A Tribute to
I cried like a baby when I woke to the news: Johnny Cash died this
morning. After his wife June Carter Cash passed a few months prior, we
all knew it wouldn't be long before Johnny would join her, but like the
passing of Ted Williams, it did nothing to lessen the blow. In the
past two months, Johnny looked like death, and a blood-sick media exposed
every crease in his face, every depression in his cheek, and every tremble
in his hand.
Cash was a warrior who conquered his own demons and lived to write about
them. He grappled with drugs in the 60's, as did just about every
other musician at the time, but somehow Johnny's struggles were well
documented, and to a point, over exposed, perhaps due to his unpredictable
performances or his rough-edged appearances on television talk shows.
But he survived and kicked the devil in the teeth, never again succumbing
to his own hand.
Cash was vulnerable but determined in music and life itself. He gave
promise to the losers and derelicts of society, championing criminals,
gamblers, and infidels through empathy and sensitivity. He put
everyone on equal plane, and knew that being human meant you were capable
of anything, including heinous acts of violence and debauchery.
My dad, a former lawman, told me one reason he became a policeman was so
that he himself would stay out of jail. He was recognizant to the
thin line between men good and bad, and was also vastly aware of the
hypocrisy that exists for those who wear badges. Johnny was also
wise to these lines, and they often dominated his lyrics.
Cash also never feared to express his love and devotion to his wife nor
was he afraid to sing of his praise for God, both gunshots to the foot in
the music business. He never truly cared what anyone thought,
although he was vividly conscious of all that happened around him.
When I was a child, my folks had a makeshift bar in the basement made out
of a closet door and some left over paneling, and fitted beneath the bar
was an 8-track stereo. Included in their musical collection were
records by Hank Williams, Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn and Neil Diamond, to
name a few. But one particular record always stood out to me, for
different reasons at the time, for when I first listened to Johnny Cash at
Folsom Prison, I would roll with laughter, not because I was struck
comedic, but due to the tremendous joy delivered by the music. It
reminded me of parties in my parent's basement or family reunions in the
backyard, all of which mirrored Cash's speak of excess.
Cash's music became a soundtrack in the seventies. I remember the
first time my dad took me into the Legion Hall in Rollinsford.
Folsom Prison Blues was playing on the jukebox. The air was thick
with smoke, folks at the bar looked hardened and mean. It was
everything I imagined an old Western town to be. Johnny somehow
softened the atmosphere with familiarity. I wanted to step up and
tell everyone I knew the words.
As a songwriter, Cash's music took on an entirely different meaning to me.
He offered strength and originality through simplicity and familiarity.
Through these assets, he forged his own sound, and although many would be
quick to point out many of his songs sound similar, he was a true pioneer.
Cash was also never afraid to be goofy, and for an artist who stepped
between the blurry lines of country and rock and roll, he stood alone in
Many people who have died and come back have claimed they saw bright
lights or a tunnel of sorts while slipping away. I imagine Johnny's
post-mortem ride would be on a steam train chugging through a forested
mountainside, powerful and determined, never succumbing to death's grip,
always keeping his eyes on the horizon.
Johnny Cash, R.I.P
Martin England is an
independent writer and frontman of Pondering Judd.
To learn more visit
Pondering Judd's website at: