The Faust Man's Blues

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic

The testament of John Faust.

John Faust was a field man. He had spent the better half of his life working the Mississippi, planting and plucking for all its worth. He never went to school, thought it was a waste. Education was free. But whenever asked John always responded the same, “D’er money tah be made, ain’t goin’a be wastin’ my time learnin’ to werk this jawb we knaw we goin’a get”. He called it “Negro Smarts”. And he was right, at that time in Clarksdale the only work a man of color could get was under the sun. And so he worked sunrise to sunset, six days a week, for 15 years.
Most men would have died working in such extreme conditions but John had a passion that drove him through the years, this was the blues. Since his first day as a field hand John had embraced the blues. His ears would instinctively tune in every time an old field hand would start humming away some sweet melody just to keep the spirits up. And as the heat rose throughout the day, so did the voices of the other workers. Singing jingles about the day to day experiences they all were subjected to. John, for not being educated, was quick witted enough to understand this wasn’t just some music the white man didn’t understand, but the black man’s survival- his testament.
Habitually, however, the musically inclined folk were silenced by the field boss. This left John lusting and longing for more. As a boy he had heard rumors of a place where all the farm folk would go every Saturday night after all the week’s work was done. Too young to be out that late, John could only hear the far off chants of this magical destination. These were his lullabies, and he dreamt of such a place. Where farming tools –shovels, pick axes, hoes and gins would sing, dance, drink, smoke, and do whatever else they could to be people for just one night.
As he progressed in age, his appreciation for the blues grew as well. Wages cut short, the occasional racial slur from a field boss, and the constant threat of colorless hooded demons in the night. Firsthand occurrences that were just a part of being a black man in Mississippi, and there was nothing he could do. Nothing but hum a tune every once in awhile
Maturing into a young adult, John finally obtained the knowledge of this secret location he so very longed for. And much like generations past was there every Saturday, from eight until about three (even though he knew he had to be up early for church the next morning), partaking in the festivities. Among the acts of pleasure at these gatherings, John began harvested a particular love for the drink. Whiskey and bourbon replaced his blood, letting him leave his troubles as a man and becoming a derelict creature of the night.
This nocturnal creature came to be known as Whiskey John, a true wild man. All sense of pride and composure were lost when the alcohol took effect. The only real conversation he’d be able to hold would be when the man, whoever it may be holding the liquor, finally cut him off for the night. One particular time it was an old man blind man by the name of Willie Brown.
“Nevah could hol’ my awn when it came to dat stuff. Didn’ much like dah tase anyway. I’m sorry John buh I’m going hav’ tah cut you off.” The old blind proceeded. “You knaw I had my awn troubles wit’ dat stuff when I was aroun’ your age.”
“I don’ care bout ya prob’ems, I gots my awn. I ain’t tired o’ hungray, and I surely can hol’ my awn. I’m thirsty, brotha! Come on, Come on!” John would slur similar silver tongues from weekend to weekend.
“Naw, naw, nah, John! I dun tol’ you three, three times tahnight tah leave dat junk alone. You need wahtah boy, ‘specially if you dat damn thirsty!”
“You don’ need reason wit’ me blind man! I do wha’ I jus’ damn well please, ain’t no blind niggah goin’a tell me different!” John then proceeded to black out, stumbling forward into the old black man, knocking them both to the floor. John awoke moments later only to snatch the jug from Willie’s callused hands and stumble out into the road.
He was lost to the implications of his thirst, having no idea what he had done. As he threw the jug back the alcohol began to pour all over his face, into his nose and eyes. “Lawd dis’ liquor’s hawt!” John howled. Caught in the middle of self induced pain, he had no realization of what was actually happening around him.
About a dozen men came storming out of the rundown building, some holding torches, to find John. Lost in his own reality John was unconscious to the war cries coming from down the road.
No lullabies were played tonight. “John!” “John Faust!” “John you dumb niggah! Come on out heah!” “Who you tink you is, I ain’t blind! Like tah see you try dat shit on me!” Threats like these, among others, were the vibrations that filled the air that night.
“I found ‘em fellas. He slumped over heah nest to dat ol apple tree” shouted a man about the same age as John. “He drunk. Oh boy he drunk! You want me tah wake ‘em?”
“Nah, nah. I don’ want ‘em tah see dis” spoke a man twice the size as the group in a very hollow tone.
John awoke the next morning feeling like he passed out on the train tracks. Biting his lip, he lifted his head off an empty jug which served as a makeshift pillow, and began pulling his self together. Propping himself up against the stump of the apple tree with pain coursing through his entire self, he stood up and began walking toward the building he had initially started at the evening before. Upon arrival he slumped over to a window that still had morning dew on it. Wiping it away he gazed into a window at the obscure image that was his face. Running his finger tips over the scabs and hardened swellings, he began to cry for not knowing what had happened.
Sitting on the porch of this dilapidated structure, hands covering the gruesomeness that was his profile, a slow repetitive chugging noise began to steadily grow in volume. Lifting his eyes from his hands intrigued by sound, John stood and ventured toward the sweet melody. A bit of nostalgia took to him as he hadn’t felt this way about such resonance in quite some time. The unison of the different pitched notes were like a siren’s call to John that lead him to the front of the Clarksdale General Store. John refused to believe what images were projected upon his eyes.
There on the patio of the general store sat Willie Brown. Plucking away at his six strings in such a manner John had never heard before. He seemed to touch the guitar in such a certain way to make it moan, scream, or cry all at his command. John was but a small child to the melody of this pied piper and began walking toward the blind man.
Willie removed his hand from the neck of his instrument and lifted his chin. “Well, well, well. Wha’ we got heah. Whiskey John. Whoowee, I can tell you got yours las’ night.”
John stopped dead in his tracks. “How you knaw it was me?”
“Boy, anyone coul’ smell the liquor on your bref from a mile away. Beside I don’ need eyes teh see trouble a’comin’. You bringin’ mo’ boy?”
Even though he did reek of alcohol, he couldn’t grasp any idea on how the man knew of his physical being. In awe of the man’s perception and still completely in the dark about the events of last night, John asked, “Wha’ you mean ol’ man? I ain’t mean no trouble to nahbody. You knaw who done dis tah me?”
“Damn boy I ain’t surprised you don’ remembah. You lucky you alive after wha you done las’ night. I ain’t surprised, nope. You don’ remembah nahthin’ huh?”
“Honest to Gawd brothah. I don’ remembah nothin’, none of it.” Willie could feel the honesty through John’s crackling voice, one which hadn’t savored but poison in quite a long time. John took another step toward Blind Willie; losing interest in all but that which was this enchanting guitar.
“What den? Why you here?”
“Play some mo’” John requested.
Willie proceeded, not by continuing to play, but questioning, “Wha’? Guitar? Why?”
“It feels good. It makes me fo’get ‘bout wha’ trouble I caused las’ nigh’.”
“Get your ass teh chuch boy, Jesus’ll make you fo’get and fo’give yah too! Cause Gawd knaw I ain’ goin’a.”
John responded truthfully to the old man about his personal struggles with the lord. “Jesus done lef’ me long ago. I ask’ for a wife, teh stop wit’ the liquor, and all othah sorts of mess dat woul’ make me happy and he nevah answered. Nawt once. It makes me fo’get. ‘Bout teh liquor, ‘bout my troubles. I knaw you knaw teh blues.”
Willie sat still, emotionless, for a short period of time. He resembled Rodin’s The Thinker, only with a guitar in his lap and a couple more articles of clothing on his back, still however made of stone. His figure finally gave way as he turned his head right towards the plot of land John was standing on. “You listen here John an’ you listen well. You don’ wan’a forget those kind’a troubles boy. Those ain’ teh real blues. I knaw. Lawd had mercy I knaw. They ain’ jus’ somethin’ a guitar can take away.”
“Wha’ you mean ol’ man? It works fo’ me. If I coul’ play you bettah believe I woul’.”
“Is dat so?” Willie said with a smirk beginning to stretching across his face. “Wha’ if I tol’ you you could.”
John wondered if the old man had been drinking of if he had finally let the southern heat get to him. “You crazy ol’ man? Wha you mean?”
Willie lifted his guitar off his pant leg and offered it to John. “Play me somethin’ righ’ quick” John stood still, stupefied by the man’s offer. “G’awn take it.”
John grabbed the instrument embracing it with his left hand and right elbow as hard as he could. He began to mock the finger positioning that the old man had, taking a few more than a couple seconds to place each finger tip on its correct string and fret. When he had completed this, he guided his other hand above the thickest of the strings and in one motion let it swoop down heavily across each string. F’TAANG. What a god-awful noise, John thought. This was not the heavenly tune he had heard earlier. He tried again. B’WOONG. John knew he had no skill with the guitar and this act only justified it.
Frustrated that he couldn’t make one note on come out clean, John looked up at the blind man’s smirking face. “Dat make you happy ol’ man? I done tol’ you I don’ got no talent fo’ dis thing.”
Willie took back the guitar and began running his hand down it. “I tell you wha’ boy. You wan’a hear dat guitar make music, take it and larn it fo’ wha’ its warth.” He gestured it over to John like some sort of peace offering.
John pulled forward for the instrument with such excitement (for this was one of the only gifts he had ever received), only to have Willie recoil it back towards his body. “Now you wan’a play teh blues an’ fo’get these so call troubles you think you got, take that guitar down dis heah road a couple miles to where der ain’ nothin’ but cotton fields fo’ as long as you can see. There’s a road dat cross wit dis one with a ol’ tree nex’ to it. You be der nex’ Sunday before that sun come up and you’ll larn to play teh blues, Whiskey John, bettah den me and bettah than anyone. All you got’ta do is cut a deal.”
John was perplexed at the offer. “Cut a deal wit’ who?”
“Don’ you worry ‘bout dat Whiskey John, he’ll be der. He’s always der.”
John left that day with the guitar. The guitar and knowledge of a new mystical destination where he could learn the blues.
The next week took its toll on John (though his face had recovered) as he worked vigorously through the day. Once the fieldwork was done and the sun had gone down he would return home only to pluck away those out of tune strings for hours on end, trying to magically form some strange melody. And everyday his frustration for the instrument grew as it became more and more out of tune. Saturday eventually fell upon him and that evening, for the first time, didn’t go to that old magical building. Instead he sat in his bedroom and contemplated the next morning. Was he going to go travel off to this unknown destination that he had only heard about from the very man he had attacked only but a week ago? Of course he didn’t want to believe in everything the blind man had said, but he couldn’t shake the thought. The thought of being the best. To be able to play better than Willie and only within a week was unimaginable! His frustration for progression overthrew the better of his logic as he figured it was worth a shot, seeing as he had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning. Jesus wasn’t helping him learn any quicker.
He left around four o’clock, knowing this only because the last howls of the previous nights festivities had finally dwindled into silence. John carried the guitar on his back with a piece of rather thick yarn tied around the headstock and lower bout. He walked for about ten miles before he came upon the crossroads.
It was about a quarter pass seven when he arrived, the sun just creeping in over the horizon. Already John felt the heat from the steadily rising temperature begin to form droplets of sweat under his discolored crow’s feet. He circled the tree for about an hour or so before he began to get antsy. Eventually he sat down on the dirt road a continued to swing his head to-and-fro from one direction to another in hopes of seeing this magic man. As the day pressed on so did the heat. Had there been a thermometer anywhere in Clarksdale at that time (which seemed to be about noon) it would of read 110 degrees Fahrenheit no doubt. John began to be accompanied by the unmistakable feeling of delusion. In the mist of anticipation and excitement this morning he had foolishly forgot to pack any sort of liquid nourishment to keep him frying under this unholy sun. John dropped his head back onto the stump of the tree and watched as the world around him began to spin faster and faster. He closed his eyes, only for a second, to reopen then to a man standing in directly in front of him.
This man was a dark skinned man. Darker than any man John had seen before. He stood there in a unstained white cotton suit starring John straight in the eye, smiling with a set of pearl colored teeth.
“Who are you?” John questioned man, wondering if this really was the magic man he had waited so long for or just his mind playing tricks on him.
“The question is not who am I, but who are you?” He had a distinct southern accent obtained only by the finest of gentleman.
“John Faust, you goin’a teach meh teh blues?” John struggled with every word as dehydration set in.
“John Faust? Why that’s no name! Come on boy, you have to have something with more thunder than that?”
John wondered why he avoided his question and answered, “people back home call meh Whiskey John”.
“Oh now there’s a name. Whiskey John, how come you ain’t in church today?” Asked the man inquisitively.
“I came teh to larn teh blues. Now is you teh one who’s goin’a teach meh?”
“Why do you need to learn the blues? You look like you have yourself a pretty good grasp of what it means, I mean, lying there you look like you’re dead. Come on boy, sit up, play me something.”
John sat up, feeling the uneasy rush of blood begin to circulate throughout his body once again. He picked up his guitar and gave it two heavy strums before dropping it and collapsing forward almost hitting his head on his knee.
“Goodness gracious, you do need help boy. Tell you what, I’m just going to tune this here guitar up for you and in return you strum your guitar at my place every Saturday night. You’ll learn the blues boy. Better than anyone you may have heard before, I guarantee it. So do we have a deal?”
This was it! This was the deal. John with all the strength left on his feeble baked body, lifted himself up and shook hands with the man.
“Meaningless I know, but to answer your previously stated question, the name’s Memphis T. Memphis T. Cleese. And you’re mine now boy!”
At that moment John awoke. Sitting up in his bed, sweating up a storm, he stared off into the corner of his room where his guitar sat. Was this really just a dream? He shuffled out of bed and over to the chair next to his guitar and picked up the old six string. He hesitated for a moment but decided there was really only one way to really find out if this was real or just some crazy fantasy he had concocted. He strummed the first note, and then the second. All other’s fell into play as he began playing unwritten masterpieces effortlessly. He had struck the deal.
John went on earlier that week impressing everyone in the town of Clarksdale with his newfound talent. Field bosses stopped pushing him around, and by Wednesday had told him he wouldn’t be working the fields any longer. Word had traveled quickly around the state of Mississippi about this amazing guitarist. By Friday he met with the governor of the hospitality state and performed a private concert for select government officials in Jackson. The fame and fortune had washed over his previous fears of the man in white. That week, John lost the blues. He forgot about the way the whites had treated him, his alcohol addiction, and all other troubles. All he had was his music, and that’s all he needed.
That was until Saturday night. John had just finished washing up in his hotel when from behind came a familiar voice.
“Oh Whiskey John, I do believe it is about time for you to hold up your end of the bargain sir.” There the man in white stood. Starring John in the face, with a smirk that stretched across his face.
“Naw, naw, dis ain’ real. Dis is jus’ a dream!” John yelled as he shut his eyes as hard as he could.
From middle of the suite came the man’s voice again. “This ain’t no dream boy, now grab your guitar. You have a show to put on.”
Sitting in a case giving to him by the governor, locked at the foot of his bed was John’s guitar. “Naw, I ain’ goin’a do dis. You can’ make me!” As he finished spewing out his plea, he heard the locks of the case snap open and watched as the guitar rose like those of the living dead and began levitating toward John.
“I can make you do whatever I want! Don’t you know who I am Whiskey John? I’m Memphis T. Cleese and you and your soul is mine!”
That night John was taken to a place hotter than any other. Where the only people who watch and listened to his melodies had no faces. He would be forced to play til the blood from his fingers stained the strings, then tortured to the point where even the most resilient of men would beg for their lives to end. And that was it. He awoke the following morning wondering if it was a dream. No signs of abuse on his body, but he felt the pain within. He would go on living the first couple days believing it was only his sub consciousness attacking him for reasons unknown.
John continued his progression into the high life of society and by that following Saturday had just finished his first show at Carnegie Hall. He now sat in the dressing room awaiting Memphis T. Reflecting on the image in the mirror in front of him; John contemplated on whether last week’s events had really happened. As if it were some sort of cue, standing behind him with one hand on his shoulder John saw the man in white. The gentle grasp of his hand felt like that of a wasp sting. John dropped his head and let out a single tear as he realized his true fate.  John finally knew the blues. He had been to the crossroads and struck the deal. Not the survival of a man’s troubles, but the testament of a man’s personal hell.

Submitted: April 08, 2011

© Copyright 2022 Joe Secor. All rights reserved.

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Daemonic Resplendence

This story is magical. It overflows with the spirit of Blues and Rock. It makes me want to listen to some blues! Amazing re-telling of Robert Johnson's myth.
Thank you for writing that. :D

Fri, April 15th, 2011 12:01pm


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Fri, August 5th, 2011 6:51am

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