Memphis metaphor

“Blues is easy to play but hard to feel.” ~ Jimi Hendrix

What do I know about Jimi Hendrix? What do I know about playing the blues?

The truth? Nothing. Not really. But I do know how to feel the blues. I’m not talking about sorrow. Both of my parents passed away in the last three months, my father on June 27. I’m immersed in sorrow.

But the blues is more than sorrow. The blues evokes a yearning, a wanting. The blues evokes every feeling imaginable, even that twinge of hope that resolution is just a note away. Everybody wants resolution. Everybody feels the blues, but I think writers, artists, and musicians truly get it. It’s like another dimension of communication.

So many people see life in black and white. If you know anything about graphic design, you know photographs, if not in color, are best viewed in grayscale, not black line. Such is the blues, such is life. The blues finds itself somewhere between heaven and hell, and while the singers may stand undeniably on one side or the other, the fact is people are neither black nor white.

Read Psalm 51:5 and Ephesians 2:1-3. Then read James 1:17 and Romans 8:28. A war rages. Notes bend. There’s a need for resolution. Fulfillment. Redemption.

I just got back from Memphis. The first thing I did was visit Memphis Music, my favorite Beale Street shop. An elderly gentleman in his 80s, Mr. Clyde Hopkins, “the Godfather of the Blues,”  greeted me with his CD, Don’t Mistreat a Friend. He told me he’d autograph it if I bought it and said it would be special because I got to meet him in person. How could I resist? I bought it. My only regret is I didn’t get a picture of him. But I took plenty of others.

As soon as I stepped out of Memphis Music, I headed  to Handy Park, where I found the Juke Joint Allstars on stage. They’re so cool they autographed a CD for me right in the middle of a song and extended an invitation for me to join them on stage. Another trip to Handy Park, one of many, gave me the opportunity to snap pictures of a young girl in the audience who wanted to sing the blues. One of the band members handed her his guitar, and another set up a mic. The girl could sing.

Deciding what to eat on Beale Street is never a problem–catfish or ribs, occasionally oysters. Deciding where to eat is a challenge. The Blues City Cafe is a must for all first timers, but Miss Polly’s is just as good and has the best catfish around. The cornbread is good too. Ever tried it with a little jalepeno?

I asked the cook if I could take a few pictures inside the place. All the tables pay homage to the blues greats. The cook was quite gracious. He even offered me a chance to take a picture of him then and again when I saw him standing outside the restuarant. Memphis folk are twice as nice.

I mentioned oysters. My grandmother used to make fried oysters, and maybe that’s how I learned to like them so much. But you can’t get fried oysters around here. Memphis truly has it all, even an Irish Pub called Silky O’ Sullivan’s, and it serves delicious fried oysters. I didn’t make it there on this trip, but I was standing out front when the owner pulled up in his sportscar. Wow. I’ll probably never stand that close to a car like that again.

For the first time in years, I took a walk along the riverside, and I think the walk was the best part of my trip. It gave me a chance to think about life, about people in my life.

When I’m in Memphis, I do a lot of people watching and analyzing. Maybe that’s why I’m so interested in folklore–stories handed down from one generation to the next. Memphis is rich in tradition and lore. Some of the supernatural lore is commercialized; some of it is the real deal. But it’s nothing to play around with.

No matter where we live, everybody has a story. Everybody sings the blues. We may want to see life in black and white, but truthfully it’s all shades of grey. And if we want to see it in living color, colors we’ve never seen on this earth, well, we’ll have to wait for heaven for that.



This picture has very little to do with this post, but I couldn't resist. It's my favorite scene from one of my all-time favorite movies.

Everybody possesses a library, some extensive, some selective, but each one a treasure trove of history, comedy, and wisdom. I am discriminating with my collection. You see, a library is like your life, and the books within are the friends you make.

Take a look at what lines your shelves.

Laughter is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, and we need to laugh. Henry Ward Beecher once said, “Mirth is God’s medicine. Everyone ought to bathe in it.” But I think Alan Alda pretty much said it best when he offered this advice: “When people are laughing, they’re generally not killing each other.”

We need volumes of laughter.

When we’re in need of good company, we don’t just walk into our library and pull just anything from the shelf. Only the right title will do. Some choices offer wise counsel. Some offer comfort. Some take on us wild adventures. Some help us find our inner child, cajole our hopeless romantic, or nurture precious memories.

The most special volumes cut through our exteriors and find their way to our core. They help us open up, give us courage, and inspire us to make our dreams come true.

So many books, so little time. But it’s quite the injustice to choose a book only to leave it sitting on the shelf. Books and friendships must be interactive. I like what James Bryce has to say about books–“The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.”

As you build your library, build carefully, build wisely. Every book comes with a price. You get what you pay for, and exteriors can be deceiving.

The greatest let down of all is to be enticed by the blurb on the back cover and then later discover the book itself is nothing like what it promises. The old axiom is true. You can’t always judge a book by its cover.

I’ll leave you with a metaphorical challenge. Read the quotes I’ve listed below, and every time you see the word book, think about your friends and friendships. You may walk away with a new lesson about life.

“If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ~  Toni Morrison

“Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.”  ~  William Hazlitt

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. “ ~  Anna Quindlen

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.  ~  Franz Kafka

“Books can be dangerous.  The best ones should be labeled “This could change your life.”  ~Helen Exley

“Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.”  ~ Henry Ward Beecher

[Books are] “medicine for the soul.”  ~  Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes

“Good as it is to inherit a library, it is better to collect one.”  ~  Augustine Birrell

“A house without books is like a room without windows.”  ~ Heinrich Mann

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”  ~  Richard Steele

And what true friendship is to the heart.

What do you think? Lend a part of yourself to my library. Please leave a comment. I always enjoy hearing from you.