Synaesthesia Magazine Americana - Page 35

The Shack Up Inn

Red’s is busy tonight. Red’s is a bar, sorta. It’s like someone took a closed-up shop, turned it into a storage room, into a garage, into a bar and then back into a storage room. And Red runs it, sorta. He opens it up when he’s found a blues player worth listening to and tonight’s that night.

His name’s Lucious, over from Arkansas, and he might have been born with a guitar. The heat of the room is sent in waves from his searing playing. Most folks here are smoking, and the notes shake their way through a haze. The heat and the sound and that ashy, acrid taste form an electric tingling that plays on your tongue. It’s a need to sing along to a song you don’t know. There’s a piece of graffiti carved into the bar: “blues is a felling” and tonight everyone’s fallen under his spell.

This is Clarksdale, Mississippi, and blues is the heart of this town. Muddy Waters lived here, Son House and John Lee Hooker were born here, Robert Johnson sold his soul at the crossroads here. Music thrums in the air of this town.

A few minutes from those crossroads, there’s an inn. As I pull in, the car crunches on the gravel and that is the only sound. The inn is a half-dozen shacks, each its own shape and size. There’s a cotton gin, too, that’s been turned into rooms; with their ribbed metal frames and strange uniformity, they look like how people in the ‘50s thought aliens might live.

I cross the patch of grass to the lobby. There’s a tree there, sorta. It’s a piece of metal sticking out of the ground and all the leaves are glass bottles. Other places to stay give you some soap, some shampoo. The Shack Up Inn offers its guests a guitar. I haven’t tried to play a guitar in so long I barely remember which end of it to blow on, but of course I accept. I grab it and head on over to my shack – the Office, so called because… it used to be an office.

It’s a simple thing. There’s a porch and a rocking chair. The door unlocks with a clunk, but gets stuck in its frame with a thunk. A solid knock and I’m in. The wood creaks at the intrusion, then goes silent. The shack has a chill to it already and the four blankets on the bed suggest it’ll get colder. There’s a shelf on the far wall like a museum piece: it holds a line of radios, each from a different decade, none of them working.

I perch on the bed and listen to the silence; I feel the cold edge into me. I pick up the guitar and try to strum the distant memory of a chord. It rumbles the shack, prodding at the walls for approval. If you can’t find the blues here, you’re expected to make your own.