Sunday, September 14, 2003

More on Johnny

I guess I'm not much of a fan of anyone or anything. I never think of myself that way. But Johnny Cash has this pervasive role in my life and my past. His music has been a part of my life since I was young. I even had a dream about him as a child. My whole family knows the words to lots of his songs and we always sang them on family trips. Of all the pop music I've ever heard I related most strongly to Johnny Cash's music. It's simple, it's basic, it's real. His voice is so evocative you feel you know the man. My husband was telling me about hearing him sing Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and it changes completely when Johnny sings it and becomes something meaningful and internal rather than hip and ironic. The same with the U2 song he sings (the title escapes me at the moment). When U2 sang it it sounded melodramatic and forced to me--as catchy as it is. When Johnny sang it it choked me up and I couldn't get it out of my head.

I don't know what he was like as a person--I never bothered to find out anything about him. I have a policy of not researching the lives of poets I like. I like the art to come from some mysterious place--I don't want to think about whether the poet lived by his words or where it came from. (Fiction I will find out more about.) Cash's music was about direct, human values. Often about the very best aspects of Christianity--humility and identification with the outsider, the suffering and the lost person. Native Americans (Ballad of Ira Hayes), prisoners (Folsom Prison Blues, Delia and others), hard scrabble people. This seems a conscious choice of his--as you can see from the lyrics of this song. It seems such a unique thing--to sing these moral and sometimes political songs (among other kinds) and make an impact on people's lives but also to be celebrated for this. I'm not even sure this is possible anymore. It's a very unique phenomenon.

(Johnny Cash)

« © '71 House Of Cash »

Well you wonder why I always dress in black

Why you never see bright colors on my back

And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone

Well there's a reason for the things that I have on

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down

Livin' in the hopeless hungry side of town

I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime

But is there because he's a victim of the times

I wear the black for those who've never read

Or listened to the words that Jesus said

About the road to happiness through love and charity

Why you'd think he's talking straight to you and me

Well we're doin' mighty fine I do suppose

In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes

But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back

Up front there oughta be a man in black

I wear it for the sick and lonely old

For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold

I wear the black in morning for the lives that could have been

Each week we lose a hundred fine young men

And I wear it for the thousands who have died

Believin' that the Lord was on their side

I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died

Believin' that we all were on their side

Well there's things that never will be right I know

And things need changin' everywhere you go

But till we start to make a move to make a few things right

You'll never see me wear a suit of white

Oh I'd love to wear a rainbow every day and tell the world that everything's okay

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

Till things're brighter I'm the man in black


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