Man in Black, Man in White

Now I realize that the music of Johnny Cash is not for everyone, but lately, I’ve been a fan.  Growing up in East Tennessee meant that you always heard about the fame of Cash and the Carter family.  My mom lived in the same community as the Carters.  There was the old Carter store in Hiltons, VA, that eventually became the “Carter Fold”, where live music happened every Saturday night.  Vocal music was, and still is, quite a tradition in them ‘thar hills and hollers.  My dad would do an imitation of Cash by saying, “My name’s Johnny Cash” and start a tune, “I hear that train a coming …”  Back then, I associated his music with gospel songs; I always thought I knew what Cash’s music was … but, was I wrong.  I did know that the lady he wound up with, June Carter, had a previous marriage.  Certainly 40 years ago, that was something to cast a suspicious cloud over things, but I didn’t know what had happened.  I only realized just how vague (and basically wrong) my understanding was when I saw the recent film Walk The Line

Kim and I decided to watch it together.  I came away very impressed by the abilities of Reese Witherspoon:  she did a terrific job in that movie.  Even Joaquin Phoenix did a very good Johnny Cash.  The actors and actresses all sang their own renditions of the music of the times.  I found out what a wild and crazy guy Cash was.  He was certainly a rebel.  His autobiography in the ’70’s was Man In Black.  He eventually turned for the better, though.  Interestingly, it was through his association with June.  Sometime after MIB was published, he wrote a biography of the apostle Paul called Man In White.  Apparently, he really identified with Paul, as being hostile toward the right way but later turning to the Lord. 

So, I decided to get a CD of his music.  Kim was thoughtful and bought one within a week.  I was so anxious, I waited several months to listen!  I even had the audacity to hear a hotel commercial with the “I’ve been everywhere, man” song, and say, “Wow, I really need to get a Johnny Cash CD”.  At that time, Kim reminded me, with a sigh — that I deserved, that she had bought a CD shortly after watching the movie! Well, I have finally listened.  And, much to my surprise, I have greatly enjoyed it.  The music is SO different than I expected.  There are a few songs that you can’t really listen to over and over, though … too depressing.  The style, lyrics, and music are fairly raw and rugged, but seem to connect strongly with life; perhaps that is why Cash became an American icon (something I also had no perspective on before watching the movie). 

In particular, I enjoyed, Ring of Fire (written by June Carter), Walk the Line (by Cash), Folsom Prison Blues (the live gig at Folsom Prison was probably the pivotal moment that saved his career), Big River, Jackson, A Boy Named Sue, and One Piece at a Time.  Of the bunch, probably my favorites are Folsom Prison Blues, Big River, and A Boy Named Sue.  Cash showed a taste of the blues in Big River, a song that mentions Baton Rouge.  Again, I had no idea what a story teller he was in his songs.  A guy at work remarked that Cash “was the original rapper, which was good, ’cause he couldn’t sing!” 

Here ends the tribute to Cash and his music.  Well anyway, what else can I do while Kim and the kids are gone??!!?

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Published in: on July 4, 2006 at 4:11 am  Leave a Comment  

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