fantastic.

And, well...

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I think that I would like to see Graceland someday.

You know, I looped the Paul Simon song the entire time I was researching and writing that paper. And I spent sixteen hours on that paper, easy. Sixteen hours born from irony, but steeped in the words of honest pilgrims, all. Sixteen hours with a good man singing plaintively in my ear: "For reasons I cannot explain, there's some part of me wants to see Graceland."

Somewhere in the course of it, his words became mine. By the end, I wanted an honest pilgrimage of my own.

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A pilgrim can be many things, but he is always incomplete. He’s missing something, and it’s important, and it’s important enough to leave home for.

By contrast, my life has been - and still is - incredibly blessed and full. But for the first time this year, I had some urge to leave home.

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Dad would have loved Memphis. He would have rattled off historical trivia about every streetcorner we walked by. That’s just who he was.

He would have chuckled at the Elvis paraphernalia but probably taken a tacky doodad home. That’s who he was, too.

He would have been a big help with the plate of ribs. He would have known the names written on those guitars.

He would have been glad that I’d taken the time to go. I’m glad, too.

I hope you all get a chance to visit Graceland, wherever yours may be.