I Keeping Meaning to Read Faust

25 Oct 2011

Imagine, for a moment, that your name is Robert Leroy Johnson – in your hands is a guitar that you can not play worth a damn, but you want nothing more than to be able to make its strings sing–and you walk, completely alone, through the crossing of two dusty roads. You are underneath an endless prairie dusk. The moon is nowhere in sight and the stars are too faint to be anything but specks amidst blackness; light is being pulled away from the sky, trailing the long-gone sun over the horizon.

You pick idly at the out-of-tune instrument, struck by the sheer loneliness of the night and you are desperate to have anything fill that empty silence. “Early this morning,” you sing, with all the confidence of a man alone, “when you knocked upon my door”. “Early this morning,” you sing once more, “keep knockin’ on my door. And I said, ‘Hello Satan’”.

And suddenly, the sound of your voice is blown away from your own ears by a wind that is out of place in this calm, summer night. All warmth slips out of your skin and is replaced with an icy chill.

You open your eyes and, in front of you appears a perfectly tailored, faultless suit and–for an instant – it stands, empty, but, of course, this can only be a trick of the twilight. And, as if succumbing to reality, a man appears within it. He does not belong in his dress coat or tie. His hair is short, but going off in every direction; his beard is patchy and uneven; and his eyes are sunken deep behind days without sleep. But all of this you could accept as real, if not for his maddening smile, his cheshire-like grin.

He talks and you listen, but you cannot piece together into sentences the words that he is saying. His voice is a cacophony of syllables and stresses, pitches and phonetics. You try to harder to catch the sounds, desperate to make out something recognizable when, like an angel from the Bible – out of nowhere – you hear a question, “do we have a deal?”

Your head nods of its own accord and the man reaches his hand out–his fingers dancing to a song that you cannot hear. Immediately, you understand and give him the instrument that is, in your hands, little more than a noisemaker. He mutters, entirely to himself, “onetwothree” and sings with a voice as broken as yours on a guitar so out-of-tune that it could never match any melody. It is concert of discord and you briefly wonder if this is the sound angels make when they cry.

This is how deals with the devil are made: you fall into them, completely unaware, unable to stop yourself. You get what you want, even if you don’t know what you’re asking for.

But so does he.