My Home Town
The Kings and I
Wednesday, May 9, 2001
Listen up, boys, I say on a recent southerly swing, here's a little tour I like to call: My Memphis.
Corny? Absolutely. Immodest? Of course. But this is where I was born and reared. (Crops are raised, my mother says. Children are reared.) Where I misspent my youth. Where I met my wife, Jan, 27 years ago and fell in love. I know this town. And if my two sons -- Stone, 16, and Holt, 12 -- want to know me, they need to know My Memphis.
In fact, even if they don't want to know me, they need to know Memphis. You should get to know Memphis, too. It's a cool and complicated city -- full of dreams and drawbacks.
I'll show you some of both. Plus we'll see where movie stars lived, find old friends, meander through a museum or two, taste some mighty dry ribs and hear a little free music under a starry sky.
But first, a quick stop by Elvis's house.
Not Graceland, boys. Everybody goes there. Some 600,000 faithful last year. Instead, we drive by the house Elvis owned in 1956, just before moving to Graceland. It's an unassuming one-story white-brick ranch-style at 1034 Audubon Dr., in a residential neighborhood near Audubon Park. Birds sing the blues up above. There's a concrete bath for them in the front yard. A white brick wall with a black wrought-iron fence on top runs along the street. In the back yard, there's a pool and a couple of pink plastic flamingos spiked into the ground.
Very few folks know about this place. Mike Freeman and Cindy Hazen hope to change that. The couple have written two books about the King -- "Memphis Elvis-Style" and "The Best of Elvis -- Recollections of a Great Humanitarian." They bought the house in 1998 for about $180,000 and plan to restore it to all its Eisenhower-era glory.
While snooping around Elvis's yard, I run into an old friend. Carroll Todd is helping his mother-in-law move from her house across the street. I went to high school with Carroll. Last time I saw him was about 25 years ago when he was at the Memphis Academy of Arts taking sculpture classes. I bought his first piece, a plaster Endymion, for about $35.
Today the shepherd is crumbling in my front yard and Carroll is a big-shot sculptor selling his pieces for thousands of dollars apiece at the Schmidt Bingham Gallery in New York.
That's so Memphis, to run into Carroll. It's a small town wrapped in a big one.
We cruise on down Highland Avenue and I point out the WHBQ TV building -- once an ABC affiliate, now a Fox station -- where tights-wearing wrestlers Sputnik Monroe and Jerry Lawler (the brute who crushed Andy Kaufman) "fought" on Saturdays in the 1960s. My Sunday school teacher, Lance Russell, was the studio announcer. Many's the Sunday we would ask Mr. Russell, "Is it real?" referring to the pile drivers and head slammings in the ring, not the particular New Testament miracle he was teaching us about.
"Over there," I tell the boys, pointing to a spot north of the TV station, "is where Base Four was." Now as I remember it, just between you and me, Base Four was a poorly ventilated, paraphernalia-laden head shop run by a former high school basketball star who'd gone off to an Ivy League college and came back home with, well, some ideas.