My fellow Patheos blogger Chris Gehrz has written a fascinating post entitled “Jesus Is Coming Soon”: Singing the Pandemic Blues.
It seems that Jack White on Saturday Night Live sang a stanza and chorus from “Jesus Is Coming Soon” by 1920s bluesman Blind Willie Johnson:
The nobles said to the people, “You better close your public schools,
And until death passes ya by, you better close all your churches, too.”
I done told ya, they done told ya, God is comin’ soon.
I done told ya, they done told ya, the Lord is comin’ soon.
He was singing about the Spanish Flu, but in terms that apply in a startling way to our COVID-19 pandemic. He also gives the epidemic an apocalyptic significance. The plague is a sign that “Jesus coming soon.”
Chris tells about Blind Willie Johnson, a legendary blues performer–yes, he was blind–who created a fusion of blues and gospel music. Read his whole discussion.
The song also captures the confusion, even among doctors and government authorities, about the disease. Also that it turns out to be air-borne. As well as the disruption of closing our schools and churches. You can read the complete lyrics at Genius.com. Here is a sample:
Great disease was mighty and the people were sick everywhere
It was an epidemic, it floated through the air. (Chorus)
The doctors they got troubled and they didn’t know what to do
They gathered themselves together, they called it the Spanish flu. (Chorus)
Soldiers died on the battlefield, died in the camps too
Well, the captain said to the lieutenant, “I don’t know what to do.” . . . (Chorus)
Read the Book of Zachariah, Bible plainly say
Thousands of people, they did die, on account of their wicked ways.
And I especially appreciate how the great artist describes the cultural and governmental elite: “Nobles”! We should start using that to describe our emerging aristocracy.
Above all, you need to listen to the song, savoring Johnson’s gravelly, expressive, intense voice. Here it is on YouTube:
Photo: Only known photograph of Blind Willie Johnson (1927), by Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52229368