I came here because I fell in love with Memphis. When I left New York, I thought I’d be moving either to Nashville or to Austin, but a friend suggested I take a look at Memphis. I came to take a look, happened to drive past a building in Midtown with a FOR RENT sign out front, and, presto, I’m a Memphian.
I am enchanted by Memphis. There is a vibe here, a spookiness, a feeling, that you don’t feel anywhere else. There is something very particular and special.
I’d lived in New York since 1989, and it was just time to leave. New Yorkers, particularly of my arty-groovy variety, always talk about how the city has been eaten up by money, and there isn’t a place for people to make art anymore. That’s true, but, really, it had just been a lot of years, and it was time for a change. New York will always be New York for people who love New York, and I just didn’t anymore.
I spend a big chunk of my life on tour, mostly in America, and I know so many cities intimately. I’ve been in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston, you name it, twice a year every year for twenty years. So in each town I know what neighborhoods I like, where the vibe coffee place is, where to get good food. But I’ve never really spent much time in Memphis. I’ve played at the New Daisy just a handful of times in my career, that’s it. As you know, you don’t get a real feel for Memphis from Beale Street.
I knew Nashville pretty well, and Austin extremely well. I like the South—my dad is from Louisiana—and I’ve always known that at some point I wanted to live in this part of the universe. It would shock you how many arty friends of mine who lived in Brooklyn have moved to Nashville. About ten or so. It’s just the place people are going these days. And those people love it there.
I like Nashville, but I’m not crazy about it, and, taking an in-depth look, I found that it wasn’t immensely affordable. Anything is cheap compared to New York, but Nashville isn’t much of an improvement, and Austin certainly isn’t.
My friend J Russo, who plays with a number of people—Mercury Rev, Nicole Atkins, Kevin Devine, Common Prayer—had spent some time working at Sun with Matt Ross-Spang, and when I mentioned to him my intention to move, he said, “You know, I’ve had this fantasy about moving to Memphis,” and it seemed rather random to me, but he was so enthused about it that, on my fact-finding, in-depth journey to take a hard look at Austin or Nashville, where I presumed I was moving, Memphis was kind of in the middle, and I thought I’d see what J was talking about.
And I loved it.
I don’t think I’d set foot in Midtown in my life, and I just absolutely loved it. I loved the people, and the feeling. I had thought I was going back to New York to mull over what my plans would be. I proceeded to Austin, took a look around (it’s a great city, but not inexpensive, and the traffic is jaw-dropping—the place is overstuffed with people that have moved there), and, on my way back I came through Memphis again. I went to Otherlands, and drove around the blocks behind it, and suddenly came across what would be my apartment. When I returned to New York, it was to pack my life up and move it south.
It’s hard picking up stakes and changing your life radically at age 45. I miss so many of my friends, and making new connections is hard. Being single and my age is weirder here; in New York, women in their 30s and 40s are just as likely to be single, but people get married young in Tennessee.
Also, people in New York can walk around talking to themselves without appearing crazy; it’s just what you do. So, I’ve been walking around Memphis talking to myself and appearing crazy.
But the difficulty is outweighed by the stuff I love; I spend a lot of time at Otherlands (I play there pretty regularly—it’s blocks from my house!), at the Hi Tone, and at Goner. I drive around Memphis doing stuff and it just feels right; I feel at ease, and happy. It’s great to be here.