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At the Crossroads

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  • At the Crossroads
  • Ears and Eyes: What I'm listening to and reading

     -Crying Sam Collins, Brad Warner and more

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At the Crossroads

Legend has it that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil, in exchange for becoming a dazzling and brilliant guitar player.  Johnson's swift death just a few years later was confirmation, the story goes, that the devil had collected on his end of the deal.  It's an old story, going back to the middle ages with the legend of Faust.

We all find ourselves at crossroads sometime in life.  Sometimes the choice is like Robert Johnson's:  between short-term gain (with bad long-term results), or a more difficult path with no short-cuts (and with rewards that only appear in the long term).  As a baseball fan, I've been repeatedly saddened by some of the great players' sellout to steroids and other performance-enhancers.   They've jeopardized their long-term health and legacies, and the integrity of the game, for short-term accolades.

More often, the crossroads presents a choice between coasting along, doing what works fine for now, or choosing to go further, develop more skills, and become better at what you do.  The latter is always the harder choice in the short-term, and the devil's siren song is, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"  The devil never lets on that what works today might not work so well in the future.

Around five years ago, no one was more surprised than me when I started getting a lot of attention on the folk circuit.  Many people did me countless good turns (and still do!), contributing to the snowballing interest in my work.  But last summer, I felt myself at a crossroads.    I had come to the end of my run as a hot new emerging artist.  The spotlight seeking exciting new acts was turning towards other deserving people.  (Many of them are my friends, and I'm glad to see them getting momentum!)  My crossroads had two roads leaving it:  becoming an established artist with a growing audience, or becoming a footnote, a flash in the folk music pan, with a shrinking audience.

I had some choices to make, which would point me down one road or the other.  My musical heroes who have stuck around for decades keep pushing themselves to learn and advance.   Chris Smither keeps writing better and better songs.  Kelly Joe Phelps keeps getting more inventive and musically improvisational.   I too want to keep improving at my craft--to write more and better songs, to become a more creative and expressive guitar player, and yes, to become a better entertainer.   When the devil shows up, he's usually offering ways to waste my time, instead of working on my craft.  I'm learning that of the two resources, time and money, time is the much more valuable (and non-renewable) of the two.  The crossroads, in the end, is always a few seconds away, in our minute-to-minute choices.

What are some of the crossroads you've stood at (or still face) in life?


Robert Johnson, "Cross Road Blues."  Listen here:

Short article on the Faust legend:

Wikipedia on Marlowe's version of the Faust legend:

NPR program:  "Steroids in Baseball:  Why Do We Care?"

Chris Smither website:

Kelly Joe Phelps website:

Ears and Eyes:  What I'm Listening to and Reading:
    Crying Sam Collins, "Jailhouse Blues."   Download (CD out of print):
    Sly and the Family Stone, "Anthology."  Buy the CD:
    Brad Warner, "Sit Down and Shut Up:  Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death,
             and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye."    Buy the book:
   Ruth Padel, "Darwin:  A Life in Poems."