As I sit down to write, I’m looking out a fourth-floor window of the Guest House at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee’s latest tribute to the King, Elvis Presley.
My room, like Graceland itself, is an interior decorator’s surreal, night-terror hallucination. The furniture is purple and oversized. The fixtures have a silver sheen. There’s a nonfunctional piece of fabric — one side shag, the other velvet — draped across the bed. When I checked in, the television was already on, piping in a steady loop of Elvis’ hits. I never really figured out the best way to make it stop.
The saturation began a day earlier as I arrived at the Memphis International Airport. Shops selling Elvis kitsch line the terminals, billboards welcome visitors to Soulsville, U.S.A., streets are named for record producers, and restaurants punnily take their names from music stars. Thank you, thank you very much for visiting Memphis.
The message was clear everywhere: THERE WAS GREAT MUSIC MADE HERE, AND WE ARE PROUD OF THAT.
Macon would benefit from looking at the approach that places like Memphis take in promoting their music history. Admittedly, I roll my eyes from time to time when I hear “Ramblin’ Man” played through a restaurant’s speakers or wince when I hear another cover band try to do justice to an Otis Redding tune.
In those moments, it’s difficult to arrive at anything close to an objective reaction from the inside, encapsulated in intimate knowledge of a place, but to outsiders who visit the city of Macon because of its music heritage, those moments are little touristy gems. Those moments ultimately build interest in music that was created in the city.
Several times recently I’ve been asked the question, “Do you think Macon has suffered after the loss of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame?” The answer is no, and as time goes on, that answer becomes more emphatic. It’s beyond time for a different understanding of the museum as an institution.
The city of Macon is a music museum. It’s not a museum in the traditional sense — an imposing brick and mortar mecca, carefully arranged by curatorial teams — but a living, breathing thing that allows residents and visitors a chance to peek into the corners of the collection down back alleys and discover stories hidden on the streets just below the surface.
Stories like those associated with Elvis survive because there’s been a collective mythology created around his life and music. That myth changes and adapts and is useful in different ways to different participants. Most importantly, it sustains the livelihood of his existence.
Nearly everyone I meet in Macon has some sort of story that can linked to Macon’s music heritage. Let’s get together and create our own myth.
Jared Wright is a member of Field Note Stenographers, a collective of local musicians who write about shows in Middle Georgia. He is also a music historian, curator and archivist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.