Welcome to Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a city known for its music and the soulful sounds that came from Sun and Stax Records. But it’s not an industry town, nor is it part of the music factory in the way of New York, Los Angeles and even its neighbor to the east, Nashville. Memphis is a city that has lived its blues.
Longtime music journalist Robert Gordon shares the city’s tales in Memphis Rent Party, a collection of his past work. Though much of this material is previously published, each piece is injected with new life by Gordon’s introductions, in which he offers a reflection on the essay’s inception.
Gordon isn’t afraid to reveal some of the complicated workings behind the curtain. The rent parties of the book’s title were affairs during which a host would push their furniture aside, crank up some music, and partygoers would contribute some cash to help the host make rent. Gordon was close enough to the Memphis music scene to find his way to some of these gatherings when he was younger, but there was sometimes a divide. In an essay about Junior Kimbrough, Gordon writes, “I captured the good times, but there was another side. At Junior’s, we all escaped into the blues, but our escapes were not the same. At day’s end, I would go home to my comfy bed in an insulated house, romanticizing the missed opportunities of fruit beer. And Junior and all his friends would go home to shacks where the wind blows through.”
The collection is loosely autobiographical, as Gordon appears as a character in many of these portraits. He’s a man who was raised by the city, who discovered within its boundaries the music that would drive his life forward. Readers may find hope and inspiration, just as Gordon did, in the drive and passion of these musicians.