Day 100: Downtown Memphis.
This time of year, thunderstorms are the norm in this part of the country. And we got a big one this morning. As usual, it came out of no where and it was pouring buckets in no time.
Our plan today was to head down to Beale Street in downtown Memphis to do some sightseeing. Since this is our last day here in Memphis, we were not going to let the rain stop us. One of the nice things about these thunderstorms is that as quickly as it comes, it leaves just as fast.
We got in the van and headed out towards downtown with the hopes that it might not be raining there. As we got out of the RV park and onto the freeway, it was coming down as hard as I have ever seen before in my life. We even started to second guess our decision for getting out today and contemplated turning around to go back. For a few moments, the rain reduced our visibility so much we could barely see the car in front of us.
Luckily by the time we got downtown, the rain had stopped completely. We brought our umbrellas with us just in case another episode of thunderstorm appears. The rain has probably cooled the temperature down by 20 degrees!
Our first stop on the famous Beale Street was the equally popular Blues City Cafe known for its delicious southern cuisine.
Well, here we go again gorging ourselves but at least we are trying to eat better. Don’t you see that salad? Does not count for something?
Besides the chopped salad and the awesome fried cat fish fillets, we had to order a dozen of these hot tamales Blues City is known for. With a bowl of chili on the side, this really is everything it is cracked up to be. If you ever make it to Beale Street in Memphis, get yourself a plate of these babies.
Tennessee really is chuck full of music history with the famous Gibson guitars corporation being headquartered in Nashville. Here in Memphis, Gibson has one of its largest retail stores right across from the Fedex Forum.
Besides Elvis Presley, many other musical legends have made their start here in Memphis. Musicians like B.B. King, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash all trace their humble beginnings back this city in western Tennessee.
The FedEx forum is the home of the NBA basketball franchise, the Memphis Grizzlies. The same venue also is a great place to see many great musical acts that make a point to come through here for a show to pay tribute to the birth place of rock and roll. Ava loved these concrete balls in front of the entrance. Probably not as much as her Hello Kitty umbrella that she was excited to be able to carry around today.
As umbrellas go though, nothing beats this guy down the street. We saw him walk by as we were eating at Blues City Cafe. We couldn’t chase him down close enough for a better photo but believe us when we tell you that the umbrella he is carrying does not belong to him. In fact, we have a strong suspicion that it probably once belonged to a table outside of a bar. Especially since it is bigger than him and has Stella Artois printed all over it.
A few blocks away from FedEx Forum was another must-see sight in Memphis. The Lorraine Motel.
The Lorraine Motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. It was the scene of the Martin Luther King assassination back in 1968.
In fact the actual room where Martin Luther King was staying is now an exhibit preserved to memorialize Dr. King’s work in the civil rights movement. The cars in front of the room are not the original cars but are similar make and models of what were in the parking lot as he got ready to head out to dinner shortly before the assassination.
Our last stop before heading back to Graceland is a little unassuming brick building just outside of downtown. It is the original recording studio that tracked Elvis’ first recordings. Sun Studio is now headquartered in Nashville but kept this historical building responsible for the beginning of so many musical legends as a museum. Visitors can pay to visit the studio but they do not allow children under 5. I guess we sort of understand where they come from.
Sun Studio was also the place where Johnny Cash made his first studio recording debut. In the movie ‘Walk the Line’ starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, a pivotal scene depicting him convincing the famed studio owner Sam Phillips to give him a chance to record happened right here in this building.
As if you didn’t get enough of Elvis yesterday, after our lunch and sightseeing visit to downtown Memphis, we went back to Graceland and got our last few doses of Elvis at a couple more of the exhibits/gift shops.
If Graceland is like Disneyland for Elvis fans, they surely hold their own in terms of number of gift shops. Every type of Elvis souvenir imaginable is available here and some of the exhibits are melded right into the gift shops where you can’t even tell what is for sale and what is for show.
This one is dedicated to the 1968 Comeback special Elvis when he finally completed his movie contract and decided to return to live performance. The original show was not known as ‘The Comeback Special’ since Elvis was unsure that he would actually make a successful comeback. Since his military service and the lengthy movie career shortly afterward, acts like the Beatles and Rolling Stones have made names for themselves and it made Elvis concerned about whether or not people would still like his style.
Being extremely self-conscious about whether or not he would be well received back to the music world, he worked hard on his appearance and hand picked the musicians and all of the songs that he was going to perform. During his movie career, he sang and recorded in practically every film but most of it was not critically acclaimed. He was concerned that those recordings have tainted his image as a serious musician and that his fans have moved up to better pastures.
It’s easy for us to see that in retrospect he did not need to worry about how his comeback would be received. His NBC-TV Special was a huge success and firmly placed him back on the map as an influential artist of all time. The Special was also viewed as a precursor to the popular MTV Unplugged series of performances by more modern musicians.
On display is the chair Elvis used during the stage performance in front of a studio audience.
And these glasses were… wait, this is part of the gift shop. Not an actual museum display.
OK, we should all try them on and see how we look.
What do you think Mila? Do you like it?
OK, here we are looking at some actual Elvis exhibits.
Elvis was seen more than just a musical influence but also in fashion. His taste in fashion much paralleled his style of music in that he merged the white and black culture into a single style all his own. As a young man, he frequently visited clothing stores in Beale Street whose clientèle were primarily black and hoped one day he would make enough money to buy clothes from there.
Here are some actual gold shades that he wore along with some of his other gold bling that earned him the credit as the original gangster by a lot of hip hop artists of today.
It is a shame how many people remember Elvis as how he is portrayed by many of the impersonators. Part of what Graceland gives you is a more complete picture of how he was as a person and how some of his upbringing was responsible for many of the choices he made as an entertainer.
After the wringing out all that we could from the Graceland exhibits, we headed over to the Heartbreak Hotel. To best describe the feel of Heartbreak Hotel is to imagine a dated 1970′s hotel that had just gone through an episode of ‘Trading Spaces’ on TLC. Good one Marlene.
Inside the lobby of the hotel is a pink phone that connects you directly with Marlowe’s BBQ a mile down the street from Graceland. They offer a free round trip ride to anyone staying at the hotel to and from their restaurant.
And not a ride in any old car. You get a free ride in a Pink Cadillac limousine.
A nice little surprise at Marlowe’s when we got there is this pink vintage Airstream park right outside the restaurant. It is not in the best of shape and a peek inside reveals that it is used only as a storage space but we still appreciate that they chose an Airstream to dress up as a pig at their restaurant.
Before we head out tomorrow to continue our drive westward, Ava picked a few wild flowers to pay our last respects to the King of Rock and Roll.
So long Elvis, thanks for the memories!
over and out,
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