Wednesday, November 30, 2005


There is already a lot of talk about the newly released film “Walk the Line”. It chronicles the life of Johnny Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix, from early childhood up till his death on September 12th, 2003, due to complications related to diabetes. His wife June Carter Cash followed him 4 months later. To say that ‘the man in black’ is anything less than a legend would be blasphemous. He played with the likes of Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, and even The King. His voice, style, and demeanor have always set him apart from other country singers as well as his notorious dark side. The film seems promising and it has turned OSCAR heads but I doubt a biography will win again this year. Phoenix also sings his own tracks and Reese Witherspoon apparently breaks new ground with her portrayal of June Carter.

Apart from being larger than life, Cash also wrote some fucking good songs. His older stuff rolled out like stories with a smooth chorus between chapters. Some of the classics I enjoy are Cocaine, A Boy Named Sue, and One Piece at a Time. In his deep gruff voice he managed to relate with the common man and his everyday struggles. Not just the agony he faces in everyday reality but also the mental torture of being torn between heaven and hell, felling like a rag in the tug of war between God and Lucifer.

The song Cocaine is about a guy on a cocaine binge who shoots his wife and follows his path all the way into prison. Cash actually recorded that song while playing live at the Folsom Prison for the inmates. When he sings in the last verse “The judge he smiled as he picked up his pen, 99 years in the Folsom pen, 99 years underneath that ground, I can't forget the day I shot that bad bitch down”, you can here the whole crowd break out into a cheer.

Like most rock stars, Johnny Cash’s life was filled with drugs, booze, and overall insanity. Even the like of Ray Charles could not escape that vicious pitfall. It is left up to the movie to tell that story now. However, the last track Cash left us with was a cover of a song written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Many people have described this song as the best ‘anti-drug’ song they ever heard. It obviously struck a chord with Cash and his rendition of the song and the video for it kind of turned out to be his obituary. The original is equally heart wrenching. It is not everyday you come across lyrics like these.

In the music video directed by Mark Romanek, Cash does not wear any make up nor is any lighting used to make his aging face look any younger. The clips flash between him sitting in a chair playing the song on his guitar and singing, and snap shots of his life gone by, him in his younger years. His wife June Carter Cash is also featured in the video. It is astonishing that a man looking so frail could still sound so powerful and the imagery combined with that can stir up some emotions. If you have not heard this track then you are really missing out.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a holeThe old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

[Chorus:]What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here
[Chorus:]What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way


Jax said...

Wow Avi! That was a well written piece. And I love the fact that you ended with the lyrics of this song. And what're you talking about Cash being connected to all the everyday grief of the 'common man'... you seem to be doing a pretty good job of it yourself bro. Keep it up. And I may not have mentioned this before, but I really like the way you write because it's casual, conversational, and it shows that you mean what you say. Good one dawg! Keep them rotis/naans at a dhaba!

IndCoup said...

Great post.

I HATE country music, but I rate Cash's "American Recordings" as probably the finest studio rock music ever made. The albums were produced by Rick Rubin and they are fucking awesome.

"I hang my head" will send chills down your spine.

I can't wait to see the film.

rishtafari said...

didn't know much about Cash, his music, the impact they had and what they stood for.

I'm intrigued now and interested in knowing more. I'll look out for the flick.

Avi said...

Thanx Jax. Its always refreshing uplifting to read compliments. Especially from you. Mahalo.

Coup, I was never really one for country either but this guy is somthing else.

Rish, I will drill you with his tunes when you get here. ;-)

Jax said...

Hey, don't mention it man. Peace.

two said...

i just saw the movie. the scenes of johnny at the opening and the conclusion, staring at the table saw, thinking about his brother, his father. poor june, trying to straighten his poor, struggling ass out. reminds me of my family. none of us could sing though.