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Saturday, October 04, 2014

Last night I watched a documentary about Muscle Shoals Studios. It was pretty nifty-- but I've come to the conclusion that "Sweet Home Alabama" is as offensive as a Nazi flag. I'm alone this week, and I could be doing all kinds of crazy stuff, but instead, I'm watching music documentaries. There seems to always be an irritating jerk in music documentaries, and in this one the asshole is Bono, who is full of shit about the mystical properties of the soil and the sunlight in Alabama. Mick and Keefe, on the other hand, talk about what a blast it was to play there. ("Those guys had chops, you know? Cough, weeze cough". Keefe is made of phlem, sinew, and riffs.) Muscle Shoals doesn't look like much of a town-- I wonder what the Stones ate when they were recording there?

It's this dopey little burg on the Gulf Coast in Alabama, but it is also the Nashville, or Memphis of  Southern Rock-- the place where it was invented. Aretha Franklin recorded her first hit there, and Etta James worked there, and Wilson Pickett. The only people who are actually from there are the guy who built the studio-- a former musician who'd worked in Memphis, and was mentored by Sam Philllips-- and the mostly white guys who were the in-house band. The room had good sound, and the band was pretty great-- I mean, what's not to love about "Mustang Sally"? Duanne Allman was the house guitarist, so it really is where Southern Rock germinated. As is usually the case, it was a kind of cultural appropriation, but that's the whole history of America, isn't it?

I've always wanted to take a tour of the studios where the stuff I like was made. Secret Sound in Midtown, and Rudy Van Gelder's place in Hackensack. Muscle Shoals would be another, and I suppose Abbey Road. Most are still working spaces, and probably have very little resemblance to what they were. The only one I have seen is Sun Studio in Memphis, which was damn near a mystical experience. Sun blew my mind, because it was intact. People still record there-- including U2, because fooking Bono found it so mystical. Bono thinks everything is mystical, because he is Irish, but I suppose, really, I'm just as bad. I mean, why would I want to go to the place where Thelonious Monk recorded "Well, You Needn't" if I didn't think there was some quality to it that I could experience just by visiting?

I'd go to Muscle Shoals, see, and I'd have a fried oyster po'boy, and then I would have a massive  gout attack, and have to stay in the Muscle Shoals MOT*L 6, because the 'e' is burned out.And then they would make fun of the way I talk.

I see this working out well.

The fetid Alabama air, and the many, many flies.
"Y'all want a fresh towel, mister?"
"Ughhhh." I can't really sleep when I am having a gout attack, and they don't have a doctor there-- just a veterinarian who sometimes does abortions. I try calling him to see if he'll slip me some cortisone, but all he has are the pills dosed for cats, and he won't write me the script. "I'm sorry," he says on the phone, "But you will have to bring Mr Sox in for me to see him before I can dispense." He knows, of course, that Mr. Sox is a fiction. I'd called him and asked for drugs, and when he said no, I made the cat up on the spot. "Uh, it's not actually for me, it's for my cat, uh, Mr. Sox. He has been throwing up...."  Probably he thinks his phone is tapped. Maybe it is. This is no part of the America I think I know. This is a gout-induced dreamscape brought about by reading too much William Faulkner and listening to 'Freebird'.

And after all, who the hell would travel to this swamp with a cat? There are plenty of cats here, of course, down by the dock where the Vietnamese shrimp fisherman dock, but they aren't cats anyone would adopt. One-eyed, three legged, with bits of tail missing, chances are they wouldn't deign to become housepets. The docks is the life they know, and I can imagine them singing "It's A Fine Life" from Oliver. A swaggering chorus of cats: "If you don't mind 'aving to deal with Fagin/It's a fine life...." I'm not sure how a movie musical has crept into my fevered gout dream, but there is is, and no veterinary cortisone to sooth me. "Where would the cats have learned the song?" I wonder. Its a cinch Duane Allman didn't teach it to them.

I consider trying to get up and get something to eat. The oyster shack is out of the question, of course. Even if I stay away from the bivalves, everything there is fried in the same oil. Maybe there's a lunch counter somewhere? This place doesn't seem so integrated, even now, and lunch counters were big in the South, weren't they? Maybe I can get a grilled cheese and a cup of coffee....

| Comments:
But I'll bet you could score some oxy, easy.
 
As a native of Alabama, I can assure you that Muscle Shoals is not anywhere near the Gulf Coast. I won't bother to disabuse your other fetid delusions.
 
Well damn. Google first, I guess. There's Muscle Shoals, all the way inland, and just south of Tennessee. No doubt my other fetid delusions are equally wide of the mark. Population 13,506, biggest city in Colbert County. Pretty appalling history relative to the American genocide and racial cleansing. Per Wikipedia:

"When Jackson, as president, implemented the policy of Indian Removal, Muscle Shoals was used as a site from which to ship Upper Creeks out to Oklahoma (then Indian Territory).
"During World War I President Wilson authorized a dam just downstream of Muscle Shoals to help power nitrate plants for munitions. The first plant started producing nitrates two weeks after the armistice, but the dam was not completed until 1924. Meanwhile in 1922 Henry Ford tried to buy the nitrate works and the unfinished dam. Congress rejected Ford's offer as too little money. The project languished until the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933.
Southgate Mall opened in Muscle Shoals in 1968."

I like that lil' ol' pocket history, which steps lively from the Jackson Administration to the 20's, a span of 85 years, to the creation of the TVA eleven years later, to the opening of what I am sure is a swell mall 35 years after that. Not a lot seems to happen in Muscle Shoals-- except the music, of course-- and what has happened there, again, with the exception of the music, seems to be scaling down on the world historical stage. That's all to the good as far as I'm concerned: except for the music the major contribution to American culture made by the Yellowhammer State in my lifetime was George Wallace, so if they are happy to settle down and enjoy their mall, I'm happy to let them.
 

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