A Man and His Story – 33 The Series returns this May


I am a huge Led Zeppelin fan.  If you don’t like Zeppelin, I am sad for you.

One of my favorite songs from their catalog of hits is “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”.  It’s in my top 5 list of Zep songs and if you haven’t had the pleasure I suggest you turn up the volume and give it a listen.  Bonham’s drumming and Page’s guitar… forget about it.  Pure mastery.

But it’s not their song.  It was originally written by “Blind” Willie Johnson, a gospel blues singer from Texas. Little is known about Johnson’s life.  What is known is tragic.

At the age of 5, Johnson told his father he wanted to be a preacher.  He also loved music and at that young age he fashioned a guitar out of a cigar box and began playing.

He wasn’t born blind.  The story goes that when he was 7, his father beat his stepmother after catching her with another man.  In a rage and out of spite, she threw some lye in Willie’s face.  He permanently lost his vision.

Little else is really known about Johnson, except that he was a masterful blues guitar player.  I think Jimmy Page realized this and unfortunately ripped the song from Johnson for Led Zeppelin, never giving credit to Johnson as the songwriter.  Page even changed the lyrics, adding deep thoughts like, “Brother he showed me the gong, Brother he showed me the ding dong ding dong…”

But I like the original lyrics best:

Ah Lord, Lord

Nobody’s fault but mine

If I don’t read it, my soul’d be lost

…I have a Bible of my own

I have a Bible of my own

If I don’t read it, my soul’d be lost

It’s nobody’s fault but mine

Johnson lived his life in poverty. A life full of hard times and heartache.  He died of malaria and syphilis.  Though little is known of his life, it appears he actually became a pastor; the Reverend W.J. Johnson.  This blind man spent his last days singing in the streets of towns all over Texas, playing his guitar and sharing the gospel the best way he knew how.  As he was dying hospitals refused to treat him, reportedly because he was a black man.  He was buried and forgotten, Led Zeppelin doing little to keep his memory alive. If not for the internet, most people would have no idea he existed.

It’s a sad story.  And yet, it’s a story.  That is how it all happened, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.

Southern writer Harry Crews wrote once “Stories was everything and everything was stories” when explaining what life was like growing up in the sticks of the south.  Stories long told full of violence, sin, spit and dirt.  Like our own stories, they are full of blindness, pain, and also joy and triumph.  We try not to look at the darker shades of our story; the tragic parts. The greatest tragedy however doesn’t stem from the pain endured.  Tragedy strikes when we start trying to forget the stories that made us.  The ones that brought us to where we are today; good and bad.  Or when we dumb them down to shallow modifications about “ding dong gongs” because the truth is too hard to look at.  When we try to forget or outright lie to ourselves and others about our story, we miss out on the beauty and artistry of taking in our stories, and learning from them.

We miss opportunities to take inventory of the things we need to hold on to, and those we need to let go of.

I think Page liked the music of the song, but was bothered by the lyrics.  True, Blind Willie’s lyrics were too backwoods and thus unmarketable.  But more than that they were honest and utterly repentant. So Page had to either pretty it up or make it nonsensical so folks could just rock to the music.  A beautifully simple song, theologically questionable as it may be, was stripped of its soul. We don’t really care much for repentance anyway. The emotional cost of it all is too high and our pride can’t stand much of it.

We don’t want to look at ourselves, and songs that make us reflect end up being sung on street corners for disinterested passersby.

I think sometimes as Christians – yours truly included — we invest much of our lives trying to forget parts of our story, hoping we can cover things up so we don’t have to look at them, and more importantly, making sure nobody else sees those parts.  The truth is too painful to peer into so we sideline it; we modify it. We put on a good face to impress the passersby, hoping they will be impressed with our façade. We want to make ourselves more… marketable. We minimize the parts in our story that don’t look as pretty. Proverbial rock stars, we change the lyric of our story so as not to offend; to get the accolades we feel we deserve, letting the world around us know everything is fine, there is nothing to see here, and they can move along.  Things like divorce, physical and sexual abuse, and violence we have committed toward others or was inflicted on us, loneliness and shame; we just don’t talk about those things.  Addictions?  Nah, that’s for alcoholics and weak people.  Please (for God’s sake) move along.  We pray no one will notice the spit and the dirt.

And yet there it is.  My story and yours.  We can ignore it.  We never even have to mention it.  But we can’t forget.  Our story is imprinted in history.  And like it or not, it has made you into the man you are today.

At the closing of the Granada sermon series entitled “Epic”, many of us have been thinking about our own stories.  Silently maybe, but we’ve been thinking about it.  In the fall of 2014, many of us participated in the series called “33”.  A study where we defined authentic masculinity.

In May of 2015, we enter into part 2 of the series entitled, “A Man and his Story”.  In this series you will have the opportunity to look at your story, and how it has made you into the man you are today. “To be a real man, you’ve got to look back” urge the writers of the series.  We want to invite you to join us on this journey.  You won’t go it alone either.  We’ll take the road together.  In the end I think you will be surprised to find you are not alone in your experiences.

In the 90’s, little-known and brilliant rockers The 77’s covered Nobody’s Fault but Mine, crediting Zeppelin and adding “with apologies to Blind Willie Johnson”.  Once again the lyrics were rewritten, this time in keeping with the integrity of the original version:

Nobody’s fault but mine
Nobody’s fault but mine
if I don’t keep my soul alive

It’s nobody’s fault but mine

It’s your story guys, and it’s part of a bigger Story.  It’s time to take a look at it.  See you at 33.

Marcos Ruiz

“It is a dangerous thing to underestimate your role in the Story.  This is no child’s game.  This is war – a battle for the human heart.” Epic, John Eldredge


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s