Last night I found myself in a cozy piano bar, with a few of my friends (including the people I live with), throwing out song requests to the phenomenally talented piano player. Things were really humming along, and then he asked for a request, and the unusually small crowd (it's normally packed, I'm told) fell silent for a second or two. So I tossed out Marc Cohn's "Walking In Memphis," and was subsequently blown away. The performance was great, the song was just like I remembered it, but there was something else there that just moved me into silence.
Now I didn't grow up in Memphis, or even Tennessee. I grew up in the heart of Texas, and in 1991 (when the song came out) I was just entering fifth grade. Not exactly old enough to fully comprehend the world, or even enjoy music for the various strains of subtle complexity that it holds (as opposed to what I enjoyed back then: the catchiness). So why did this song, which I only vaguely remembered from my childhood, provoke such silent reflection from me? Nostalgia. Not for the song, per se, but for the atmosphere, the surroundings that it conveyed to me.
I've been to Memphis a few times in my life, but never at a time when I had enough interest or patience to walk around exploring. Most times we just spent the night in a hotel on our way further north (or south), and when we did visit, I was too young to realize what I was missing by playing with my toys instead of experiencing the place (Mud Island's great, by the way, for little boys who like playing around with models).
So yeah, we've established that I have minimal involvement with Tennessee. But this song is about more than that, really. It's like the book I'm reading for Canadian Literature: Sunshine Sketches Of A Little Town. The author captures that sometimes ellusive 'universal' feeling about small towns. He even says it himself, in his opening chapter -
"I don't know whether you know Mariposa. If not, it is of no consequence, for if you know Canada at all, you are probably well acquainted with dozens of towns just like it."
"They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven't got a prayer"
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