Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In Which a Local Journalist Helps Solve a Historical Mystery

Did Tom T. Hall write a song here?

Last week my Digital Storytelling class was playing around with making short films from animated still images. I threw a bunch of historic pictures of Spokane together and looked for a song to put in the background. The choice was obvious--Tom T. Hall's classic Spokane Motel Blues.

Hall wrote the song in 1973 when a blizzard left him stuck in Spokane. It is by far the best-known song ever to have Spokane in its title. Alas, it is no paean to our city:

I don't know what I'm doing here, I could be someplace else
Like in Atlanta drinkin' wine, wine, wine
I don't know what I'm doing here, I should be someplace else
Like in Kentucky drinkin' 'shine, 'shine, 'shine
The dogs are running down in Memphis
And them nags are running in LA
I'm stuck in Spokane in a motel room
And there ain't no way to get away

It is a great song, an early example of the outlaw country movement, funny and irreverent. Most of the students had never heard it, so I found a YouTube video. As we were listening it occurred to me--what a great stop for Spokane Historical! We just needed to figure out what motel Hall was staying in when he penned the song.

A quick Google revealed--nothing. As did a more thorough search. I was going to have to turn to that dependable resource of local historians--the town know-it-all. And I knew just who to ask.

I emailed my favorite reporter at our local paper, Doug Clark of the Spokesman Review. For decades Clark has penned a regular column in which he mocks local politicians, highlights our town's eccentrics. and chronicles his own misadventures. He is a local landmark on par with Riverfront Park--before it was cleaned up. If anyone in town would know the motel in question, it would be Clark.

Or not. Clark called the next morning and we had a terrific conversation that ranged from our mutual alma mater of EWU, to the mayor, to popular music. Doug Clark is lot of fun to talk to--but he did not know the motel in question. So he decided to write a column and appeal to his readers: Professor’s ‘Motel’ mystery needs you to solve it. Thanks, Doug!

I am confident that someone in Spokane knows the answer and I will let you know. In the meantime, enjoy this cover of Spokane Motel Blues by Jeff Cooper:

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