Friday, September 10

Cash Is King

There's a slew of tributes on the way for Johnny Cash as it's the first anniversary of his death, and a bunch of them are printed in today's Guardian. Culled from a tribute put together by Rolling Stone, there's the usual fluff from the usual suspects - yes, Bono is on his knees yet again - and fluff from some less expected sources - reporting for duty, Al Gore. Al Gore?

On the other hand, there's this from Bob Dylan:

I was asked to give a statement on Johnny's passing and thought about writing a piece instead called Cash is King, because that is the way I really feel. In plain terms, Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him - the greatest of the greats, then and now. I first met him in 1962, or 63, and saw him a lot in those years. In some kind of way he was with me more than people I see every day.

There wasn't much music media in the early 1960s, and Sing Out! was the magazine covering all things folk in character. The editors had published a letter chastising me for the direction my music was going. Johnny wrote the magazine back an open letter telling the editors to shut up and let me sing, that I knew what I was doing. This was before I had ever met him, and the letter meant the world to me. I've kept the magazine to this day.

Of course, I knew of him before he ever heard of me. In 1955 or 56, I Walk the Line played all summer on the radio, and it was different from anything else you had ever heard. The record sounded like a voice from the middle of the earth. It was so powerful and moving. It was profound, and so was the tone of it, every line; deep and rich, awesome and mysterious all at once. I Walk the Line had a monumental presence and a certain type of majesty that was humbling. Even a simple line like "I find it very, very easy to be true" can take your measure. We can remember that and see how far we fall short of it.

Johnny wrote thousands of lines like that. Truly, he is what the land and country are all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English. I think we can have recollections of him, but we can't define him any more than we can define a fountain of truth, light and beauty. If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black. Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul.

This is a miraculous and humbling thing. Listen to him, and he always brings you to your senses. He rises high above all, and he'll never die or be forgotten, even by persons not yet born - especially those persons - and that is for ever.
The link is to another worthwhile tribute, this time one written by Nick Cave which appeared when Cash died. Personally, I've had enough of Sir Nick's overblown, overlong, way too verbose songs - how I wish he would do a Bob and write a John Wesley Harding or Nashville Skyline. The strict template: three verses plus chorus and break and out. Less is more!

Laters I may post a brief piece on seeing Johnny Cash in concert, but you'll have plenty of time to set up the whisky and run through, say, the Folsom Prison and San Quentin recordings.

Right now, I'll end with the opening lines of my favourite Cash song: Big River. Dylan told Nicholas Dawidoff (for his excellent book In the Country of Country) that the the lines of the song seemed to him "words that turned into bone".

I taught the weeping willow how to cry
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky
And the tears that I cried for that woman
Are gonna flood you big river
And I'm gonna sit right here until I die

Link

posted by DD @ 09:37 

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