After two days in Memphis I finally ‘understand’ William Eggleston and why his photographs are so acclaimed and considered so wonderful, though first I must pass through four museums and two nights of sleeplessness to come to this understanding.
Graceland, where Elvis is buried beside his parents Vernon and Gladys Presley in the Mediation Garden beside the swimming pool, is Museum #1. The Sun Records Studio where Elvis cut his first hit record, “That’s All Right Mama”, is Museum #2. Museum #3 is the marvelous Stax Museum near the intersection of College and McLemore where Elvis isn’t even a ghost but the real live ghosts of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, Rufus Thomas and Albert King and so many other worthwhile musicians are delivered straight into my ears. Museum #4? The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel. This is where I’m panhandled at the entrance and exit, before and after the exhilarating four-hour history lesson on innate American white supremacy, both fact-finding mission and guilt-trip, culminating with racist white man James Earl Ray shooting civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from a boardinghouse as King stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in 1968.
From Memphis I drive to Trace State Park, near Tupelo, Mississippi and camp for the night. Exhausted, I sleep like a photograph of a dream I’m having of a mosquito who turns into a poet and then a short-story writer and finally into a novelist. It’s the best night’s sleep I’ve had since I left Jackson.
Eggleston? His photographs investigate the tension between the ‘official’ story and the ‘real’ story. Some are uncanny this way, either allowing me to see that all the better days to come are available right here in the present, or forcing me to imagine I am either the artist Jacque-David Louis painting Marat/Sade or Marat/Sade himself.