Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music's Hometown

Journalist and filmmaker Robert Gordon has documented Memphis for decades. Born and raised there, he was submerged in the music scene as a kid, eventually devoting himself to tracking down lost stories of the town where rock-and-roll was born. Memphis Rent Party collects many of those stories, adding anecdotes and introductions to previously published work, along with pieces that haven't seen the light of day. In totality, the book is a sprawling look at Memphis old and new, examining the birth of rock and rockabilly, and the economy of music in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Using his own journey as a guide, Gordon weaves his way through 75 years of music, from the birth of Jerry Lee Lewis to the death of Alex Chilton (the musical powerhouse behind Big Star) in 2010. The only constants throughout these pieces are Gordon and the city of Memphis itself. Memphis Rent Party depicts pipe and drum hootenannies out in the middle of nowhere, avant-garde proto-punk shows and everything in between, showing how so much of modern music was influenced, if not downright born, in Tennessee.

Since each piece is short (most were originally intended for newspapers and magazines), readers won't find the kind of depth one sees in a biography. But as a whole, the works here form a larger tapestry, where one can easily glean the sheer volume of talent and creativity that moved through Memphis's streets--and still does, Gordon would likely say. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

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