RIBS N’ BLUES
The first place where I inquire is a kind of historical monument that is a bit ritzy, an old restaurant in right “downtown”, on the main street where no one comes since the 50s. Economic activities have since relocated a few blocs away to strip malls and chain stores.
I ask the way to Gip’s. The response comes in a cold and slightly annoyed tone but I am given a copy of the route. I stop by a pharmacy to ask my way again. Everything is closed, no windows, no way to see outside because of the debilitating heat. The pharmacist is charming and tells me that Gip is a “good man“. I follow the instructions. So I cross the “other side of the rail track“, literally, to the black part of the city. Here this expression is not an image. It’s a bit of a desolate area.
There seems to be someone in the trailer home ahead of me. I first see two legs and socks; a strong black woman with glasses is looking down, not really the smiley kind. I wave to know if I can come closer (I am paranoid by the thought that everyone has guns around here). Before I know it, we are smoking, they offer me a beer, I feel like we’re getting along.
The lady’s name is Bay. She introduces me to a friend who just arrived, a short plump and friendly blonde. We move onto some kind of sponge cake. I come to understand that they are neighbours who have actually taken Mr. Gip –no longer a youth –under their protective wings. They are good friends, and decide to help me. They find the idea fun and they’re starting to believe me. I wonder if wouldn’t be a good idea to film them with Gip, beyond just spending a great evening with them?
I spend the afternoon wandering around the deserted city. In fact, much like the entire country, there are several cities that are juxtaposed yet don’t seem to have any relationship. The new neighbouring white town made of malls and clean small houses for the middle class. It could be anywhere in the world: in the suburbs of Toronto, Paris or even Shanghai. The new downtown, with a major artery where a mix of cheap international brand signs such as “Waffle House”, IHOP, and McDonald’s alternate with more traditional establishments.
The old city downtown is deserted but reflects some poetry. Here, a tourist will find American myths, although they have seen better days. Closed windows. There is a small office that specializes in bail loans. This indicates the presence of a large number of litigants among the clientele who can’t afford bail money. Ironically, the owner has displayed an old sign that still says “Shoeshine: 10 cts”. In the old diner that sells hot dogs, an evangelical poster announces the end of the world for the previous year.
The art of double businesses seems to be very common, such as this carwash/barber business where I go to freshen up. An old Motown song is playing from a radio in the laundromat next door while little girls play hopscotch as the laundry dries. After this little excursion, I go back to Gip’s place with my styrofoam boxes of ribs.
GIP THE OLD BLUESMAN & HIS GUARDIAN ANGELS
Gip’s is at the center of a controversy; the municipal government wants to shut down the place, one councilor in particular. It’s true that Gip sometimes hosts a few hundred people… right in his “garden”. Technically, this informal bar where people come to drink alcohol and possibly listen to music is not a real Juke Joint. There is nothing to sell here.
Since back in the 50s, Mr. Gip facilitates a somewhat permanent party on his private property, and people can bring their “own drink and food”. A donation is suggested to support the site.
At 93 years old, this old bluesman who’s still a gravedigger doesn’t live in poverty, as his hut would suggest. He is the owner of several cemeteries and surrounding land.
The accent though…I don’t quite understand all of what he says, but he gently shakes my knee while we sit in the shade sipping on our beers. Someone passes him several small plastic cups that he chugs down right away.
A few hours later Max, who’s had a little too much to drink, shows off his juggling flags skills. He always has these flags on him, for some reason… My ribs are getting cold in their boxes. I’m so used to eating on a “fixed on schedule”. I thought that we were going to eat at six, but it’s not until eleven o’clock at night, well after the evening started well, that I get to film Gip’s two guardian angel girlfriends feast on the ribs, after a little prayer, of course. Indeed, a small sign warns, “If you do not believe in Jesus, go to hell!” Gip has since gone to bed due to the little plastic cups.