Cedric Burnside: As Real as the Mississippi Hills (Bitter Southerner, 2o19)
I'm a blues scholar. For me, that mostly means I write about black life in the rural South. Sometimes it also means I write about blues music (which also mostly just means writing about black life in the rural South). That is what I do in this longform piece on Grammy award winning hill country blues icon Cedric Burnside.
It was one of the great joys of my professional career to get to know him, and to craft his story.
Here's a selected excerpt:
"Down the cinder block steps, a gray van with a Benton County tag to the left, a fire pit filled with ashes and soot to the right, a straight line of concrete blocks down the middle, leading to the road. Trees on the other side.
Something called an “arctic blast” makes outside cold. Shaquonna rubs her arms together, rocks from side to side, pulls her hands into the sleeves of her coat. I squeeze my fists tight in my pockets.
Cedric aims the Mossberg shotgun calmly at a blue plastic cup draped over a stake jutting from the ground about 15 yards away.
His shot echoed. The cup spun around. Before it settled, Cedric shot again.
I took my turn, took the gun from Cedric. He told me to focus in, told me how it should rest against my shoulder, told me how to move my fingers, then stepped back and away.
It took me a long time to get it, but when I got it I knew.
I felt it — deep, indistinct but real, like I had known it before, like I had known him before, like it seem like I might know him forever. Like déjà vu. Like going to Memphis. Like the chariot coming. Like family. Like kitchens and porches and gardens, like the land, like the hills, like the country."