Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Alpha Newberry

The band sets into it, and the crowd follows them along.

Well, everyone but me and that couple too busy making out to notice anything else.

What I see and hear turns my stomach. Privileged white kids freaking out to other privileged white kids badly covering old blues standards.

I’m done with them before they’re done with their first song.

“Not stickin’ around?” The doorman asks me as I break out into the cold night.

“Newspaper said they were blues. That ain’t blues.” I said with a growl.

“Sounds like it to me.” He replies, then quickly adds, “No refunds.”

I sigh, and turn to him, something inside me snapping.

“The blues is a duet between a man and his pain. A man’s fingers might be on the strings of a guitar, and the voice in his throat, but it’s the pain that’s makin’ the music.” I jab my finger toward the venue. “Those ain’t men, and they sure as hell ain’t never known pain, not any real pain.”

He stares at me blankly, obviously not expecting that kind of response. We shrug at each other as he goes back to checking IDs as I walk off into the dark.

Memphis Note
Every few years a group of middle class white kids will discover the blues and get some attention about how they’ve updated the genre for the modern audience. But none of them ever get it quite right, there’s always something missing. Which is why we still revere the name of Robert Johnson, but can’t remember the names of bands like this at all.

Alpha Newberry

Steam and smoke rolled out from under the hood of the Theater Owners Booking Association bus. Most of the performers had filed off and were milling around the side of the road, but a few hung out of the open windows, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

“It’s ruined!” Declared Fats, as he slammed the hood back down. “We ain’t makin’ the gig.”

“Then we’ll have to walk.” Said a smaller man in a cheap suit, the only white amongst the crowd. “We’ve got an engagement to keep. We’ll deal with the bus tomorrow.”

A murmur of disquiet went through the group. They were miles from their intended stop.

“Like hell I am.” Came a voice from the back. It was Ma Rainey, a corpulent blues singer and one of the circuit’s biggest draws. “The’s a bar a ways back. We’ll play there.”

“No, no. The Barrasso’s won’t like that. We’re booked to play in Mobile tonight. A real theater, not some cliche juke joint.”

Ma Rainey loomed toward the man, seeing to grow larger the closer she got.

“We’re in Mobile. We’re playin’ tonight. That’s good enough. Don’t you agree?”

The small man swallowed and gave a meek nod.

“Thought so.”

Memphis Note
The Theater Owners Booking Association was a Memphis based Vaudeville circuit that catered to black audiences in the South. It was founded by two Italian brothers that saw the strong attendance by blacks to their theaters in Memphis when they booked black acts. Notorious for working their acts to the bone in poor conditions, Ma Rainey was once quoted as saying that TOBA actually stood for “Tough on Black Asses”. The circuit folded during the Great Depression, but its bones became the basis of the loose Chitlin’ Circuit that helped create rock ‘n roll.

Sallie Israel

Jelly Roll Lee lay on his back, feeling the springs of the bed through the thin prison mattress, staring upward.

In these brief moments after lights out, before his eyes adjusted to the dark, he liked to believe that there was no ceiling above him. That the space stretched out into an endless forever, instead of stopping abruptly at a cold concrete wall a few feet from where he lay.

He sighed, and rolled over to his side.

There was a familiar pulling ache in his fingers. They missed running up and down the neck of a guitar, dancing out a ballad on the frets.

He hadn’t held a guitar since that night he was busking on Beale all those years ago. He’d broken his across the face of punk who’d tried to snatch money out his case.

He’d never meant to hit him that hard.

Not hard enough to end up left with nothing but a life of jail time ahead of him.

He started to hum, using his mouth to make the sounds he heard in his head.

They could take away his freedom, wall out the light, but they couldn’t take away the music in his soul.

Memphis Note
Blues is sometimes referred to as the music of prison, likely because of its subject matter, and also because nearly every one of the early Delta bluesmen spent at least a few years of their lives behind bars.

Joe Leibovich

In the wake of the cultural civil war of the mid twenty-first century, officials decided it would be best if all aspects of education were restructured into the Standardized Model.

The Standardized Model was two fold solution to society’s problems. First, it would deliver a uniform education directly to the student’s brain via a series of synthetic neural codifying proteins and memetic conditioning.

Then, due to the minimum of time needed to ensure a standard of education, billions of hours of new productivity would be created.

It would be the beginning of a new, unconflicted society.

Or such was the intent.

The deviation in the Standardized Model changed everything.

The only thing known for certain is that harmonic and rhythmic elements of a provincial style of music known as the “Delta Blues” altered the memetic programing of the Standardized Model.

The result caused students to develop an eagerness to question everything around them. Societal stability was once again at risk.

The deviation spread like wildfire through the national social network, affecting hundreds of thousands before being contained.

Memphis was the worst hit, with nearly every student infected.

It is unknown if the Standardized Model will ever work there again.

Memphis Note
This is pretty much what happened with rock and roll in the 60s, except without the overt educational brain washing.

Scott Brown

I checked that my car doors were locked before I walked up the steps to my father’s porch. Couldn’t be too careful in this neighborhood anymore.

“Hey, Dad.” I said upon reaching the top. He looked away with a frown.

“Given any thought about what I said about getting out of Orange Mound?”

“I like it here.” Was his terse answer.

“Dad, I know you’ve got pride in your neighborhood, but it’s time for a change. Time to see something new.”

“Feh.” He spat a wad of tobacco into the yard. “I was in the Army. Saw Europe, Japan, Korea. Reckon I seen more of the world than you. And even with all that, I’d rather be right here than any place I know.”

I shook my head and laughed.

“What’s so funny” He asked sharply.

“W.C. Handy said the same thing about Beale Street almost a hundred years ago.”

My father regarded me sternly for a moment.

“So, what you’re sayin’ is if hang onto this house long enough, people are gonna be bang on my door to turn this place into one of them fancy neon light bars?”

That was the first time we laughed together in years.

Memphis Note
Orange Mound was formed when a real estate developer bought an old plantation and began to sell the land to African American families in the late 1800s. The area grew into one of the most vibrant predominantly black communities in America. Sadly, the positive act of desegregation was a double-edged sword for Orange Mound. Young people with new mobility chose to move out of the neighborhood, property values dropped and crime moved in. In recent years, Orange Mound has been the target of large revitalization programs that are breathing new life into the historic community.