Paradise Found

March 17th, 2011

Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you
Got my mojo working, but it just won't work on you
I wanna love you so bad till I don't know what to do

                                                 Muddy Waters, Club Paradise, 1964

As published in The Daily News, March 18, 2011, and in The Memphis News, March 19-25, 2011



Just about any weekend anybody in the Gant button-down crowd could catch a concert at the Coliseum or Ellis Auditorium, crash a party at Clearpool, or hear a great band in a gym somewhere in Weejun town. This was Memphis in the early '60s. You could see Elvis at a stoplight, Jerry Lee in a restaurant, and listen to Wooly Bully on the radio waiting in line for auto inspection right in front of Sam the Sham's club.

But this weekend was different. This was Club Paradise. Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters were sharing the stage. The little red rooster was going to take on the hoochie coochie man. Ba-bah-ba-bump. One would moan at midnight while the other got his mojo working. Ba-bah-ba-bump.

And we were going.

Way down there, down where we'd never been, in the middle of where we weren't supposed to go. We weren't, however, telling our parents. There was a limit to our courage.

We were big, bad and ready. Nobody was going to mess with us.

Duke was the oldest, pushing 16, five eleven and all of a buck sixty five. I was two weeks past 15, about five nine and a buck fifty. His little brother, Chris, finished out the threesome at barely 14, five and not much, and the Zippo in my pocket weighed more than he did. Their parents were going out, so we stole their mother's car. Duke drove, with no license, I handled the city map under the dome light, with no clue, and Chris was in charge of the radio. After a few wide-eyed wrong turns, we slid that east Memphis station wagon into the Club Paradise parking lot on Georgia Avenue, eased through the door, and paid our cover.

Three slices of very white bread were in somebody else's kitchen.

“Oh the dogs begin to bark, and the hound begin to howl,” Howling Wolf growled from somewhere up front, and a table full of folks asked us to join them. Somebody handed me a big brown bottle, a big woman gave little Chris a hug, and all of us started laughing. “Oh watch out strange kind people, cause little red rooster is on the prowl,” Howling Wolf sang, and the rest of the night was a song.

Way down there, down where we'd never been, in the middle of where we weren't supposed to go everything was different. And the same. Our lives were in different worlds, our futures sharing common ground. Completely independent of each other, and utterly dependent.

Sometimes it seems we lived then and live now in parallel dimensions. There is real magic when nights like that occur, when we are bound by laughter, by music, by what we share rather than by what we fear.

We got home, got the car back in the garage as if nothing had changed. But, for at least one night, everything had and it seemed everything could.

I'm a Memphian, and I've been to Club Paradise.


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