This one hurts.
With the passing of Johnny Cash we've lost a musician and icon unlike any other.
When someone you care for passes, you have to deal with the impulse to be selfish, to miss what that person meant in your life. I certainly didn't know Johnny Cash, but I've spent a lot of time with his music over the years. I'll miss him. If that's selfish, fine.
I'll miss wondering what that broad mind of his will tackle next. Yeah, I'll always have the CDs, which I've done my best to wear out since the news that he passed. Old stuff, new stuff, whatever. It's all good stuff. But the selfish part of me will always want more. Posthumous releases will come for sure. In the 90s, several years after Columbia Records unceremoniously ended their 25-year relationship, Cash was prolific as well as terrific. Producer Rick Rubin and Cash, who teamed up for four stark, powerful CDs on American Records, were a match made in Heaven. (Rubin was an "honorary pallbearer" at Cash's funeral, a fitting honor.) Outtakes from those recordings are slated to be released. For a while it might feel like he's still with us, but at some point the new songs will stop.
He was in his 60s when he started working with Rubin and American, by the way.
He epitomized rock and country, sacred and profane. Let him wrench your guts with the much-lauded cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," or make your pulse race with "I Walk the Line" (from 1956, mind you). Columbia bleeped the line "I'm the son of a bitch that named you Sue" from his hit cover of Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue," but he also recorded countless gospel songs and rubbed elbows with Billy Graham. His contradictions made him seem like one of us, and he was to an extent, sinning on Saturday night and praying for forgiveness on Sunday morning.
But hand an acoustic guitar to any 100, hell, 1,000,000 men or women and see how many can begin to conjure pure magic like Johnny Cash. Not a one.
"Delia's Gone," from American Recordings, was easily equal to the pathos of Robert Johnson or Dock Boggs. "Rusty Cage" was a natural evolution for one heavy, great song (think your grampa would pay even the slightest attention to Soundgarden? Or Depeche Mode, as Cash did on "Personal Jesus?"). Listen to "Hurt." Be awestruck by the unflinching power of the video of an artist who, at 71, was still at the top of his game. Who else can say that? Very few performers of his age and track record are performing, and it would hard to make a case for their relevance at this moment.
He was funny as hell, poignant, rebellious and penitent. He was black leather and chrome, a cowboy and a preacher. Johnny Cash was a crack of thunder in an ozone sky, a force the likes of which we're not likely to see again any time soon, and he's gone. Yeah, this one hurts.
Copyright © 2003 High Bias