I top off the tank under the watchful eye of a fellow pumper. Like every other station in every other town along every other road, that one person is always there, always ready to start that conversation, “I had a Harley.”
“Oh yeah?” I respond.
“’85 FXSB,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.
“My buddy and I went coast to coast in ’88, over 4000 miles in two weeks.”
“Really, that’s wild.”
Securing the gas cap, I mount the machine and switch the ignition to on.
“Where you headed?” he asks.
He shifts his head and furrows his brow – “What the hell is in Mississippi?”
I hit the starter and allow the bike to help bring an end to the conversation; with a raised voice, I proclaim – “Spirit!”
I rumble down the road, east out of the hills of Arkansas, looking to find my way across the Mississippi River and into the lowlands of the Delta, with his question still in my mind.
What the hell is in Mississippi?
I believe that a spirit exists in Mississippi. A nonlinear spirit whose growth, like a plant, weaves and meanders in pursuit to find its sustenance, a spirit that accepts that we are of a single existence and our expression is pure when delivered without pretense.
I believe that that spirit exists in the Blues. A dissonant, inharmonious combination of rhythms and harmonies that, born from experiences deeper than my own, create a purer tonal expression.
But that is just my opinion, and who am I to talk about the Blues –
My life is linear.
Currently, right angles make up my order. Straight lines build my home, my relationships, my future. I am comforted by the order or the right angle. It maintains my uninspired infrastructure and keeps well-planned progress moving along.
I exit Arkansas by traversing the mighty river on highway 49.
The Helena Bridge spans nearly a mile and towers high above the water. Since 1961, its rigidness and strength have stood against the power of the current.
Impressive, but its form is soulless in its rivets, iron, and angles.
My destination is Clarksdale, MS. Known by some as the epicenter of the Blues, a town that lays claim to the Crossroads, the mythical intersection where Robert Jonhson sold his soul for a guitar tuning.
I enter into Mississippi, flanked by the fertile lowlands of the Delta and the random casino resort.
Clumps of trees divide the fields.
My machine rumbles, disturbing the peace and tranquility of emptiness; I ponder nonlinear expression in language and art.
An inspiration that is born from a tree’s random pathway of growth creating beauty that poets write about and an artist paints.
Without nerves or muscles, the tree pulls toward the sun, tearing through rock and twisting its form into a joyous tangled mess of life, unique and celebrated.
“I think that I shall never see – A poem as lovely as a tree” – Kilmer wrote.
Van Gogh’s Olive Trees, whose branches pitch dissident into the Yellow Sky, while those with the Alpilles in the Background curve softly, express years of emotion beset by a nonlinear life.
Do straight lines lead to an artist’s success, spiritual success, or is true and pure expression born from chaos?
Was Van Gogh’s style crude, Kilmer too simple, or the Blues not real music?
Or as Whitman stated, the “clearest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one”
What expressions make the greatest impact or leaves a lasting impression of influence?
Are the Blues the equivalent to Van Gogh?
Blues music, a nonlinear expression, created from inspiration and emotion, not just the systematic and safe practices of major, minor, and modal scale?
Vincent, an artist, self-taught painting from the soul creating abstract that stirs the spirit, was rouge in his expression but subsequently inspired the world after his death.
Robert Johnson, a blues guitarist whose music and presents, arguably, allowed the world to experience the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, expressed his emotions through the rouge music known as the Blues.
Is Robert Johnson as large of a contributor to the world of art as Van Gogh?
In Clarksdale, I secure my lodging in a shack on the main grounds of The Shack Up Inn. The Shack Up Inn is a collection of unique and eclectic lodgings, holding true to my nonlinear expectations.
My temporary home is the Pine Top shack named after the legendary blues piano man Pine Top Perkins, an individual who knew Robert Johnson and had a left hand that would “roll like thunder.”
An upright piano sits in the corner of the shack in desperate need of a visit to the crossroads.
Clarksdale, Mississippi, ground zero for the blues; I bum around the town and find only a few open joints on this weeknight.
The blues are alive, and I spend a few minutes and dollars on seeing Ike Turner’s cousin’s band play.
A make-shift stage and folding tables transform the abandoned store into a live music venue, and it could not have been more perfect.
Rain begins to fall, and I head back to the shack. Soft rain and road spray wick through my jean and into my boots. The road is dark on the way back to Pine Top’s shack; the shack is darker.
I sit on the porch and look intensely through the rusted screen. The clouds give way, and the rain subsides as my eyes look beyond the field and into the dark foreboding shadows of the trees.
Kilmer used his pen and Van Gogh his brush; those who called the Delta home used their voices.
The music was the medium. The inspiration was the world. The world is the spirit.
The Mississippi morning air is thick and heats up quickly as I top off my tank.
Securing the cap, a gentleman approaches me.
“Nice bike; I had a Harley once.”
“02 Sportster,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.