Blind Willie Johnson Sunday 2: Johnson’s midrash and Peruvian Potpourris

As mentioned in our previous post on Blind Willie Johnson his knowledge of scripture was mainly oral. Hence it is common for his songs to bring together different Bible passages in an almost random way to reflect on a certain theme.

John the Revelator

This is arguably the most well known example of this genre. Mainly a reflection on John writing the Book of Revelation, it also takes us to Moses on Mount Sinai, and brings in various echoes of the Book of Psalms. Johnson’s version can be heard here,

This is one of Johnson’s most covered songs, although the tendency is for other artists to include other verses which best reflect their version. For example this version, part of the Blues Brothers 2000 film, includes references to Adam in the garden and Jesus and his disciples before and after the resurrection while Phil Keaggy specifically attributes adding extra verses to time spent visiting the Isle of Patmos.

I’m gonna run to the city of refuge

A reflection on the Old Testament concept of a city of refuge also takes us to “Peter preaching the gospel, he was standing with eleven men”, to an evangelistic crusade in which one is encouraged to “give the preacher your hand”, via Paul in Damascus saying that the Holy Ghost is a mystery while “trying to stay in Jesus’ hand”. We are then taken to the fall of the dragon in “the 12th chapter of Revelation, long around the 13th verse” and finally end up in the Upper Room “When Judas was about to leave” although I still haven’t figured out what Johnson means by “the apostle prayed down in his heart that the Holy Ghost would set you (him?) free.”

Johnson’s version can be heard here

A more contemporary version by the 77s here

Potpourris

a form of arrangement where the individual sections are simply juxtaposed with no strong connection or relationship. (Wikipedia)

I am reminded of Johnson’s biblical exposition when visiting churches in poorer neighbourhoods in Peru. There is a great predilection for potpourris, a juxtaposition of short, catchy worship songs with no clear thematic link, and often no clear difference in the tunes (although my musical knowledge is extremely limited). Often these are sung accompanying a beat box at a very high volume. These may be frowned upon at more established churches (I have only heard one once in all my time at Bethel, and on that occasion it was sneaked in by the person leading the service) but may be the high point of worship in other churches. Personally I am not sure whether I would really want them every Sunday, but have been known to sing along to myself that “yo tengo un amigo que me ama” (I have a friend who loves me), and that “una mirada de fe es la que puede salvar al pecador” (to look on in faith is what can save the sinner).

A full 17 minute potpourri, with lyrics, can be heard here.