City at the Crossroads

By Tim Whitaker
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 21, 2007

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In deep South mythology, if you're looking to make a deal with the devil, you go down to the crossroads at night. That's where the devil waits. When you get there, you tell the devil what you want.

The devil has powers. He can make all your dreams come true.

He asks just one thing in return. And it's always the same thing.

He wants your soul.


Legend has it that 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson found himself at the crossroads one night.

Story gets told a lot of ways, but it's clear Johnson was frustrated by his lack of progress playing the guitar. He wanted to excel, and was willing to give up a lot to be the best.

At the crossroads he thought it might be smart to beseech the Lord first. Johnson fell to his knees: "Have mercy, now save poor Bob," the bluesman shouted, "if you please."

Alas, the Lord was otherwise occupied. But the devil, as always, just happened to be hanging around, no doubt having a smoke.

"You want to be the king of the Delta blues and have all the whiskey and women you want?" the devil asked Johnson.

Shit. Since you put it that way.

Johnson signed on the dotted line.

"Your music will possess all who hear it," the devil said. "And your soul will belong to me."


There are those who think the crossroads story is horseshit. They believe what made Robert Johnson a great bluesman was his tireless effort.

Then again, Johnson died at 27. He'd been poisoned after flirting with the wife of a club owner, or sleeping with a married woman, or both.

Sounds like you-know-who's work, don't it?

Robert Johnson's trip to the crossroads would be just another tale of bayou voodoo were it not for all the handy dandy figurative analogies it provides.

How tempting must it be, for example, for a guy like Michael Nutter, a man about to take over a city burdened with a relentless case of anomie laced with violent behavior, poverty and despair, to head down to the crossroads?

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