Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Non-textbook Memphibians, volume 1

Living in London for 15 years, I fear that my accent no longer immediately betrays my roots as it once might have. At times I am terrified that I might eventually end up sounding like Loyd Grossman. When someone does pick up on my accent and asks where I am from, I am typically greeted with the "Ah, Elvis-country" response, if, indeed, the person in question knows anything about Memphis at all. It's more rare, but not at all unknown, that the person will be a Stax fan, though if the conversation progresses that far, many people confuse some of the Stax output for Atlantic thanks to the shambolic outcome of the Stax-Atlantic deal. Some people confuse Memphis for Nashville, which leads me to have to explain the rivalry, and Memphis' rightful place as the capital of Mississippi (or, rather, some notional Delta superstate). I have yet to encounter anyone who mentions Martin Luther King's assassination, which always strikes me as odd, given that it seemed to hang over the place so ominously while I was growing up.

I have never had cause to discuss the Kronos Quartet in the context of Memphis, but sure enough, their former cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, is a Memphibian. I was fortunate enough to see them on a rare (actually, I think, unprecedented) visit to Memphis in 1993 or so, at the Cordova Cellars Vineyard, which I believe her mother owned (perhaps she still does). "Pieces of Africa" was out the previous year, and several pieces from it were played on that beautiful sunny afternoon, including the enchanting "Escalay" by Hamza El Din (if you don't know him, you should). This meditative piece builds in intensity, with a lot of heavy-duty percussive cellistry going on, and in this particular performance, Joan Jeanrenaud managed to pop a string. Everything stopped instantly, and there was an audible collective intake of breath from the audience, who, scattered around the lawn of the vineyard, had been mesmerized up to this point. Speaking purely for myself, I had completely lost myself in the music, and the sudden silence might as well have been an explosion.

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