Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue, now how bout you?

Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd

Muscle Shoals is not a major tourist destination.  It lies on the southern shore of the Tennessee river in the northwestern part of Alabama, on the other side of the river from the town of Florence, AL.  These days, the name seems to refer to the area covering the towns of Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals itself.

While many people who consider themselves rock-and-roll aficionados may know nothing about this place, other than it being a reference in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song,  people who are really in the know understand that this was the place where a lot of rock-and-roll music of the 1960s and 70s got created.  Musicians from all over the country, and the world, came to the studios of Muscle Shoals to record their albums.   Musicians like Rod Stewart, Paul Simon,  Jimmy Buffet, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge, Etta James, The Commodores, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, and many others, worked here.

Wandering around the area of Muscle Shoals you will not have a clue as to the role this place had in the creation of the contemporary music of that time.  Some of the place, especially around Sheffield and Tuscumbia, looks run down and dilapidated.  The town of Muscle Shoals is lightly populated, with low rise and spread out shopping centers and commercial buildings dominating the skyline, and it is clear that the history of the place has not had a very significant impact on its prosperity.

The original recording studio that started it all is called Fame Studios. It is still in use, and is owned by a family that has been in the business for over fifty years.  The building that hosts the facility is small and nondescript, and you may even miss it if you were not paying attention, in spite of the fact that is is right beside the main road.  The inside of the building shows its age.  It is simple, and the decor is from a time that has long passed.  The walls are covered with pictures and mementos of the musicians who have worked in that space since the 1960s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was a spinoff from the Fame studio and it was started by the Swampers.  It operated in the location indicated in the picture below from 1969 to 1979.  The building is now a museum, and it sits all by itself  in an open space beside Jackson Highway.  There is nothing else of note there beside this unremarkable building.  One would even miss the small building had the name of the place had not been painted on it.  The parking lot is small and unpaved, and an unmarked entrance from a side street (rather than the main road) leads you to the facility.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe came by another place of note called the Cypress Moon studio unexpectedly, next to a park beside the river.    Apparently this facility used to house the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio after 1979, but this lasted only a few years. Cypress Moon Studios are a film and music production company today. Concerts are held periodically in the historic studios.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADriving along Jackson Avenue, you pass buildings that are falling apart that have names on them indicating that they were recording studios some time in the past.  It is hard to say if the place ever thrived due to the presence of the music business, but today most of it looks rundown.

Unfortunately, we had no time to spend wandering within any of these facilities.  The museum would have been interesting.

There is something interesting about how life goes on in Muscle Shoals even though its best days have probably passed it by.  While the place is open to tourism, it is also very low key at this time, and there seems to have been no attempt yet to try to exploit the situation with a lot of advertising and promotion on a large scale.  Expectations seem to be moderate.  Life goes on,  and the pilgrimage goes on!

The Unexpected Experiences

We had arrived in Florence, AL, the previous evening for a weekend event, and had spent the night in a hotel room beside the highway.  We woke up early (considering the local time) because of the difference in longitude between the place we were visiting and our home (which we had departed the previous morning).  We had traveled in a south westerly direction the previous day.   I raised the shades covering the window pane just to take a look outside. This is what I saw. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sky was an optimal mix of purple and orange and shades in-between, with the clouds at different locations in the sky passing through different frequencies of the color spectrum.   I quickly pulled up a pair of pants, grabbed my camera, and dashed out of the front door of the hotel to get another view that would hopefully not be blocked by something in front of me.  By the time I got to a clear location, the moment was gone.  This was what I saw.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConsider the different elements that came together for me to have this experience.  First of all, I had to open up the shades of the window at the proper moment in time when the sun was at the position that it was in relative to that location on the planet.  Secondly, the window to the room that we were staying in had to be facing east so that I would indeed see the event. (Being on the third floor of the hotel also helped.)  Thirdly, the cloud formation had to be right for me to get a glimpse of all those colors.  I would probably have not enjoyed this experience if any one of the three elements had been out of place.

Some may be tempted to invoke divine intervention as the cause for the circumstances of this experience. But if this had indeed  been a set up, I would consider it a partial screw-up – at the moment when the sunrise was at its best, I could only view it through the branches of a tree, and by the time I got to a location where I could get a better view,  that moment was over.  But perhaps the screw-up was also purposeful, eh?!  We can go on and on…

Best to take it as it comes and try to be prepared for the unexpected experiences, both good and bad.

The Harrison Brothers Hardware Store, Huntsville, AL

We spent a couple of hours (literally speaking) in downtown Huntsville, AL. I think that is sufficient time to see this particular area of town and get a good feel for it.  The downtown area is small.  The place reminds me of other small places with downtown areas that are recovering from hard times.  The buildings are old, and perhaps historical.   The central area in Huntsville is dominated by the Madison County Courthouse, a building whose design leads me to believe that it was probably a product of the 1970s, a time when public buildings seem to have been designed to be primarily utilitarian and functional, and not very noteworthy from an artistic perspective when seen from the outside.  The buildings around the courthouse in Huntsville house small mom and pop boutique stores and restaurants, and lawyers’ offices.   Old people lounge around in the benches watching the tourists.  Young people with laid-back attitudes serve you in the restaurant whose outdoor tables are painted in psychedelic colors.  I have seen this kind of a scene in other small towns with rundown downtown areas.  Perhaps these young people with their seemingly simple lives and a straightforward attitude will bring a rebirth to these towns.

The Harrison Brothers Hardware Store lies to the south of the courthouse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a historical facility that still functions as a store today, and in some sections of the store you can see shelves and tables stacked up the way they used to be in past times.  But the thing that got me was the historical cash register which is still being used!   The metal work on this piece of hardware is something to be seen from close up.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only other thing I will mention here about Huntsville is the statue outside the courthouse.  It is a memorial to the civil war, and it is a memorial to the confederates, the side that lost the war.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStatues like this started coming up all over the south in the early 1900s, well after the civil war was over.  From what I understand, they were built primarily by a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy.   Unfortunately, these statues have now become an uncomfortable reminder of our still ongoing issues with race, one of the major issues of this country that the civil war sought to address.  Statues of confederate leaders are being torn down from many public places today, mostly in the north, because they are symbolic of our ongoing societal problems.  It will probably be a while before such a movement takes hold in the southern swathe of this nation.

Huntsville is also called The Rocket City, and it is the place where the American space program got its beginning.  If you are visiting the city and have time to spare, there are things to be seen in this regard.  We did not have the time.

Cruelty and Injustice

Some of us have enough spare time on our hands to ruminate about what goes on around us in this world, sometimes without any “education” or any formal process that forms the basis for our lines of thinking.  I know it is a waste of time, but there is something intriguing about the search.  I have enough time on my hands that I even created this blog a few weeks ago musing about what it is all about.

But sometimes, when you see what is going on around you in the real world in real time, you can be shaken out of this somewhat disconnected and disjointed state of mind, the state of mind where you feel like generally talking about things in the abstract.  There is specificity. And your mind screams – really, is this what we are capable of?  Events that can evoke that kind of a response are happening all around us all the time. There are certain aspects of human reality, and of the nature of human unkindness, that make you want to scream – what is wrong with us?  Is it our true nature to be cruel and unjust?  Does it take a truly supreme effort for us to get away from our basic instincts?  I fear that this could be the real truth.

I do believe that if I were left to my own devices I would end up revealing the true nature of the cruelty that I myself am capable of.  I can sense it in myself, feel it lurking somewhere in the background. And I know that I have even revealed this innate element of my character to people who I have interacted with all my life.  Family, friends, relatives, and even other creatures of this earth (watch that mouse that you have trapped, or the cockroach that you have squashed, die!), have experienced it. A process of learning, forgiveness, and maybe even forgetting, can perhaps help deal with this state of being, especially as you age, but the process never ends, and some memories never go away.

But does one not have to at least try to learn that because of the nature of this society that we inhabit, because of the nature of this interconnected and interdependent world that we have built up, we need to at least try rise to a different level, and we need to work to uplift everybody around us, not just ourselves, in order to survive?  Could being good also not make you feel good?

I am in this frame of mind because of a story I read in the newspaper yesterday.  This is not an isolated story. Cruelty and injustice happens everywhere and everyday. Most of these stories do not affect us directly, but I tend to have a gut reaction and respond sometimes when hearing such stories.  Here is one such reaction I had in the past.  We can try to close our eyes because something does not affect us directly, but ultimately these things say a lot about us, and what we are willing to accept.

If you are inclined to follow the link I provided but are not inclined to read the entire article, the videos will provide you a shorter synopsis of what this particular story is all about.

Mornings in the Park

Went for a bike ride last Wednesday.  Here are a couple of pictures.

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Morning sun cuts through the leaves and the lingering mist

 

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At Widewater

The water levels in the river are quite high, but well below flooding levels. This is near mile 8 of the towpath.

 

Managed to get from Pennyfield Lock to Bethesda on the towpath and the Capital Crescent Trail.  It was a more laid-back ride this time, but for some reason more tiring.

The Green Effect

This picture was taken during our walk last Sunday.  It shows that you can get all kinds of shades and textures of the color green.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The beginning of the walk was not very promising because the water in the canal at Dickerson, the place where we had parked, stank a lot, probably due the green growth in it.  Also, the stink in a couple of other locations due to dead animals did not help.  But once we got going, it was all OK.  Here is a picture of the ferry at Whites Ferry, the place where we turned to return to Dickerson.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got in a little more than 8 miles, and collected a few pawpaws along the way.  The search for pawpaws was actually a little disappointing.  We don’t know whether it is because it is early in the season, or whether there are going to be less of the fruits this year for some other unknown reason.  In any case, the interest in consuming the fruit also seems to have decreased.