Welcome to Down at the Crossroads! What’s the name all about? The simple answer is that the blog is all about the meeting of the blues and faith – finding connections between the music of the blues that we all love so much and Christian faith.
Of course such connections haven’t always been made or welcomed. Going right back to the 2nd century, before the blues had ever been thought about, early church father Tertullian considered how his faith related to the culture of his day and asked, famously – what has Jerusalem to do with Athens? Athens, of course had been the centre-point of Greek philosophy and Tertullian wanted to make sure his Christianity was untainted by any contact with it. Since the blues were born in the early years of the twentieth century, Christians have been asking a similar question – what has Christian faith to do with the blues? Often the answer was – nothing! The blues was thought to be sinful, unrighteous music and there were plenty of blues artists who either fled back into the church or vacillated between the two worlds.
So just what has the blues to do with faith? Well, actually quite a lot and this blog will attempt to explore this over time. The crossroads, then, is where the blues and faith meet.
But we might attempt a slightly longer explanation of “down at the crossroads”. The crossroads, of course, is famous in blues lore. It was the place where Tommy Johnson and then Robert Johnson claimed they had sold their souls to the devil in exchange for a prodigious ability to play the guitar. LeDell, Tommy’s brother, asked him how he had learned to play so well and Tommy said,
“If you want to learn how to play anything you want to play and learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where a road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there, be sure to get there just a little ‘fore twelve o’clock that night so you’ll know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece…a big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”
This story is as old as the blues Aside from the fact that some of these artists just wanted to build some mystique and notoriety around themselves, there’s a deep-seated myth here about the meeting of the worlds of good and evil, and the need to cross over to the dark side in order to gain the know-how and ability to improve yourself. There were, of course, completely natural explanations for Tommy and Robert’s increased guitar skills. But the legend of the crossroads reminds us that there is a deep built-in desire in us all to take a short-cut and find the easy way to the thing we really desire (if only that were possible for an enthusiastic, but pretty inadequate guitarist like myself!). The crossroads story isn’t so far from that other well-known story of the garden of Eden, where the serpent’s temptation is for Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit so that they might gain extra knowledge and become like God. The easy option and the one which leaves God out of the picture often looks attractive.
So, I guess, down at the crossroads is that place of encounter – maybe the natural with the divine, maybe the place, the doorway, according to Dylan, where we “face temptation’s angry flame”. But for us, in this blog, down at the crossroads is the place where the blues meets faith. Sometimes there’ll be compatibility, sometimes there’ll be an uneasy tension – but always it’ll be a chance to go deeper – into the blues, into faith.
Watch Robert Johnson’s Crossroads played by Eric Clapton, Doyle Bramhall, Derek Trucks & Steve Winwood.