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"I'm very shy really.  I spend a lot of time in my room alone, reading or writing or watching television."
- Johnny Cash
The 700 Club, "An Interview with The Man in Black," 1984
 
 

Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter were greedy readers, though many people might not guess it when taking a superficial glance at the country couple.  Sure, they often acted the part of simple, countrified people.  And there is some truth to that.  But they were also highly literate, published authors--as are many of their children.  

 

Can you imagine having Johnny Cash as your literature teacher?  What a treat it would be to have Johnny Cash narrating your favorite literature in his gravelly baritone.  If the Cash family had more money, the world might have only known J.R. Cash as an English educator.  Cash graduated as the vice president of his senior class in 1950, from the largest cooperative school in Arkansas.

 

Cash reflected in 1988, while being interviewed by the Academy of Achievement, that he was "writing a lot of poems, and stories, and songs" throughout high school--but struggling with math.  He went on discuss how, for a poor farm boy at the time, college was out of the question.  If he had been able to go to college, he mused on how it "would have been great to go from high school right into college to study music and literature." 

 

Growing up as a sharecropper in Arkansas, the first book that Cash learned to cherish and read and reread was the Bible.  Cash would later further his Biblical education in the late 1970s, at Bill Hamon's International Christian School of Theology; after graduation in 1979, Cash was even ordained as a minister.  All this training and intensive studying later inspired Cash to write his only novel, about Paul the Apostle and titled Man in White, which was published in 1986.  

 

But the Bible was not the only book that profoundly impacted a young J.R. Cash.  Again, for his 1988 interview with the Academy of Achievement, Cash discussed his experience as a 12 year old reading a novel about a Native American Indian named Lone Bull.  Cash summarizes the moral of the story: "You miss a lot of opportunities by making mistakes, but that's part of it: knowing that you're not shut out forever, and that there's a goal there that you still can reach.  Lone Bull's philosophy was, 'I'm kicked out of this village, but I will grow up and I'll come into another one and I will do what I set out to do.'"  Surely this maxim applied to Cash as he moved through one creative phase to the next throughout his career, finding new audiences and passions.  

 

Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, Cash was also fascinated by powerful orators like Winston Churchill,  whose commencement speech, "Never, never, never, never, never give up," remained dear to Cash's memory.  Johnny Cash also looked up to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was responsible for the New Deal that saved hard-working farmers like the Cash family with cooperatives.

 

When I interviewed Kathy Cash in 2013, I asked her about her father's favorite books.  One of Cash's favorite spiritual writers was Edgar Cayce, a writer who Cash believed had "a gift from God and used it for the well-being of everyone he could reach."  Kathy also mentioned how Cash loved Civil War and prison books, and that Cash's home library was expansive.  "You know, I've read every one of these books," Cash would boast, "some of them I've read twice."  He also had a large collection of books on Roman History that surprised one reporter in 1994.

 

Nick Tosches interviewed Cash in 1994 without expecting to sit down with an intellectual who plays country music.  The two ended up having a deep discussion about Roman history, where Cash eventually pointed out the endurance of Roman engineering: "I was lookin' at a drawing of a Roman crane.  Just as efficient as the ones we got now.  Fabulous."  Tosches accepted Cash afterwards, but not all of country music, remarking that all George Jones wanted to talk about in their interview together were his cows.

 

In a 2014 interview for ABC news, John Carter-Cash named some of his father's favorite books.  Og Mandino's "Greatest Salesman in the World" and Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" were among them.  Johnny Cash enjoyed Gibran's work so much--spiritual work that combined teachings of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism, among other philosophies, that Cash narrated Gibran's sequel work, "The Eye of the Prophet." 

 

Cash also read extensively on the Vietnam War as he revealed while being filmed for an episode of VH1 Storytellers with Willie Nelson. "I wrote a song called 'Drive On.'  June and I read all these books, these novels about Vietnam.  She and I were swapping books reading on after another.  [If] there was a group of guys going along and one of them would fall, there was not time to stop and grieve you might get shot.  So they would say drive on, it don't mean nothin'.  When it would mean everything."

 

Though Cash loved books of history and spirituality, he also loved fiction.

 

Johnny Cash's tastes were varied.  He read James Joyce and J.D. Salinger.  He read Stephen King and James A. Michener.  He read Colleen McCullough and Jack Higgins.  He considered Jake Hawkins' "King of the Road" a "southern masterpiece . . . one of the finest things I've ever read."  According to John Carter-Cash, Johnny's favorite book at the end of his life was Gary Jenning's "Aztec."  

 

He also read John Steinbeck, as revealed in a very touching article by Louisa Young.  While being interviewed about a Kristofferson song that he covered called "Here Comes That Rainbow Again," Cash is asked if he knew about "The Grapes of Wrath" which inspired the song.  The book deals with farmers, The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Cash's reply is priceless: "Know that book?  I was that book."

 

Rosanne Cash recently gave a fantastic interview for The Boston Globe on her favorite literature, both fiction and nonfiction.  She also mentioned some of her father's favorite literary themes once again.  Two novel titles that she drops as her father's favorites are Larry McMurtry's timeless Lonesome Dove and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.  

 

If all this talk about books has put you in a reading mood, here is a list of works authored by The Man in Black himself in chronological order. 

 

Cash, Johnny.  Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words.  1975.

Cash, Johnny.  Man in White.  1987.

Cash, Johnny and Patrick Carr.  Cash: The Autobiography.  1997.

Cash, Johnny.  "The Holografik Danser" 2001.  (Published in 2001 in Songs Without Rhyme: Prose By Celebrated Songwriters, but written in 1953.)

Cash, Johnny and Tara Cash.  "Recollections by J.R. Cash - Childhood Memories of Johnny Cash."  2014.

 

It is also worth noting that Johnny Cash's family has also written and published a plethora of books.  Below are some highlights by last name, then choronological order.

 

Cash, Carrie.  Recipies and Memories from Mama Cash's Kitchen.  1985.

Cash, Cindy.  The Cash Family Scrapbook. 1997.

Cash, John Carter.  Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash.  2007.

Cash, John Carter.  House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash.  2012.

Cash, John Carter.  Lupus Rex.  2013.

Cash, June Carter.  From the Heart.  1987.

Cash, Rosanne.  Bodies of Water.  1996.

Cash, Rosanne.  Phenelope Jane: A Fairy's Tale.  2000.

Cash, Rosanne.  Composed: A Memior.  2011.  (Rosanne also narrates an audiobook version of this title.)

Cash, Vivian and Ann Sharpsteen.  I Walked the Line: My Life With Johnny Cash.  2007.

 

 

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Johnny Cash had a talent that not all artists possess.  Not only was he talented songwriter (he wrote or co-wrote over 200 songs) but he was also great at taking a song and making it his own.  In this endeavor, Cash was able to defy any genre of music.  He covered The Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” and Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” with ease—and he had been singing songs that surprised audiences for years.

 

Johnny Cash, in his 1997 autobiography, credited Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Steve Goodman and Guy Clark as songwriters who inspire him to write.  Of the above mentioned writers, however, Cash only covered Rodney Crowell songs extensively.  He recorded Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” as well as “The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over,” the latter of which was co-written by Goodman and Prine.   Cash covered several Guy Clark songs, including “Let Him Roll,” “The Last Gunfighter Ballad,” “Same Stone,” and “New Cut Road.”  It is interesting—though not surprising—that Cash’s inspiration comes from acclaimed songwriters that have never associated with mainstream country music but rather personify country with a mix of rock and folk.

 

But who did Cash cover most frequently?  The answer to that question is tricky.  In the list provided, I only list each song once—though Cash often recorded several different versions of songs throughout his career and he recorded many collaborations with his wife June Carter and The Carter Family, The Highwaymen, and many other artists.

 

If we count the number of songs written by someone that Cash recorded, the winner would be A.P. “Pop” Carter.  Cash recorded and released twenty-seven A.P. Carter songs, though Cash either duets or provides backup vocals on a great majority of the recordings.  The next runner up is Kris Kristofferson—Cash recorded and released sixteen of Kristofferson's songs.  In a close third comes Jack Clement, who had fifteen of his songs covered by Johnny Cash (one of which was co-written by Cash and Clement.)

 

Fourth on the list is none other than the legendary Hank Williams—Cash recorded most of his Williams songs during his tenure at Sun records or sang them on this TV show.  Fifth place goes to Harlan Howard, perhaps the least-recognizable name on the list yet one of country music’s most renowned songwriters, responsible for two essential Cash tunes: “The Wall” and “Busted.”

 

Billy Joe Shaver wins sixth place—though if you count the unreleased track of “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan, Dylan and Shaver tie with nine songs covered.  The “Masters of War” song was a duet with Kris Kristofferson from a TV show—wouldn’t it be awesome if it saw the light of day?

 

Peter LaFarge clocks in with eighth place with eight songs covered by The Man in Black.  LaFarge’s material was mostly covered in the 1960s when Cash labeled himself as a folksinger and was focused on championing the Native American Civil Rights movement.  Cash also recorded eight songs by Rodney Crowell, but only seven were released, which means Crowell ties with Merle Travis at seven songs.  Travis was one of Cash’s good friends in the 1960s and shared Cash’s sentiment for the working class, especially coal miners.

 

What can be determined by this list is that Cash did primarily cover folk singers and acts associated with alternative and outlaw country.  That didn’t prevent him from heavily recorded country pioneers like Hank Williams and novelty writers like Jack Clement.  Cash had a unique talent for selecting songwriters.  He recorded Shel Silverstein ballads, poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.”  As diverse as his tastes were, Cash had his favorites, and he managed to make any song he sang his own.

 

* Denotes unofficial release

^ Denotes unreleased

 

A.P. Carter

1.     I NEVER WILL MARRY  *

2.     I'LL BE ALL SMILES TONIGHT

3.     WILDWOOD FLOWER

4.     ENGINE ONE-FORTY-THREE

5.     WABASH CANNONBALL

6.     SINGLE GIRL, MARRIED GIRL

7.     I'M WORKING ON A BUILDING

8.     BANKS OF THE OHIO

9.     WABASH CANNONBALL

10.   GATHERING FLOWERS FROM THE HILLSIDE

11.   WHEN THE ROSES BLOOM AGAIN

12.   KEEP ON THE SUNNYSIDE

13.   LONESOME VALLEY

14.   MY CLINCH MOUNTAIN HOME

15.   BROWN EYES

16.   WORRIED MAN BLUES

17.   BROKEN HEARTED LOVER

18.   DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH

19.   GOSPEL SHIP

20.   CHURCH IN THE WILDWOOD

21.   WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN

22.   FOGGY MOUNTAIN TOP

23.   WAY WORN TRAVELER

24.   A WINDING STREAM

25.   SINKING IN THE LONESOME SEA

26.   CUBAN SOLDIER

27.   WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE

28.   BURY ME UNDER THE WEEPING WILLOW ^

29.   I'M THINKING TONIGHT OF MY BLUE EYES ^

30.   LITTLE DARLIN' PAL OF MINE ^

 

Kris Kristofferson

1.     TO BEAT THE DEVIL  

2.     SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN

3.     ME AND BOBBY MCGEE

4.     HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT

5.     BURDEN OF FREEDOM

6.     THE LOVING GIFT

7.     THE JUNKIE AND THE JUICEHEAD (Minus Me)

8.     FOR THE GOOD TIMES

9.     LIVING LEGEND

10.   WHY ME LORD

11.   THE LAST TIME

12.   THEY KILLED HIM

13.   LOVE IS THE WAY

14.   HERE COMES THAT RAINBOW AGAIN

15.   CASEY'S LAST RIDE

16.   ANTHEM ’84

17.   LOVING HER WAS EASIER *

18.   GOOD MORNING, JOHN ^

19.   JOHNNY LOBO *

20.   JESUS WAS A CAPRICORN ^

 

Jack Clement

1.     GUESS THINGS HAPPEN THAT WAY

2.     BALLAD OF A TEENAGE QUEEN

3.     DOWN THE STREET TO 301

4.     LIFE GOES ON (Johnny Cash, Jack Clement)

5.     KATY TOO

6.     IT'S JUST ABOUT TIME

7.     DIRTY OLD EGG SUCKING HOUND

8.     THE ONE ON THE RIGHT IS ON THE LEFT

9.     FLUSHED FROM THE BATHROOM OF YOUR HEART

10.   TAKE ME HOME (Jack Clement, A.L. Reynolds)

11.   EVERYBODY LOVES A NUT

12.   I'VE GOT A THING ABOUT TRAINS

13.   MILLER'S CAVE

14.   GONE GIRL

15.   WEST CANTERBURY SUBDIVISION BLUES

16.   AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS ^

17.   REDNECK LOVE  ^

 

Hank Williams

1.     I HEARD THAT LONELY WHISTLE BLOW

2.     I CAN'T HELP IT (IF I'M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU)

3.     YOU WIN AGAIN

4.     HEY, GOOD LOOKIN'

5.     I COULD NEVER BE ASHAMED OF YOU

6.     COLD, COLD HEART

7.     I'M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY

8.     I SAW THE LIGHT

9.     ON THE EVENING TRAIN

10.   KAWLIGA *

11.   YOUR CHEATING HEART *

12.   ON THE BANKS OF THE OLD PONCHARTRAIN *

13.   JAMBALAYA *

14.   JUST WAITIN' ^

15.   THESE MEN WITH BROKEN HEARTS *

16.   SING, SING, SING ^

 

Harlan Howard

1.     BUSTED

2.     CHAIN GANG

3.     STILL IN TOWN (Charles Cochran, Harlan Howard)

4.     THE WALL

5.     THE BLIZZARD

6.     YOU COMB HER HAIR (Harlan Howard, Charles Cochran)

7.     MISSISSIPPI DELTA LAND

8.     NO CHARGE

9.     BE CAREFUL WHO YOU LOVE

10.   BETTER CLASS OF LOSER (Ron Peterson, Harlan Howard)

 

Billy Joe Shaver

1.       JESUS WAS OUR SAVIOUR

2.       LATELY I BEEN LEANIN' TOWARD THE BLUES

3.       I'M JUST AN OLD CHUNK OF COAL

4.       THE COWBOY WHO STARTED THE FIGHT

5.       I BEEN TO GEORGIA ON A FAST TRAIN

6.       YOU JUST CAN'T BEAT JESUS CHRIST

7.       IT AIN'T NOTHING NEW BABE

8.       IF I GIVE MY SOUL

9.       LIVE FOREVER  (Billy Joe Shaver, Eddy Shaver)

 

Bob Dylan

1.       IT AIN'T ME BABE

2.       FOREVER YOUNG

3.       MAN GAVE NAMES TO ALL THE ANIMALS *

4.       DON'T THINK TWICE IT'S ALL RIGHT

5.       MAMA YOU'VE BEEN ON MY MIND

6.       ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS

7.       GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY

8.       SONG TO WOODY

9.       MASTERS OF WAR ^

 

Peter LaFarge

1.       BALLAD OF IRA HAYES

2.       AS LONG AS THE GRASS SHALL GROW)

3.       DRUMS

4.       CUSTER

5.       WHITE GIRL

6.       RODEO HAND

7.       STAMPEDE

8.       SHE CAME FROM THE MOUNTAINS

 

Rodney Crowell

1.       A SONG FOR THE LIFE

2.       EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES

3.       BULL RIDER

4.       I'M NEVER GONNA ROAM AGAIN

5.       WILDWOOD IN THE PINES

6.       ONE WAY RIDER

7.       THE DOOR  ^

8.       I WALK THE LINE (REVISITED)

 

Merle Travis

1.       LOADING COAL

2.       NINE POUND HAMMER

3.       DARK AS A DUNGEON

4.       THE DEVIL TO PAY (Merle Travis, L. Rusk)

5.       SAILOR ON A CONCRETE SEA

6.       SIXTEEN TONS

7.       STEEL GUITAR RAG  (Leon McAuliffe, Cliffe Stone, Merle Travis)

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Who were Johnny Cash’s musical friends?  Aside from his wife June, one might think of his fellow Highwaymen, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.  Or maybe his Sun pals Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.  There are also his friends in the rock field, like U2’s Bono and Bob Dylan.  But there was a time in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger were both on the folk music scene, and both were making protest music that would survive for decades--and in all probability centuries--to come.  A bold claim?  Go ahead--read on!

 

In 1959, Pete Seeger, among others, founded the soon-to-be-annual Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.  In 1964, the Festival had a very special guest--country music star Johnny Cash.  Cash, at the time, was being labeled as a folk singer by his manager Saul Holliff, who understood it would have more appeal to the young audience.  Cash, for his part, fully embraced and supported the new title.

 

Cash was scheduled to appear on July 24th, alongside Phil Ochs and Joan Baez, but did not arrive on time.  Many years later, however, Johnny Cash did get to perform with Joan Baez on Earl Scrugg’s “A Song For Woody,” which saluted the late Woody Guthrie and followed up as a sequel to Bob Dylan’s “A Song To Woody.”

 

On July 25th, Johnny Cash’s flight landed in Rhode Island and he was able to perform.  Pete Seeger joked, “[Cash] was way out on the West Coast and he found that, somehow, you can’t get from Nevada to Newport, Rhode Island, in one day.”  Perhaps it was destiny, because that night at the concert Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan met for the first time and started a beautiful friendship--Cash even played one of Dylan’s songs, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which Cash would later rework into his own classic “Understand Your Man.”  Before doing Dylan’s song, however, Cash introduced Dylan as “the best songwriter of the age, since Pete Seeger.”  The rest of Cash’s performance covered his hits, but he was sure to include his own protest song, “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”  After the show, Cash wrote the following controversial ad in Billboard magazine:

 

“At the Newport Folk Festival this month I visited with many, many ‘folk’ singers - Peter, Paul & Mary, Theodore Bikel, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan (to drop a few names) and PEte Seeger.  I was given 20 minutes on their Saturday nite show (thanks to Mr. John Hammond, pioneer for Columbia by way of A/R). The Ballad of Ira Hayes stole my part of the show. And we all know that the audience (of near 20,000) were not 'country' or hillbillies. They were an intelligent cross-section of American youth-and middle age.”

 

Later, Cash was invited to be a guest on Pete Seeger’s TV show Rainbow Quest in 1966.  Joined by June Carter, the three folk singers had a fun time that was somewhat hindered by Cash’s poor health.

 

Luckily, Pete Seeger decided to make a rare step into the show business world and joined Johnny Cash on March 4th, 1970, on the Man in Black’s variety show, The Johnny Cash Show.  Even more interesting than Seeger’s performance on the show, however, is his conversation with Cash before the show.  The reason?  Seeger was all but banned from television due to his protest of Vietnam.  Cash, of course, would famously speak out against the war--and all wars--as he grew older. They were kindred spirits, and it is wonderful that, though the first two times they met Cash was involved with drugs, they were able to make their third encounter a memorable one.

 

"The Pete Seeger I know. . . [and] love is one of the best Americans and patriots I've ever known. For some reason it takes a long time to educate people and to make them understand." - Johnny Cash

 

Rest in peace, Mr. Seeger.

 

- Article by Jeff Emond

 



 

 

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The Johnny Cash Museum is unlike any other popular attraction that I’ve seen in Nashville--and I’ve been a tourist in music city three times.  The first two times I traveled to Nashville I went to see all that I could that was Cash-related.  That included the Country Music Hall of Fame (which a very small section on Cash) the now-replaced and renovated Musicians Hall of Fame (which had a decent amount of Cash items on display) and then visited Hendersonville and saw the remains of Cash’s home on Lake Hickory as well as the cemetery where the Man in Black, his beloved wife June Carter, Luther Perkins, and Cash’s parents are buried.  

 

While I enjoyed the trip I still felt like Nashville had forgotten one of its founders, one of those icons who transformed a city like any other into the “Music City” that it is today.  On the second trip I saw a Johnny Cash Mural that was faded by weather located just a couple streets from downtown Nashville and the stately Ryman Auditorium, which had a very interesting but small collection of Cash-related items on display.

 

It was not until the third trip that I found something that truly saluted Cash in a manner that a legend deserves.  I consider myself a devout Johnny Cash fan, but there was so much to discover at the museum that I was in awe!  I could read Cash’s first marriage certificate with Vivian Liberto, the mother of his four daughters.  I could read documents on Cash concerning his Air Force days.  They also had my personal favorite things to read--handwritten letters and lyrics!  

But the museum was not all reading.  

 

Accompanying all the great texts is a magnificent collection of clothing, instruments and even recording equipment!  There are iPads stationed around the museum that provide an auditory guide to many of the props and even a theatre that features Cash’s TV and movie life--the most well received of these videos being his outrageously funny guest spot on The Simpsons.  Another stunning exhibit is the wall of award-winning records: golden, platinum, multi-platinum, Cash had scored a plethora of awards during his career and they are all featured at the museum.  

 

As a die-hard Cash fan, I’ve always loved his movies and TV shows.  It was a treat to get to see the costumes that Cash wore and view the scripts for his movies.  Did you know that Cash acted alongside Kirk Douglas, Andy Griffith and Eli Wallach, to name a few?  Another feature I found fascinating was a partial reconstruction of his home, featuring a statue of Native American art that Cash must have treasured.  If you have seen the music video “Hurt” you will recognize the scenery.

 

My advice to fans of any degree: check out the museum and you won’t be disappointed.  I am admittedly a fan but do not cast me off as biased.  I have seen glimpses of Cash memorabilia in museums all over the midwest in the United States but nothing compares in quality or quantity to the Johnny Cash Museum.  The side of Johnny Cash that is nearest and dearest to me is his humanitarian work, and I was so glad to see that the museum had made space to showcase his efforts to improve conditions for Native Americans, prisoners and other causes.  Johnny Cash wasn’t just a good musician, he was a good man, and Bill Miller and everyone who helped to make the museum a reality are preserving his memory, as it should be.  

 

I would also advise fans to keep a lookout for the museum’s schedule of upcoming special events and the addition of new content.

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Patriotism is a word that is hard to define in America.  Is a patriot someone who blindly accepts the customs of his or her country?  Is a patriot a questioner--a revolutionary?  Does a patriot have to be political, or does a patriot transcend partisan conflicts? These questions are deeply personal and open to interpretation and prone to change as circumstances change.  Johnny Cash was also ever changing, and parts of his life were headlined in world news while other aspects belonged to him alone.

          

Johnny Cash has been claimed by America but we haven’t always done him justice in the states.  He is too hard to categorize in almost every sense.  His complexities can make his fans feel uneasy.  He is a man who was an outspoken Christian, yet Cash himself usually denied to affiliate with a branch of Christianity and simply called himself “spiritual.”  But that broad label does not quite do him justice--as his daughter Rosanne once said, her father might better be described as a “mystic.”  As Cash himself stated in his second autobiography, he kept both a Navajo Dream Catcher and a crucifix in his trailer to ward off bad spirits, and he openly--but quietly--sought to put an end to religious differences (he won the Jewish National Fund’s “Shalom Peace Award” for seeking to peacefully resolve religious conflicts in Israel in 1986).  He recorded a Kahil Kibran book that combined Christian, Islamic and Buddhist philosophy.  His faith emphasized a core component of the positive aspects of freedom in America: Johnny Cash was not afraid to proclaim his own beliefs nor was he about to defending, encourage and embrace all the differences of this melting pot nation.

          

He was an activist and humanitarian, but supported ideas rather than specific political parties.  However, many people today try to romanticize him as being above politics completely, and that statement does not accurately describe the Man in Black.  On February 12, 1988, he did endorse Al Gore for president, and the two maintained a friendship for the rest of Cash’s life.  But it was the friendship with the person, never the political affiliation, on which Cash based his relationship with politicians.  He met with every president starting with Nixon.  He always treated the presidents with due respect, befitting of their office.  It seems that Cash realized, especially once he started his own TV show late in 1969, that he was a public figure, and for better or worse, people would follow his example in making choices and also use him to promote their own causes.

          

So Cash used his influence carefully but he did not ignore the responsibility that fame brought about. This author believes that Cash became an actual American idol after the run of his TV Show, where he solidified his stance as someone who could oppose war but support troops, who could defend hippies and perform for Nixon, who could get Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Bob Hope and Bob Dylan on the same show.  He was rebel, he was a southern gentleman, he was a uniter.

          

In 1974 Cash made his first original album of songs written only by him--a patriotic album in many senses--and it was in many ways a controversial album.  Cash was catering to two groups--the liberal folk fans who clung to his concept albums in the 1960s and the new conservative Nashville crowd who loved his more traditional country and gospel shift.  

 

Cash’s 1974 album was Ragged Old Flag and the title song became a widely adopted patriotic anthem.  The song wasn’t afraid.  It wasn’t a song of blind patriotism.  It acknowledged the many races (black, yellow, red and white) that shed red blood to help keep this nation alive.  It managed to show our strength through all of our wars while also touching upon the tragedy of war.  It mentioned the scandals that our government had recently suffered and all the commotion about flag burning.  The issue of flag burning can bring us to a story that helps to define Johnny Cash’s idea patriotism and responsibility fanbase--his countrymen.

 

Before performing “Ragged Old Flag” in the 1980s and early 1990s, Cash would open the song by stating, “I love all the freedoms we have in this country.  I’m thankful for our right to burn the flag if you  want to.  But I’m especially proud of my right to bear arms, so I can shoot you if you try to burn mine.”  One day, after doing that song with The Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson) he went backstage.  As Kristofferson recalls it: “My son Johnny [Kristofferson], who was about 4 or 5 at the time, said to John [Cash] when we were backstage, ‘I’m gonna shoot you!’  And it was a line that always got [Johnny Cash] a tremendous amount of applause.  And [Cash] looked at my son and he said, ‘I’m never gonna sing that again.’  And he never did.”  Johnny Cash was responsible with the power he held over his audiences and would not compromise what he felt his ideals were for the mere sake of  entertainment.

 

His album Ragged Old Flag was also uncompromising.  “Don’t Go Near The Water” was his protest song against businesses that were careless with pollution.  “Southern Comfort” was an ironic ballad of a tobacco employee whose line of work was slowly killing him--and the theme of the exploited worker was also present in “King of the Hill,” where Cash admits that the American dream doesn’t really come true for all hard workers.  But he also sang of his newfound faith, of God and Jesus in “Pie in the Sky” and “Good Morning Friend.”  He sings for the truck driver, for the prisoner, for heartbroken and the poor.  These are the roads that Cash travels in just one album.  This author admits that he could not find a “target audience” that would agree with the message in every song.  But there is no one that I can think of who could not identify with at least one of the songs.

 

Johnny Cash isn’t only America’s treasure.  A part of him belongs to the world.  He was open-minded, a man who saw no boundaries in his work, beliefs and in life.  He helped SOS Children’s Villages in Jamaica and Germany as readily as he did in his own country, because he knew humanity was global, and that our differences were not as strong as our similarities.  But it is only fitting that we think of this Air Force Veteran, who admitted to not being “military minded,” but who played for his troops overseas,  as our day of independence arrives.

 

Johnny Cash is as difficult to define as patriotism itself, but maybe it is only by going down many roads that we can find the definition.  I have asked some friends and family members who knew Cash to share some memories of Johnny’s patriotism to honor his memory on the 4th of July.

 

“I’m happy to pay my taxes.”   This is the simple patriotic quote that son-in-law and musician Jimmy Tittle remembers Johnny Cash saying.  Jimmy Tittle adds, “Considering his tax bracket, he never complained.  Pretty unique, huh?”

 

Bill Miller, a long-time friend and founder of both the official Johnny Cash website and the recent Johnny Cash Museum said, "Johnny Cash is as much a part of the fabric of America as the Founding Fathers. With his magnificent recitation of Ragged Old Flag, he took the story of our country to people in lands in every corner of the globe."

 

Henry Vaccaro, a long-time friend of Cash and author of “Johnny Cash Is a Friend of Mine” said “Johnny Cash was against war and was a man of peace. But he loved our country and went overseas to Vietnam just to entertain our troops. June would go out of her way to bring back messages from the wounded and personally call their families. Johnny even went to our base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to put on a show.”

 

Article by: Jeff Emond

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Throughout our history, myth has always been one of the driving forces of human civilisations: it is the light in the darkness which has brought us out of the cave. But what exactly is a myth? It is very often described as a story, a legend, that fertilises the arts, but it is much more than an inspiration. As an allegorical and symbolical story, it translates moral and philosophical truths that respond to some of our most primal fears. Mircea Eliade described it, for instance, as an entity whose purpose is to tell human beings what is at the origin of the world (ethno-religious myth). In other words, myth is at the heart of our societies since the dawn of time and has a special social function according to Max Weber, because it gives the human group its very soul – we thus pass from Gesellschaft to Gemeinschaft, from a formal and artificial group, to a social body. Or as Joseph Campbell put it, “Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life[1]; they help us establish a connection with our inner-selves in order to feel the experience of life.

 

The reason why we need to say a few words about the whole idea of mythology is mainly because, in this day and age, we fail to recognise the importance of myths. Our societies have become increasingly corrupted and have lost their founding myths which explain its violence: its members are no longer connected to one another; they are not integrated and therefore have to produce their own social body with different laws and different rites of passage (gangs, graffiti...)[2].

 

But why focus on Johnny Cash? What can possibly be the relationship between a musician and mythical concepts? For decades, people around the world have felt a special link with Cash: he was no movie star, no rock star, his aura was quite different from everything that the XXth century ever produced[3], and yet his fans have a feeling that very few can explain. His friend Bob Dylan wrote a few days after his death, “I think we can have recollections of him, but we can’t define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty. If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black[4].” In other words, he was the living personification of the mythical hero: a myth-maker, who represented a huge part of the American history, from its frontier myths to Dixie, he embodied what no longer existed: a shadow that embraced the past in order to lead his fellow men through the darkness. “Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him[5]” even wrote Dylan. And it is because of the darkness that always surrounded him that he is loved so much, even a decade after he passed away. For Campbell, it is precisely imperfection that produces affection, or to put it more concretely, perfection is inhuman. We do not know how to process it, and that is why people are in awe of God but love Christ on the cross[6].

 

The object of this paper is therefore to show why Cash has been mythologised over the years. Heroes are not only great warriors who spend their time slaying dragons and eloping with beautiful princesses – even though these activities do seem to take a huge amount of their time – they are educators. Their real mission is to complete their journey in order to lead their fellow human beings toward salvation, and that is where music has its importance. Mythology, wrote Cambpell, “is the song. It is the song of the imagination, inspired by the energies of the body[7]”. The song of the universe is perceived by heroes who must translate it for us: it has a vital importance in all great mythologies, and is a bearer of life. And as a matter of fact, Cash was often reminded by his mother that his voice was a gift given by God, “My job”, he wrote years later, “was to care for it and use it well; I was its bearer, not its owner[8]”. Besides, a Pygmy legend has a very similar moral: a man refused to feed a bird his son brought him, and killed it, but as he killed the bird, he instantly killed his song, and therefore killed himself[9]. In other words, myth is something to be heard, not seen. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung believed that myth lives in our unconscious and for Campbell the creative process itself is influenced by the unconscious. The artist is thus guided by the inaccessible part of his mind toward something new and different, and he will have to tell its stories. But when people will eventually hear these stories, they will instantly recognise that fragments of them, if not all of them, represent things they had lived and wanted to express but without finding the proper words. That is to say, the artist sees, the people listen. The mythical dialog works that way, and nowadays only poets have the power to wield a language metaphorical enough to express myths[10].  Cash was a poet and an artist, and like Hamlet (Act II, Scene II), he held a mirror in front of Nature “to show Virtue her own feature[11]”.

 

Let us now have a look at the mythological journey itself, and how Cash reacted to it. The hero does not start such a journey without reasons, or only because he has decided to do something with his life. Something must take him out of his social sphere and put him in front of tremendous difficulties that might very well break him. In other words, the first stage is what Campbell designates as the call to adventure: destiny intervenes and forces the hero to explore the unknown, and that is most important, for the hero does not seek adventure, it comes to him. But whatever the call is, the young hero remains free and can choose to ignore it, which would have however catastrophic consequences. He would no longer be the saviour, but the one to be saved, hence the Latin saying, “Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem” – dread the passage of Jesus for he does not return[12].

 

Johnny Cash said on many occasions that his childhood was difficult and that it forged his character, that “a way of life produced a certain kind of music[13]”, and that was therefore at the origin of his heroic journey. He heard the call when he was very young on the radio, and he knew instantly that he had to follow it, no matter what would happen. He desired more than anything to sing on the radio, but before he could go on the road he had to suffer a period of exile. And indeed, the human hero “has to face a long period of obscurity. This is a time of extreme danger, impediment, or disgrace[14]” and requires a great strength: Hercules killed the deadly serpent sent by the goddess Hera when he was still in the cradle, but Cash did more than that. He went through one of the most difficult situations one can imagine, namely the tragic death of his brother, Jack. Jack was not only his big brother, but his first hero and he described him as “my best friend, my big buddy, my mentor, and my protector[15]”. Something usually takes us out of the comfort and the naiveté of our childhood world, and that something is suffering. It is the first formative experience one has to deal with, and Jack’s death was the great traumatic event of Cash’s journey. That day his father took him in the smokehouse and showed him Jack’s clothes, all drenched in blood, and indicated where the saw had cut him open. To be confronted with death in that manner, to lose his mentor, the first person who helped him on his quest, forced him to look in the eyes of the Whale - that would swallow him years later - for the first time. There is no other way around grief, “you can dodge all you want, but sooner or later you just have to go into it, through it, and, hopefully come out the other side.[16]” He would have to spend years in exile in Arkansas, before he found the strength to leave and start his mythical journey, but the life of a hero is made of trials. They test him continually and help him to transcend his human nature, to reveal if he has the courage to rise above his fellow human beings[17]. That is where myths are important; they help the hero to accept what happens to him, hence the fact that Gospel songs played an important role in Cash’s life. Since Jack’s death, songs like “Peace in the Valley” or “I’ll Fly Away” were powerful enough to drag him out of the darkness, even though it would take a higher power to restore him to the world on different occasions[18].

 

There are, however, an infinite number of calls to adventure, even though one is usually enough. In the case of Johnny Cash, the situation is more complex, since he embodied throughout his life various stages of the heroic cycle, living them again and again on different occasions. But as a child, the music call was seconded by something that is psychologically primordial, the father quest. That quest is one call among others, but it is a major hero adventure for a young man. Athena told Odysseus’s son Telemachus, “Go find your father”, and so he went; it is the adventure of finding what your career is going to be, what your nature is, what is at the origin of your existence[19]. Cash wanted to sing; his mother understood that and encouraged him as much as she could (she paid for singing lessons and called his voice, the gift), but his father had a very different opinion. He kept telling his son that what he heard on the radio was fake, that he was wasting his time (“That’s going to keep you from making a living. You’ll never do any good as long as you’ve got that music on the mind[20]”), because all he really needed was an additional pair of hands in the cotton fields, not a boy whose mind was filled with higher dreams. But even if his father was sometimes hard with him, Cash never gave up and confessed years later, “I hated hearing that, but maybe it served a purpose. I badly wanted to prove him wrong[21]”. In other words, that father quest (which can be real or metaphorical in the case where the hero looks for the father inside himself) may be considered as the real motivation behind music.

 

Six years after the death of his brother, Cash finally left home and joined the Air Force. However, what happened at the beginning of the 1950s cannot really be considered as a traditional stage of the heroic journey; it was merely a rite of passage from childhood to manhood. He learned with other men of his age, “how to cuss, how to look for women, how to drink and fight[22]” which eventually led to his marriage with Vivan Liberto with whom he would have four daughters. The real journey started again when he moved with his wife to Memphis and decided to do everything possible to become a musician. At that stage of the heroic cycle, the young hero encounters a protective figure, an old man – or a virgin in many Christian myths – who gives him the weapon or the protection necessary to kill the dragon and cross the first threshold. In his life, Cash met many similar figures, but the first important one is behind any doubt George Bates. Cash said about him in his second autobiography,

 

I’ve come to think of George Bates as one of those angels who appear in your life just when you need them, holding out a hand to you in the right place at the right time. He took me on a salesman, sponsored a weekly fifteen-minute radio show for me (‘Hi. This is John Cash for Home Equipment Company’), and loaned me money when I proved to be a total failure as a salesman[23].

 

That he would describe Bates in that way is particularly interesting, for the hero, if he has answered the call courageously, finds himself helped by what Campbell used to call an invisible hand. That is to say, all the forces of the world seem to be helping the hero accomplish his task, “in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society itself is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process[24]”. Bates gave him what he needed to start playing, and after he met Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant there was absolutely nothing that could have stopped him. Sam Phillips was just waiting further up on the road, and helped him record his first Sun songs, “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!”.

 

The first threshold was thus crossed with the help of Bates and Phillips. Once this stage is accomplished, the hero leaves definitely behind him security and has no other way but to complete his journey through the darkness and danger. But here comes his first real challenge, for he must now face the keeper of the threshold, a dragon or an ogre that for Cash took the familiar and haunting shape of little pills. Once in the music business, he was proposed amphetamines and various other drugs and just like a mythological hero he had different solutions. In face of the monster, he can either destroy the threat, be killed in the fight (which is then followed by the usual crucifixion/resurrection myth) or negotiate with it. Sadly enough, Cash negotiated with the monster and started what he described as “an ongoing struggle[25]”. Crossing the threshold is a form of self-annihilation, and he literally started destroying himself, those close to him, his voice, and therefore his dream. His negotiation with the monster had started to drag him deeper and deeper in the darkness until he eventually became a shadow, “a walking vision of death[26]”.

 

But like all heroes, the transition from the crossing of the threshold to the rebirth is symbolised by the belly of the Whale. He is swallowed by the unknown and disappears in a state close to death. Red Ridinghood had the wolf, Joseph the well, Jesus his tomb, Jonas the whale and Cash had the Nickajack Cave. He suffered so much from his conciliation with the monster that he decided to end it all, and abandon himself to God:

 

I crawled, and crawled and crawled until, after two or three hours, the batteries in my flashlight wore out and I lay down to die in total darkness. The absolute lack of light was appropriate, for at that moment I was as far from God as I have ever been. My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the kinds of loneliness I’d felt over the years, seemed finally complete[27]

 

However, the hero cannot abandon, and if he does, the world will bring him back from his supernatural adventures. In the Japanese mythology, for instance, the sun goddess Amaterasu, terrified by the terrible deeds of her brother Susanowo, gave up on the world and chose solitude. She went in a cave to hide herself and thus deprived the world from her light. The other gods consequently tried to bring her back, and organised a feast under a great tree where the goddess Uzume started singing. And there, the legend says, they laughed so much that Amaterasu got out of the cave to see why the world she dreaded so much was so jolly. A mighty god then grasped her hand and attached her at the entrance of the cave with a mighty rope, the shimenawa. Amaterasu was thus free to retire to her cave every night, but could not abandon the world any more[28].

 

 That is also what happened to Cash. There, in the utter darkness, he experienced suddenly a deep change. When he thought himself as far from God as it was humanly possible, he felt at peace. He writes that he felt God’s presence: He did not talk to him, but he felt His hand giving him courage and comfort and understood that the decision to die was not his to make. Even though he had lost his way, he started crawling back, blind and exhausted until he saw the sunlight. And as he got out of the cave, “June was there with a basket of food and drink, and my mother. I was confused. I thought she was in California. I was right; she had been. ‘I knew there was something wrong’, she said. ‘I had to come and find you.’[29]

 

Once the first threshold crossed, the hero cannot defeat what threatens him alone: he must fight by himself, but he can walk with someone. Usually, that someone is personified by a woman, by a meeting with a goddess that will give him the support he needs. “As he progresses in the slow initiation which is life”, explains Campbell, “the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more that he is yet capable of comprehending.[30]” For Cash, that ‘goddess’ was June Carter who did everything she could to help him. Many people believe she saved him from the drugs, but that is not true: she did help him, but only by giving him the support he needed. One cannot be saved from self-destruction by anybody but oneself. In the heroic cycle, this goddess is “mother, sister, mistress, bride[31]”, and that is precisely what became June: “she said we were soul mates, she and I, and that she would fight for me with all her might, however she could. She did that by being my companion, friend, and lover, and by praying for me[32]”.

 

With June on his side, Cash was thus able to come back from the belly of the Whale and return to the world of the living. Indeed, in order to survive the hero must realise that both worlds, the one he knows and the one of the gods, are the same. They are only two dimensions of a unique world. That is the secret of his journey, the lesson he must now teach to his fellow human beings[33]. But the hero’s journey does not end so easily, all his trials will have been for nothing if he cannot face the return threshold. Just like Dante who faced God and then did not know how to transcribe with mortal words what he saw and felt, the hero must instruct in a simple way other mortals. He must fight them, persuade them, for they will not believe him easily. Of course, he will be tempted to give up. After all, why should he reintegrate such a world after all he experienced? But the shimenawa will stop him from deserting.

 

Cash did not desert the world after his return from the cave. On the contrary, his come back was so powerful that he changed the face of the music business for ever with one live album, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968). But he did not stop there, for he became conscious of his role, and embraced his destiny[34]. As I have mentioned, he was not only a mythical hero, but also a myth-maker. He embodied all the American legends from the frontier myths with its outlaws to Dixieland, from the Native Americans to his Christian faith. He was all these things at the same time[35]. Indeed, he cultivated his outlaw image all his life to the point where people actually believed he had served time in prison. However, that was just a part of himself, a glimpse of the darkness surrounded him and that is why he was close to convicted criminals, made concerts in major penitentiaries, and sung songs like “Folsom Prison Blues”, “San Quentin”, “Cocaine Blues”, “Delia’s Gone”, “Banks of the Ohio”, “25 Minutes to Go” and many, many others.

 

Besides, in 1962 he met Peter LaFarge – the Hopi composer of the song “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” - who inspired him the album Bitter Tears (1964) in which he strongly defended the rights of the Native Americans. This album did not make him popular, and was even banned from various radios, but he did not care, because he had to pass a message. In a similar way, when he started working on Johnny Cash Sings the Ballad of the True West (1965), he immersed himself in the frontier tradition and started living like a cowboy, “I’d put on my cowboy clothes – real ones, antiques – and go out to the desert or an abandoned ranch somewhere, trying to feel how they felt back then, be how they were[36]”. On The Johnny Cash Show, which ABC broadcast between 1969 and 1971, he navigated through all those myths and even created a special section called “Ride this Train”, where he visited various stages of the American history, but also of the society he lived in, thus giving a right to be heard to the “Little Man”. It was again on the Johnny Cash Show that he definitely anchored his legend in our minds with the song “Man in Black”, where he proclaimed,

 

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow everyday,

And tell the world that everything’s okay,

But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,

Till things are brighter, I’m the Man in Black[37].

 

Nearly thirty years later, he was still wearing black as a symbol of rebellion “against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas[38]”.

 

He also took advantage of his time on the television to announce publicly that he believed in Jesus Christ, which did not please the production of the show. However, he never did it because he wanted to convert people; using his fame to spread his faith among his fans was not his intention (“I’m not a prophet, and I’m not a priest./I’m not a wise man who’s come from the East[39]”). He thought a lot about it, and wanted to be honest with the people who kept asking him if he was religious. His friend and spiritual advisor Billy Graham told him clearly that he was no evangelist and that he should be faithful to his music. And for Johnny Cash, to be faithful to his music, meant being faithful to Gospel music.

 

For years, Cash kept true to his heroic mission, but he eventually managed to break the shimenawa that prevented him from loosing himself again in the cave. Had he destroy the keeper of the first threshold instead of negotiating with it, the situation might have been different, but darkness took him again. “As dreams that were momentous by night”, writes Campbell, “and may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes[40]”. In the 1980s, the message Cash was delivering started to be ignored, not so much by the people, for his concerts never stopped to be popular, but by the music industry. In that decade, Columbia Records made little effort to promote his music properly, and he consequently became invisible which strangely coincides with the return of the monster. Drugs and alcohol started haunting him again after he was administered painkillers for an injury caused by the attack of an ostrich. He metaphorically returned to his cave where he sought death again: “Mine wasn’t soft-core, pop-psychology self-hatred; it was a profound, violent, daily holocaust of revulsion and shame, and one way or another it had to stop[41]”. But once more, the hero is not allowed to give up. And just like the gods that called back Amaterasu, his family and friends made an intervention and convinced him to go to the Betty Ford Clinic.

 

However, change is at the heart of mythology, and therefore of the hero: while the monster is the champion of fact and ponderosity, the hero embraces movement and creativity[42]. When the world does not know how to process the message, the hero meets a sort of secondary hero who will revitalise the tradition, he “reinterprets the tradition and makes it valid as a living experience today instead of a lot of outdated clichés[43]”. Rick Rubin consequently gave Cash the chance to adapt his message to a new world with his American Recordings albums.

 

Before we take a look at the last part of the heroic cycle, let us see if the call to adventure gave Cash some answers. I have suggested that the father quest was an essential factor in his journey, and Cash himself wrote that he wanted to prove that his father was wrong. In most mythologies, the quest can have various endings. Usually, if the father grants his benediction to the hero, he will return to the world either as an emissary (Moses), or with the certitude that the father and he are the same person (Jesus). Those heroes fall into the category of “World Redeemers”. However, if the father image is corrupted, if the quest fails, then the hero himself will be transformed and become a tyrant – such was the case of Nimrod and Herod, for instance[44].

 

When Cash came to write about his life, he thought about his father quest and its eventual success or failure and said,

 

I don’t know. I don’t think about him anymore. I pass the cemetery almost every day when I’m home at Old Hickory Lake, but I don’t visit his grave. I’m not haunted by him. On the other hand, he is the most interesting specter in my memories, looming around in there saying, ‘Figure me out, son’[45].

 

He understood that his destructive nature came from his father, even though he never denied that he was entirely responsible for his actions. In other words, whether he wanted it or not, his whole life had been shaped by his father quest, by his desire to show him what he was capable of. But, as his life and journey came to an end, he started to think about his redemption. His father became religious after Jack’s death and he wondered if he was sincere, if God had forgiven him. But if that was true about his father, what about himself?

 

And how many times has God picked me up, forgiven me, set me back upon the path, and made me know that is was all right? Did all that happen to Daddy, too? And if so, where was the justification? Was he justified in his own mind? Was he ever justified in his own mind? I can never really know, but I don’t think he was[46].

 

Cash figured out at the end of his journey that, in a certain way, he was his father. Just like Eric Clapton who sung that he had never been so close to his father than when he was looking into his son’s eyes, Cash concluded his father quest with an answer that he had refused to accept for a long time.

 

If the hero accepts to face so many dangers throughout his life, it is because he has no fear of death. When one reaches a certain age, when the body starts to fail, it is necessary to realise that it is merely a vehicle for the light that inhabits our heart, and myths are especially important in that respect[47]. Indeed, the earliest myths known to mankind appeared with the apparition of the grave, when people started to pay homage to the dead, thinking that there could very well be something after life. And so, when you understand that life is a cycle, that death is not the end, but just the prefiguration of a rebirth, then you can accept your own demise. The true hero knows this because he has faced death throughout his journey, and is prepared to meet her again. Cash mentioned many times, despite his declining health, that he was in perfect harmony with Nature, that winter is followed by spring: “I can feel the rhythms of the earth, the growing and the blooming and the fading and the dying, in my bones[48]”. After 1997, Cash knew that his life would end very soon and consequently orchestrated his own passing. In his last albums, he sings again and again about death, and redemption, sometimes laughing about it (“I’m Leavin’ Now”, “Like the 309”...), refusing to give up (“I Won’t Back Down”), with optimism (“Further On Up the Road”, “We’ll Meet Again”...), but also very often in a heartbreaking mood (“Solitary Man”, “The Man Comes Around”, “Hurt”, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”...). But for the life-eager hero, death is nothing, and can be postponed as long as necessary. For many of his close friends, if June had not so suddenly passed away, he would have stayed alive to take care of his wife, but four months after her death he decided to follow her to the land of the dead, thus completing his journey[49].

 

Johnny Cash left this world the 12 September, 2003. A Friday. Interestingly enough, Friday has always been the day heroes die: Richard II was deadly wounded by an arrow on Friday, 26 March 1199; Christ was crucified a Friday; and from the Chanson de Guillaume (XIIth century) to Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur (1469-1470), great knights have always passed away that particular day (Sir Bors, Sir Hector...). In the same way, Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy were also assassinated a Friday[50].

 

Yet what is death to the mythological hero? According to the legend, Charlemagne did not die, he is merely sleeping and will awake in his country’s hour of need. Cash has joined his wife in the other world, but he did not die and he reminded us of that with his last album, seven years after he passed away, where he sings with an otherworldly voice, “There ain’t no grave can hold my body down[51]”. The Man in Black’s presence remains hauntingly present, even nearly a decade after his death, and so is his message. He transcended his role as a musician and conquered and embraced all the aspects of the experience of the human life. Johnny Cash was, and is the representation of the hero figure who has “died a modern man; but as eternal man – perfected, unspecific, universal man – he has been reborn. His solemn task and deed therefore [...] is to return to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed[52]”. He did all that, not as a prophet, not as a priest or as a teacher, but as a singer of songs.

 

Jonathan Fruoco

Grenoble

February 2012

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Curtius, E. R. (trad. 1953/1990). European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. (W. R.

   Trask, Trad.) Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dylan, B. (2004). Cash is King. In Fine, J. (Ed.), Cash (p.205). New-York: Crown Archetype.

Rodley, C. (2004). Johnny Cash: The Last Great American. Manchester: BBC.

Shakespeare, W. (2001). Hamlet. London: Penguin Books.



[1] Campbell, 1988/1991: 5.

[2] Ibid. : 9.

[3] Fame is dangerous if it has no other purpose than self-glorification. Most of the celebrities of the past century worked for themselves and had no desire to give something back to the society that generated them. Cash was different, which explains why he is so interesting. In the same way, John Lennon was another sort of hero, a “working class hero”, as he would have put it. With or without the Beatles, he was an innovator who turned out to be in perfect harmony with his time (see Campbell, 1988/1991: 163-164).

[4] Dylan, 2004: 205.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Campbell, 1988/1991: 4.

[7] Ibid.: 27.

[8] Cash, 1997/2006: 55.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Campbell, 1988/1991: 70-72.

[11] Shakespeare, 2001: 86.

[12] Campbell, 1949/1993: 59.

[13] Cash, 1997/2006: 14.

[14] Campbell, 1949/1993: 326.

[15] Cash, 1997/2006: 25

[16] Cash, 1997/2006: 29.

[17] Campbell, 1949/1993: 154.

[18] Cash 1997/2006: 32.

[19] Campbell, 1949/1993: 158.

[20] Cash, 1997/2006: 55.

[21] Cash, 1997/2006: 55.

[22] Ibid.: 63.

[23] Ibid.: 75.

[24] Campbell, 1949/1993: 72.

[25] Cash, 1997/2006: 199.

[26] Ibid.: 183.

[27] Ibid. : 184

[28] To know more about this myth, or similar ones (Inanna, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Venus or Sirius) see Campbell, 1949/1993: 207-213.

[29] Cash, 1997/2006: 185.

[30] Campbell, 1949/1993: 116.

[31] Campbell, 1949/1993: 111.

[32] Cash 1997/2006: 181.

[33] Campbell, 1949/1993: 217-218.

[34] He complains in his second autobiography that all the business meetings that were expected of him enslaved him. He very much hated having to hide in hotels and limousines because it kept him away, not from his loved ones, but from strangers, from the people (Cash 1997/2006: 59).

[35] Kris Kristofferson famously described Cash as “a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”(quoted in Cash, 1997/2006: 8)

[36] Cash 1997/2006: 213.

[37] Cash, 1971.

[38] Cash, 1997/2006: 69.

[39] Cash, 2003.

[40] Campbell, 1949/1993: 226.

[41] Cash 1997/2006: 196.

[42] Campbell, 1949/1993: 340.

[43] Campbell 1988/1991: 173.

[44] Campbell, 1949/1993: 345-349.

[45] Cash, 1997/2006: 259.

[46] Ibid.: 260.

[47] Campbell, 1988/1991: 88.

[48] Ibid.: 12.

[49] Rodley, 2004.

[50] See Chaucer, 2010.

[51] Cash, 2010.

[52] Campbell, 1949/1993: 20.

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Johnny Cash's musical accomplishments are storied and staggering. He occupies spots in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame—he, in fact, was the youngest living person ever inducted into the latter. He sold 50 million albums, recorded more than 1,500 songs, boasted fourteen number-one hits, won scads of awards, and is mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles when it comes to musical impact.

 

His legendary bass-baritone was a force of nature. Equal parts rolling thunder and John the Baptist, when Cash sang or spoke, his voice commanded attention. And respect. And believability.

 

But more importantly, throughout his magical career that ended just shy of the half-century mark when he died from diabetes complications on September 12, 2003, Cash tore apart the rulebook more than once, paving the way for other artists to do the same; he always stood up for the underdog (the poor, Native Americans, prisoners, and others) and always stood up to the oppressive; and he beat just about every odd that was stacked against him.

 

And it's for those reasons that pinning down Johnny Cash in any way, shape, or form is impossible. He made it impossible. He never intended to be categorized or pigeonholed. He recorded with Bob Dylan, then turned around and played for Richard Nixon. He embraced the radical social justice movements of the '60s and flew high Old Glory. He protested Vietnam and played for the troops.

 

The revelation is that Cash lived long enough and hard enough to embody a host of personas—and they're all true. Songwriter. Six-string strummer. Storyteller. Country boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug addict. Rebel. Sinner. Saint. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. And more.

 

As songwriting friend Kris Kristofferson recently said, "He's as comfortable with the poor and prisoners as he is with presidents. He's crossed over all age boundaries. I like to think of him as Abraham Lincoln with a wild side."

 

Cash's cluster of enigmas was so impenetrably deep that even those closest to him never got to see every part of him, every thought, every emotion.

 

"I think Johnny's as complex as anything God or man put on this earth," his brother Tommy once noted. "He's a man of uncommon characteristics, mentally or physically. Even though you're his brother, or his wife, or his mother, you never know him completely. I've felt myself at times trembling because of my inadequacy around him."

“Don’t Put Me in Another Box”

 

A writer once tried to paint Cash into a corner, baiting him to acknowledge a single denominational persuasion at the center of his heart. Finally, Cash laid down the law: "I—as a believer that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, the Christ of the Greeks, was the Anointed One of God (born of the seed of David, upon faith as Abraham has faith, and it was accounted to him for righteousness)—am grafted onto the true vine, and am one of the heirs of God's covenant with Israel."

 

"What?" the writer replied.

 

"I'm a Christian," Cash shot back. "Don't put me in another box."

 

So, exactly what "kind" of Christian was Cash?

 

A staunch, conservative, Bible thumper? It sure seems so if you read the introduction to his 1986 novel about the life of the apostle Paul, Man in White: "Please understand that I believe the Bible, the whole Bible, to be the infallible, indisputable Word of God. I have been careful to take no liberties with the timeless Word."

 

But based on a passage from his 1997 autobiography, Cash doesn't seem as steadfast:

 

"Once I learned what the Bible is the inspired Word of God (most of it anyway) ... "(To be fair, he continues this shadow of doubt with a gushing endorsement of Scripture, noting how "truly exciting" it is to discover new interpretations and applications to his own life.)

“Being a Christian Isn’t for Sissies”

 

Further, it certainly can be argued that Cash was a private man and preferred to keep his faith to himself. "I don't compromise my religion," Cash once declared. "If I'm with someone who doesn't want to talk about it, I don't talk about it. I don't impose myself on anybody in any way, including religion. When you're imposing you're offending, I feel. Although I am evangelical, and I'll give the message to anyone that wants to hear it, or anybody that is willing to listen. But if they let me know that they don't want to hear it, they ain't never going to hear it from me. If I think they don't want to hear it, then I will not bring it up. "

 

In short, "telling others is part of our faith all right, but the way we live it speaks louder than we can say it," Cash said. "The gospel of Christ must always be an open door with a welcome sign for all. "

 

"There's nothing hypocritical about it," Cash told Rolling Stone scribe Anthony DeCurtis. "There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I'm the biggest sinner of them all." To Cash, even his near deadly bout with drug addiction contained a crucial spiritual element. "I used drugs to escape, and they worked pretty well when I was younger. But they devastated me physically and emotionally—and spiritually ... [they put me] in such a low state that I couldn't communicate with God. There's no lonelier place to be. I was separated from God, and I wasn't even trying to call on Him. I knew that there was no line of communication. But He came back. And I came back."

 

And while his body suffered under the strain wrought by years of abuse, Cash's mind stayed strong ... and his spirit stayed stronger.

 

"Being a Christian isn't for sissies," Cash said once. "It takes a real man to live for God-a lot more man than to live for the devil, you know? If you really want to live right these days, you gotta be tough." What's more, he's intimately aware of the hard truths about living God's way: "If you're going to be a Christian, you're going to change. You're going to lose some old friends, not because you want to, but because you need to."

“I Don’t Give Up”

 

Even after many people had assumed his career was over, Cash headed back into the studio to begin work on more songs with fellow rebel and producer of nearly a decade, Rick Rubin. Today’s release of American VI: Ain’t No Grave marks the last of those albums. 

 

And in his final days, despite moment-by-moment battles with various debilitating ailments, the Man in Black was anything but in a black mood. In fact, he was celebrating life-sopping up every second he could, while he could.

 

''I'm thrilled to death with life," he told Larry King during an interview. "Life is—the way God has given it to me—was just a platter. A golden platter of life laid out there for me. It's been beautiful."

 

"I don't give up ... and it's not out of frustration and desperation that I say 'I don't give up.' I don't give up because I don't give up. I don't believe in it."

 

Amen to that, Brother Cash.

 

This article is adapted from The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash (RELEVANTBooks).

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Grizzled country star Kris Kristofferson has exploded a music myth surrounding a helicopter visit he made to Johnny Cash, insisting it wasn't quite like the Man in Black remembered it.

 

For starters, Cash and his wife June Carter weren't at home when he touched down on their sprawling Tennessee property in an effort to hand a demo to his hero.

 

Kristofferson, a one-time Army helicopter pilot, was working for an oil firm when he decided to pay Cash a visit - and though he admits he did make the trip to the late country legend's home, he insists the rest of the tale is more than a little embellished.

 

He tells Cowboys & Indians magazine, "I think he told the story that I got out the helicopter with a beer in one hand and a tape in the other. But he wasn't even in the house. And I never would have been drinking while flying a helicopter."

 

And even June Carter's account of a fictitious first meeting with Kristofferson was over the top - she once told reporters she feared the Me & Bobby MCGee singer was there to arrest her husband.

 

The singer/songwriter says, "She wasn't there either. But, you know what, I never was going to contradict either one of them."

 

-Contactmusic

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by Tony Tost

When Johnny Cash married June Carter in 1968 shortly after proposing to her onstage in Ontario he wed himself not only to his steadfast guardian angel, not only to the disarmingly attractive and intelligent woman who co-wrote the country standards "Ring of Fire" and "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea," and not only, as his daughter Rosanne Cash noted, to the grand tradition to which she was heiress; he also married himself to her unwavering faith. It would be tested.

 

"I spoke to Johnny maybe a half-hour or an hour after [June] passed away," Rick Rubin said, recalling the severe pain Cash suffered upon the death of his wife in 2003, just months before his own death, "and he sounded, by far, the worst I'd ever heard him. He sounded terrible. He said that he'd experienced so much pain in his life and that nothing came anywhere near to how he was feeling at that moment." When Rubin asked whether Cash would be able to find some sliver of faith inside him still, Cash "became a different person. He went from this meek, shaky voice to a strong, powerful voice, and he said, 'my faith is unshakable!'"

 

Though it was unexpected that June Carter would die before her husband who had been so famously ailing and recovering for so many years, it now seems inevitable that in his very last recordings Cash would be left in irreconcilable solitude, left alone with his past and his work, that he would not be able to pin all of his earthly redemption on the woman who, under the unceasing pressure, herself finally broke. The unwavering faith that Cash asserted so strongly when talking to Rubin signified a fidelity to June's memory that it seems Cash was not often able to maintain when June was alive, despite the public fable to the contrary (there is a reason why the movie didn't wade too far into their marriage). If many of Cash's songs attesting to his love for his wife and family had a disappointing schmaltz about them, a sort of patriarchal sanctity and repose, then the songs he sang after June's final departure—most especially his cover of Hank Williams' "On the Evening Train" on "American V" — captured all the stoic longing and loss that permeate his finest recordings. But prior to June's death, and aside from the fiery duet "Jackson" that they recorded before they were even married, the domestic songs Cash wrote and recorded for "American Recordings" were about as good as he got on the topic.

 

A modest composition, "Like a Soldier" gestures backwards at Cash's great trials and misadventures. "The wild road I was ramblin,'" he sings, "was always out there callin'/and you said a hundred times I should have died." Cash was drawn to images that resonated with his seeming domestic happiness, famous past wildness and sung history all at once; it is as though the mature Cash's artistic struggle was to find ways to sing of home without having to hang up his spurs and tie on an apron, to pull his emblematic self indoors and into the proximity of other selves without extinguishing all of its lonesome strength. Perhaps this is why the late Cash kept dredging up his lawless past, tying it to his present tameness by claiming that the wild road was the one that brought him to June. In the liner notes to "Unchained," Cash recalled how he and the Tennessee Three had pushed June too far while out on tour and she lashed back, disciplining them. "So beginning that night, she began the long, slow process of trying to tame me, and how sweet it was," Cash wrote. "But that streak was hard to get me off of." In "Like a Soldier," that wild streak reveals itself as the war, the lawless ways and the crazy days he no longer had to live up to, but: "Sometimes at night," Cash also wrote in those liner notes, quoting the lyrics of a Bob McDill song he once recorded with compadre Waylon Jennings, "when I hear the wind, I wish I was crazy again."

 

It is in such bittersweet maturity that the late Cash sounds most fully like himself, able to acknowledge and thereby overcome the temptations of his past while also finding a small tragedy hidden inside that very overcoming. "Like a Soldier," though, treads a thin line between celebration and gloating, threatening to dry out inside its rarefied happiness, up where catharsis no longer needs to exist. Listening now, however, after both Johnny and June have passed on, a new pathos is present in the song, one that was not there while they were alive. The impermanence of Cash's victory comes through, casting a different kind of light on the song's victory march. Cash wrote "Like a Soldier" as though his battle were over, as though his decades with June were not filled with addictions, betrayals, near divorces and ostrich attacks (Cash was nearly killed on their property after picking a fight with an angry ostrich that leapt up and brought its razor sharp foot down Cash's belly, nearly disemboweling him). But now, after their deaths, the fairy-tale marriage Cash so publicly promoted sounds like a necessary stay against chaos, a calmness circled by oblivion. The haunting that Cash sang about—"there are faces that come to me/in my darkest secret memories/faces that I wish would not come back at all"—now seems like a flipped negative of the last few months of his life, when Cash was so near to blindness that he had a large portrait of June painted inside their home so her face would remain present for him, keeping him company. "Back in his office, the pictures of June's warm face around him, he would grieve," writes Michael Streissguth. "He picked up the telephone and pretended to talk to her." As Streissguth describes it, each evening arrived with a melancholy ache:

 

At night, his darkness was filled with her elusive image. He dreamt that she was calling him, that she was next to him. Sleeping alone in their room disquieted him, so he moved to a small hospital bed in his small book-lined office. There his daughters could hear his muffled sobs. "I would think I heard him calling me or something," says Cindy, "and I would go in there and he would be, 'I miss her.' Just like a child. He would talk to her. It was devastating."

 

Inevitably, his spirits collapsed as the sun fell. The gloaming, he'd say, invoking the Scottish term for evening, was the hardest part of the day.

 

When Cash died soon thereafter, American culture itself began to will that he and June be reunited, if not on some distant eternal shore then at least in film and in song. Shelby Lynne, who played Cash's mother in "Walk the Line," wrote the song "Johnny Met June" on the day of Cash's death. "Today it occurred to me as the daylight sky shone blue," she wrote, "today's the day that Johnny met June."

 

Others imagined Cash as an otherworldly avenger. In 2006, Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees purchased Cash's Tennessee home for several million dollars and began restoring it, hoping to use the famous house as an inspirational site for his own songwriting. During restoration efforts the following year, the house caught fire, burning to the ground. Gibb, perhaps spooked by the fiery judgment placed upon his plans, publicly announced that he would build his home "on the higher ground surrounding the Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash home" and that "the original foundations shall be kept intact and preserved." In 2008, George Strait and Patty Loveless recorded a duet called "House of Cash," a song in which the posthumous Cash expresses his displeasure over Gibb's purchase of his home. "Goodbye Johnny, Goodbye June, goodbye fancy living room," the chorus goes. "No one sleeps in Cash's bed/except the Man in Black and the woman he wed." The song is both corny ("that yard looked like a funeral hall/without the pies and casseroles") and perfectly attuned with Cash's own self-mythologizing. "And the ring of fire comes full circle," Strait and Loveless sing, "and the ring of fire comes all the way around." For love or for solitude, for redemption or for casseroles: from here on out, it seems clear that The Man in Black will always be conscripted to fight.

 

Source: http://www.arktimes.com/

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Happy Easter everyone!

 

By Joel Davidson

 

In March, more than six and a half years after his body was buried in the Tennessee dirt, Johnny Cash’s final studio album was released. The first words thunder like a ghost from beyond the tomb: “Ain’t no grave can hold my body down.” That line was recorded when Johnny had only weeks left to live and the song has now fittingly hit music stores on the cusp of Christianity’s greatest celebration. In recording the final tunes of his illustrious career, Johnny did so in a bent and broken body — swollen with arthritis and nearly blind. Yet, his last songs reflect the faith that he shares with St. Paul and with Christians everywhere.

 

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain,” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” St. Paul penned these words to defend the reality of the physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In essence, he was saying that if the grave consumed Christ, Christianity was, at best, a sad and empty hope. We see death and destruction all about, this is true. Given enough time, we experience our bodies failing, sagging, increasingly aching – all harbingers of a stark and relentlessly-approaching reality. “Indeed, one of the questions that most preoccupies men and women is this: what is there after death?” Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2009 Easter message to the world. The church has always had an answer for this urgent question, an answer which, as the pope says, “is not based on simple human reasoning, but on a historical fact.” Jesus rose again from the grave “so that we, though destined to die, should not despair, worrying that with death life is completely finished.”

 

As Christians, we believe Christ rescued us from a terrible fate that we could never avoid on our own. We live in a world that blushes at talk of empty tombs, miracles, resurrection and ascension. Instead, we see great emphasis on anti-aging creams, bodily therapies and an assortment of surgeries, replacements and fitness programs, all claiming to delay the inevitable. Because, without the resurrection, the inevitable is too hard and too final to accept. But as Christians we do not believe that the universe is merely a mechanical and impersonal movement of random forces and meaningless events. Rather, we believe in a world that was, at one time, created and later redeemed by God.

 

To return to the words of Pope Benedict, “Ever since the dawn of Easter a new Spring of hope has filled the world; from that day forward our resurrection has begun, because Easter does not simply signal a moment in history, but the beginning of a new condition: Jesus is risen not because his memory remains alive in the hearts of his disciples, but because he himself lives in us, and in him we can already savor the joy of eternal life.” The pope concludes: “The resurrection, then, is not a theory, but a historical reality … is neither a myth nor a dream, it is not a vision or a utopia, it is not a fairy tale, but it is a singular and unrepeatable event: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, who at dusk on Friday was taken down from the Cross and buried, has victoriously left the tomb.” For this reason we can all sing along: “Ain’t no grave can hold my body down.”

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Magazine: People, July 11, 1994

By Bill Shaw

 

The Man in Black finds refuge -- and a llama -- in the Tennessee woods.

 

In the bad old days, Johnny Cash the pill popper would have stomped dead the four-foot snake he found napping on his boat dock not long ago. That's the way he tells it anyway, bouncing along in a Range Rover headed for his 150-acre hideaway outside Hendersonville, Tenn., a couple of miles from his home. He is clutching a Styrofoam cup filled with night crawlers, which June Carter Cash, his wife of 26 years, grudgingly lets him keep in the house. ``It took me years to get her to accept the fact that fishing worms live in a refrigerator,'' says Johnny. Dressed in one of his trademark black shirts and baggy blue sweatpants, Cash is swerving all over the bumpy dirt road.`Wouldn't be no fun if I could drive,'' he laughs, banging into another rut. ``Now about that snake: I walked onto the boat dock, and if I'd a taken one more step, I'd a stepped on it. Years ago when I was nervous, I'd a killed him in a minute, but I was so gentled down from fishing I just eased him into the water with my pole.''

 

Cash, 62, is an enduring American legend, the only living performer elected to the Songwriters, Rock and Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame. He has won seven Grammys and sung and recorded with everyone from Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis to Bob Dylan, U2 and Billy Graham. Later this summer, Cash -- whose new album, American Recordings, has made him a favorite of the grunge crowd -- may do the fourth Lollapalooza tour, with such bands as Smashing Pumpkins and Beastie Boys. And in August he'll perform at Woodstock II, though he seems a little underwhelmed by the prospect. ``It's just a job, man,'' he says.

 

Two of the songs on Cash's album -- his 129th -- were recorded in his cabin of hand-cut pine and fir next to the fishing pond. He calls it Cedar Hill Refuge, and it is his sanctuary from being Johnny Cash, one of the most instantly recognizable men in the world. He almost always comes here by himself, with a fishing pole and a cup of worms. Somehow Cash manages to get the Range Rover up to the cabin without dumping the worms. He stops to greet his animals, all of whom he thanked for their support on the liner notes of his album. There is Andy the goofy llama, Zelda the goose, an unnamed peacock and 33 deer. Once there was an ostrich, but it attacked Cash and broke five of his ribs. Arrivederci, ostrich. About 13 years ago he bought two bison. They banged up the air-conditioning unit outside the cabin and nearly ran over his late father, Ray Cash. They're gone too. ``Can't have animals tryin' to kill your daddy,'' says Johnny, easing himself into a chair in front of the flagstone fireplace for some pre-fishing ruminations. ``I picked the site ((of the cabin)) 10 years before I had it built,'' he says. ``It was like a prayer, a dedication to this spot of earth where I could have a place of refuge. It restores me. It returns me to nature and God. I come here in pain sometimes and take a few deep breaths and meditate on things. Then the pain goes away, and I relax.''

 

A few years ago Cash checked in to the Betty Ford Center to kick a near-lifelong addiction to amphetamines and barbiturates. The demons still taunt him. The only times he abused liquor, he laughs, was when he had to get drunk to come down from the drugs. ``In this cabin I fight the battle inside all of us, common everyday human frailties, things of the flesh,'' he says. ``I wrestle with the questions of sin and redemption and try to stay in accord with God's will.'' He grimaces, rubbing his jaw. He's still in pain from recent oral surgery that didn't go well. If he took a single painkiller, he explains, temptation would overwhelm him. That's why fishing and the stark simplicity of a pine cabin in the Tennessee backwoods have a mystical grip on him. They boil life down to its essential elements, return him to gentler times, precious moments. He loves to bring 10 beloved grandkids out here and rock on the porch swing, maybe sing them a song. He knew when he bought this piece of land, once roamed by Andrew Jackson, that God had ordained and dedicated it to him. He knew because he was poking around with a metal detector one day and dug up an old Civil War-era branding iron forged into the initials JC. In Cash's mind, it was the conflicting forces of sin and redemption, fishing, gentling down and a sleepy old snake that drove his new album.

 

Simple elements mixed with complex emotional matters. When he first heard the finished product, though, he was startled by the haunting quality of such songs as ``The Beast in Me'' and ``Why Me Lord.'' ``This was the dream album I always wanted to do -- just me and my guitar singing songs for you,'' he says. ``It was the first time I had truly expressed myself artistically. But when I listened to it, I realized a lot of the songs are very dark. I don't like to dwell on the past, but it can slip back up on you, I guess.'' Sometimes when he fishes, Cash thinks about singing. ``And sometimes when I'm performing,'' he says, ``I'm thinking about my fishing pole.'' Then he hums a few bars from a Tom T. Hall song about ``life and death is me and some old fish.''

 

His favorite spot on the half-acre pond is a small point where Andy the llama hangs out munching grass. Good place to catch big old catfish, Cash promises, threading a fat night crawler on the hook. Always catch 'em here, he says. Big ones. Never miss. ``I don't plan my fishing, I do it spontaneously,'' he explains. ``I come home all nervous, and I just say to June, `I'm going fishing.' It's the peace of the water and me and that old fish. I loved fishing before I used it as my therapy. Like I said -- years ago when I was very nervous I'd killed that snake. Now I have no need to kill anything.'' He watches the motionless bobber on the still water. ``I'm ashamed to not catch a fish,'' he mutters in his low rumble. Just then the bobber twitches, and he jerks a tiny bluegill out of the water. ``Ah s--t, he's a little bitty one, a real small one. How shameful this is. It's the first small one I've caught here. Honest.'' He's laughing now, not rubbing his burning, swollen jaw. Dark thoughts of sin and redemption are back in the cabin. He is calling out to dopey-looking Andy, not fretting about the 11-city European tour he'll be starting next week. Sure, the night crawler he used was bigger than that little bluegill. But who cares? The Man in Black is gentled way down.

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Here's a nice article found on the web. Perhaps there's something you indeed didn't know! Johnny Cash is such an old-school American: The deeply religious son of a sharecropper, Johnny Cash grew up on “New Deal” farmland, served in the military, married his sweetheart, had a family, became a rock star, tried to self-destruct on drugs, and then found salvation. His worldwide fame and appeal, however, is defined by another trait: Johnny Cash seemed in a constant state of earthly remorse and supernatural repentance. In music and in life he symbolized the cyclical conflict of the human conscience, of weakness, excess, regret, then atonement, and excess again. No matter how "outlawed" his image became, Johnny Cash always seemed to be wanting to do good and be a better person. 2008 marked the 40th anniversary of his landmark LP At Folsom Prison and 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the At San Quentin LP. With the reportedly imminent release of American VI, we saw fit to present five things you didn’t know about Johnny Cash, the one and only man in black.

1- Johnny Cash played at the request of a condemned killer

Few aspects of Johnny Cash’s career did more to solidify his outlaw image than his prison concerts. He played his first such show in Huntsville, Texas, in 1956, and following that, according to Cash, “word got around the prison grapevine that I was one of them, I guess.” That word reached Earl C. Green, a convicted killer on San Quentin’s death row (he’d beaten a man to death with a baseball bat) whose Reverend, Floyd Gresset, led a church in Johnny Cash’s Ventura, California, neighborhood. When Green’s sentence was commuted to life, he was sent to Folsom Prison and Gresett remained his Reverend. Via the prison radio, Green became the “voice of Folsom Prison” and lobbied Gressett for Johnny Cash to play there. In 1966, Gressett convinced Cash to play an unpublicized concert at Folsom Prison, and two years later he returned to the prison ready to record an album that would become an instant classic. Interestingly, the album contains at least two tracks Cash had never performed live in his life and had in fact only learned the night before: Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue,” and a tune called “Greystone Chapel,” written by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley, whose career as a country western singer was supported and nurtured by Johnny Cash.

2- Johnny Cash wanted "I Walk the Line" off the radio

“I Walk the Line” was a hit for Johnny Cash not once or twice, but three separate times. However, the singer had little faith in the tune when it was first released as a single in 1956. In 2002, he told Larry King that he was in Florida when he called Sam Phillips at Sun Records and “begged” him to stop sending the tune to radio stations. “I just didn't think it was that good of a song. I just didn't think anyone would like it,” Johnny Cash admitted. Phillips refused, telling Cash they would give the song a chance and see what it could do. According to Johnny Cash, “And another week or two it was zoom, No. 1.” The tune is said to reflect the temptations encountered by a musician on the road and how, despite them, Johnny Cash remained devoted to his wife. Well-established history notes that while Cash’s sentiment was in the right place, often he found himself unable to walk that line, but who can blame him? In Johnny Cash: The Life of an American Icon, author Stephen Miller quotes Dolly Parton relating her first awestruck meeting with him. Gushing about his overwhelming "star" presence she wrote, “I was just a young girl from the Smokies, but I would gladly have given it up for Mr. Cash in the parking lot.”

3- Johnny Cash was a best-selling novelist

Johnny Cash’s 1986 novel Man in White, 10 years in the making, gave a fictionalized account of St. Paul the Apostle. The noted early Christian missionary and reputed author of about a dozen epistles in the New Testament: Saul of Tsaurus was on his way to Damascus intent upon laying waste to as many Christians as he could find when he was converted to the cause by a blinding white vision. Saul became Paul, who then devoted his life to Jesus Christ. Johnny Cash closely identified with his protagonist. In an interview with Scott Ross of the 700 Club, Cash called St. Paul a survivor and an inspiration “who had every kind of reason to quit and never did because of his faith in God.” The book’s title is a bit banal, but when Scott asked him if he’d considered changing his “attire to white for redemption,” the singer replied in classic Johnny Cash rhetoric: “That would look a little presumptuous.”

4- Johnny Cash plagiarized one of his most famous songs

In 1956, Cash cut his second single with Sun Records, “Folsom Prison Blues” and the tune was a hit, reaching No. 17 on the pop charts and No. 4 on the country charts. More important than that, however, is the contribution the tune made to his image as an outlaw and a rebel. The third line of the second verse is without question Johnny Cash’s most famous: “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die.” Some have gone so far as to cite that line as being a progenitor of gangsta rap. If these pundits mean to suggest the "sampling" of another artistic achievement without permission, they might be on the right track. In fact, Johnny Cash’s lyrics often match, word for word, rhyme for rhyme, and sometimes line for line, lyrics written for the same traditional music two years earlier by jazz musician Gordon Jenkins. Jenkins did not react in 1956, but following the tune’s 1968 re-release as part of the live At Folsom Prison album, he evidently had enough and filed a lawsuit citing copyright infringement. According to Jenkins’ son Bruce, the author of Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins, Cash’s reps were quick to resolve the matter out of court for a sum believed to be $75,000. Reportedly, in the '90s Johnny Cash told a Canadian magazine that he first heard the Jenkins song while in the Air Force."At the time, I really had no idea I would be a professional recording artist; I wasn't trying to rip anybody off.” Johnny Cash deserves the benefit of the doubt here, not because of his iconic status, but because throughout his career he never hesitated to give appropriate credit and he'd even -- as was the case with Folsom inmate Glen Sherley -- go out of his way to secure the proper royalties contract for others.

5- Johnny Cash and his first wife wrote over 10,000 pages of love letters

Just a few weeks before the Air Force shipped him off to Germany, Johnny Cash met Catholic schoolgirl Vivian Liberto at a San Antonio roller-skating rink. They fell pretty hard for each other, a situation made even more intense by their separation over the next three years. In that time, Johnny Cash proposed marriage (by phone) and the two exchanged an astonishing 10,000 pages of love letters. Many of these pages were published for the first time in 2006, when Liberto wrote her take on the nasty love triangle between her, Johnny Cash and June Carter (as portrayed in the 2005 film Walk The Line). Incidentally, Liberto claims that Cash didn’t pursue June Carter at all (as the Joaquin Phoenix film portrays), but that it was the other way around -- Carter relentlessly pursued Cash. Much like Tupac Shakur, Johnny Cash’s career as a musician has only been slightly inconvenienced by his death. While alive, Cash was one of the most prolific recording artists in history, and his late-in-life collaboration with pioneer record producer Rick Rubin only furthered that tradition and reputation. As we have already noted, the ultimate motif in the life and music of Johnny Cash has dealt with trying to do the right thing in the face of so many tempting alternatives. This struggle with conscience is a universal human condition, open to endless examination and reinterpretation. Cash’s elevation to iconic status ensures his relative immortality, although he will probably come and go with the trends, the publication of a new biography or a controversial movie. Either way, Johnny Cash isn't going anywhere. Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org www.vqronline.org www.cnn.com www.cbn.com www.sfgate.com

By Ross Bonander Ross Bonander is a published author and freelance writer out of Austin, Texas.
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Johnny of the Cross
Peter M Candler, Jr.

In the world of popular music, one generally becomes a "legend" only in death—as if death accomplishes for a musician all that he was unable to do for himself in life. Legends are often made in the manner of their death—in a helicopter crash, say, or collapsed on the bathroom floor. But Johnny Cash's death at seventy-one on September 12 was decidedly un-legend-like: silent, slow, and unspectacular. Yet "legend" seems, if anything, not big enough a word to describe Johnny Cash.


We all knew the end was coming, particularly after June Carter, to everyone's shock, beat him to it. But the impact of the news was not thereby diminished. On that Friday we lost possibly America's most singular individual. I don't think that it's too much of a stretch to say that in Johnny's death a little bit of what is best about America died, too.

 

The only word that seems to suffice here is magnanimity. The OED defines it poetically: "In Aristotle's sense of megalopsuchia ... loftiness of thought or purpose, grandeur of designs, nobly ambitious spirit. Now rare" That was Johnny Cash: great-souled, rare. Everything about him was as big and black and broad as the Arkansas delta, from his physical stature and persona to "that" voice.

 

Yet his life cannot be reduced to a metaphor. It was more than just one of noble ambition or grandeur of design; Johnny's virtues were just as hard-fought as his vices. In life Johnny Cash struggled for and against the God whose grip on him was so frustratingly and thankfully relentless that it was able to absorb all that fierce rage and all those addictions. Johnny could sing about murder and God in the same song and with the same voice because to do otherwise would have been dishonest. At the same time, he let that despair, agony, and rejection stand on their own—he lent them integrity. There was no serious salvation unless there was first some serious sin. Cash echoed St. Paul: "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." But there is at least one thing that Cash never was, and that is a moralist. He did not chalk doubt up to a misunderstanding.

 

Rather, Cash showed that doubt is itself proper to faith. A God who could not stomach the darkest moments of His creation was not worth our worship, much less a song.


About three years ago, my wife and I took a weekend trip from Durham to Wilmington, North Carolina, where she was to attend a conference related to her work. One of her colleagues also traveled with her husband, a gourmet grocery store manager and guitar player, whose musical tastes tend toward dark, brooding Germanic bands with wicked-sounding names like Einsturzende Neubauten and Godspeed You BUck Emperor (both of which I had never heard of). He has little use for religion, except as it pertains to Egyptian archaeology. Over a whiskey in the bar at the Hilton Hotel in Wilmington we chatted about music. Eventually the conversation turned to Johnny. At one point he raised his hand, pointed his finger at me for emphasis, and said, "If I were going to believe in God, I would believe in the God of Johnny Cash."


Johnny could serve as a mediator of friendship, the kind of personality that could reconcile the most disparate of people. So there we were in the bar of the Hilton, he a reformed heroin addict and son of a Durham cop, wearing a keffiyeh, and I, the theology geek from Buckhead. We became friends, not least because of Johnny Cash.


But more than that, Johnny was the kind of person who could simultaneously hold in tension the conflicting parts of his personality and communicate to those who are alienated by a deeply counterfeit culture—particularly a counterfeit Christianity. Cash could preach to offenders and the defenseless alike, and make faith believable in a way that most of us never can. We seem to prefer the smile that conceals an inner deception to the honest purgative truth about ourselves. But with Johnny it was otherwise.

 

That's because he lived, sang, and played truthfully. There was in him no hint of fraud. At a time when he could have resurrected his career by riding the coattails of others' popularity (as is the trend today), Johnny did the reverse. On 1994's American Recordings (on the cover he stands in a field wearing a long black preacher's coat, alone except for two dogs), he did not simply return to the "old" Johnny Cash and commodify himself for a younger audience. Rather, he signed with a punk label and sang about his familiar subjects, but this time with no musical accompaniment beyond his own acoustic guitar. All kinds of audiences ate it up because they recognized that in a world full of fakes, Cash was authentic. There are so many aspects to Cash's career that are unmatched in popular music. He is the only person to be inducted to the respective halls of fame for rock musicians, country artists, and songwriters. Possibly more striking than the body of songs he left us are the songs written by others that he covered. Cash was always taking risks here—he was one of the first musicians outside the folk world to cover songs by Bob Dylan. On Johnny's later records, we hear a musician not content to rest on his laurels or piggyback on others' record sales. Rather, he took other people's songs and made them Johnny Cash tunes. In this sense, a song like "The Mercy Seat" was a Johnny Cash song all along, as if its author, Nick Cave, just tended to it until it found its true voice. This is not to denigrate the original—far from it. Rather, some songs transcend their own authors in such a way that they can only be sung by a particular voice. This was literally the case with "The Wanderer," a U2 song that the band's lead singer, Bono, penned and tried to record. He finally gave up, admitting that the only person who could sing the lyrics was Johnny.

 

The same could be said for Johnny's last single in his lifetime, a cover of Trent Reznor's "Hurt." I doubt whether in time it will be remembered principally for having been written by the frontman for the technopunk band Nine Inch Nails, because Cash so completely inhabits the song that it becomes his own musical last will and testament. At the end of his life Cash sings, I hurt myself today To see if I still feel I focus on the pain The only thing that's real The needle tears a hole The old familiar sting Try to kill it all away But I remember everything. Does the needle deliver heroin or an IV? A narcotic or a painkiller? When Cash recorded "Hurt" in 2002, he had already been suffering from a variety of ailments for several years. There is a poignancy to his frank confession of the reality of pain that rings all the truer for his having sung it.


Critics did not regard the later editions of the American series with the same awe that they did the first. The last one he released while still alive, American IV: The Man Comes Around, was well-received, but some critics wondered why we needed another version of standards like "Give My Love to Rose." We needed it because, when sung by a seventy-year-old and frail Cash, it is a very different song than the same tune sung by the same man at age twenty-four. For now the character in the song who lies at the side of the railroad tracks is very much Cash himself.

 

For this reason American IV actually has more coherence and power than his previous two releases in the series. Every song on the record is about death— the title track, "I Hung My Head," "We'll Meet Again." What is "Danny Boy," after all, but a funeral dirge? It is precisely here that Cash's final years were in some ways his greatest. On his final album, he was teaching us how to die. And in a culture that by and large loves death but does not know what to do with it—a culture simultaneously repulsed and attracted by it—Johnny's confrontation with his own imminent demise was largely misunderstood.

 

The critics who complained that his voice was not what it used to be missed the point entirely. It is precisely because his voice was not what it used to be that the songs have such power. The beauty of the record lies in that very frailty, the tremolo in his voice that became more pronounced with each album. Even in his younger days, the inimitable strength and fortitude in his voice was mixed with the occasional moment of weakness, the odd quaver and show of vulnerability. In the last few years those moments became more frequent, and his voice became more diaphonous, disclosing more of the effects of illness. Yet for that very reason, Cash's voice was all the more beautiful—it had a weakness stronger than others' strengths. Nowhere is this more clear than on the music video for "Hurt," directed by Mark Romanek. As with most of the songs on American TV, the vocals for "Hurt" were recorded dry—without the use of reverb, delay, or other effects. That in itself is remarkable, because recording a voice that way reveals all the idiosyncrasies and flaws that a digital effect might otherwise cover up. Nowadays almost no one records vocals this way. The unadorned character of the voice is echoed visually in the film by Cash's refusal to conceal, with the use of makeup and other gimmickry, the fact that he is dying. No attempt is made to shoot his face from the most flattering angle, no effort to shun the ravaged face of a once indomitable figure now consumed by disease.

 

Towards the end of the video, the song crescendos to an intense height, accentuated by the repetition of a single note on the piano. Superimposed on all of this is a rapid montage of footage from Cash's prime, when his hair was still black and his jaw still square. Juxtaposed beside flashes of his successes are images of the Cash museum in a state of disrepair, broken shards of those successes whose significance is now altogether subverted by the figure of Cash himself, sitting at the head of the festal table. And in between visions of the spry young superstar and the remnants of fame is the recurring image of the crucifixion. The climax of the film comes when Cash, with a crystal goblet full of red wine lifted and trembling in his enfeebled right hand, turns the cup over and empties its contents over the table, baptizing the sumptuous banquet laid out before him. For Cash there was no empty cross but a crucifix, which neither concealed the horrors of suffering nor prematurely removed the bleeding Christ to a higher plane. In the end, it seems all his life's vices—and even his virtues—were consumed by the blood of Christ. The truth of Cash's music, and of his life, lies in the image of the crucified Jesus—who dies alone and forsaken, simultaneously consummating the whole creation and crippled by its weight. For Cash, redemption was not won without a fight: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrew 9:22). He sings,



And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

 

Johnny Cash died in a way that demonstrated what it might mean to die well. Unlike those who die quickly, he was graced with the company of friends and loved ones, yet he never used his illness as a pretense or a front. His end was slow, painful, marked with tremendous accomplishments (even for a healthy person), but he drew near it honestly and unsentimentally. His spirit was scarred, busted, threadbare, but fearless, peaceable, witty and wise. In his living, playing, loving, and singing, he also sounded out the timbre of the Christian faith and showed how it ought to be lived: stammeringly, tunefully, with no overdubs and no effects. But most of all, with soul.

 

Peter M. Candler, Jr. is Assistant Professor of Theology in the Honors College at Baylor University.

 

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Johnny Cash's popularity had been higher than when he died September 12, but he had never been more hip. Nominated for MTV'S video of the year, Cash was considered not just one of the last musical greats of his generation, but also a giant of contemporary artists. He had recorded with Elvis, Dylan, Bono, and Flea (and even some artists known by their full names). Memorials included quotes from the worlds of rap and bluegrass and everything between. And against all popular wisdom, he became a celebrity's celebrity while singing more explicitly about Jesus than many contemporary Christian music favorites. He didn't start that way.

 

When Cash finagled his way into an audition for Sam Phillips's Sun Records in 1955, he told the producer he was a gospel singer. "You know, I love gospel music," Phillips replied. "But unless you're Mahalia Jackson, or somebody that established, you can't even cover the cost of the recording." Fourteen years later, Cash was the best-selling artist alive, outperforming even the Beatles, ABC gave the newly sober singer his own weekly television show, airing from the Grand Ole Opry, from which he had been banned only four years before for kicking out the stage lights in a drug-addled fury. Introducing one of his gospel songs—which he was recording an increasing number of at the time— Cash told his audience, "I am a Christian." The network sent one of the producers to order Cash not to talk about religion on the air. "You're producing the wrong man here, because gospel music is part of what I am and part of what I do," Cash replied. "If you don't like it, you can always edit it." They didn't edit it, nor any future reference, but Cash later wrote, "The worldly consequences of my declaration were severe, not just in lost record sales but also in some of the reactions from religious people."

 

The Man in Black (so nicknamed for his somber wardrobe) had by then recorded several gospel albums, but often had to push for them. "My record company," he lamented, "would rather I'd be in prison than in church." At the end of Cash's career—or, more accurately, at the resurrection of his career a decade ago-producer Rick Rubin offered Cash to record anything he wanted. Rubin, whom Cash called "the ultimate hippie," isn't someone one might expect to embrace Cash's gospel side. His American Recordings label is known for the kind of rap, metal, and rock bands that most Christian entertainment watchdogs fill warning pages with. Nevertheless, he told Cash, "I'm not familiar with a lot of the music you love, but I want to hear it all." The album, given the same name as Rubin's label, was unapologetically Christian. On "Redemption," he sang, "The blood gave life to the branches of the tree /And the blood was the price that set the captives free /And the numbers that came through the fire and flood / Clung to the tree and were redeemed by the blood." On "Why Me Lord?" he surrenders, "Now that I know that I've needed you so, Jesus, my soul's in your hand."

 

American Recordings won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album and was followed by three more collaborations with ; Rubin. The most recent, last year's : American IV: The Man Comes Around, begins with the apocalyptic growl of the title track: "There's : a man going 'round taking names / ; And he decides who to free and who to blame / Everybody won't h be treated all the same / There'll be a golden ladder reaching down /When the Man comes around." No one wants to hear about hell and judgment, it's said, but American IVwas Cash's most successful venture with Rubin, selling 500,000 copies before his death. How did the coolest man in the music industry become that way while singing about Jesus and the Cross? The most obvious answer is that Cash was nothing if not authentic. "I believe what I say, but that don't necessarily make me right," he told Rolling Stone in 2000. "There's nothing hypocritical about it. There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I'm the biggest sinner of them all." (This "chief among sinners" attitude is what drew him to the Apostle Paul, about whom he wrote the novel The Man in White in 1986.) The attitude was encouraged by one of his best friends, Billy Graham, who advised him to keep singing "Folsom Prison Blues" and his other outlaw tunes along with the gospel songs. "Don't apologize for who you are and what you've done in the past," he told Cash, who was then considering becoming a full-time evangelist. "Be who you are and do what you do." Cash was so authentic, in fact, that many people refused to believe that he never spent hard time in prison. (He had only been jailed overnight seven times for his various drug-related behaviors.) But Cash's resilient repute was about more than authenticity.

 

Many musicians are authentic, including authentic thugs, authentic boors, authentic sex addicts, or authentic frauds. Cash's true strength was authenticity's elder brother, integrity. Cash had integrity in the moral sense, certainly. Once sober, he made up concerts that he'd skipped or fudged during his amphetamine binges, for example. But Cash had integrity in the sense of being a whole. In his liner notes for American Recordings, Cash lists 32 subjects he loves in songs, from railroads and whiskey to Mother and larceny. But in all these songs he was really singing about one thing: the connection between sin and redemption. He saw that on either side of sin was enjoyment and death, and that on either side of redemption was Death and Enjoyment. Cash never denied the pleasure of sin, and many songs reflect that pleasure honestly—but unlike those in other outlaw tunes, the subjects of Cash's songs rarely sin without consequences. "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," regretfully sings the blue man in Folsom Prison. "I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down," sings the prisoner of "Cocaine Blues." Even Cash's love songs carry the theme: In "I Walk the Line," he worries about his own infidelity. In "Jackson," he tries to cover it up. "Ring of Fire," written by June Carter Cash and sung by Johnny while the two were flirting but married to others, carries unsubtle references to damnation. But for Cash, the worst consequence of sin wasn't what happened to the sinner. Nowhere is this clearer than in the final moments of the MTV award-nominated "Hurt" video, where the lyrics "I will let you down /1 will make you hurt" are illustrated with Christ's crucifixión.

 

In a 2000 interview with Rolling Stone, Cash compared drugs' spiritual consequences with their physical and emotional devastation: "To put myself in such a low state that I couldn't communicate with God, there's no lonelier place to be. I was separated from God, and I wasn't even trying to call on him. I knew that there was no line of communication." Though he'd professed Christ at age 12, Cash wrote that by 1967, "there was nothing left of me.... I had drifted so far away from God and every stabilizing force in my life that I felt there was no hope." He decided to crawl into Nickajack Cave on the Tennessee River, get lost, and die. "The absolute lack of light was appropriate," he wrote. "My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the various kinds of loneliness I'd felt over the years, seemed finally complete. "It wasn't. I thought I'd left Him, but He hadn't left me. I felt something very powerful start to happen to me, a sensation of utter peace, clarity, and sobriety....Then my mind started focusing on God. He didn't speak to me—He never has, and I'll be surprised if He ever does—but... I became conscious of a very clear, simple idea: I was not in charge of my own destiny. I was not in charge of my own death." He found his way out of the cave, determined to get clean and sober. He made a good start, and he's been honest about the slips and relapses along the way—and not just with drugs. "They just kind of hold their distance," he told Rolling Stone. "I could invite them in: the sex demon, the drug demon. But I don't. They're very sinister. You got to watch 'em. They'll sneak up on you. All of a sudden there'll be a beautiful little Percodan laying there, and you'll want it." The connection with God makes it all worth it, he said: "The greatest joy of my life was that I no longer felt separated from Him. Now he is my Counselor, my Rock of Ages to stand upon."

 

Cash, many obituaries suggested, seemed obsessed with death. It was something he denied. "I am not obsessed with ; death; I'm obsessed with living," he said in 1994. "The battle against the dark one and the clinging to the right one is what my life is about." ; Living, he knew, was death to self. His -favorite verse, he often said, was Romans ; 8:13: "For if you live according to the sinful ' nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." A paradox? Not to Cash, who encountered death shortly before accepting an altar call. His brother Jack, two years his senior, fell on a table saw, cut from ribs to groin. "Mama, don't cry over me," he said, as Johnny and the rest of the family stood by. "I was going down a river, and there was a fire on one side and heaven on the other. I was crying, 'God, I'm supposed to go to heaven. Don't you remember? Don't take me to the fire.' All of a sudden, I turned, and now, mama, can you hear the angels singing?" She said that she couldn't, and Jack squeezed her hand. "Oh, mama, I wish you could hear the angels singing," he said, and died. Like Christ, Cash felt no shame or theological dissonance at crying in the face of death. But make no mistake: he never forgot the joy waiting on the other side.

 

Now, on the other side of the river, the Man in Black wears glorious white, reunited with his brother and face-to-face with his Lord. Later this year, it has been reported, American Recordings will release a CD boxed set, with as many as 100 outtakes of Cash's work with Rubin over the last decade. Among the CDs will be Redemption Songs and the long-delayed Songs from My Mother's Hymn Book. Surely in the other albums there will be tunes of death and sin. Taken as a whole, it will be unmistakable that Cash was correct from his first day at Sun Records: He really was a singer of the gospel.

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DONALD S. SHOCKLEY and RICHARD L. FREEMAN

 

When Karl Barth visited the United States in 1962 he made a request which seemed odd to those unaware of his long concern for such matters: he asked to see an American prison. After touring one such institution he said the experience had been "like walking through Dante's vision of hell," and he decried the church's apathetic silence on the appalling conditions in places where human beings are kept in "cages." Had Professor Barth spoken against racial injustice or appealed for aid to the poor many would no doubt have been pleased, but his call for prison reform offended many and surprised still more.

 

The truth is that the American public has never noticeably responded to information about appalling prison conditions. A subcommittee chaired by Senator Thomas Dodd last winter produced spectacular testimony to the effect that much of the abuse in prisons is inflicted upon inmates who are in fact children. A Minnesota correctional services officer testified that 100,000 children are in U.S. prisons; he told, for instance, how a 13-year-old Indian boy committed suicide after spending 41 days alone in his cell waiting for a hearing. Chosen at random to testify, a convicted felon told the committee that his teen years spent in prison (beginning at age 13) were so brutal that he resolved to "stick up the first thing in sight" when he got out. His testimony seemed to confirm candidate Richard M. Nixon's campaign charge that our prisons are "universities of crime."1

 

Given the national concern to stem the rising tide of crime in America, one would think that an aroused public would demand that our prisons return men to society as contributing citizens rather than as "finely honed weapons against society," as one district attorney puts it. Just now the really passionate cry for prison reform in this country is coming from an unlikely prophet: countryfolk singer Johnny Cash. Cash has given numerous concerts in prisons. His two most successful albums (Folsom Prison Blues and San Quentin) were recorded live before prison audiences. In a moving statement reproduced on the cover of the first album he referred to the folly of attempting to teach men how to live in society by depriving them of "everything that makes a man a man: women, money, a family, a job, the open road, the city, the country, ambition, power, success, failure — a million things."2 The lyrics of his songs in prison (at least one is always specifically written for the occasion) are given remarkable force by the sound of the inmates' soul-level response to their presentation. Referring to all convicts as his brothers, Johnny Cash not only mourns their suffering; he also cries out like an Amos against those who have the power to do something about the situation yet fail to act.

 

Listen to him in San Quentin, one of his latest hits: San Quentin, I hate every inch of you. You've cut me and scarred me through and through. And I'll walk out a wiser, weaker man. Mr. Congressman, why can't you understand? In true prophetic style, the singer envisions a day when the stone walls will crumble, and he cries: May all the world forget you ever stood, And may all the world regret you did no good. It is interesting to note that the Folsom Prison Blues album was released at approximately the same time as Eld-ridge Cleaver's book Soul on Ice, much of which was actually written at Folsom. On the album cover Cash asks: "How could this torment possibly do anybody any good?"

 

Out of his own experience Cleaver writes, in Soul on Ice: A convict sees man's fangs and claws and learns quickly to bare and un-sheath his own, for real and final. To maintain a hold on the ideals and sentiments of civilization in such circumstances is probably impossible. Recalling Karl Barth's admonition to the churches, it would be salutary for us to note that Cleaver became proud of his atheism while in prison, and that he gave much of the credit for his newfound pride to the "preachers and priests scurrying around" who could "put in a good word for you with the Almighty Creator of the Universe but could not get anything down with the warden or parole board." The prisoners attached an "ineradicable stigma" to the church as the institution whose most visible manifestation in their situation was that of providing escorts for condemned men as they were led to the gas chamber.

 

Johnny Cash calls us to a crash program: humanizing the prison system in this country. Eldridge Cleaver would broaden the scope of that plea to include humanization of the whole political process. May we not confess that at least one reason why the humanizing process is bogged down is that the church is one of the institutions most in need of sensitizing? An ad in Your Church magazine recently pictured a high fence set up around what is presumably a church school building. Underneath the illustration is this text: CHAIN LINK FENCE. This new combination in aluminum coated chain link fencing and barb wire offers high protection and low maintenance cost. The coating prolongs fence life 3 to 5 times longer. Less climbable than other types, the over-all appearance is smooth, clean and unobstrusive. All of us know we're not that far gone, but the image reminds us that to whatever extent we are captives, liberation of the churches awaits our own willingness to assume the role of deliverer. Isaiah dreamed of a messianic age which would "bring out the prisoners from the dungeon . . ." (Isa. 42:7).

 

No one, least of all Johnny Cash, is advocating immediate release of all convicts. But in the name of Him who was united with thieves in his death the churches might blend their voices with a country bard who, in one respect at least, sees Isaiah's vision somewhat more vividly than they do.

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