205 Beale St.
“Memphis is not what it used to be.”
-- Texas songwriter Owen Temple from his song “Memphis”
No, Memphis is not.
I suppose most folks think that’s a good thing, especially when you hear Will Shade, leader of the legendary Memphis Jug Band describe Memphis’ infamous Beale Street about a century ago:
"You could walk down the street in the days of 1900 and like that and you could find a man wit’ throat cut from ear to ear.
"Also you could find people lyin’ dead wit’ not their throat cut, money took and everything in their pockets, took out of their pockets and thrown outside the house.
"Sometimes you find them with no clothes on, throwed out of winders here on Beale Street. Sportin’ class o’ women runnin’ up and down the street all night long."
After reading that, I suppose I grudgingly agree it’s a good thing too.
I’m not all that keen on having my throat cut.
But there is something sad about such an iconic part of America existing now as nothing but a memory -- and a 21st Century Disneyesque mockery of the blues.
At least that is what Beale Street has become.
And if you don’t think that is an indictment of all of Memphis, consider the words of the great B.B. King, whose B.B. King’s Blues Club now stands as the flagship Disneyesque attraction on Beale Street:
"I don’t think of Memphis as Memphis. I thought of Beale Street as Memphis."
Before the days of urban renewal, Beale Street was the place black people from all over the mid-South and Mississippi Delta came to live, work, party and die.
All of it to the soundtrack of the blues -- the soulful, haunting sound that gave birth to almost every form of modern popular music from rock n’ roll to R&B to hip hop.
Beale Street was a bustling, bubbling gumbo of sweaty fun.
Beale Street entertainer Rufus Thomas once said, “If you were black for one Saturday night and on Beale Street, never would you want to be white again.”
But just about all of THAT Beale Street is long gone, plowed under by progress, so called.
The black juke joints were replaced with Coyote Ugly and the Hard Rock Café.
Drunken black revelers from the Delta replaced with drunken white tourists from Des Moines and Buffalo.
Authentic, gritty, gut bucket blues replaced with what I derisively call “tourist blues” -- countless repetitions of “Mustang Sally” and “She’s a Brick…
But I’m happy to say there is one piece of old Memphis that survives to this day.
The grease at Dyer’s Burgers.
Yes. Dyers’ has been deep frying burgers in a cauldron of hot grease that has not been changed in over a century.
You read that right.
Dyer’s deep fries its burgers.
And Dyer’s has never changed the grease. Not once in 101 years.
Oh sure, at 4am last call, one of Dyer’s employees will strain out all the burger and fry remainders and occasionally add some fresh oil to the mix, but change the grease?
No way. It’s never been done.
In fact, the Memphis police gave Dyer’s skillet of precious grease an armed police escort across town when Dyer’s relocated to 205 Beale Street years ago.
And you know what makes it even more awesome?
Sticking it to nanny state Communist dictators like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg telling me how many ounces of Coke I can buy.
The beef patty and cheese are submerged in Dyer’s gurgling heirloom grease for a few moments and then placed on a soft squooshy bun.
The result is hot, gooey burger bliss.
Especially at midnight after an evening of too many renditions of “Mustang Sally” and Beale Street Big Ass Beers.
Admittedly, my Suit757 palate was a bit numbed by the time it got to be Dyer’s time.
But one thing I have no doubt about -- the decadence of a Dyer’s burger standing in the middle of Beale Street at midnight is one of life’s great sinful pleasures.
Granted, no one other than Michael Bloomberg would compare this sort of sinfulness to that displayed on Beale Street in the time of Will Shade and Rufus Thomas.
But at least I won’t get my throat cut for it.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!