Opinion » Viewpoint

Spun City

Elvis, the Patron Saint of pop culture and Poplar Avenue, has left the building.



It is with melancholy that I find myself saying goodbye to Spin Street. Walking through the big record store at Poplar and Highland felt like walking through a time capsule, but with a slightly B-grade movie atmosphere. The store's odd array of eclectic items carried a silent scream against pragmatism and reinforced the efficacy of pop culture: An authentic Star Trek lamp in the shape of the Starship Enterprise, a red-hot lava lamp, slightly frightening-looking bobble-heads, giant house slippers in the shape of a Marvel comic book hero, a retro record player, or the old, crumbling tattered record covers of Isaac Hayes.

These weren't items I needed in a society that plays music on its phones. Just items I wanted. In our quick evolution into a digitalized society, CD and record stores are going the way of chain bookstores, assigned to be relics of history and, sadly, to a soon-to-be-forgotten part of the city's past.

What I will miss most about Spin Street is the larger-than-life Elvis that hung over the store's entrance. He was hard to miss. Two stories high, hovering inside a glass encasement, this Elvis was an ubermensch. This Elvis could represent anything to the imagination; Elvis preserved for posterity as a specimen in a high school biology vial; Elvis the extraterrestrial alien sandwiched between flying-saucer-shaped disks on both sides of the glass; Elvis flying off in a space capsule with the glow of blue neon lighting the way. It was Saint Elvis, the resurrected one, in his shining glory, with a halo of light circling his head, as he ascended into the heavens. It was Elvis, the forerunner of Justin Timberlake, the on-call performer, standing ready, in suit and tie, for the next big show. It was the uniquely Memphis Elvis, not the Las Vegas Elvis.


When I first moved to Memphis, one of the first "Elvis spottings" I had was of the Spin Street Elvis. It always felt a bit like this Elvis offered his watchful gaze over the traffic, hovering 10 feet off the ground of Highland and Poplar (not 10 feet off of Beale; sorry, Marc Cohn), a protector of the crossroads. It seemed a bit as though this Elvis was looking out for me, the new girl in town.

Many a summer day, in the suffocating, mosquito-charged, thick-as-a-slice-of-bread heat, I would make my way into Spin Street, arms chock full of my used CDs. In shorts, a T-shirt, and flip flops, I would wait in a 30-minute line, until a friendly, slightly grungy dude, who looked like he had smoked a little too much of the herb the night before, held each of my individual CDs up to the light with his shaky hands. I would watch the sunlight bounce off each CD rim, finally to be given an offer: "Cash or credit in the store?" I was always broke, and I always responded with "Cash, please."

As a young woman, that extra $10, $20, or, on a good day, $30, could buy a pack of Diet Cokes and enough survival food to make it a few more days in the city.

Now, I am just another aging Generation X-er but, in my youth, CDs meant more than just entertainment. Sometimes, they meant fast cash and food. CD stores like Spin Street meant a place where one could get lost, nights of getting absorbed by the racks of music, where the tension of the outside world gave way to aisles marked "Rap" or "Rock."

Some people believe in the patron saints of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Church or in the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, and that is all well and good and fine. I just happen to have believed in the Spin Street Elvis, the patron saint of pop culture and Poplar Avenue.

Once a part of the unique Memphis Kitsch, that Elvis has now left the building.

Paula Hayes is an English instructor at the University of Memphis.

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