Getting Chummy with the Devil

At the crossroads. Robert Johnson, bluesman, and classical composer and violinist Niccolo Paganini, both rumoured to have made a pact with the devil in exchange for virtuosity well beyond the level of their peers.paganini-2

” Paganini was one of the first superstars of public concertizing. As he became more and more famous it was rumored that he acquired his incredible virtuosity in a pact with the devil. His eyes would roll into the back of his head while playing, revealing the whites. His swaying stance, long unruly hair and thin, gaunt stature only added to this rumour. He played so intensely, women would faint and men would break out weeping”.

The  range of emotion and the intensity of Paganini’s playing was enhanced by an excessive flexibility of his joints, known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Almost inhumanly possible fingering and bowing techniques mixed with a lifestyle of women, gambling and alcoholism lent credence to the devil theory in which the devil became Paganini’s excuse for being a genius; a metaphor for the catatonic and irrational associated with great creativity. johnson

Robert Johnson. His genius was thought to be infused with with the shaman and voodoo beliefs of Africa where the energy of the voodoo is channelled through the guitar in the same way a practioner of voodoo channels a spirit using his body. The blues were an offshoot of the magic and supernatural found in the superstitions and folklore of  ancient tribal culture. An escape from an oppressive environment not dissimilar to the Jewish mystics and their study of the Kabbalah  in Eastern Europe. An antithesis of the white Christian linear and rational inflected culture in which they found themselves. 

” It is doubtful whether Johnson could have written the lyrics of songs without having been initiated into the cult… the symbolism involved with them is highly complex and of a nature which makes it highly improbable that they were simply things he picked up.”

Couple videos from the cult film ”Crossroads” where the protagonist beats his adversary at a guitar duel by playing Paganini.

Second video shows how both the difference of what we perceive as ”high culture” and ”low culture” is largely fabricated and illusory. The genius of Johnson and Paganini speaks a similar narrative with the distinction being in the composition and chosen instrument into which to channel the ”voodoo”, a metaphysical and paranormal force. In both of the musician’s cases, it manifested itself  with paranoia, fatalism and an obsession with death. they became their own voodoo doll.

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