COLUMNS

The Bloody on the Muddy

Allan Fotheringham June 17 2002
COLUMNS

The Bloody on the Muddy

Allan Fotheringham June 17 2002

The Bloody on the Muddy

Allan Fotheringham

The mighty Mississippi rises just south of Winnipeg. It divides America. Mario Cuomo, the Hamlet-on-theHudson, the most articulate politician of his time as governor of New York State, finally decided he would not seek the presidency in 1992 because, pundits observed, west of the Mississippi he had too many vowels in his name. Nudge nudge, wink wink. (Hello there, The Sopranos)

The great river provides the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Between Iowa and Illinois. Separates Missouri from Kentucky. Keeps Arkansas from Tennessee. Divides Louisiana from Mississippi before dumping its magnificent brown load, at New Orleans, into the Gulf of Mexico. Where, when George Bush Sr. at dockside announced his sensational surprise choice of Dan Quayle as his vice-presidential candidate, the latter, so excited, rushed up to embrace Bush—and knocked the future presidents glasses off.

There has now been another di_

vide—the memorable clash between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, for the heavyweight smashing championship of what passes for the civilized world.

Lewis, the nationality-challenged chap who was born in London, won an Olympic gold medal for Canada, where he lived as a teenager, and now passes himself off as a Brit.

And bad boy Tyson, in and out of jail on his off-weeks, who at a major news conference at his training camp in Hawaii told a female television reporter: “I normally don’t do interviews with women unless I fornicate with them. So you shouldn’t talk any more. Unless you want to, you know.”

Such is boxing. Particularly on the Mississippi, where Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn used to roam. Twain would enjoy the pick of Memphis, Tenn., as the locale of the riverfront match that attracted some 4,000 scribblers to watch who can scramble the brains of the other. It’s the only sport in the world since the Roman Coliseum games designed to kill, if possible, the opponent.

The Mississippi, gathering steam, by Memphis is more than a kilometre wide, interrupted only by the apdy named Mud Island. The most impressive hunk of water these eyes have seen since the Amazon, which at one stretch is nearly two km wide. The same, of course, as the reputation of Elvis, who in his corpse brings more money to this town each year than this US$100 million slugging match, the richest in history.

Graceland, where Elvis is buried in the backyard, is larger than a lot of Saskatchewan farms. And visited by every fat American who owns a flowered shirt and shorts. This, as

Memphis, where Martin Luther King was assassinated and Elvis is buried, was a great choice for the fight

everyone knows, is the 25th anniversary of his death—going before his time as did Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, James Dean and Oscar Wilde, perforce being even more famous dead than alive. Elvis Presley Enterprises, which manages the singer’s estate, vigorously controls the use of the singer’s name.

At Graceland, if you can push past the fat ones in the neverending lineups, you can tour his two private planes and shop at Elvis Gifts for Kids. It’s Disneyland for the bloated hero who died of too much food and painkillers. A Georgia development company wants to spend $500 million on developing a resort nearby on 800 acres that includes a 163-acre ranch that Elvis used as a retreat with bride Priscilla. Highway 51 South in Memphis, need we say, in 1971 was renamed Elvis Presley Boulevard. One of his maids at Graceland was named Alberta, but Elvis had his own name for her. It was “V05.”

Memphis, as we all recall, was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on that April night in 1968. On the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Just before the weekend Pierre Trudeau was to be anointed, 48 hours later, as the dazzling new leader of the Liberal party and prime minister of Canada. And as all the scribblers attempted, the night after King’s murder, to listen to the leadership speeches of Trudeau, Eric Kierans, Paul Martin Sr., John Turner and the rest, we kept racing into the press room to watch America—pace King— burn down the inner cities of Detroit and Los Angeles and Chicago and beyond. It was quite a night.

Memphis is a great stop on the Mississippi, with or without Elvis. The wooden trolley cars still rumble along—where else?—Main Street. With a warning sign: “Please keep your heads and arms inside the trolley.” On Beale Street, at 8:30 p.m., at B.B. King’s Blues Club, a hefty southern belter with the octane power of Ethel Merman, Miss Ruby Wilson, massages—“For you elderly folks”—Georgia On My Mind. I’d hate to see the place at midnight.

When it wuz Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, it was The Thrilla in Manila. When it wuz Ali vs. George Foreman in Zaire, it was The Rumble in the Jungle. They called this one The Rumble on the River. Or The Showdown in M-Town. Or The Bloody on the Muddy, where rock ’n’ roll took off with Elvis. Doesn’t matter. This is the Mississippi Delta, the land of John Grisham, Shelby Foote, Tina Turner, B.B. King and The King.

As they sing in Showboat-. That oT man river, he jus keeps rollin’ along. EDI