; Tangled Up In Blue: I Don't Like It, But I Guess Things Happen That Way

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I Don't Like It, But I Guess Things Happen That Way

He was the first person elected to both the country and rock halls of fame. (There are others in both, but most of the country artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were inducted as "early influences" NOT as rock and roll performers.) He was not the first "man in black" (Lefty Frizzell actually had that nickname at one time), but he's the first person you think of when that term is used. While the terms "original" and "genius" are so often overused in this day and age by journalists too lazy to check a dictionary or their synonym checker, Johnny Cash truly deserved both.

Johnny's Sun stuff is absolutely incredible. There was a three-CD box set put out by Charly Records in England (that turned out to be a bootleg -- an amazingly packaged one at that!) that had everything including a 45-second snip of Johnny doing the Sons of the Pioneers' "One More Ride" and demo versions of hits. If you can find it, get it. It is well worth the price. When he moved to Columbia Records he showed no sign of being a "flash in the pan." Even when Columbia dropped him in the 80s, he moved to Mercury and didn't miss a beat, as the excellent Johnny Cash is Coming to Town (featuring a good cover of Elvis Costello's "The Big Light") proves. Toward the end of his life he churned out the American Recordings collection, winning Grammy after Grammy for these albums that showed his amazing diversity.

He gave us one of the first "concept albums" in country music (Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian) long before concept albums were cool anywhere. He entertained prisoners so frequently (as two live albums and a TV special recorded behind bars will attest to) that some people are genuinely surprised to discover the man NEVER did prison time. He had a network TV show that featured not only country superstars but people like Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, and Mama Cass.

It's been two years now since his death on September 12, 2003. Do not mourn his passing, but celebrate the exceptional music we have from this gifted artist. We will never see the likes of him again.


Blogger John H said...

You touched on his openness and his generosity, which were evident throughout his life. In the late 60's when the nation was as polarized as it is right now, and when the world of country music was not open to long hairs (country music was the soundtrack of Nixon's silent majority, while the rock and the roll was the funeral dirge for the decadent immoral path to hell), Johnny Cash opened his home and his stage to musicians with long hair who didn't sound like anything the Grand Ole Opry was featuring.

His TV show was taped at the Ryman, and I was lucky enough to see several episodes being taped there. Bringing Creedence Clearwater to the stage sounds tame now, but it was a brave move by a man who was trying to make a living as a country singer. He brought the Byrds to the Opry and stood up for Dylan when he came to Nashville to make a country record (not a move that delighted the country world at the time) which became the incredible Nashville Skyline.

He made his records his way, even while absorbing and covering everthing from pure gospel to Trent Reznor.

The video of 'Hurt' was a wonderful coda to an amazing life. Johnny Cash rocked the world.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Glen Dean said...

He was a great. No doubt about it and I agree with Kristofferson. He was most definetly a walking contradiction. I particularly love the fact that he played in San Quentin and Folsom. You know, Merle Haggard was actually a resident at San Quentin when Cash played there.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Joe Powell said...

Well said -- Johnny grabbed my attention as a kid with his spare but powerful lyrics and unique arrangements. I never missed an episode of that summer series he had -- he did so seem to have an open mind about music and performers.
Back a year or so ago when I was in the theatre watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead, i nearly fell out of my seat when his "When The Man Comes to Town" played over opening credits.
From the Apocalypse to Gospel to Rock and tunes of Marriage and Hard Livin' he left an enormous wealth of great American music. I am glad I was alive while he was charting his course thru life. Those who weren't around truly missed seeing genius at work.

4:52 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home