I admit to having been around a while. In 1970 I got my hands on a 45 RPM copy of Johnny Cash’s single “A Boy Named Sue.” The song was getting a lot of airplay on New York’s WABC 77 AM station. I know I’ve said this before, but I didn’t really make the distinction between genres in those days. I didn’t think of The Supremes or The Temptations as Motown. I didn’t think of Three Dog Night or The Grassroots as Pop music. It was a Pop music, but I didn’t even realize that. Heck, I was ten years old and in the fourth grade in 1970. The fact that I had been collecting records for three years already put me leaps and bounds ahead of my peers in that regard. I didn’t realize how uncool The Partridge Family, The Osmonds, The Cowsills, Helen Reddy, Melanie, Bread and dozens of other acts I followed in the late 60′s and early 70′s really were. I had all of those artists in my collection right next to The Doors, The Young Rascals, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Big Brother, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Tommy James & The Shondells and The Lovin’ Spoonful. I had no idea what the difference was. If I could sing along to the song at 10 years old, that was really all I needed. I had no idea Johnny Cash was a big Country Music star by the time I was turned on to him. I didn’t know if all his music sounded like “A Boy Named Sue” or not, but I really loved that single. I didn’t know the song was written by somebody named Shel Silverstein and recorded live at San Quentin State prison in February 1969. As it turns out, Shel Silverstein wrote at least three other songs I am wildly familiar with now, but never knew who wrote. A song called “The Unicorn” was recorded by a band called The Irish Rovers in 1968. I knew that song for sure. Silverstein also wrote the massively popular Dr Hook song “The Cover of The Rolling Stone.” Man. Nice going Shel. “Sylvia’s Mother,” another Dr Hook song I just loved way back then, was also written by Silverstein. That’s four great songs by my count. I’m sure there are more, but a quick scan of his Wikipedia page unearth’s those beauties. Shel’s been gone about a dozen years now, but that’s a nice legacy he took with him as far as I’m concerned. Johnny Cash capitalized with “Sue” all the way to Number 2 in the United States for three weeks. It was kind of novelty song, but with the baritone of Johnny Cash and all the mud, the blood and the beer the song sounded like it had weight. “My Ding-a-ling” this wasn’t.
I don’t get to the movie theatre with any frequency whatsoever. I have DVDs I’ve owned for several months I have trouble finding time to watch. I think someone lent me a copy of Town around Christmas time and it’s practically March. Book? Same problem. In fact, one of my quests each week is to get a copy of The Boston Phoenix (Boston’s version of The Village Voice I suppose) every Thursday. They pile up on my kitchen table like old newspapers until I skim them in exasperation. I certainly don’t read The Phoenix for its overtly political agenda, but I like to keep abreast of the concert scene and keep an eye out for interesting things to do in Boston. It’s a good source for that. The problem is I’m not 30 years old anymore. I have plenty of energy, even though I sleep maybe six hours a night, that’s not it; I just let life wear me down sometimes. I can’t make every concert I would like to go to. For any number of reasons. I never did see Johnny Cash perform live and I had my chances. I find it hard to believe that he died nearly eight years ago already. Today, February 26th, would have been his 79th birthday if he had lived. I’ve been buying all of his Rick Rubin releases over the past several years and enjoying the hell out of them. If you had asked me when he died before I sat down to begin typing this post I would have said maybe 2006. I feel like I miss a lot of stuff like this as life envelopes me.
The reason I mentioned my movie going frequency earlier is because I still haven’t seen Walk The Line and that came out in 2005! Is that incredible or what? “Rapper” Joaquin Phoenix lost his mind on David Letterman in 2009, FOUR long years later and I’ve always thought Reese Witherspoon was interesting. Why haven’t I gone to see a movie I was clearly interested in seeing? I wish I knew. I heard it was great. Fat lot of good that does me huh? I did see The Rolling Stones/Martin Scorsese movie Shine a Light in 2008, but that really doesn’t count does it? Last week I had a scheduling snafu and had time to kill in San Francisco so, because it was pouring rain and cold, AND I stumbled on a movie theatre walking around near Union Square, I saw the John C. Reilly/Ed Helms/Anne Heche movie Cedar Rapids. I only saw it because the showing time matched up with my time killing schedule. John C. Reilly was hysterical. It’s a throwaway movie for sure, but it had a lot of laughs. Not bad considering my choices and circumstances. Still, I don’t even follow what movies are on HBO that I already pay for. I love the movies, I really do, but for whatever reason they are not a priority for me in my life for the moment. I wonder if HBO sends it’s schedule via e-mail? Maybe I can get something out of that channel besides True Blood and Boardwalk Empire if I apply myself. Regarding Johnny Cash, I feel like I’ve seen his Behind The Music and or VH-1 Rockumentary so it’s not like I don’t have a handle on the story. I think it goes like this; Man in Black, blah blah, I Walk The Line, blah blah, June Carter was somebody else’s girl and much younger, Jackson, blah blah, persistence wins the girl over, blah blah, Ring of Fire, blah blah, drugs, blah blah, June’s love saves his life, blah blah, back on top, blah blah, ill health, blah blah, Rick Rubin, blah blah, Country Music legend passes, blah blah, end of story. Sounds a little crude I’ll admit, but once you’ve seen one Behind The Music it sure seems like you’ve seen them all doesn’t it? I don’t think it inhibits my never ending quest to watch how it unfolds in every single one of them (well not Twisted Sister, but you get the idea) however. Rise and Falls are fun no matter what I think.
Johnny Cash, born in 1932, is a figure larger than life. Beginning in 1957, Cash has released 55 studio albums, 154 singles, 84 compilations of some kind and 4 more Christmas alums. Not too many artists, I don’t what genre we are talking, get to those heady numbers. Yes, he allegedly considered suicide, inadvertently started a forest fire that destroyed 508 acres of land near Ventura, CA, survived the death of his older brother, spent several nights in jail over the years and wrestled with an addiction to Amphetamines, but Johnny was an American Hero to many. Even prisoners at Folsom and San Quentin State prisons were Johnny Cash fans. There was just something about his swaggering outlaw style and folksy baritone story telling delivery that appealed to millions of Americans. I was one of them to be frank. I was watching Lemmy (Motorhead) The Movie last night and in one of the scenes he’s having drinks with Sling Blade star Billy Bob Thornton (you gotta love names like Billy Bob and John Boy (Walton)…don’t you? Does it get any more country than those two names?) and they are discussing Country Music. It was kind of wild to hear Lemmy professing his love for Country Music. Billy Bob? I totally get that, but Lemmy? The Ace of Spades? I thought that was cool. By the way, I’m not the biggest Motorhead fan in the world, though I own maybe four of their records, but the Lemmy movie is highly entertaining. Way more interesting than I thought it would be. It’s well worth watching if you are so inclined. As for Country Music, I’ve said before how I used to go around saying how much I hated the stuff when I was younger, the way you might hear some folks refer to Rap as “Crap” I guess, but I’ve definitely softened that stance over the years. I was listening to Hank William’s Greatest Hits the other day and digging it. I can’t explain it either so don’t bother asking.
Even though Johnny Cash is no longer with us he isn’t entirely gone. His covers of Soundgarden, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Petty and many others are gems as far as I’m concerned. I love listening to his American Recordings series produced by Rick Rubin. I’m including a couple of those songs at the end of the post. I don’t really remember The Johnny Cash Show which aired on ABC from 1969-1971, but it boosted the careers of several artists such as Kris Kristofferson, whom you may remember for having penned “Me & Bobby McGee” which was later a gargantuan hit for Janis Joplin. Younger folks might recall his swaggering presence in the cult film series Blade starring Wesley Snipes. An awful lot of acts, such as Neil Young, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton and Kenny Rogers appeared on The Johnny Cash Show and it seemed to fit right in with contemporary shows of its ill like The Smother Brothers and Sonny & Cher even though The Smothers Brothers was before and Sonny & Cher were after. It was certainly a different time back then that’s for sure. Johnny Cash’s career led him to collaborate with other artists, turn to Gospel on several occasions and work fairly steadily until the effects of Parkinson’s Disease and diabetes finally put him to rest. He died only four months after his beloved wife June Carter Cash in September of 2003. I always find those stories where spouses die relatively close to each other fascinating. Happy Birthday Johnny, wherever you are.
Buy or Download The Essential Johnny Cash From Amazon Here.