I Want Beale Street Before It Was Beale Street (12.08.2019)

City centers, streets, coffee shops, barber shops (and so on) serve an important role in shaping human culture by providing a physical location where people can run into others who have different perspectives and backgrounds.

These are places where the locals run into each other while they accomplish basic tasks like getting their clothes dry cleaned, getting a cup of coffee, buying a new record, or getting a haircut.

In the process of getting their haircut or getting a cup of coffee, one might overhear a conversation about discrimination against someone in the local community, or about layoffs in a certain industry, or increases in the rent in the building across the street. As a result, the local community can collectively adapt and even influence these changes, sometimes through changes in art and culture.

Sometimes a group of people gathers together within the city and they exchange ideas in a way that’s almost “magical". Think of Bob Dylan and the folks in the early days of Greenwich Village. Think of Jack Kerouac and the beatniks in San Francisco and Big Sur. Think of the musicians that worked together to build up the legacy of Austin or Nashville.

Memphis has a similar legacy. You could once find B.B. King playing music in bars along Beale Street. You could find Johnny Cash developing his music with the Tennessee Two and Elvis strolling the streets buying his next suit.

Importantly, Beale Street once provided an important location where local african american’s could share ideas and shape the local community. This was critically important in a time where societies views on civil rights were rapidly changing—the local community needed a physical location to meet and process and adapt to these changes.

Magic is created when the locals congregate among the mixture of coffee shops, cleaners, record stores, dive bars, and empty store fronts. Changes in culture emerge in places where the local artists get together and calibrate their views on society, and when their collective processing emerges as “art”.

Often, the resulting “magic” goes away when the word gets out. This scenario is illustrated by the example of the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry began as an important gathering place for the middle class worker. The crowd would pull their hands from their torn genes , clap their calloused fingers together and forget about the daily drudge. Now, the Opry consists of a crowd of tourists celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

The appeal of Beale Street today (and similar places that are built upon a rich cultural history) is based on a historical PAST, but I am interested in a place with a historical PRESENT.

I want to find Beale Street before it was Beale Street.

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