I'm many things, but I'm not an avid consumer or reviewer of music. There are a handful of artists I listen to regularly, several more I tolerate, and a few songs here and there that I like. I wouldn't describe my tastes in music as wide-ranging.
Nor would I say they're all that complicated. For me, good music accomplishes one thing: It makes me feel an emotion. If I can find common ground with the emotion being expressed in a song, usually I'm impressed and endeared. I suspect that's what all of us do - we find music to match the mood we're in or want to be in. Or we search for music that fits a particular day or season.
So finding the right music for a cold, rainy Good Friday is challenging. But if ever there was a song that suited such an occasion, it is Blind Willie Johnson's song about the Crucifixion, "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground."
The song was recorded in 1927, its name borrowed from a hymn popular in the South in the nineteenth century. Somehow, "Dark Was the Night" manages to express a great deal without many discernible lyrics. The first time I heard it, I wasn't quite sure what to feel. Listening to the track, you can't escape the emotions of the artist: pain, loneliness, brokenness, numbness, sorrow. It is unsettling, and yet, also strangely inviting. So many songs inextricably combine fear into the above listed emotions. I don't get that from this one. In fact, its final chord offers a finality that is oddly peaceful.
To me, these elements - pain, loneliness, brokenness, numbness, sorrow, finality - are the essential pieces in the account of the Crucifixion. For all the volumes that have been and will be written about the event, none will likely be as descriptive or all-encapsulating as Johnson's bottleneck guitar playing and simple expression, "Ah, well."
You feel me?