Grammy-award winning author and documentary producer Robert Gordon ’79 spoke to students at chapel August 26 about his work and how it has been informed by the music and musicians of Memphis.
Gordon has mined rich musical territory in documentaries on Johnny Cash, bluesman Muddy Waters, Stax Records, and the Beale Street music scene. His most recent work, Best of Enemies, examines the media and politics through the lens of the televised William F. Buckley - Gore Vidal debates of 1968. (The documentary premiered on PBS October 3.)
His first book, It Came from Memphis, went beyond the well-known hierarchy of musical greats in examining other powerful influences on the Memphis scene of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, including the groundbreaking disc jockey Dewey Phillips and bands Big Star and Mud Boy and the Neutrons.
A storyteller with a keen eye for detail and the interesting side story, Gordon talked to students about the impact of seeing legendary country blues guitarist Furry Lewis perform before the Rolling Stones at the Liberty Bowl on July 4, 1975, and later at MUS, where he played at the invitation of a student.
“My story is largely a Memphis story, and the claim to fame here has been music,” Gordon said. “You’re living in a really special place.”
Describing the blues, rock-and-roll, and soul music movements as “lightning strikes” in Memphis, Gordon encouraged students to be open to the lightning strikes that could change their lives. “Follow your passion,” he said. “Find the thing that really interests you, and unlock it.”