We’re original. Act like it.

November 30th, 2017

Unlike Mud Island – one of the things that makes us uniquely Memphis – yet another aquarium is just like some other city.

Unlike all the balls in yet another sportsplex, the Mid-South Coliseum is just too damn big to be kicked down the road. 

In the town that wrote the music, we seem to be content to sing somebody else’s songs.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, December 1, 2017, and in The Memphis News, December 2-8, 2017

(photo: Paul and Ringo, The Mid-South Coliseum, 1966. Paul might be asking, “I wonder how many mothballs this thing will hold.”)

Paul And Ringo Coliseum 1966


My church has an impressive mosaic of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” over the altar – the one a friend says should be called, “Everybody get on the same side of the table so I can take this picture.” True to the original in every detail, the mosaic is even more impressive when you realize it involves more than 40,000 individual pieces. It’s beautiful.

It’s a copy.

As a Memphian, I don’t like copies. We have a history of originals, ideas so compelling that they’ve been copied around the world. Some you know. Elvis and Rock and Roll. Handy and the Blues. Sun and Stax. Holiday Inns and franchising. Federal Express and overnight delivery. Piggly Wiggly and self-service shopping. Dr. Campbell and modern orthopedics. Danny Thomas and advances in treating catastrophic childhood disease. Some you may not know. Like the first city to separate water and sewer systems, the first African-American formatted radio station, and home to the world’s largest spot cotton market and hardwood lumber market, and the South’s tallest building, etc.

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When was the last time we were so flattered? When was the last time you heard your fellow Memphians compare their city favorably to somewhere else rather than wish they were there?

Rather than originate, we now seem to want to copy.

Take an aquarium on Mud Island. Please. There’s already one in a place we love to go, New Orleans, and already one in a place we love to envy, Atlanta. There’s even a freshwater one already in Tennessee over there in Chattanooga. Three within 400 miles.

We don’t need AFA. That, of course, stands for Another Freshwater Aquarium.

While Brooks on the bluff has the opportunity to be something original and truly ours, putting a big fishbowl below it is just copying. We need something original that brings people to the river and on it, not inside something looking out at it, or looking at something captured from it.

And take the fairgrounds. Finally. The youth sportsplex idea isn’t original, and the only thing there that is – the only thing with real Memphis chops – we’re going to mothball for lack of original thinking. We’re going to revitalize the Pipkin Building, the equivalent of a municipal triple-wide, and board up the building that made Memphis sports, music and civil rights history.

“Wow, Mom and Dad, we had a great game/race/event in/on the new whatever, but WTF is that huge round thing with the boarded up doors?” That, of course, stands for What The Fairgrounds are we thinking?

If we’re going to make it look new, have the political courage to tear down the Coliseum and provide a clean canvas so that the idea we copied has a chance to be a good copy.

If we’re going to make it ours, the Coliseum has to be part of it and original thinking is required.

I’m a Memphian, and I refuse to think we’ve forgotten how to do that.


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