US road trip diary: Day Two – At the (flooded) crossroads

crossroadsAfter last night’s shenanigans with the Old Bill, today was going to be more Walt Whitman than Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady, so I went to search for nature, not danger.

Back through Arkansas, no choice, last night’s life-changer, so onwards to Hot Springs to, well (boom-boom), jump in a hot spring.

Different, boring, a town built by the Mafia in the 1920s, all glitz and bling and natural hot water. The Boston Red Sox used to train there, gone to seed, but the only US national park that runs through a town, and the smallest one in America.

Disappointed, Spring Break, town full, got back on the road to Memphis, decided to change plans and go to Clarksville, Mississippi, the place where Bessie Smith died in 1927, went the very scenic route, crossed the mighty, engorged Mississippi river (never seen it before) and headed for the alleged home of the Blues, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for music at the crossroads, only to die aged 19.

A town called Clarksville, flooded not by the Mississippi expanded, but the worst rain-storm in 140 years.

Arrived, expected schmaltz, but found glory, a town of benign, crazy people like that book about Savannah, Midnight in the House of Good and Evil or something like that.

Expected tourist New Orleans, but went to a renovated open air cinema, the Roxy where Ike Turner was a cashier and Sam Cooke played between movies. Unbelievable, if in Shoreditch, a $10 million project. Twelve people at the bar.

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Outside stage, at the back of the juke joint (American for shebeen), heard stories about Clarksville and Sam Cooke who was born there, asked where I could buy cigartettes, told the local grocery had closed a week before because the owner had been shot.

Then went to Red’s, a blues bar where Robert Plant and Keith Richard came, but never played. There were 30 people there and the band was amazing.

Clarksville is one of the fifth poorest boroughs in America, all 300 kids (95% black) failed the national algebra test, automation destroyed industry in 1970s, but people are coming back, population up to 20,000 now, up from 18,000 two years ago.

Like Hackney before Hackney was even Hackney, the King of Foreclosures, a three-bedroom mansion downtown costs $60,000. It was one of the best nights of my music life, and I was almost crying with happiness watching proper legacy, fucked-up blues.

I’m not bothering with New Orleans on this trip now, I would only compare it with the magic of Clarksville, ripe for hipsters, perfect for students of the blues.

Might pop into Graceland tomorrow on the way to rest up for some time writing in the Smoky Mountains in Tennesse, but today was as much Moriarty/Cassady as it was Whitman, but it also had Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Sam Cooke and the delta Blues I thought were now homogenised. It was a truly magical place, Clarksville, I implore you to go there.

I’m so privileged to have been there at this time, it will soar from here, mark my motherfucking, happy, happy, happy words.

Monty (623 Posts)

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.