Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mississippi: Double the 's', double the 'p', and now with 4 times the 'i'!

You know Mississippi,

The best part about fulfilling this 50-state blog challenge is learning new things, random things, useless things about states you've never wanted to visit and likely never will. It's also nice to read some 'Hmmm... I should have known that' facts about other places in the country. For example, Mississippi comes from an Ojibwe word meaning 'Great River'. Well I'll be damned if that doesn't make all sorts of sense...

An example of something I likely never would have known about Mississippi, and subsequently probably would have been OK going my whole life never finding out is that Texas Rose Bascom, of Columbia, Mississippi, became the most famous female trick roper in the world, performing on stage and in Hollywood movies. She toured the world with Bob Hope, billed as the "Queen of the Trick Ropers," and was the first Mississippian to be inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. How many Mississippians are NOW in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame you ask? Hell, I don't know, and I still don't care, so go find out yourself...

There's more to know about Mississippi, some of which may actually entertain and/or inspire. Let's share the wisdom of the Wiki shall we?

- The state flag of Mississippi displays a proud history of bassackward Southern culture. Contentious residents of the state are likely ashamed. Governor Haley Barbour apparently is not, since he's made no attempt to pull his state out of the mire of bald-faced racism.

- The state symbol of Mississippi is a magnolia flower. That's a much more plesant image, now isn't it? I'm sure it would look lovely on a flag...

- Apart from the biggun' it's named for, the state of Mississippi also features the Big Black River, the Pearl River, the Yazoo, the Pascagoula, and the Tombigbee. Throw a stick and you're likely to hit a river.

- Please watch where you're throwing that stick. Mississippians don't like being hit with sticks any more than residents of other states do. It's just an expression and I kind of expected you to be mature enough to know that. Honestly, what kind of person throws a stick? You could have put somebody's eye out you know?

- Mississippi's highest elevation, Woodall Mountain, peaks at a mere 806ft. above sea level. If Mississippi wanted to see West Virginia, it would have to stand on Tennessee's shoulders to get a glimpse over the top of Kentucky.

- That's ridiculous. Mississippi could NEVER stand on Tennessee's shoulders. It just doesn't have the balance... Besides, Tennessee has skinny little chicken legs, it could never support Mississippi's weight... Now if Alabama stepped in to make a Southern state cheerleader pyramid then there would be a chance, but last I heard Tennessee and Alabama weren't even speaking to each other... I KNOW!! I thought they were all BFF's and shit, but I guess Alabama was talking crap about Tennessee's boyfriend, and you know how THAT goes... and...

- Yes, I'm done. Moving along...

- Johnny Cash and June Carter (nee Cash) tell me that the state's capital, Jackson, is an excellent stop if one is interested in 'wrecking one's health'...

- I'm not sure if that implies getting drunk, or contracting a disease, but either way, Jackson knows how to party...

- Before you make your way to Jackson, I feel it's only good manners to inform you that the sale of sex toys is strictly prohibited in Mississippi, so you'd best stock up in Arkansas.

- Playwright Tennessee Williams was from Mississippi... Nope, that's not a typo...

- Short lived 1970's rock band, Mississippi was from Australia... Again, you're reading that correctly.

- There is no truth to the rumor that Mississippi broke up after taking a nasty fall in an attempt to spot West Virginia from atop Tennessee William's shoulders...

- Iron Chef Cat Cora is from Jackson, Mississippi and is known to break in to impromptu rants about her anger and frustration at frequently forgetting to put her favorite ice cream in the freezer when she arrives home from the market. She released the collected speeches as a spoken word album entitled Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ...

- ARCA Racer, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., was born in Olive Branch, Mississippi. He began his driving career as an illegal street racer, and has recently published a manuscript about his first ever ride entitled, A Streetcar Named Desire...

- Before helping Americans clean up their homes through the invention of Pine-Sol, Jackson native Harry A. Cole ran a sprawling pet store that was regarded in the community as the single largest repository for reptiles in the entire southern region of the US. Unfortunately, with all those animals to care for, one evening Harry forgot to close all the cages after feeding his scaly friends. At some point in the evening, a pesky lesser antilean began gnawing on a gas line whilst two white cays began fighting over a whetstone used as a bubble diffuser in common fish tanks. The gas leak combined with the sparks from the stone as the reptilian rapscallions batted it across the tiled floor caused a fire ball to erupt and the pet store was burned to the ground. The animals escaped unharmed and the ancestors of those lizards can be found living wild throughout greater Mississippi to this day. A 2005 documentary chronicled the events on their 80th anniversary. The film was entitled The Night of the Iguana.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much joy I'm getting out of this, but I suppose it's time to leave the puns behind and move on to the music... You'll excuse me if I'm not as quick to keep things moving as in posts passed. It's been a few entries since I logged a state list, and I require a Period of Adjustment...

The selections:

Solo: Elvis Aron Presley

I've made my opinion about the proper hierarchy of Elvi (the appropriate plural of Elvis) known previously. That not withstanding, I simply cannot deny the king his court. Just as the King of Pop was allowed to rule over Indiana, the King of Rock & Roll shall take his rightful throne in Mississippi. Keep in mind though this renders His Majesty ineligible for Tennessee enshrinement, even if that is the locale of Graceland, and the throne on which the king departed this earthly plain...

Still too soon for 'Elvis died on the can' humor?

I fully admit that my less then reverent treatment of Elvis is born almost entirely from the fact that I was not able to witness first hand the revolutionary shift he spurned in popular music. I tend to feel that Elvis' contribution to the formation of Rock & Roll as we know it, while massively important, is still none the less overstated. Simply put Elvis was not the only one singing Rock & Roll songs in 1954. I will not argue the fact that he was more successful, more visible, and more controversial than any of his early contemporaries, but much of the originality and controversy is lost on me coming from a generation where musicians were expected to write and play their own tunes as well as sing them.

I will say this for His Rockliness, no one, and I mean NO ONE can play a boat hand / lifeguard / cliff diver the way Elvis did in Fun in Acapulco... Throughout his film career he played a 'Mike' three times, did three tours as a 'Johnny' and only once played a 'Deke'. As far fetched as the Elvis formula plays, (ie. Soldier who happens to sing and play guitar, waiter who happens to sing and play guitar, race car driver who happens to sing and play guitar, dock hand who happens to cliff dive AND sing & play guitar...) the films really aren't about what ELVIS is doing anyway, they're about what WE want to be doing... Seriously, who WOULDN'T want to race a car, sing a song, and get down with 1967 Nancy Sinatra?

I guess what I'm saying is while I respect Elvis' place in the Rock pantheon, and will even rightfully call him The King, it's his film work that entertains me far more than just the songs. Here's an excellent example of both working at once, Elvis from Viva Las Vegas.

Band: The heretofore imaginary but SO should have happened blues super group of Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, and Muddy Waters.

So far as I can tell, there's only one band actually FROM Mississippi, and that band is 3 Doors Down. Seriously, what kind of human being would I be if I honored the 'accomplishments' of 3 Doors Down and totally blew off the backbone of guitar driven modern blues? The fact that all four of these artists were born in the same state is testament to the power of the Mississippi Delta. There must be some sort of voodoo blues jive flowing in the rivers, because that just doesn't seem normal to me.

B. B. King gave us The Thrill Is Gone, collaborated with U2 on When Love Comes to Town, and was voted by Rolling Stone as the 3rd greatest guitarist on the list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Bo Diddley influenced artists Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also credited with creating the Bo Diddley sound, which has been used in songs such as:

Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away"
The Who's "Magic Bus"
U2's "Desire"
The Smiths "How Soon Is Now?"
George Michael's "Faith"
Tom Petty's "A Mind with a Heart of Its Own
The Pretenders "Cuban Slide"
Jefferson Airplane's "She Has Funny Cars"
Guns N' Roses "Mr Brownstone"
Green Day's "Castaway"
Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield"

John Lee Hooker influenced Bo Diddley, appeared and sang in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers. He has collaborated with artists Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison. Hooker has also been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Two of his songs, "Boogie Chillen" and "Boom Boom" were named to the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. He was also inducted in 1980 into the Blues Hall of Fame. Finally, in 2000, Hooker was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Muddy Waters, also known as the Father of Chicago Blues, was a huge inspiration for the British beat, was ranked #17 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 1967, he joined forces with Bo Diddley, Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf to record the Super Blues and The Super Super Blues Band pair of albums of Chess blues standards. That's the closest this group of artists ever got to recording together. As such, here's 3 Doors Down's Kryptonite.

Honorable Mention: Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke is responsible for some of the most purely entertaining songs ever recorded. Cupid, Another Saturday Night, Twistin' the Night Away, You Send Me, A Change Is Gonna Come, Chain Gang, and Bring It on Home to Me. He had a total of twenty nine top 40 hits on the US chart despite having recorded for just eight short years. Had he lived on, I have no doubt Sam Cooke would have easily joined the elite company of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Madonna as one of the most successful pop/rock acts in history.

Unfortunately, this was not to pass. At the tragically young age of thirty three, Sam Cooke was shot dead by the manager of Los Angeles' Hacienda Hotel. The official verdict in the case was that Cooke was shot in self defense after entering the manager's office wearing nothing but an overcoat and one shot, demanding information about the whereabouts of the woman who joined him at the hotel that evening. The manager, Bertha Franklin, claims the the two struggled and then both reached for a gun she had in the office for protection. Franklin beat Cooke to the gun and shot him.

The woman who had accompanied Cooke to the room was identified and testified on Franklin's behalf claiming that Cooke had tried to rape her. This story was disputed by the evidence, including missing money from Cooke's person, and was additionally called in to question later when the same woman was arrested on charges of prostitution.

In addition to inconsistancies in the story of Cooke's companion, Elisa Boyer, there was also inconsistancies between the story of the hotel manager and what singer Etta James witnessed upon viewing the body in the funeral home. According to James, the injuries sustained by Cooke were far beyond what would be expected from a simple struggle, followed by a gunshot wound. James claimed that Cooke was beaten so severely that his head was nearly separated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed, and his nose was mangled. Despite these inconsistancies, the jury felt Bertha Franklin had acted within her rights to protect herself based on the fact that the hotel's owner testified to having heard the struggle over the phone, and the fact that Cooke's post mortem blood test showed he was intoxicated at the time of his death. To this day, surviving members of the Cooke family believe that Sam Cooke was intentionally murdered, though no evidence of a conspiracy has ever been brought to light.

Regardless of the tragic circumstances of his death, Sam Cooke is an American legend, and has been enshrined, along with all of Mississippi's other listed artists, into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Here's a live performance of Twistin' the Night Away.

The next state will be Missouri. I'm liking the varied posting of the last few days though, so that likely will not be the next post...


CSD Julie said...

I love Sam Cooke. =) What's the next horror write up?

OCKerouac said...

Online for reading... The Beast Must Die!