The Devil and Robert Johnson

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, art, love, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

Selected tracks: Bob Dylan “The Times They Are A-Changin”, The Decemberists “A Cautionary Song” and Robert Johnson “Me and the Devil Blues”

A diffused blue hue hit my studio apartment at six in the morning. The sun’s light was filtered through layers of clouds and half closed window blinds. Jack was still asleep on the couch, curled underneath my spare comforter. Foghorns from the Golden Gate chimed in the distance as I stretched out in my bed.

It was only hours ago that I lay awake beside Jack, craving the entire twin sized bed to myself. That was something I was accustomed to having for the past twenty-five years of my life. “Are you awake?” I whispered. “Mmhmm,” Jack mumbled. I knew I had the option of asking him to sleep on the couch, as he had continuously offered throughout the night. He noticed I was unable to doze off with him sleeping in the bed. I capitalized on this out he gave me. “Can you sleep on the couch? It’s not personal, I just really need some sleep tonight. I volunteer early in the morning,” I barely squeezed the words out through an immensely apologetic baring of my teeth. I gave him a passionate kiss and reiterated that it wasn’t personal. The grip of his lips to my own clearly indicated no offense was taken. When my friends heard the story they were appalled that I “kicked him out of bed”. But in context I knew between Jack and I it was a rather sweet, charming, and memorable moment.

My long held fears, anxieties, and hesitations over sex had dissipated overnight. As I lay in bed, waiting to fall asleep after Jack’s embrace, I felt a rush of serenity. Jack’s acceptance and attraction had made my first time safe, special, and satisfying. Although the significance of this moment in my own history was not lost on me, it did not feel like the revelation I was expecting. It came with such ease which made me ask myself: What was I so afraid of for all these years?

Over the course of the next week Jack slept over twice more. We began to share more about ourselves. He met some my friends, and I met some of his. We watched movies, cuddled on the couch, had meals together. I found myself being more charming, witty, interesting, kind, and sexy than I ever thought possible. Upon closer analysis, I realized I had always had all of these qualities, I was no different than before I met Jack. It felt like a a key paragraph in a novel that is always there, but only becomes visible when a reader highlights it in neon yellow.

On Saturday night Jack stayed over again. We cuddled on the couch as we watched the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We would sleep together afterward. Both of us, this time, in the same twin sized bed. Jack slept in Sunday morning as I read and made breakfast. At a quarter past ten, after noticing he had awoke, I climbed back into bed, making him the little spoon once again. “You ready for some breakfast?” I asked. He replied with a tired moan and then “But I like you right here.”

Before I finished cooking (eggs sunny side up, healthy ham from the skillet, and arugula on a toasted whole wheat English muffin with edamame hummus) I put a playlist from my itunes on shuffle. Mostly modern folk artists played: Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, Edward Sharpe, Mumford and Sons, and Andrew Bird among others. Jack scoured through my music library, noting the recurring themes of folk, indie, and 80s new wave. I described to him the evolution of my musical tastes: 90s/00s pop to pop rock to alt rock which eventually branched into combinations of indie, folk, and electronic. “Slowly I’ve become more hyper-aware of lyrics,” I called out from the kitchen. “I think that’s why I’m into folkier stuff right now. Those songs are as much about telling a story as they are about giving your ears an orgasm.” I then cited Fleet Foxes’ recent hit “Helplessness Blues”, an ode to self analysis and the search for personal purpose. “The song speaks to me and marks, with surprising specificity, this time of my life,” I explained. Breakfast was now ready. Jack gave me a passionate “thank you” kiss. We shared songs all morning, back and forth. Folk from me, electronic from him.

——

Monday was another field trip day for Mr. Allen’s class. 826 Valencia in the Mission was today’s destination. Dave Egger’s non-profit center for reading and story writing. From the outside the building is very unassuming. Its windows are boarded up with only the numbers 8, 2, and 6 displayed. Once you’re inside it’s a different story.

Mr. Allen’s 4th graders examined the front room with awe. It was a lantern lit maze of wooden paneling, filled asymmetrical bookshelves, and various trinkets from famous literature. It was constructed to resemble the hull of a pirate ship. I’d never seen imagination brought into existence so tangibly. The design put Disneyland to shame.

The maze eventually opened up to an airy backroom, decorated with exquisitely designed rugs, long wooden tables and benches, and a projection screen sandwiched by two velvet curtains. A tall, slender man stood in front of the screen welcoming the students. Once everyone was settled he began his presentation. He performed with quick, animated, flamboyant movements, not unlike an exaggerated Pixar character. After establishing the most important elements to a good story (plot, setting, characters, arcs, originality), the cartoonish man brought up slides of an example story.

“Has everyone here heard of blues or folk music? Well this is the story of Robert Johnson, one of the most influential musicians in history, and how the Devil changed his life.” He went on to tell the story of the blues artist that inspired such folk legends as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen. Johnson was a terrible guitar player starting out. He was always out of tune. One day a man told him he could fix his inadequacy by waiting until midnight at a crossroad near the plantation in which he lived and worked. Johnson followed the man’s  advice and at midnight the Devil appeared. He took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it, played a few songs, and then returned the instrument. From that night forward, anytime Robert Johnson played his guitar and sang, pure brilliance followed. “All the Devil did was tune Robert’s guitar,” 826 Valencia’s doscent reiterated. “He was always playing the right chords, he just needed someone to adjust the tension in his strings.”

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