On the wings of what will be a new Johnny Cash resurgence as a result of the Joaquin Phoenix portrayal of the Legend, let me first assess the overall magnitude behind my connection with good ole Johnny…
“Don’t take your guns to town, son
Leave your guns at home, Bill”
Back in the days when I was working out of a trailer, I remember walking to a hidden dust-ridden shelf. There, I cam in contact with a stack of tapes which were left behind by one of my bosses, Joey, who used to breeze in and out of the trailer like a man on fire. One of the tapes happened to be Johnny Cash’s latest at the time: “American Recordings” (released in 1994) It became my wandering anthem, a lonesome accompaniment on my journey through life. A mantra I could hear on the wind as I trudged to work every day. Thus my love affair with this mysterious stranger began.
“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line.”
Oh everyone’s heard of Johnny Cash’s troubled past. His mystique as “The Man in Black” could not be denied even then. And at one point or another in the 70s you knew Cash’s most famous song of EVER…”Ring of Fire”.
“I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.”
A music buff, I have been known to have quite an eclectic taste. Classical music to country, Broadway to Rock & Roll, Blue grass to metal. I love all types. But there’s something about the bass, shakiness of Johnny’s voice that makes me feel like I’m at home.
“Tell me Lord…what did I ever do?
That was worth loving You or the kindness You’ve shown?
Tell me Lord…if you think there’s a way
I can try to repay all I’ve taken from You
Maybe Lord, I can show someone else
What I’ve been through myself
On my way back to You”
Now I’m a little bit rock and roll, but I’m also a little bit country thanks to some of the greatest performers which sprung up from the 80s scene. C’mon, you must admit that you used to watch the Mandrell Sisters Show just to see ’em bicker. And if you were a girl you fell in love with Donnie’s baby face and envied Marie’s teeth. Puh-lease! Back then, Kenny Rogers dueting with Dolly Parton was a dream. And if you are a woman who has the nerve to tell me that “9-5” wasn’t your favorite 80s Feminist Anthem, you’d be lying.
“Sometimes it tries to kid me that it’s just a teddy bear…And that is when I must be aware Of the Beast in Me that everybody knows They’ve seen him out dressed in my clothes.”
There’s something about classic country that is appealing. For me, a raised Jersey-ite, I naturally to gravitate to the folkiness of classic country. Anyone who’s ever heard down-on-your-luck titled songs like, “Tear in My Beer” or “Here’s a Quarter Call Someone Who Cares” knows that there is a mystique to blue-collar hardship. And if you’ve lived in Jersey City as long as I have, you know that this is a tough town, even if we are one of the happiest places to live in (according to a recent article sent by my friend who lives in Chicago ~ Thanks, GK4!). I guess I have a proclivity for the “do-si-do” set. Any song that reminds me of the daily struggle to survive often gets me to weeping like a willow. That’s a good thing, really.
“Bad luck wind been blowin’ at my back
I was born to bring trouble to wherever I’m at
Got the number thirteen tatooed on my neck
When the ink starts to itch, the black will turn to red.”
If anyone saw the video for “Hurt” (Johnny Cash’s version of the NIN hit) you’d know what I’m talking about. The man just had a way of making you feel the blues. Not just the blues but this unforgiving guilt-trip and overwhelming sadness that made you evaluate your life even if it only lasted as long as the song played. Lyrics that were universal life experiences and almost an unusual insight on what the future held for himself, a man who always lived his life between the living and the dead.
“Tell the gossipers and liars I will see them in the fire
Let the train blow the whistle when I go”
There are even hymnal tunes that would turn off most folks that somehow got to the center of my being, curled up into a wonderful ball and slept there. It lies there still.