If there’s someone who wasn’t moved the first time they heard Marc Cohn’s seminal hit ‘Walking in Memphis,’ I haven’t met them, and if I did I'm sure I'd feel sorry for them. Weaving imagery of the past into a modern song about spiritual awakening and discovery, Cohn’s take on the ‘Home of the Blues’ wasn’t overtly bluesy, nor was it sweaty or despairing, like actual blues. It was so raw though, and seemingly came out of nowhere, that the touching piano melody combined with a husky Van Morrison-ish voice made it a surprise hit of 1990, the only thing not surprising was that it spent 23 weeks on the Billboard top 100 and was nominated for Song of the Year the following spring. Losing to Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable was generally regarded as a pretty big compliment, and Cohn still took home a Grammy for best new artist.
Arguably the most famous line of the song was...
"She said, 'Tell me are you a Christian child, and I said ‘Ma’am I am tonight..’”
But the line that really grabbed me was in the chorus:
“I was walking in Memphis,
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale,
Walking in Memphis,
and do I really feel the way I feel”
“Ten feet off of Beale?”
Just your garden variety out-of-body experience.
Zooming out will reveal that not only is Memphis the “home” of the blues, it’s smack in the middle of the blues highway, State Route 61. Route 61 originally traveled from New Orleans up to Chicago, and eventually Canada, and in the middle bit basically following the contour of the Mississippi River, though not directly on its soft, muddy banks.
It was near this highway that heavyweights like B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and many others, honed their unique voices and raised the blues out of that dark and mysterious land that claimed to be free but just like thick Mississippi mud, revealed a past that wouldn’t quite wash off so easily.
Walking lightly, or floating one might also think of a tap dancer or spry entertainer like Fred Astaire, seemingly floating and barely touching the ground as their body makes only the slightest impact on the earth below.
When's the last time you felt like your feet were ten feet off of anything?
No really - when was it? Take a moment to stop and think, I will to. Got it?
For many it would have been when a big opportunity was realized, a graduation ceremony finished, maybe a book published, or possibly the most natural floating elation of all –
I was a late bloomer. So aside of a silly peck here or there my first real kiss didn't come until my twenties, when I fell for a cute "midwest farmer's daughter" at a summer camp in the Santa Cruz mountains. It took me about 3 weeks to get the hint - which in summer camp terms is like two years. Ten feet off the ground? Shoot I was soaring. I was invincible!
Of course it only lasted for about a month after camp ended.. but not before I'd hitched a ride with some dude who was headed back to Hilton Head SC.. surprising Natalie on the porch of her house across from K-State. Just another day in the life for my 20-something self...
That was a long intro
Because that's not at all what I'm feeling. In fact it might be the opposite.
Love is all about connection, about one of the most primal of human relationships, and about how all of a sudden a town like Manhattan, Kansas, a blip off of I-80, holds a completely different feeling when someone you love lives there.
The opposite isn't hate, it's an undeniable feeling of being UN-connected. When your feet - you guessed it - literally feel like they're not touching the ground. Or touching anything.
This feeling of my feet not touching the ground has been lingering for over a year and a half, probably since I got back from my epic road trip – thrilled and satisfied but with no more of a plan than when I left California – 10,000 miles and four months earlier.
But I got a job right? Nope didn't do it. My brother came back from Brazil though right? It was great to see him but no. An apartment you say? Nah I slept on the couch and gave my brother the bedroom. But I went to the same church for more than a few weeks right? Yeah and so did a girl I dated and her new husband.. no thanks. But I lived near my long time friends though - didn't those connections matter? Sadly no, and not because the friendships or the people are different...
...most likely because I am.
So it's been since coming back to L.A. – Which is after a visit to Canada and a stint in Nashville if you're keeping track – I know sometimes even I have to check my posts to remember where I've been.
But this was the first time I really noticed... nothing here sticks.
L.A. traffic? Doesn't faze.
The lines to get out of the parking garage? Eh.
Working at my friends' cooking school, dishwashing and bussing? Barely notice it's happening.
The heat spells followed by strange humidity and then a big cool down? Nada.
Where I should live if I stay? Don't know, don't care.
So I looked down at my feet. These feet that have taken me so many places.
These feet that have felt the cool waters of the South Yuba, turned into numb blocks of flesh skim- boarding at Bodega Bay, hiked through river canyons in Utah and AZ, soaked in the Mediterranean, almost died in boiling sulfur at Mt. Lassen, even braved the frozen granite on top of Yosemite Falls waiting for the sun to rise.
I guess at the least they must be comfortable shoes right?
So how will anything change?
What will cause me to feel the ground again - to have anything stick?
A job? Who knows. A woman? Possibly.
If you've read my ramblings you'll no doubt have heard about bookends. In life and in films, many times the character is drawn back to where they started, or where they went off track, but of course within the frame of the screenplay they return to a familiar place within two hours and find it's them that's changed
So how odd is it that of all the projects I've pitched about Steinbeck, Madden, etc.. I've never pitched my own past – yet the producers I met with last week are interested in just that. Arguably one of the major pivot points in my life, my decision to drop out of college and start a small bmx bicycle company in the early 1990's affected an entire decade of my life, and maybe more.
Was this the last time I felt grounded? Really grounded? Like I knew with 100% conviction that I was going to jump in with all I had?
No – i've had firm convictions since, many in fact. Buying the convertible. Dating a certain brown-haired girl, however challenging. Returning to college and graduating. Taking care of my dad and making a movie about his life. Heading out on my big road trip.
Maybe being grounded is a wild goose-chase. Maybe the conviction that's been with me the most is the conviction to keep jumping.