Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hellhound on My Trail

Devil at the Crossroads by Bill Sienkiewicz (1991)

Today marks the hundred years anniversary since the birth of Blues legend Robert Johnson. His music had a great influence upon the development of the Blues and, by extension, Rock & Roll. Sadly, his career was a short one. He died at the age of 27, supposedly by drinking some whiskey laced with strychnine.

Aside from his music, another aspect of Johnson's career that has lived long after his brief life is the legend of the Crossroads. According to this story, Johnson viewed musical greatness as the route by which he could escape the crushing poverty of his life in rural Mississippi. So, he went out one night to the Crossroads and called forth the Devil, with whom he made a Faustian deal for mastery of the Blues.

Johnson would make comments about his "deal with the devil" but that was probably just in reference to the view within the Black community that any secular singer was "doing the devil's work." It was a pervasive attitude. If were were not singing spirituals or Gospel, then you were singing in sin. Moreover, any style of music that encouraged close dancing was de facto diabolical.

In any case, Johnson lived a rough and wild life and died young. His music is powerful and haunting. These facts tie into the Crossroads legend perfectly. The story may have absolutely no basis in reality, but it rings true in our subconscious where these archetypes of existence hold validity. The Crossroads catch our imagination.

Here are a few vids:

Here's Robert Johnson's Wikipedia page.

And here's the Wikipedia page for the artist of the wonderful image at the top of this post, Bill Sienkiewicz, and his official website.


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