Stax Museum of American Soul
926 E McLemore Ave
Memphis, TN 38126
N 40° 42′ 46.021”
W 74° 0′ 21.388”
There are studies that suggest that people stop listening to new music at age 33.I’m 31. As someone who’s entire identity has been wrapped up in not just what I listen to, but my pursuit of new music, this is terrifying. That terror isn’t new. When an adult suggested to my teenage-self that there would be a time that I wouldn’t be so dedicated to it when I was older I was stopped dead in my tracks. It momentarily broke my brain.
The sad thing is that I am falling into this trap (is it because the study is right or self-fulfilling a prophecy?). I am finding myself less and less interested in new music, but I’m becoming more and more fixated on older music, and not just my 25+ year love of Little Richard. I’m finding what I like then finding what inspired it. I’m going for bee-bop, jump blues, and the like, to the annoyance of my coworkers as I make suggestions for the community playlist in the office.
An all-time favorite that has only grown exponentially through my research is the Stax Records catalog. I feel those songs in my bones. I can’t pinpoint a moment that I found the sound or the first Stax hit that I knew, it’s one of those things that is just ingrained in me. That’s why when I went through Memphis the Stax Museum was priority #1.
I prepared for this visit even more than most of the stops on this trip, that I had invested nearly a year in researching. For Stax I picked up a copy of Respect Yourself, the history of Stax and treated it like a homework assignment, I had to finish it for the trip (though I didn’t because I’m either a horrible student or life was just that busy). I also stumbled upon it on Groupon and picked up admission for two for $14.
The museum is built on the former home of Stax Records, which was torn down 1989. The complex includes the museum, a replica of the old studio (down to the slanted movie theatre floor) and Satellite Records show, and a school with a brilliant music program. I stood out front looking up at the iconic neon sign with stars, and maybe tears, in my eyes. I’m not a crier as a rule. For the most part if I’m going to cry it is when I am overwhelmed by art and history, like this.
On that Saturday morning I was among the first small group ushered into a small theatre to watch a film to transition us into the immersive museum experience. I should point out that the film and museum are really more about American soul than just Stax’s place in history. It of course focuses on Stax, but there are some exhibits that I could argue are tenuous at best. I still scampered all over that museum with glee. The exhibits include Isaac Hayes’ Oscar for “Shaft,” his gold plated Cadillac, and the replicas of the old studio and control room. In the studio is Booker T. Jones Hammond organ and Steve Cropper’s guitar. I would argue that there are few things that can’t be improved with the addition of a Hammond organ, so I stood before it in awe.
I do have to be a little bit critical for a minute. Some the exhibits had misspelled words and out of date information. The BFF and I, who are hyper critical of museum design and content, couldn’t help to pick it all apart. While I would be nerding out on one thing I would then have to point out questionable elements, like an exhibit on Packy Axton that omits the fact that his mother and uncle were the founders/owners of Stax. The flow o the exhibits also felt like they were struggling to follow a narrative thread.
My compulsive criticism and all, I spent nearly three hours in the museum. I left mentally exhausted, inspired, and more than a few dollars poorer. I indulged my addiction to buttons, patches, and stickers and allowed myself my only souvenir tee shirt of the trip, a faux aged green shirt with the classic logo.
I’m still kicking myself for not picking up the journal made out of the damaged copy of “Shaft”.