Son House

I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news,
But she just smiled and turned away.
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before,
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play.

— Don MacLean, “American Pie”

Yesterday we left the Mississippi Delta, and the Blues Trail we’ve been on. We found the graves of Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, and I stood at the Crossroads. But I’m thinking back a month ago when Michael Spencer asked, Can A Christian Sing The Blues? which he likens to the Biblical language of lament. So, yes, then. There’s a lot of folk who think that Christians can’t or shouldn’t express anything negative, but David did it well enough to get it into the canon, so I figure we should be able to as well. He links to Michael Card lecturing at Southern Seminary on “The Lost Language of Lament, and on “Worshiping the God Who Takes Everything Away.”

I’ve got a lot on the brain about the Blues and the legends that go with it. I couldn’t find the marker for Son House (pictured) near Tunica, MS, so I stopped by the local museum to ask how to find it. The person I asked didn’t know, but she took me to see the Blues exhibit in the museum, then to see her boss, the museum’s Executive Director. I told him what I was looking for, and he said he’d give me some extra. After explaining where Son House’s marker was — just dedicated about three months ago, he told me — he asked, “Do you know the story of Robert Johnson? Well, about two miles East of the marker, there’s a cemetery…”

The cemetery?” I interrupted.

“Yes, that’s the place,” he said. He told me some additional tidbits as well, then sent me on down to the crossroads.

We missed Son House’s marker until after we’d found the cemetery… turns out someone’s removed the sign and left the post, probably retaining a nice souvenir of the Delta Blues for himself. (I had to read it online.) I like Son House… his music as well as the paradox of his life. He first set out as a preacher, but later went to playing the blues. It seems perhaps he went back and forth between the two just a bit. House spent a couple of years at Parchman for killing a man in self defense one night when things got out of hand in a local jook. Somehow, there’s always been a paradox between faith and the Blues… yet it’s a paradox that must be held in tension, for each is slightly poorer for the removal of the other. Call it lament, call it the Blues. But don’t mistake it for a sad giving-up on faith. The message of lament, or the Blues, fundamentally remind us to have faith. The Blues is the music of remembering. Despite it’s discomfort with the genre, the Blues is music that must be played, even down at the sacred store.

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