Wednesday, June 08, 2005

singing the blues

From the very first time I heard the song "Walking in Memphis," I've been a fan of Marc Cohn - despite his one hit wonderdome. But, even though I've been singing that tune around the house since 1991, and rather unsucessfully playing it on my guitar here recently, I always was a little puzzled about some of the meanings of the lyrics. However, upon some research, I've been amazed at the facts I've learned about the words of this little diddy. Here are a few of them:

  • In the chorus, Cohn refers to walking with his "feet ten feet off of Beale" - I've now discovered that that's a reference to Beale Street, an actual street in Memphis filled with houses of blues. Infact, Riley B. King became known as the "Beale Street Blues Boy" shortly after he arrived in Memphis. Later the nickname was shortened to B.B. King - and the rest is history.

  • The song also mentions W.C. Handy, who is a blues legend from Florence, Alabama and was formerly a member of a group called "The Shoals." This gets interesting (at least for me) - in Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" his reference to "muscle shoals" is infact speaking of W.C. Handy.

  • The line "security did not see him" is not only referring to the "ghost of Elvis", but also an allusion to the story about a young Bruce Springsteen once scaling the wall at Graceland to try and deliver a song he'd written to Elvis. Springsteen made it over, but the King was nowhere to be found.

  • Near the end of the song, it says "Muriel plays piano, every Friday at the Hollywood" - speaking of a local lady and a local blues joint. Interestingly, after singing, Muriel asks Cohn whether or not he is a Christian. He answers "Ma'am I am tonight" - so, despite the fact that he is Jewish, the music has brought about some sort of spiritual awakening in him, at least for the moment.

The song is filled with references such as these and has proven to teach me quite a bit of meaningless factoids. Next time you listen to it, see what you pick up on. Just make sure you don't listen to the whiny version Lonestar put out a while back, stick with the original.

posted by Christie