By Jane Selkye
About the song:
Memphis was inspired by a dream I had: I was lost, and without a car. I walked into a mechanic's garage, and a young, handsome man in dirty coveralls came over to me. He asked me what I needed and I told him I was lost and needed a car to get home. I realized he was Elvis Presley, though he was just a regular guy, a mechanic. He loaned me an old Plymouth Wildcat (I think that's right), but it broke down right out of the driveway. Then he offered to drive me home, so I got into a 1960s Ford Mustang with him. He drove me home to San Francisco—I had been lost in Orange County, in Southern California...
... I was born in Denton, Texas, and my dad was from Texas, my mom from Kansas. I was raised in a suburb of Orange County. I had a lot of distaste for country music because I identified it with my extended family, who were, frankly, rednecks. I never liked Elvis because I didn't know anything about his earliest recordings. I associated him with those relatives.
My husband Chris Kee introduced me to early Elvis songs, and through them I was able to, in a way, accept my crackery background somewhat. These songs have a made-from-scratch feeling. Those relatives I was talking about, they always put on like they were more than they were, but they just came off fake, like the country music I hated. So to me, going to Memphis is a metaphor for getting down to how you really are, which those relatives weren't able to do. They kept to the surface of things, so even though they were from the same kind of origins as Elvis, they never were their real selves; they never 'went to Memphis,' and my aim at that time was to find something about Texan working class ways that I could claim for myself.
– Jane Selkye
Daddy drove a truck out of West Texas,
Met Mama in her white uniform,
They said, "I do," drove west until Paradise:
Hissing Summer lawns.
They never went to Memphis....
I've been married, been divorced
And living on plastic and caffeine:
High-nosed rhinestone chic caprice,
Let them all eat cake, I'm going to Memphis!
I could have come up this somebody
Who sees with one eye blind,
Tripped through Memphis,
Never to see it with my anemic mind.
Grandma said the truth is in the seeing,
So what if it's not there in Tennessee?
Where would it exist?
Maps and charts and legends,
They ain't nothing if you can't read the signs.
I'm going to a place you can't get to
unless you close your eyes.