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Andre Bazin at 100

"So the screen reflects the ebb and flow of our imagination which feeds on a reality for which it plans to substitute."—Andre Bazin, from "The Virtues and Limitations of Montage," Cahiers du Cinema, 1953 and 1957

I've been thinking about Andre Bazin on this, his 100th birthday. I pulled the volumes by or about him down off of my shelf, and gathered up these voices as a birthday offering.

The roll call: Andre Bazin died in 1958, at the age of 40. (So, still quite a young man.) His sensibility was forged during the Occupation and Liberation. In fact, Dudley Andrew, in the preface to the 1990 edition of his biographical study, Andre Bazin, states: "Bazin's private struggles...vividly dramatize deep faults in that public terrain that goes by the names 'The Occupation' or 'The Fourth Republic.'" 

He was the man who extricated Francois Truffaut from, in Truffaut's own words, detention home, military prison, and asylum.
Truffaut himself, writing in the foreword to the 1977 edition of Dudley Andrew's study, says: "I was an adolescent in trouble when I met him in 1947; I was fifteen year old, he thirty. And I will die without ever knowing why Bazin and his wife, Janine, became concerned enough about me to extricate me...I assert that Bazin's absolute good faith, his generosity, made him a character who stunned, intrigued, and excited us even to a point where we had to smile to one another to hide our emotions.
He co-founded Cahiers du Cinema in 1951, the "most influential film journal in history" (James Monaco), "intellectual home" to the likes of Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette. When the younger critics would get carried away, Bazin, in his essay "La Politique des Auteurs" (1957), went on to debate and critique the very auteurist movement he helped invent, or at least inspire. (This was in the spirit of a "family debate," says Bazin's biographer Dudley Andrew. It's as if Bazin, the "father," was debating his "children," like Truffaut.)
He was the "spiritual father of the [French] New Wave." (Michael Temple and Michael Witt)
He "laid the groundwork for the semiotic and ethical theories that were to follow." (James Monaco)
His two great subjects were Italian Neorealism and the new American cinema.
He felt a special affinity for Cocteau, Welles, and Chaplin.
Here's critic James Monaco, from How to Read a Film (2000 ed.) on Bazin's theories about the different ways theater and cinema work:
"The implications for cinema are that, since there is no irreducible reality of presence [of the actor and the spectator], 'there is nothing to prevent us from identifying ourselves in imagination with the moving world before us, which becomes the world.' Identification then becomes a key word in the vocabulary of cinematic esthetics. Moreover, the one irreducible reality is that of space. Therefore, film form is intimately involved with spatial relationships: mise-en-scene, in other words."
Monaco again, on Bazin's theories about the moving camera:
"...the moving camera has an inherent ethical dimension. It can be used in two essentially different ways (like focus shifts, pans, and tilts): either to follow the subject or to change it. The first alternative strongly emphasizes the centrality of the subject of the film; the second shifts interest from subject to camera, from object to filmmaker. As Andre Bazin has pointed out, these are ethical questions, since they determine the human relationships among artist, subject, and observer."
And Monaco on Bazin as existentialist:
"Always the existentialist, Andre Bazin was working to develop a theory of film that was deductive—based in practice. Much of this work proceeded through identification and critical examination of genres. 'Cinema's existence precedes its essence,' he wrote in fine existential form. Whatever conclusions Bazin drew were the direct results of the experience of the concrete fact of film."
Eric Rohmer: "Without any doubt, the whole body of Bazin's work is based on one central idea, an affirmation of the objectivity of the cinema in the same way as all geometry is centered on the properties of a straight line."
He remains relevant. Dudley Andrew again, from 1990: "No better example [of how Bazin's thinking can illuminate our own era] could be cited than the resuscitation in the 1980s of questions concerning the status of photography. Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes invite us to return to Bazin and to the distinctive view of 'the technologies of representation' that he held by virtue not just of his genius but of his openness to such contemporaries as Andre Malraux, Gilbert Cohen-Seat, Edgar Morin, and Jean-Paul Sartre, not to mention 'photographers' like Chris Marker." Presumably, we could trace his ideas, and his ethical concerns, all the way up to today's "virtual reality." 
In his introduction to Bazin's posthumously published critical study of Jean Renoir (Jean Renoir, 1971), Francois Truffaut writes, "More than a critic, he was a 'writer of the cinema,' striving to describe films rather than to judge them."
Jean Renoir himself, in his foreword to Bazin's collected essays What Is Cinema? Volume 1 (1967 English edition):
"Our children and our grandchildren will have an invaluable source of help in sorting through the remains of the past. They will have Bazin alongside them. For that king of our time, the cinema, has likewise its poet. A modest fellow, sickly, slowly and prematurely dying, he it was who gave the patent of royalty to the cinema just as the poets of the past had crowned their kings. That king on whose brow he has placed a crown of glory is all the greater for having been stripped by him of the falsely glittering robes that hampered its progress. It is, thanks to him, a royal personage rendered healthy, cleansed of its parasites, fined down—a king of quality—that our grandchildren will delight to come upon. And in that same moment they will discover its poet. They will discover Andre Bazin, discover too, as I have discovered, that only too often, the singer has once more risen above the object of his song."
Happy birthday, Andre Bazin!



Walking in Leonard Cohen's Footsteps in Montreal

Ah we're lonely, we're romantic

And the cider's laced with acid
And the Holy Spirit's crying, "Where's the beef?"
And the moon is swimming naked
And the summer night is fragrant
With a mighty expectation of relief

So we struggle and we stagger
Down the snakes and up the ladder
To the tower where the blessed hours chime
And I swear it happened just like this:
A sigh, a cry, a hungry kiss
The Gates of Love they budged an inch
I can't say much has happened since
But closing time

--Leonard Cohen, "Closing Time"

To ensure our steps would always rhyme with Leonard Cohen's on our visit to Montreal last July, Karolyn and I drew on a few key articles. Rose Maura Lorre's Exploring the Montreal That Leonard Cohen Lovedin the New York Times, inspired the entire trip. T.F. Rigelhof's A Short Walk in Leonard Cohen's Westmount, on The Leonard Cohen Files site, led me to Leonard’s boyhood home. 

First, though, we went looking for Our Lady of the Harbour, inspired, fittingly enough, by Our Lady Of The Harbour – The Montreal Church Embedded In Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, a post by DrHGuy at the fine site Cohencentric: Leonard Cohen Considered. We found her down by the Old Port, along the St. Lawrence river. As she has since 1849, she was standing atop Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, the sailors' church.

She's on the harbourside, yet we first approached the chapel from the front. It's the first permanent church in Ville-Marie (the original name for Montreal), growing out of a congregation for women founded by Marguerite Bourgeoys, Montreal's first teacher, in 1657. The first version was established in 1678. It was rebuilt in 1773, after a fire.   

Inside, a chamber music group played, beautifully. Sitting and resonating, I imagined Leonard ducking in here, finding solace; an urban oasis in which to imagine Jesus as a sailor. 

The chapel of "good help," this church is a beacon welcoming sailors in from the tumult of the seas. Sailors "left behind votive lamps in the shapes of ships in thanksgiving for safe passage," Lonely Planet explains.

Outside, it got spiritual for me as we observed Our Lady, Mary, holding out her arms above the chapel. "And the sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the harbour," Leonard sang in "Suzanne." It was even so on the sunny day we visited her. 

From the church's observation tower, we visited with angels standing watch over the Old Port. We left them to their perpetual watchfulness, beckoning sailors home.

Leonard met Suzannne at an old waterfront building along Rue de la Commune in the Old Port. I like to imagine it was one of these.

Our apartment was in the treetops of a little leafy neighborhood in the Plateau Mont-Royal, on the eastern edge of beautiful, convivial Parc La Fontaine. It was within walking distance of Little Portugal, the neighborhood Leonard called home in later life.

In Rose Maura Lorre's article about Leonard's Little Portugal, the one that inspired our trip, she talks to neighbors who remember friendly chats with Leonard along The Main, "Montreal vernacular for Boulevard St.-Laurent, the Plateau’s cultural artery." He could often be found knocking about in Foamtreads slippers, purchased at venerable J. Schreter. As we walked up St.-Laurent, we spotted the man himself observing our progress from this mural, painted by Kevin Ledo.

Those lingering in "pocket-size" Parc du Portugal could "once hear Leonard call out to them from across the way," writes Lorre. The park's dedicated to Montreal's Portuguese immigrant community, founded in 1953.

We stopped by Main Deli Steak House, in the words of Lorre a "scruffy Jewish deli [Leonard] famously frequented (a newspaper clipping is displayed near the door)." 

Funny: returning to the Main on her own another day, Karolyn actually ran into the photographer who took the pictures of Leonard in the above-mentioned newspaper clipping (to her right in the picture below, bottom middle), circa '88 (the "I'm Your Man" era). He told her, everything you hear about Leonard being such a wonderful manwell, double that.

We stopped by Les Anges Gourmets, Leonard's favorite patisserie. "Like many Little Portugal mainstays," writes Lorre, "Les Anges offers a cross-cultural array of goods, as renowned for its French patisserie as for its Portuguese egg custard tarts, pasteis de natas."

Of course, Karolyn and I had to try a pastel de nata for ourselves. Bites of pure happiness.

We stopped at 79-year-old Moishes Steak House, a "well-known establishment where Mr. Cohen dined several nights a week," per Lorre. Leonard loved to take friends here for lamb chops and red Bordeaux.

"Mr. Cohen’s days routinely began with a freshly pulled espresso at Bagel Etc., a 35-year-old diner and cafe," notes Lorre.  

On another day, after much wandering and climbing up and over the mountain, we found Leonard resting at Congregation Shaar Hashomayin Cemetery, along the base of Mount Royal.

Later in the week, back at Bagel Etc., I had an allongé (tall expresso) for Leonard.

Leonard preferred to sit at a stool at this counter.

Lorre aptly describes Bagel Etc. as a place "where vintage mirrors, signage and art run amok on the brick walls." 

And, after visiting with Leonard at Congregation Shaar Hashomayin, we returned to the Main deli, where he loved the "viande fumee" (smoked meat), in his honorthis time to eat.

By the way, I'll pardon my readers if this story sounds too good to credit, but I'll tell it anyway. When we stopped by the Main deli that first time, a butterfly alighted on the window ledge. Karolyn told me, "that's Leonard." On the day we strolled through the cemetery, on our way to visit him, Karolyn said, wouldn't it be something if the butterfly was here? That instant, a butterfly flitted by, brushing her cheek.

My readers may say, well, presumably you saw lots of butterflies on your trip. Not so. Only these times, and then once more. (See below. "I swear it happened just like this," as the man himself might say).  

I had one more thing I needed to do. I went back to Westmount, the neighborhood where Leonard grew up, out past Dawson College. After climbing Murray Hill, I found his boyhood home at 599 Belmont, using the T.F. Rigelhof article I mentioned above (A Short Walk in Leonard Cohen's Westmount).


That's Leonard's bedroom window in the back, looking out over the city.

Sitting on a bench on Murray Hill, I took the picture above, and the one below. Looking out over the city, I thought about how this was the view Leonard had from his bedroom window as a boy. And you may say I gild the lily, but it's true: as I sat contemplating...a butterfly came flitting around me. 

I got up and began to stroll back down the hill. Soon, I found myself sitting in a diner called Chez Nick in Westmount. The joint's been there since the 20s. It was almost empty. I sat at the counter and sipped a double espresso allongé.

Behind me in a booth sat a couple of very elderly ladies. They had finished their meal and asked the woman behind the counter to call them a cab, and they were trying to put the money together for the tab. "How much did you put in?" and "how much more do we owe?" was the conversation behind me for a good 5 to 10 minutes as I sipped my espresso. I was wearing the Leonard Cohen T-shirt Karolyn had dressed me in and I was lost in reflection.

Finally, the cab appeared and the old ladies were a bit flustered. (It seemed they hadn't wanted the cab to arrive quite SO soon, as the process of squaring accounts was one that could not be rushed. However, the waitress helped them get everything in order and there was satisfaction all around.)

On their way out, one lady turned to me and said, "that's a wonderful picture of Leonard on your shirt." Her face was very close to mine. She was hunched over and so wrinkled, but she had the biggest smile in the world, and she looked very happy. She conceded that, of course, all pictures of Leonard are good. I said, well thank you: he's one of my heroes.

She said, "I'm his cousin." As you might imagine, I was gobsmacked. "Of course," she added, "he was much younger." (Now, Leonard got to be 82 when he died!) The other lady stood smiling. I exclaimed, "I was just over at 599 Belmont!" "You were?" she replied. "I grew up at 603 Belmont!"

Well, I said it was my great honor to meet them, and that I loved Leonard. They made their way towards the door. 

A gentlemen, one of the proprietors of Chez Nick, asked me the significance of that address (599 Belmont). I said, "that was Leonard Cohen's boyhood home." The lady with whom I'd spoken was already out the door, but the other stood lingering, listening with a big smile, and she nodded to him to confirm what I had said.

The waitress later told me that those ladies were regulars who'd been coming in for years and years, great customers, sisters in factand she had never known they were Leonard Cohen's cousins. She and another waitress agreed that the hunched-over sister was looking really good these days. Apparently, she was walking more uprightly than she had in some time.


Mississippi Delta, 2017: Part 3 (Indianola to Memphis in the footsteps of B.B. King; bringing it all back to W.C. Handy's Home)

When we left off we were in Moorhead, where "the Southern cross the Dog." We got back on Highway 82, which runs between Greenwood and Greenville—that is, right through the heart of the Delta. We were headed for Indianola, B.B. King's hometown. Our destination: the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, a handsomely appointed, smartly curated museum. It made for a moving visit and a great warmup for Memphis, our last stop.

We start at the beginning. After King's mother's death in 1935, his father moved him out to the edge of the Delta, but in 1938 he hopped on his bicycle and rode back to Indianola. Back to the heart of the Delta. He had people there, and he could work in the cottonfields.

The museum traces the African roots of blues and gospel. You can listen on headphones to recordings demonstrating key concepts of African music, like polyrhythms and syncopation.

Saturday night on Indianola's Church Street, one of the great blues streets of lore, is the stuff of legend! As a youngster, Riley King (the future "B.B.") could peak through the door of the Jones Night Spot and espy the likes of Count Basie and Louis Jordan. The club's owner, John Jones, also opened the historic Club Ebony, just a block or two off Church. This exhibit displays signage and a bar stool from the heyday of Club Ebony, which we'd later visit. (We'd also find the Church Street curb where B.B.'d sit and play for passersby—see below).

Moving through King's life, learning about his origins, gave us a new understanding of what it meant to make it on Memphis' Beale Street. 

Funny story: B.B. arrived in Memphis in 1948 virtually penniless, hoping to work at black-operated WDIA radio with Nat D. Williams, legendary disc jockey, teacher, and host of the famous Amateur Night at Beale Street's Palace Theater (B.B. played it, of course). Arriving at the station, B.B. stood by as the boss told Williams the show had a new sponsor: a "tonic" called Pep-Ti-Kon. Glancing B.B.'s way, the boss said, say, can you write a jingle? By all means, said B.B., and came up with a tune extolling Pep-Ti-Kon's wonders right on the spot. You're hired!, cried the boss. A video installation shows B.B. being interviewed late in life: he was still happy to recall the Pep-Ti-Kon jingle that got him his big break. He sings it for us; it's catchy. (Who knows what was actually in the stuff!)

Wending movingly through the storied life, we find this near the end. 

Finally, we paid our respects at the great man's final resting place, on the museum grounds.


We hopped back in the car and made it over to the corner of Church Street and Second Street. This was the curb where B.B. used to sit and play for passersby, when he was too little to get into the clubs. Ah, Church Street: Sonny Boy Williamson II used to jam in its clubs, as did the aforementioned Louis Jordan and Count Basie, not to mention Jay McShann's band featuring Charlie Parker, and many more. Little B.B. noticed he got compliments when he played gospel...but cash tips when he played blues. Blues it is, he decided. From this corner to the greatest concert halls in the world.

"On June 5, 1986, King placed his footprints, handprints, and signature in the sidewalk where he used to sing," writes Steve Cheseborough.

Indianola musician Bobby Whalen made this painting of Lucille.

We found historic Club Ebony over on Hanna Ave. Virtually every year since 1968, B.B. played the annual outdoor Homecoming concert in Indianola in remembrance of Medgar Evers. Afterwards, he'd play a set at Club Ebony, est. 1948. In 2008 B.B. bought it from Mary Shepard, who indeed shepherded the club for 34 of its most storied years. We were gladdened to see they still have live blues here.

Back at our traditional Delta homebase, Clarksdale, we had to hit Red's, one of the last of the authentic juke joints. (As a side note, B.B. King was no stranger to Clarksdale. He was known for going live on the air with Early "Soul Man" Wright, one of America's first black deejays, on his pioneering blues programs on Clarksdale's WROX radio).

At Red's, "Ms. Judy" was backing it up as Anthony "Big A" Sherrod played fiery blues. Anybody who's spent an evening at Red's knows the blues is a living music.

It was on to Memphis! In 1935, David Cohn famously wrote that "The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg." Here we were at the end of our tour, back at "the beginning" of the Delta. (As Cheseborough notes, Cohn "was not only defining the Delta's geographic limits, but also contrasting the lifestyles of those who sell cotton and those who work in the fields.")

Cheseborough also notes that the Peabody "has an important place in blues history as a site of field-recording trips by northern record companies in the 1920s and 1930s. The companies would rent a room at a hotel in a southern city, then call for blues singers for auditions and on-the-spot recording sessions." In 1929, the likes of Furry Lewis and Big Joe Williams recorded here.

Sam Phillips and Marion Keisker, whom the world will long remember as the first people to record Elvis Presley, once surpervised musical broadcasts from the Peabody Skyway, where we've spent many a happy evening (see below). 

We headed out to paint the town "blues." A. Schwab Dry Good Store is one of the few remaining original buildings on Beale Street, still going strong after over 130 years. As we'd discover when we dropped in later (see below), it's no ordinary store.

Once again, we were walking in Robert Johnson's footsteps. Did you note the King's Palace Cafe in the image of Beale Street at the B.B. King Museum, above? The Cafe is still there, and we trooped up to its upstairs Absinthe Room, which was once the black-owned Hooks Brothers photography studio. As Steve Cheseborough writes, Robert Johnson is believed to have trod these very boards himself in 1935. It's thought that that great photograph of him in a pinstripe suit on the cover of the 1990 boxed set The Complete Recordings—one of only two known photographs of him—was taken here. 

At the Rum Boogie Cafe's Blues Hall, Karolyn boogied with a new friend while we grooved to a stirring performance by Queen Ann Hines.

Next door, the Rum Boogie Cafe itself boasts the original sign from Stax studios.

The next day, we visited A. Schwab Dry Goods Store, the last of Beale Street's original businesses, est. 1876. As Cheseborough notes, their slogan was, "If you can't find it at Schwab's, you're better off without it." He also notes the store began selling voodoo supplies because people who bought blues 78s (three for a dollar) were also interested in voodoo. You've heard bluesmen sing about Mojo Hands and John the Conqueror root? Well, at A. Schwab, you can get them. (In New Orleans, we'd learned a lot about the traditional Afro-Caribbean faith of voodoo on a walking tour.) For a fascinating tale, read the "High John the Conqueror Root" display below.

Finally, we made it over to W.C. Handy's Home, moved to Beale Street from its original location 10 blocks south. Handythe first man to write down and publish the blues, which had previously been an oral tradition passed down from singer to singer. He moved to Memphis from Clarksdale in 1905 and lived there until 1918, when he moved to New York. We'd begun our explorations of the Delta by walking in Handy's footsteps in Tutwiler, where he "discovered" the blues, as it was played for him by a vanished bluesman at a vanished train station. We'd also traced his steps in Clarksdale, where he lived at the time of the Tutwiler discovery, circa 1903. (There's an empty lot and an historical marker where his Clarksdale home once stood.) Now, we visited his Memphis shotgun home, a small house packed with history. A highly informed guide walks you through.

We'd brought it all back home. Southern Road Trip 2017 was in the books.



Mississippi Delta, 2017: Part 2 (Leland to Nelson Street, Quito to Moorhead: From the "Hellhole of the Delta" to where the Southern cross the Dog

We continued exploring the deep Delta, the area between Greenville and Greenwood. Earlier in the trip, we'd stood in Congo Square in New Orleans, birthplace of jazz and funk. Now, if you like, we were immersing ourselves in the incubatorthe crucible, perhapsof the blues. When we left off, we were at the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, Mississippi. Just outside of Greenville, Leland was known circa 1908 as the "hellhole of the Delta." The museum restricts its focus to musicians from around Leland. 

(I should mention that Leland is the birthplace of Kermit the Frog. The wonderful Jim Henson grew up here, and there's a museum dedicated to his boyhood in the Delta. We unfortunately didn't get a chance to check it out.)

At the museum, we were non-plussed to learn we'd been in the presence of a star, Eden Brent, when we dropped in at Teddy's Juke Joint outside of Baton Rouge at the outset of our trip. We'd noticed an unassuming woman in street clothes mingling with Teddy and guests as Selwyn Cooper & the Sharecroppers jammed. Later, she casually moved over behind the keyboardist and, much as you see in the photo below, offhandedly began tickling the ivories from over his shoulder. We were absolutely blown away by her virtuoso boogie-woogie runs. How could we have know then that this was Eden Brent, who'd learned at the knee of the great Abie "Boogaloo" Ames, one of the Nelson Street greats—indeed, the "Mozart of the Delta."  

Pat Thomas, son of the great Leland bluesman James "Son" Thomas, continues his father's legacy, both as a musician and as a sculptor. The museum contains several of Pat's funky folk-art pieces.

The sculpture shown in the photographs below is an assemblage by Jay Kirgis. The wax figure inside represents an African griot (history story teller), which symbolically represents Robert Johnson. Painted panels tell the mythological tale of the crossroads.

Back on the street, we knocked about a bit. Cristen Barnard, whose murals we'd admired in Tutwiler, was the "Tom Sawyer" behind this mural in Leland, which she painted in 2000 along with Jay Kirgis and a cast of locals. It is restricted to bluesmen born within 25 miles of Leland. You've got Boogaloo Ames, Jimmy Reed, Little Milton, Eddie Cusic, Willie Foster, James "Son" Thomas, and Johnny and Edgar Winter, all clustered around the Highway 61 sign.

Nearby is a mural dedicated to B.B. King, who hailed from Indianola. (We'd get over that way ourselves, soon.) 

There's also a mural depicting "Delting Dancing" at Lilo's Italian restaurant, which is still there. Back when Boogaloo Ames was alive, he'd play there with young Eden Brent. Quite a great Mississippi story, incidentally, the friendship between the old black bluesman and the young white woman. I understand there's a film about it, Boogaloo and Eden: Sustaining the Sound (1999).

Speaking of Nelson Street in Greenville, that storied street of blues lore, at the museum we'd seen this placard.

So we had to roll over to Greenville and take a look. Unfortunately, as Roger Stolle, fount of blues knowledge and proprietor of the funky Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art shop in Clarksdale, would later tell us, the only reason to go down to Nelson Street today is to score some crack. Checking our supply of crack, we noted we were all stocked up and thus had no reason to get out of the car. We snapped a picture of this mural from the window of our rolling car and beat it out of town. Very sad. At the far left in the mural you see Milton Campbell (Little Milton), who had a hit record with "Annie Mae's Cafe," about Perry Payton's legendary Nelson Street club, The Flowing Fountain.

Back at home base, there was a gorgeous sunset over the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale. As the sky burned over our Red House, I thought of that line, "the sky was red from off towards New Orleans."



That evening, we went over to the Hambone Gallery and caught a set by Terry "Harmonica" Bean. Before he began a song, he'd tell us how his grandfather used to play it, and then he'd demonstrate. Harmonica Bean is a living link to a departed generation of Mississippi Delta bluesmen.  

I also got to hang with Watermelon Slim, one of my heroes and a certifiable cool cat.

The next day we set out for Quito, a town near Greenwood so small it's not even on the map. On the way we passed the spot off highways 82 and 49 where the Three Forks juke joint is believed to have once stood. That's where Johnson played his last note, jamming with Sonny Boy Williamson II prior to—as legend has it—being poisoned by the owner of the club, who objected to Johnson's dalliances with his wife. 

We were looking for Payne Chapel, near where we knew to look for one of the three existing graves for Robert Johnson. Now, it's generally agreed today that Quito's not where Johnson's really buried: his true resting spot is likely north of Greenwood.

We'd been there back in 2014, when, inspired by Rosanne Cash's fine, haunting album "The River and The Thread," we'd driven down Money Road over the Tallahatchie River and out to the cemetery at the Little Zion M.B. Church. As we went over the Tallahatchie Bridge, we were thinking about Emmett Till and Robert Johnson all the way. ("A lonesome boy in a foreign land...And a voice we’ll never understand/One lies in the Zion yard, And one sleeps on the river bar/Neither one got very far, Out on Money Road."Rosanne Cash, "Money Road")

Oh, and Bobbie Gentry. Why did Billy Joe Mac Allister jump off the Tallahatchie Bridge? (The next four photos are from 2014.)

Back in 2017, it was still fun to find the Payne Chapel and the grave.

Next, we made it over to Moorhead, to visit another legendary spot in blues lore. As recounted in the last episode, in Tutwiler we'd stood where W.C. Handy did in 1903, when he heard a bluesman singing about "I'm goin' where the Southern cross the Dog." The fellow was talking about the point where the Southern railroad crossed the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad (the "Yellow Dog"). As Steve Cheeseborough recounts, Handy would go on to appropriate the line for his own "Yellow Dog Blues," and blues greats who sang about it included Charley Patton and Big Bill Broonzy. If you could get to Moorhead, you had a shot at getting out of Mississippi.  





Mississippi Delta, 2017: Part 1 (Tutwiler to Dockery Plantation to Leland: The "Discovery" and "Invention" of the blues)

We set out to explore the Mississippi Delta, the flat, fertile cotton lands where the blues began—"the most Southern place on earth," per Richard Knight in his book The Blues Highway: New Orleans to Chicago. "No music better reflects its environment." 

Down a lonesome stretch of road in Tutwiler, we found the grave of Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) (1910-1965), perhaps the greatest harmonica player in the history of blues (well, him and Little Walter). 

We'd never have found Sonny Boy without the aid of a kindly old fellow tending the first graveyard we came to. He's not here, he said, then gestured out over the fields in the right direction. This gent would turn up several times as we explored Tutwiler, making sure we didn't get lost.

Sonny Boy's sisters, who both died in a fire in 1995, are buried nearby.  

Tutwiler has another claim to blues fame. It's where W.C. Handy "discovered" the blues in 1903. As we approached the site of the old train station where the deal went down, Cristen Barnard's murals beckoned us on.

On the fateful day, Handy was waiting for a train in Tutwiler when a man sat down next to him. In Handy's own words (as reprinted by Richard Knight): the "lean, loose-jointed Negro commenced plunking a guitar...His clothes were rags, his feet poked out of his shoes. His face had on it some of the sadness of the ages. As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings...and the effect was unforgettable."

Per Knight: "W.C. Handy had discovered the blues."

Cristen Barnard's mural depicts the scene, below. 

Knight goes on: "The bluesman went on to sing the line 'Goin' where the Southern cross the Dog' which, Handy discovered, referred to the point where the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroad, nicknamed the 'Yellow Dog,' crossed the Southern railroad in Moorhead." Later, we would stop in Moorhead and visit the very site this anonymous, and world-changing, man was singing about.

The Tutwiler station's no longer standing, but the old track's still there.

The old gent who'd helped us back at the graveyard reappeared. Just wanted to make sure you didn't get lost on these back roads, he said. He tipped us off to one more thing we shouldn't miss. Right around the corner stood the site of the funeral home where, in 1955, they prepared Emmett Till's body to send back to Chicago. A white man, he spoke of Till in an almost apologetic tone, though he'd only been five years old at the time. A reflective tone, as though there were something he wished he could have done. The farmers came in the middle of the night and dragged him out, he said, and they tortured that poor boy, and that's the true story. (As if there'd ever been some other narrative that needed countering. Maybe if you grew up white in the south, there had been.)   

Outside of Cleveland, we visited the site many scholars agree is the very birthplace of the Delta blues, the Dockery Plantation. The cotton gin bears the family name.

"Charley Patton grew up here learning at the feet of Henry Sloan who played a rhythmic guitar style which Patton later developed into blues," writes Richard Knight. "That contribution is hard to underestimate. Robert Palmer, in his definitive book Deep Blues, claims, '...he [Patton] inspired just about every Delta bluesman of any consequence. He is among the most important musicians twentieth century America has produced.'"

Charley Patton lived on Will Dockery's plantation overlooking the Sunflower River, after his father moved the family there in 1897. We liked to imagine him playing for the people on this porch. Howlin' Wolf learned from Patton, here at Dockery. Pops Staples grew up here, too. Pops' "beautiful guitar playing is based on the downhome Delta blues," writes Steve Cheseborough in his book Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues

The great, old-school "Coca-Cola" Dockery filling station is down on the corner. 

Later, at the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, we'd find a model of the Dockery Plantation. There's the Coca-Cola filling station on the left, the Baptist Church for the plantation's black workers on the right. The Dockery cotton gin's in the middle, the porch we were standing on partially obscured behind it.