Morning Music: Cross Road Blues

Robert Johnson: The Complete RecordingsThe final song that I used in my videos was Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues.” There are two versions of it. This is the slower version and strikes me as more haunting, although the two versions are similar. The song tells the story of the singer going down to the crossroads and trying to catch a ride. But no one stops, “Didn’t nobody seem to know me.” And he’s praying to God that he gets a ride before nightfall.

It seems like a spiritual: when humans let you down, you can always turn to God. But the thing about such songs is that they never have a happy ending. Indeed, they have no ending at all. This is because they are all about faith. God will reward the faithful. I don’t much see it myself. To me, we live in a world of callousness and loneliness with nothing but our own thoughts to keep us company.

When I think seriously about the human condition, I’m very disturbed. We are, in our consciousness, completely cut off from other people. We are, in fact, totally alone. But we are so used to the idea that there are others around to interact with that the clear view of reality it terrifying. We are all down at the crossroads trying to flag a ride. But it isn’t that they don’t know us; they don’t even know we exist because they are all so lost in their own lonely delusions.

As for the music on “Cross Road Blues,” well, it’s amazing. I’m still struck with just how modern it sounds. It probably helps that just about every rock musician has recorded the song. But there’s something more than that. There’s a reason that Robert Johnson stands out compared to other musicians of that period in the Mississippi delta. It’s hard to believe it’s just one man and a guitar performing.

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