That’s How I Got to Memphis

If you love somebody enough
You’ll follow wherever they go
That’s how I got to Memphis

So goes the country song written by Tom T. Hall in 1969. Like many of Hall’s songs, it tells the story, this one about a person, perhaps a man, looking for his love and how that pursuit has brought them to Memphis.

Memphis is mentioned in the song a total of 19 times, but the song itself is not about Memphis at all. Memphis is just a substitute for “that’s I got here.” Memphis is present. Memphis is where you end up if you pursue what your heart wants. Memphis is a passing state to which you were brought by following your heart’s desire. A place that you will eventually leave behind.

Memphis is not the place for the man. For him, Memphis is meaningless. It is neither a sign of progress or a setback. It is a place with meaning for other people but the man. Only the love interest is said to have any history with Memphis and any desire to be there:

She would get mad and she used to say
That she’d come back to Memphis someday
That’s how I got to Memphis

But Memphis is not meaningless for everybody. For the love interest, Memphis holds a meaning, a goal. It is something they will back to eventually, the beginning and the end. Memphis closes the circle. For most people, Memphis is the end of the journey. The place where they started from and where they through experience will learn to yearn back. Memphis is as far as an apple fallen from a tree.

But despite being meaningless by itself for the man, Memphis does have a meaning for his story. Therefore, even though Memphis is something he will eventually say goodbye to, say goodbye to the people he’s met there, say goodbye the things that brought him here and possibly even the love that brought him there, he can not but feel sad. For him not to feel sad about leaving Memphis would mean that the journey has been in vain.

So thank you for your precious time
Forgive me if I start to cry
That’s how I got to Memphis