EMILY LE COZ: An apology to Clarksdale

By EMILY LE COZ / NEMS Daily Journal

I want to apologize to Clarksdale, Mississippi, for five years of neglect. Five years of failing to visit. Five years of ignoring you.
Five years of picking other cities for weekend retreats because I deemed you too quaint, too gritty, too familiar.
Yes, Clarksdale, I am a former resident. But I left you in 2004 for the big city of Tupelo. Sure, I think about you from time to time. I even returned to you once in 2005 for your wildly successful Juke Joint Festival. It was fun.
But I admit, you’re not the first place I envision when someone says “romantic getaway.” Except, well, you turned out to be the perfect city for such a retreat.
And I’m ashamed to say that I was surprised, because I should have known all along.
Todd and I lodged at a bed-and-breakfast established in the 140-year-old Clark House, built by the city’s founder and namesake, John Clark. This beautiful, two-story home sits in the historic residential section of Clarksdale and boasts the most elegant rooms I’ve ever seen.
Tupelo, I love you – you know that, baby – but you have nothing like the Clark House.
We also dined on succulent filet mignon at Morgan Freeman’s famous Madidi restaurant, which he co-owns with local attorney and current gubernatorial candidate Bill Luckett. And we had a personal visit by the restaurant’s friendly manager, who doted on each diner in the tastefully decorated room.
That was Friday.
On Saturday, we got a whirlwind tour of the city’s old buildings by businessman and history buff Bubba O’Keefe. And we viewed an amazing array of music memorabilia at the Rock and Blues Museum, operated by a Dutch native who began his personal collection while still a youth.
We ate lunch at the Stone Pony and lingered in the cute shops along Delta Avenue.
That night we sipped wine on the patio of Rust – another fine eatery in the heart of Clarksdale – while listening to a man everyone calls Captain Mike shout obscenities from a street corner one block away.
Hey, it’s Clarksdale!
Afterward, we caught a performance by 90-year-old blues legend T-Model Ford at a dark, little juke joint called Red’s. The one-room lounge glowed amber as blacks and whites, squeezed in together at tables and along the bar, smoked cigarettes and sipped cold beer.
Between songs, the old bluesman would alternately scold his 12-year-old drummer for “back talking” and invite the audience to sip from his plastic cup of Jack Daniel’s. His wife, seated nearby, glared at the musician. At one point, she called me over to complain.
“He’s mad at me,” she said. “I don’t know why.”
We talked about the old man for awhile, and then I wished her luck. Giving marital advice to the elderly isn’t my strong suit, so I rejoined my husband at the bar.
Todd had just been cursed by the joint’s owner, Mr. Red, who thought he was filming the show. He wasn’t. The bouncer knew this and got into an argument with Red on Todd’s behalf. The two fussed and finally parted. Todd and I ordered another beer and tapped our toes.
Sometime after midnight we returned to our luxurious room and sank into a deep sleep – from Red’s to the Clark House; from blues to bourgeois; from gritty to gorgeous.
That’s Clarksdale, too. And that’s why I won’t wait another five years to return.

Contact staff writer Emily LeCoz at emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Click video to hear audio