Robert Gordon's new book Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music's Hometown is wonderful. In it, Gordon gathers his many magazine pieces over the years, and in a pleasingly noisy kaleidoscope captures the warmth, freakiness, and unique history of Bluff City and its music-making denizens, from Sam Phillips, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Alex Chilton to Tav Falco, the Fieldstones, and Bobby "Blue" Bland, and many more in between. Gordon writes with humor, great respect, and honesty about his city's unfortunate cultural divides, its hidden gems, its juke joints and dive bars and picnics, and its hard-earned humanity. So many of the places Gordon writes about are long gone, as are many of the people he profiles, but his writing is so detail-rich and narratively engaging that the city and its outskirts feel palpably present, page after page. I half-expected my clothes to smell smoky after reading about some of the dimly-lit bars and joints Gordon has obsessively, affectionately haunted over the years, and that he brings to life in his pieces.
Great stuff, the book is nearly worth it for the searching and self-interrogative preface alone, where Gordon writes about the siren-call and the difficulties of freelancing and of the ways his comfortable suburban upbringing both insulated and prepared him for his life's work, and where he lands on a gorgeous definition of the blues, and by extension, of his own aesthetic:
Blues is the mind's escape from the body's obligation. Blues amplifies the relief whenever and wherever relief can be found. The scarcity of that respite makes it ecstatic.