Under a Memphis Moon

 Back then, I was more enchanted by the local punk bands like Cop Out and Man with Gun than with Elvis. I bought records from a local band’s front man at Midsouth EPs & LPs across from East High School. I remember the thrill of watching the all-woman punk band, Pistol Whipped, perform a show at Barristers, the dive bar in an alley downtown, and of their drummer, the one with toned arms and jet black hair who I thought was the fiercest woman I’d ever seen, warning me to not lose my virginity (I was late bloomer) to a certain boy I’d been spending a lot of time around. I struggled to fit in, my shyness—which was really a lack of confidence— overwhelmed me, and I often daydreamed about hopping a train to the west. Leaving was the thing to do in the nineties. To travel across the states and sleep on couches or in squats. I first left Memphis the night Los Crudos, an all Latino and radically political punk band from Chicago, played in the concrete room at 1297 Madison. I left with phone numbers for people in British Columbia given to me by people from there but currently in Memphis sleeping on couches. Months later, when I left Canada, my new found northern friends held a bon voyage sign for me that read “Graceland or Bust.”  I remember how I hated returning, how everyone my age lamented being stuck in Memphis, and how we believed that, except for the lucky few, Memphis always dragged you back into its fold. 

I moved again, this time to Portland, Oregon in 1999. In Portland, there was the 24 Hour Church of Elvis. The weird arthouse fixture where hippies and avant-garde types got married and walked in a procession around the block banging pots and pans with Elvis look a-likes. There was also a TV show with fake-Elvis as a sidekick, which I never saw. Elvis truly was everywhere, still is everywhere. By the end of 2000, as more Memphis punks migrated to Portland, I returned home.

In the early aughts, I saw The Lost Sounds multiple times, their synths shaking through my entire body. And the Oblivions who made me shake my hips and stomp my feet. There was also the  ethereal sounds of The Satyrs, the slowness in the music, the deep voice of the singer, around the same brief period of time when women song writers played frequently at Barristers, like Megan Reilly as Lucy-Nell Crater crooning about the river not being deep enough to drown, though, sadly, we knew that it was. I remember yearly Halloween shows at Hell on Earth near Sun Studio—a night of rock n roll and spooky costumes—and the young woman roller skating topless wearing angel wings as the New Orleans band, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, played inside the Bon Ton Café for New Year’s Eve.  Or in Midtown at the smoky Lamplighter with its cheap pitchers of beer, highly coveted booths, a pool table taking up the entry way, and Shirley, the beloved bartender, threatening my friend that she would “crack his dome” if he didn’t cool it. On those nights, I understood what Elvis meant when he said, “The world is more alive at night, it’s like God isn’t watching.

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