Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Author, or The Man in Black. Whatever he was called, he was one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century.
He had a face that looked like it had been blasted out of granite quarry, eyes that seemed to have looked out over the edge of the world, and music that sounded like the wheels of a freight train . . . rumbling through the floor.
Born in Kingsland, Arkansas, February 26, 1932, he came to earth in tough times. He had a hard father and a rough life. Johnny lost his brother Jack to a milling accident. The boy was cut nearly in half by a saw blade, and lived for nearly a week before passing. He was just fifteen years old.
Johnny Cash was a God-fearin’ man. He often spoke of looking forward to seeing his brother Jack again in Heaven.
The plight of Johnny’s family during the depression became the stuff of many of his greatest songs. He was much inspired by gospel music, and significantly influenced by traditional Irish music.
Cash had a bad-boy image and an outlaws persona. Oddly, he never spent a day in prison . . . except to perform.
Much of what he wrote, particularly in his later years, were themed in sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption. Among the best were I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire, and Man in Black.
Cash’s marriage to June Carter on March 1, 1968, became the stuff of legends. They worked together for thirty-five years, until her death in May of 2003. Just four months later, Johnny would follow the woman he loved into eternity.
In 1971, he wrote what might be his own most fitting epitaph.
We’re doing 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 ought to be, a man in black. (From Man in Black)
He said he would wear black until the World was at peace. He was buried in it.
In 2005. a biographical film, Walk the Line, hit the big screen. It starred Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, and included Robert Patrick as Ray Cash, Johnny’s father.
It was a fine film, with terrific performances by all, and an absolutely astounding sound track including some of Johnny Cash’s best work. Phoenix received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and the film received four more nominations. The actors sang their own songs, and they were amazingly good.
The film focuses on Cash’s early life, his romance with June Carter, his rise to fame in the country music industry, and his decline into drugs.
It is not a gloss-over. It shows the bad stuff. And the bad times.
It also shows the redemption, and it is definitely worth a watch. If you love country music, love Johnny Cash, the sound of freight-trains, and wheels a rumbling through the floor, then . . . this film’s for you.
Five stars any day of the week, and a big “thumbs-up,” in loving memory of Gene and Roger.
Take care tomorrow everyone. Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving.
And don’t get squished on Black Friday.