Johnny Cash was probably one of the first musical sounds I ever heard. He was the staple of my dad’s repertoire. The lead to “Folsom Prison Blues” is one of the first things I learned to play on the guitar. I still have his Sun recordings in hot rotation on my PC.
It wasn’t that he was a great singer. Or should I say, it wasn’t that he had a great voice. No, neither one of those statements is correct. He was a great singer with an incredible, unique voice. But, like Bob Dylan, it takes getting used to for some people. It was dark, growling and passionate. There’s not a single Cash song–from the serious (“I Walk the Line”) to the silly (“A Boy Named Sue”)–that he did half-way.
Like all teenagers, I drifted a bit from the Cult o’ Cash. He wasn’t cool. Until, of course, I realized that the coolest cats are the ones who don’t try to be cool. He was a rebel at Sun, refusing to listen to traditional country wisdom. He was a rebel at Columbia, adding different instruments like horns (“Ring of Fire”) to country and writing defiant, meaningful lyrics (“What is Truth?”) or celebrating the unsung hero (“The Ballad of Ira Hayes”). And he never stopped–covering Nine Inch Nails in his 70’s, giving it even more dark meaning.
The old man turned off the radio
Said, “Where did all of the old songs go
Kids sure play funny music these days
They play it in the strangest ways”
Said, “it looks to me like they’ve all gone wild
It was peaceful back when I was a child”
Well, man, could it be that the girls and boys
Are trying to be heard above your noise?
And the lonely voice of youth cries “What is truth?”