Photos of the Mississippi Delta
Many people (those not entirely blinded by the invented romance of "the Blues") think of the Delta as barren and desolate, a cliched tragedy or the setting of an apocalyptic novel, a la Cormac McCarthy. (And yeah, it was a serious location contender for The Road before the producers settled on the outskirts of similarly notorious Braddock, Pennsylvania and post-Katrina New Orleans...)
And the Delta can be depressing (its' economic situation surely is) but it's also vibrant, messy, friendly, noisy and astounding. It's a place where you can still get moonshine in the bars, if you know how and who and where to ask. It's a place where they have the best pies I've ever tasted (coconut or chocolate, Resthaven Diner, Clarksdale), a place where crop-dusters soar overhead and white boys sing the blues while black kids hone their raps and talk about that friend of a friend of an uncle who got a record deal up in Memphis. It's a place with no faith and a lot of love, or maybe no love and a lot of faith, or sometimes plenty of both, and every road leads to a church, and every church swells with the gospel (delivered so rhythmically, it's sinful).
Someone once told me that the reason so many buildings are painted sky blue in tropical shanty-towns and heat-blanketed, soft-air places like Havana is because "bugs won't land in the sky." In Mississippi, we got bugs and we got summer nights where the air feels like a caress. And we got lots of blue buildings.
Downtown Tutwiler, where W.C. Handy encountered the Blues, and young men tell me there's no work, not even fast food restaurants, for that you gotta drive down to Clarksdale or up towards Memphis. Tutwiler with it's concrete platform in the center of town, the foundation of a building long gone, where I loiter for an hour before curiosity gets the better of the kids' distrust ("You ain't a narc?" one guy, especially, seemed dumbfounded) and they let me take their picture, they take my picture, they tell me stories and freestyle rap and pass a spliff, keeping an eye for the cops that cruise relentlessly. One of the guys has an open sore on his mouth. I want to tell them they shouldn't smoke, but I don't feel that I've earned the right to anything, even to be there. It's my state, but Tutwiler's their home and the glimpses they give me are an honor and a privilege.
Red's Lounge in Clarksdale. It's around the corner from Ground Zero, the cheesy tourist "juke" that Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett run. Red's is tucked away in plain view, not so much as some other places in town, but enough for its authenticity to clash with the steep covers and pay-per-view ambiance of Ground Zero. Weekends are for tourists, but most weeknights Red's is half-full. There's always some busty woman shimmying in tight leopard-print, always someone sitting at the bar drinking a forty in pajamas and hair rollers.
Downtown Clarksdale. Notice the guy on the picture is on fire. Kind of like a Clayton Brother's piece, isn't it?
I'm almost sure this place used to be a dance club. Wish I could've gone.
At Red's there was a man from Memphis, the nephew of thenight's entertainment. He drove his uncle down Hwy 61, because the old bluesman claims he can't half-see and particularly not when he's drinking. The man had white patent leather shoes and a purple suit, and he danced like he was on Soul Train and lit a cigarette for the Brazilian girl. She and her boyfriend came to the States, bought a cheap car and are living in it and driving cross-country.