If you’re an Americans traveling abroad, you’ve likely been accused more than once of hailing from a country lacking culture. This tired trope has been in the quick draw holster of nearly every pretentious would-be café philosopher I’ve run across tooling around Western Europe. At times, said accuser has made the concession (after a lengthy debate) that what culture we do have was adopted (or stolen) from someplace else. But this short-sighted archetype has obviously never been to the Mississippi Delta, let alone Clarksdale, Mississippi.
At the intersection of North State and DeSoto in Clarksdale sits an otherwise unremarkable pole rocking three enormous, blue guitars. In this spot, at the convergence of highways 61 and 49, it is said that Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson met the Devil. In the legendary Faustian exchange, the devil — going by the name Old Scratch — gave Robert Johnson his Blues sound in return for a claim on his soul. Though the deal likely happened in Rosedale, if you believe in such spiritual shenanigans, the Clarksdale monument has become an intriguing side trip to those on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
When I drive to Nashville or St. Louis from my home in New Orleans, I usually stop for a night or two in the Delta, the alluvial floodplain of the rivers Mississippi and Yazoo. A quote by my writing mentor, Mississippi author Martha Foose, who keeps a home in Pluto and Greenwood, sums up the region’s distinctiveness: “There’s Mississippi, and then there’s the Delta.” And when I stop, it’s always in Clarksdale.