The author of books on Muddy Waters and Stax Records, Robert Gordon has reported on the grass-roots weirdness of Memphis, Tenn., for more than 30 years. While the Bluff City is known globally as the home of Elvis, Mr. Gordon is more enamored of his town’s glorious undercard of James Carr, Charlie Feathers and Phineas Newborn Jr., to name a few of the characters ... Pairing features, reviews and profiles with after-the-fact explanation and commentary, the collection includes Mr. Gordon’s biggest hits and some previously unreleased bonus tracks ... What I enjoyed most was the sense of humility and hard work that pervade Mr. Gordon’s stories. In a writing world that often feels self-celebratory to the point of delusion, Mr. Gordon reminds us that, as an early colleague told him, 'it’s just words.' When friends in stable careers project their Bohemian fantasies on him, he stares back, longing for a dental plan. His choice, however, is not without rewards. Looking back at 'all these heroic individuals who followed the muse and cut paths of their own,' Mr. Gordon sees 'the fleeting shimmer of the treasure I’ve witnessed.'
The subjects, though united by a shared rebelliousness, are nonetheless varied. Memphis Rent Party is no blues biography or soul exegesis. The subject is neither Stax nor Sun, but a range of artists as diverse and multifaceted as the Bluff City itself ... Memphis Rent Party succeeds in describing the particulars by examining the circumstances that helped produce them. It is impossible to study Memphis music divorced from the economic and social conditions that allowed these sounds to thrive, so at times, this collection is a study of the South, of its mores and norms, its casual cruelties and discriminations. But, as Gordon writes...'[b]lues is the mind's escape from the body's obligation. Blues amplifies the relief whenever and wherever relief can be found. The scarcity of that respite makes it ecstatic.'
Longtime music journalist Robert Gordon shares the city’s tales in Memphis Rent Party, a collection of his past work. Though much of this material is previously published, each piece is injected with new life by Gordon’s introductions, in which he offers a reflection on the essay’s inception. Gordon isn’t afraid to reveal some of the complicated workings behind the curtain ... The collection is loosely autobiographical, as Gordon appears as a character in many of these portraits. He’s a man who was raised by the city, who discovered within its boundaries the music that would drive his life forward. Readers may find hope and inspiration, just as Gordon did, in the drive and passion of these musicians.
The artists and musical styles Gordon covers here, while united by the Memphis connection, are highly diverse ... As an insider, Gordon is perfectly placed to bring together all the aspects of the incredibly varied Memphis music scene. This will be limited to fans deeply interested in the topic, but for that target audience, it hits the mark.
Memphis Rent Party is a personal, affecting collection of short pieces ... One could argue that Gordon has omitted some of Memphis’ biggest stars. Although Elvis is invoked many times, he does not receive his own piece. Nor do Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Booker T. Jones, Chips Moman, or many others. But it would be an unfair argument. Gordon has chosen those artists who made a personal and lasting impact on him — those that gave him something different ... Regardless of the level of fame, each musician gets his loving due from Gordon. He has the rare ability to convey the power, emotion, and depth of feeling that music can produce. In piece after piece in Memphis Rent Party, the author does what only the best music journalists can do: motivate readers to run out and find the wonderful music they’ve just read about. I’ve already picked up some from several of the artists profiled in this captivating book. You should, too.
In this excellent collection of essays, Gordon (It Came from Memphis), a veteran music journalist on the Memphis scene, masterfully writes about the outlaws, rebels, and tragic figures who provided the spark for the city’s entertainment industry. Many of the essays have been previously published, but each includes a new introduction that places the musicians covered (and the pieces themselves) into a greater context ... Gordon’s book is a grand, funky musical tour of Memphis.
The idea is to frame music as not just a way of life in other words, but also as life’s expression, which has been Gordon’s idea all along. Unlike his earlier books, this new work is something of a grab bag, bringing together liner notes and journalistic pieces, some never before in print. Given the subject, though, that approach seems oddly appropriate; music, after all, is complex and elusive, as are many of the people portrayed here ... Gordon makes a convincing case that if music can’t exactly save us, it can tell us who we are.