How NOT to write about music – 23: Johnny Cash

johnny cash

The opening line…

The opening line comes from a Leadbelly song…

But the Leadbelly line is taken from a far deeper tradition that goes back decades, centuries even…

(Listen to this version! So damn good.)

I’ve been performing this song on stage for years now, unaccompanied for the most part. There’s nothing lightweight about it. I know precisely why I am singing it and who I am I singing it for. It usually has the effect of reducing a room to chilled awkward silence, except for one memorable time in Olympia when the entire audience began singing along in unscripted beautiful three-part harmony.

This Johnny Cash song… oh fuck. This Johnny Cash song I heard a few nights back when I was watching the tail-end of an OK if somewhat overdone (in terms of violence and its own self-importance) movie about a tired mutant nearing the end of his life. I do not know which inspired genius decided to place it right there, at the film’s end: it did not complement the film content – instead it threw the entire movie into stark relief, showed it up for what it was, storytelling that resonates for only as long as the flickering images are there in front of your eyes (like life itself, I guess). You think generations of male filmmakers and storytellers, from Tarantino and Eastwood onward, through Peaky Blinders and the rest of the Game Of Thrones shebang, have not been trying (and failing) to duplicate what Johnny Cash does with such ease here, over the course of a few sparse lines and inflections…

It is one of the last songs Cash wrote before his death, and most everything sounds overdone next to this… even if the lyrics are way Book of Revelations.

I’d like to say Nick Cave stole his Kicking Against The Pricks album title from a line in this song, but that title is drawn from acts 9, verse 5, Acts of the Apostles:

I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks

I would reprint the lyrics, but what would be the point?

It is all in the voice.

One thought on “How NOT to write about music – 23: Johnny Cash

  1. Pingback: 10 Least Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music | How NOT to write about music

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