Saturday, April 01, 2006

Simulated Authenticity on Beale Street

I am in Memphis for a workshop, staying a block from Beale Street. There are crowds and music and lots of "Big Ass Cups of Beer." But Beale Street is no longer a commercial part of black Memphis, a vibrant row of honkytonks playing popular music. It is now a cleaned up, safe, three-block theme park which pays homage to black popular music and life of two generations ago. The clubs are named for B.B. King and W.C. Handy and, somewhat incongruously, Elvis Presley and Isaac Hayes. But the music is fossilized, or regular white rock of today. It is not bad, it is just bourgeoisified.

A symbol of what Beale Street is now is that one block south, looming over the backs of the blues clubs, is the new FedEx Forum, Memphis' downtown domed arena. FedEx and Beale Street represent different eras of culture, commerce, and race relations. Now, through the genius of capitalism (which I praise and do not slight), both are brought together to provide seemingly dangerous, but actually safe and clean, entertainment.

I think I may go to the Starbucks, which is not a simulated anything, but a genuine Starbucks.

No comments: