October ended with a burst of activity involving multiple projects. Imperfect Armor screened at the 13th annual Indie Memphis film festival on the 23rd along with some wonderful short films like Mitchell Rose’s Advance, Kate Lain’s Git Along, Little Dogies and Amy Adrion’s Shoegazer. (Other festival highlights included Wendy Greene’s short documentary Snake Fever and David Marshall Silverman’s hilarious Pony Rides Are for Girls.)
In addition to screenings and festivities, we took in a bit of the city. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel provides a powerful reminder of how the color line scarred the United States. In 2009, Indie Memphis screened I Am a Man, a documentary about the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to the city where he was assassinated. This year, it showed Freedom Riders, a film about front-line fighters against racial segregation – the kind of bold Americans the NCRM vividly commemorates.
Of course Memphis’s historical contributions also include some of the greatest music of all time. Though the actual studio where Booker T. & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers and many other brilliant musicians made records, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music recreates and celebrates the place where it once stood at the corner of McLemore Avenue and College Street.
In some ways, Memphis reminded me of Detroit, our next stop. And there are some meaningful connections. As the tour guide at Hitsville USA (as the Motown Historical Museum is commonly known) mentioned, King first delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech not in Washington DC but in Detroit, where Berry Gordy’s company made a recording of it. Motown is better known for having recorded artists such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder. Though Stax Records and Motown used different methods, they both achieved musical magic. Somehow, even though I grew up in Detroit, I’d never visited the building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, but I corrected that oversight on this trip.
The real reason for the excursion to my hometown was not to extend our tour of recording studios. (On our 2009 trip to Memphis, we went to Sun Studio.) Instead, it was to read from Fighters & Writers, which I did at the Traffic Jam on the 29th. I also appeared on The Craig Fahle Show on WDET 101.9 FM.
The musical theme was not the only unifier of our two-city trip. Indie Memphis showed two short films about heavyweight Tor Hamer. One of them (Hammer of Tor) ends with the boxer being asked a question by Thomas Hauser, an author I interviewed for the documentary No Neutral Corner and write about in Fighters & Writers.