Thursday, May 30, 2013

      30 Day Song Challenge, Redux

      A couple of years ago on this blog, for the whole month of June, I participated in the 30 Day Song Challenge, a rather ingenious invention by some anonymous music-lover on Facebook.  The way the 30 Day Song Challenge works is that it provides one "prompt" every day-- for example, "a song that makes you happy," "a song that is a guilty pleasure," "a song that you want played at your funeral"-- and then asks participants to pick a song that corresponds to that prompt.  For my first go-round with this, instead of just selecting a song every day, I wrote and posted here a more extended back-story account of the whys and hows of my picks. (If you're interested in seeing my whole 30-day log from 2011, you can read them all here, though they will be listed in reverse order.)  In the now-going-on-seven years that I've maintained this blog, June 2011 was without a doubt the most enjoyable 30 days of blogging I've ever done.

      So, I'm doing it again.

      Starting this Saturday, June 1, I will re-commence my participation in the 30 Day Song Challenge on this blog.  Here's the thing, though: there are several competing prompt-lists that have sprung up since the original Challenge.  There's one called the "New 30 Day Song Challenge" and one called "30 Day Song Challenge, the Sequel" and one called the "Heck Yeah Tumblr 30 Day Song Challenge."  I really liked the original list, but I'm a little worried that if I try to do it all over again with the same list, there's a good chance that I'll end up with some repeated picks.  (I suppose I could self-impose a rule not to repeat any picks from my 2011 list, but that seems contrary to the spirit of the game.)  So, I'm asking you, readers, to choose the governing rules for me this time.

      Yay voting.  Yay democracy.  Here you go:
      Which version of the 30 Day Song Challenge should Dr. J use in June 2013?
      Choose one of the following:

      You can also vote in the sidebar, for the next 48 hours or so.

      Just to be clear, there isn't a TON of difference between the versions listed above, so you'll need to look at each list to decide.  Again, here are the links to the day-by- day prompts for each version of the contest:
      ORIGINAL 30 Day Song Challenge
      NEW 30 Day Song Challenge
      THE SEQUEL 30 Day Song Challenge
      HECK YEAH Tumblr 30 Day Song Challenge
      The first three versions of the contest are hosted on Facebook, so you'll need to click the "About" link to see that particular contest's full list of prompts.  The HECK YEAH Tumblr version of the prompt list is right there on the home page. Like any other thing you vote on, I just ask that you try to make an informed decision before you vote.  I'm also happy to hear a real argument for any particular contest over the other.  Just post that in the comments below.

      For the record, I don't have any particular preference for one list over the others.  If this poll shows an obvious consensus before Saturday-- when I'll be starting the new challenge-- I will definitely go with the vox populi.  Otherwise, I'll be flipping a coin.

      Prepare for a whole month of awesome, courtesy of RMWMTMBM. 

      Wednesday, May 15, 2013

      I Bet You Gonna Find Some People Who Live in Memphis

      Apologies in advance to my close friends and family, but the truth is that there is quite literally nothing in the world that I love more than Memphis.

      Thanks in part to the Grizzlies' inspiring display of our city's three most valuable homegrown resources-- heart, grit, and grind-- and in larger part thanks to the countless bona fide Memphians' and their adoptees' embracing of genuine civic pride, a whole lot of people are seeing and feeling that same love lately.

      My good friend, Al Bell (Memphis music legend and former owner of Stax) and I were hanging out a few days ago when he said to me: "Dr. J, folks like us have a spiritual connection that can't be explained to people who don't know Memphis.  There is so much wealth here-- not money, but music and love and culture and people and soul.  That's real wealth.  Our job is to find it and bring it out."  Al is, of course, an expert in just that sort of excavation, having marshaled Stax through its most tumultuous years in the 70's.  But as he knows, and I know, Memphis can be stingy with its resources, sometimes even blind to them, and it's historically had an almost pathological tendency towards self-sabotage.

      For those of us who love Memphis unconditionally, that pathology can be maddening sometimes.  I mean, really, where else can you find a city in which the local symphony performs with the local rap icon, or you can just hang out on the street and experience this, or this, or this happens? Where the THEME SONG of the city is "All I Do Is Win"? Where we're all but over-loaded with the very best of the political, cultural, and artistic history that all but anchors the American identity?  The National Civil Rights Museum.  Stax.  Sun Records.  Graceland.  Beale Street. That's not even to get started on the flat-out divinely-inspired things we can do with a pig.   And so, the effect of the Grizzlies' unlikely revival of Memphis in the last couple of years, which has done nothing more and nothing less than make a city full of reluctant and reticent believers-- and more than its share of nonbelievers-- into a city full of evangelically loud believers, is an overdue godsend.  Memphis, it appears, will not be sabotaged any longer.

      In her 1970 recording of the Mississippi River Delta-inspired song "Proud Mary," the barely-northeast-of-Memphis Nutbush-born Tennessean Tina Turner, serving as the mouthpiece for millions of present and former Memphians, said: We never do anything nice and easy.  We like to do it nice and rough. Truer words were never spoken.  Memphis could always have done a lot of things easier than we did.  But we've always elected, voluntarily or otherwise, to do it nice and rough.  Why?  Quite simply, because if you go down to the river, you're gonna find some people who live.  And real living, for the vast majority of us, is hardly ever nice and easy.  There are precious few places in this country where people so deeply and existentially understand that just living is rough-- just getting up every day hoping that it's better than the last, just finding some place to work and to make ends meet, just manufacturing the means to suffer or combat a million both tragic and mundane injustices, just finding a warm (or cool) and safe place to lay your head at night, and just finding some people to eat and laugh and love and dance with while you try to do your best at living.  It's something that requires all the heart, grit and grind a person can muster.

      Heart, grit and grind don't pay the bills, though, and I'll be the first of the million Memphians to testify to that. "Proud Mary" says that you don't have to worry 'cause you got no money, people on the river are happy to give. But, truth is, Memphis is poor and not a lot of people have a lot to give.  Memphis has very real and abiding problems with violence and crime.  Memphis is and has always been deeply divided, a microcosm of the very same race and class issues that deeply divide our country as a whole.  Memphis fights with itself, which means that it loses every battle it wins, and wins every battle it loses.  Even still, as they are able and often even more than they are able, people on the river are happy to give. 

      Given the right conditions, which have only just arrived, Memphis has more to give than anyone ever imagined.  Just read the testimonies, nay, the love letters showing up recently all over the web.  Red Coleman's explanation of our "grit and grind" mantra.  Apryl Child-Potter's beautiful-written genealogy of Memphis civic pride.  Chris Herrington's account of Memphis' "Norma Rae moment." Those writers, and the rest of us who never doubted, might want to cry foul at the host of bandwagon-jumpers, but we won't.  Because people on the river are happy to give.  (Don't believe me?  Check this out.)  So I'm not surprised at all, just as Al Bell told me, that we've finally found the right set of conditions to begin the long process of excavating our immeasurable local real wealth.  And I'm even less surprised that, as we say here, ERRYBODY is jumping on board.

      Welcome aboard the Memphis bandwagon, y'all.  The most soulful, passionate, crazy, infectious, tasty, libidinous, musical, gritty and, to be honest, sexiest wagon around.

      Here's the thing, full disclosure:  I'm from Memphis, I was raised here, and everything good and bad about this city is etched deeply and enduringly in my psyche and soul.  Over the years, I've left for longer and shorter stints elsewhere-- in Nashville, Boston, Philadelphia, Syracuse, State College and Hartford-- but the inexplicably serendipitous wisdom of the Universe kept returning me to where I belong. I've always been an unapologetic fan of the underdog (see my post on "Underdogmatism") and I'm a self-appointed ambassador for Memphis (see my "Why I Chose Memphis" series, in which I solicited Memphians to give their accounts of why they chose to live here).  Locals will tell you, sometimes with gratitude and sometimes with exasperation, that Memphis is a place that won't let you go, keeps bringing you back, whether you want it to or not.  And it's true that here, like countless other places in this country, a lot of people try desperately their whole lives to break free of the grip of their hometown.  That's not true for me.  I don't want Memphis to let me go. It's let me go before, and I'm sure it will again, but I will always come back. 

      My dear friend Adriel Trott (a native Philadelphian, so she knows of which she speaks) once told me that "you can't really say that you love a city until it's given you reason not to."  Of course, I know of all the reasons that people say that Memphis is unlovable.  Those people are wrong.  And they have no idea the love they're missing out on by not believing in this underdog.  There are plenty of things to be wary of when it comes to mass displays of civic pride, and I'm certainly sensitive to those concerns, but what we're seeing happening in Memphis right now is nothing short of what philosophers call the sensus communis, a binding together of individuals such that the judgment of each is consonant with the judgment of all.

      For those of you who've had the Grindhouse experience, who've been one of the 180K fans raising their growl towels in the air, face-foward, proudly displaying Memphis's various messages of self-affirmation to the world-- "Grit", "Grind", "Believe Memphis", "We Don't Bluff"-- you know that you've felt the awesomeness of really being a part of something much bigger, better and greater than yourself.  You've had the experience of being a part of a genuine collective.  You've had the experience of being a Memphian.   

      I can't quit you, Memphis.  I don't really want to know how.  I believe.