Friday, October 10, 2008

She Moves

A few months ago, a favorite publisher of mine sent me It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music, a part-travelogue, part-historiography by Paste contributing editor Amanda Petrusich. Her book explores these questions:

"Where lies the boundary between meaning and sentiment? Between memory and nostalgia? America and Americana? What is and what was? Does it move?"

Traveling defines home (place) we soon find out.

In It Still Moves, Petrusich visits Southern sites steeped in music and explores their pasts. In one chapter, in particular, Petrusich steps away from music to talk about Graceland (as a place), and in doing so, she explores the sentiment we derive from the places we call home.

It was a pleasing thing to sit in the audience of the show I produce and listen to Petrusich read from the chapter, rightly towards the beginning of the book, 'I'm Going to Graceland.' When I finished reading that section, I rushed through the rest of It Still Moves and popped it in the mail to a friend who was presently moving from L.A. to Nashville. On a card I tucked inside the book's cover I wrote: You'll need this.

Petrusich connects her readers to the places she visits, but she also helps us rediscover and reconsider them. I went to Graceland, well, the outskirts anyway, a few months ago for the first time. I recall the eeriness of the moment. My friend and I meandering around in the strip of stores across the street from Elvis's home. I wouldn't do this in the suburb I grew up in Florida, but here it was O.K. In the stores, cardboard cutout Elvises stood guard among plates, posters (yes, velvet ones), figurines, and my personal favorite -- stained glass Elvises.

Elvis liked kitsch. I stood between a museum quality collection of it and what represented the next generation now for sale across the street from his home. Before we have Petrusich as our guide, we see Graceland as destination (a joke, a pilgrimage, an oddity), but as she moves throughout the house, we encounter it as a home. The table setting, appliances in the kitchen, even a flower arrangement, are not missed from her eyes. For the first time, I thought of the tourist attraction I rolled my eyes at every time I passed it on I-55 as a place where people once lived.

It Still Moves is decidedly a book about music, especially the Southern variety, but themes of space and place course as strong throughout its pages.

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