I spent a long weekend in Memphis. I enjoyed myself. But I found it a bit painful to be a tourista on Beale Street. I darkened no doors. I took no pictures. I tried to pretend the Hard Rock Cafe wasn’t there. I tried to walk quickly past the place playing 1990s Lenny Kravitz at a volume that eclipsed the 12-bar blues being played live next door. The change from black neighborhood to tourist mecca is the subject of books, a Joni Mitchell song (Furry Sings the Blues), and this blog post.
Rather than record the neon-lit gaudy re-imagining of the authentic with my cheap digital camera, I give you a sedate historic photo.
Beale Street, 1974
In 2012, what I saw glaring at me up and down that block was nothing particularly new. Simply the co-optation and gentrification of vibrant (and often oppressed) subcultures for profit. And I was the target audience.
We are nostalgic for a singular time and place.
We hope for redux. A thing brought back or restored.
We get simulacrum. A superficial representation. Or more precisely (see Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation), a copy with no original.