Friday, September 12, 2003

One more note on the Man in Black

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon has a wonderful tribute to Johnny Cash that is well worth clicking through the ad for a daypass. A couple of snippets that are worth sharing here...

If you took every note that Johnny Cash didn't quite hit and laid them end-to-end, they'd probably reach clear around the world. And so what? His was one of the greatest voices of both country and rock 'n' roll (he's one of the few artists to be elected to both halls of fame), a voice that was beautifully suited to heart-wrenching romantic ballads but that was just as often, or perhaps more often, used to speak up for the downtrodden and the forgotten -- or for anyone who may have simply made a mistake in life. Low and dark, devoid of cream and especially sugar, Cash's voice was the sound of black coffee, a sound you didn't know you needed until you got that first sip. And by then you were hooked.

But Cash's most lasting contribution may be his rough-and-ready sense of social justice. He wasn't political in the strictest sense of the word. But when something in the world struck him as unfair or wrong, he spoke up with an urgency unmatched by nearly any other artist. His "Singin' in Viet Nam Talkin' Blues" is a rambling account of the trip he and June took there in the late '60s to perform for the troops; the song is rambling not because Cash's thoughts are unorganized, but because even as he's telling us the story of what he and June saw there, he still can't make sense of it -- there is no sense to be made. In "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (written by Peter LaFarge), he tells, with unvarnished bitterness, the story of a whisky-drinking Marine, a Native American who helped raise the American flag at Iwo Jima, only to return home to a country that couldn't care less whether he lived or died.


Read the whole thing here.

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