In Martin Scorcese’s 2005 documentary about Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, Dylan was asked how he went from being a folksinger performing other musicians’ songs to becoming a powerful creative force nearly overnight. Dylan narrowed his eyes and with a faint smile suggested that maybe he’d gone down to the crossroads. Maybe he did.
The crossroads has been the place, physically or metaphorically or spiritually, where musicians are reputed to gain extraordinary skill by selling their souls to the devil. Blues musician Robert Johnson is the quintessential character of the legend, but the theme has appeared in the works of Eric Clapton, Kurt Cobain, and The Charlie Daniels Band.
The idea of selling one’s soul to the devil goes back at least as far as the story of Dr. Faust in the 16th century, and most likely was around way before that. The legend popped up in the 1950’s Broadway musical, Damn Yankees, and in movies such as Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Hunk(1987), Shock ‘Em Dead(1991), Devil’s Food(1996), The Devil and Daniel Webster(2004), and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus(2009).
Then there are practices like Grimoire, Hoodoo (often found in blues music and linked to the Old Testament), Voodoo, all mixed in with the big basket of magic, hexes, bewitchment, spells, conjury, incantation, fortune telling, enchantment, augury, and witchcraft.
The more I look into it the more it seems like the whole damned (couldn’t resist it) human race has a fixation on doing business with the devil.
You can’t help but wonder if any of these practices are exclusively evil, or exclusively good, or if the whole concoction is nothing other than a blend of interpretations of human lore and activity, none intrinsically good, none intrinsically evil.
My supposition is that a lot of what we express are explanations of events we don’t fully understand. If we are haunted by fears, insecurities, guilt, and confusion, we may deem ourselves as not worthy of the skills we have been born with, or have acquired. In keeping with the low opinion we may have of ourselves we might be willing to accept the myth that having received undeserved talents, we owe a heavy debt to none other than the devil.
Although I have essentially non-existent musical skills myself, I have been enthralled by music since I was a small boy. How could such a wonderful invention be the work of the devil?
In my interpretation, all creativity emerges from a connection with a part of us deep within, or a part far outside. The location isn’t important. The feeling is, and it’s good.
As deliciously mischievous and dangerous as making a pact with the devil may sound, I believe that isn’t what occurs. Dylan and all the others may have gone down to the crossroads but whether they know it or not I believe the deal they made was with their own everlasting souls.