Opinion » Viewpoint

Memphis Blues

A noted civic rivalry extends to competing music festivals.



What a weekend, right? Here is some fresh prose commemorating it, of special interest to us Memphians:

"There's only one Bob Dylan.

"The singular place in history of the great folk-rock singer-songwriter, who's riding a crest of popularity as he nears his 60th birthday, was one of the driving forces behind last night's huge turnout at the ...

"Nashville River Stages festival." ?!

Nope, no misprint. During the same three days that Memphis was engaging in its annual three-day riverfront music festival, Nashville was engaging in its three-day riverfront music festival. There may be only one Bob Dylan, but there were two places for him to hang out and stretch his legend last weekend.

In Nashville on Saturday night, as writer Thomas Goldsmith noted in The Tennessean, Dylan made sure to do songs from 1969's Nashville Skyline (and a selection from Roy Acuff as well). In Memphis on Sunday night, Dylan made sure to do "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." No problem: Like Walt Whitman, Bob Dylan is large. He contains multitudes. There's enough of him to go around.

But why should Tennessee's two major cities be competing on this brand-new front? Or is this to be regarded more as the proverbial embarrassment of riches? The Beale Street Music Festival, as we know, was sold out for its three-day run and set all-time attendance records. And we have Thomas Goldsmith's word for it that the turnout in Nashville was "huge."

Sporadically, over the years and over the past few weeks, especially, as Memphis seemed about to gather its political and civic wits in an effort to draw even with Nashville on the big-league sports front, I have observed the unusual sense of rivalry that seems to exist between the two Tennessee towns.

Rivalry, hell! Sometimes it looks like pure detestation, as when my friend Larry Daughtrey, a distinguished political writer for The Tennessean and normally the very model of analytical decorum, got off some roundhouse shots at Memphis a few weeks back. I have previously quoted these a place or two; not to overdo, he used terms like "perpetual inferiority complex," "simmering mess," "racial conflicts," "nagging poverty," "substandard schools," and "sweltering August heat" by way of characterizing our town and its alleged envy of -- and hatred for -- Nashville.

A word apropos (which I have also uttered before, more or less): Memphis does not "envy" Nashville, much less "hate" said catch-up sister city, and any resentment that comes along with the relationship is better characterized as a kind of annoyance with the fact that Nashvillians seem to expect some sort of envy as their due.

Does the boogie "envy" the two-step? Give me a break!

As for that Tennessean sportswriter-- one A.S. (for "Social") Climber, as I recall -- who characterized Memphis as "Newark" to Nashville's "Manhattan" a few seasons back, we'll take our North Mississippi Allstars (William Faulkner, Shelby Foote et al.) over your Fugitives (Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and company); our Esperians and Piazzas over your Dinah Shores; and our Mississippi over your Cumberland. Just for starters. As for impact on popular culture, music, especially, c'mon. Music Row's is a mile wide; Sun/Stax/Volt's is a mile deep.

But I rove. No need for these back-alley measuring contests. There are treasures in both towns. Ask Bob Dylan. As for the eternal question -- Oh, Mama, can this really be the end? -- the answer to that one sort of depends on which town you're stuck in on a given weekend night. And which way you're headed next on I-40.

Flyer senior editor Jackson Baker covers state and local politics and often heads both ways on I-40.

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