HEY, ST. LOUIS, YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME? If you don’t think we’re in a fight, you probably don’t realize you’re bleeding.
The first blow came more than 20 years ago – a big, upriver uppercut after a series of negative articles in The Commercial Appeal on St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The hospital hollered, another big river town heard them, and we were one feint away from losing St. Jude to St. Louis. We didn’t go down, rallied as a city and won the hospital’s decision to stay.
But lately, St. Louis has been beating us like a rented mule.
Memphis is Jerusalem, Rome and Mecca to the Church of God in Christ, cradle and home to the denomination, the sight of Saints in Memphis in November for their annual Holy Convocation as familiar, as colorful and as numerous as the leaves in Overton Park. Hundreds of thousands of them dropped millions and millions of dollars, too, in hotel rooms, restaurants and stores. Until last year. Until they called everybody not home but to St. Louis, and again this year and next.
They said they had more room in that convention center, more hotel rooms in that town. Those are just buildings. This city is their very heart, and their loss is heartbreaking.
We took them for granted, bitched about crowded restaurants when they were here, about excess of eccentricity and absence of tipping. Well, here’s a tip. Crowds and eccentricity are the signs of life in a city; empty rooms, tables and meeting halls are a deathly warning.
We need to take our Saints back from St. Louis.
The blues are ours, born and raised in the fecund soil of the Delta and made famous and infamous on our hard, sorrowful, soulful streets. For 31 years, much like blues musicians, The Blues Foundation has been scraping by on very little, telling a big story from a cramped space, captivating fans and followers and capturing new ones. Now, they’ve got a big, new stage on South Main and have just announced the building of the Blues Hall of Fame, honoring and celebrating at last those who saw so little to celebrate but touched all of us.
And St. Louis wants some of the action. They’ve just announced a multi-million dollar, glitzy campaign to build a Blues Museum in St. Louis. Like they tried with St. Jude and won the Saints, they figure they can flash enough cash to take our blues, our tourists and – like Robert Johnson at the crossroads, our soul – 300 miles upriver.
Jay Sieleman is the executive director of The Blues Foundation. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, call him at 527.2583, ext. 12, knock on his door at 421 S. Main St. and ask him what you can do to help with the new Hall and to knock St. Louis off their own arrogant arch.
W.C. Handy did write the St. Louis Blues, but after he wrote the Memphis Blues, and he wrote both of them right here on Beale Street.
I’m a Memphian, and I’ll fight for it.
Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at email@example.com.