Fade To Black: Johnny Cash 1932-2003
And we loved and we laughed the pain away
At the end of the journey, when our last song is sung
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
The Man In Black...has finally faded to black. Years after he has flirted with death back and forth, he
has finally taken the trip to the other side. Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and now Johnny have
all left us. Only Jerry Lee Lewis is left from that original group of Sun Studio musicians. These men
revolutionized rock music, as we know it today. What differentiated Cash from the others is that he was so
deeply rooted in all forms of music...country, gospel, rock, and folk. All of them dabbled in other types
of music, especially Elvis, but none were as expansive as Cash. After his wife's death this past May, Cash
and producer Rick Rubin apparently laid down basic tracks for close to thirty songs over the course of the
summer. Also, later this year, a box set of outtakes from all four "American Recordings" albums will
surface, "Unearthed". I can't think of a single release this fall I am looking more forward to. The loss
of Johnny Cash is as significant as the loss of Lennon, Presley, Hendrix, Moon, Hank Williams...however,
unlike his contemporaries, we were fortunate enough to have enjoyed the man and his music longer than any
of the other artists I mentioned. Cash continued to grace millions with the gift of new music, and not
just recycled music, but music that gave me comfort, music I loved, music that still moves to me tears.
-U2, "Elvis Ate America"
Now, I am not going to pretend that my love for Johnny Cash goes back to my childhood or tell you about a
close encounter I had with the man. The truth is, I became a casual fan about a decade ago and become
enamored with his music over the last four years of my life. However, my love for this man and his music
is deeper than almost all of the music I ever have or ever will listen to. I don't feel that many people
from my generation realize what an incredible loss this truly is. Ever since I was young, I can always
remember who he was. However, in the last few years, I have had this man and his music invade my daily
thoughts and help paint my dreams. My first major exposure to Johnny Cash was when I bought U2's "Zooropa"
album back in 1993. "Zooropa" is an underrated album and while it may not hold a candle to its sister
recording, "Achtung Baby", it's still a stunning document and one, which continues to get better with
time. The album's final track is "The Wanderer". Bono was going to record the vocals when the band got the
idea for Cash to lay his vocals on the track. To some the track may seem out of place, but ten years down
the road, it's a fitting and idyllic way to end the album. Upon hearing "The Wanderer" I was astonished at
the richness of Cash's voice. How can someone who did not write the lyrics sing a song with such emotion
and conviction? Whenever I heard his voice in the future, I immediately knew it was Cash without fail
My deep love affair with the Man In Black occurred in 2000 with my purchase of "American Recordings III".
He was doing a number of covers on the album, including "I Won't Back Down" and "One", which prompted me
to buy the album initially. How he remade these songs and made them his own, I'll never understand. He did
not write either song, but when you hear his voice, it's as if he has lived through these experiences, his
voice transcends the songs. The only other act I have ever heard in my lifetime who can consistently
express such a wide range of emotions on songs he did not write is Frank Sinatra. It's rare someone can
command a song so convincingly with emotion on music that did not come from within. Somehow, Cash does it.
Shortly thereafter, I went out and bought all of the "American Recordings". These are among the finest
records ever produced in the annals of music-country, rock, folk, any style, period! Producer Rick Rubin
took Cash under his wing and they decided to reinvent many of Cash's classic tunes and to put a different
spin on many contemporary tracks. These recordings are bare naked, stripped to the bone...I love them
because they expose his soul to me. There is nothing more expressive or pleasing than truly getting inside
of someone. I'm not talking about the physical needs that so many go to soulless bars on weekends hoping
to fulfill, but the feeling when someone is exposing themselves to you, with their mind and heart. They
trust you and break down all walls and let you invade their mind, body and soul. This is the point of
"American Recordings". Rick Rubin did what no other producer had done with Cash in almost two decades. He
got to the core and showcased this man's amazing voice. Not only did he reinvent many of his own songs,
but his takes on standards by Tom Petty, U2, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Beck, Soundgarden, The
Beatles, Sting, Depeche Mode and most recently, Nine Inch Nails. He adds a new element to each of these
tracks. The core is the lyrics. Somehow, Rubin and Cash find a way to make you believe these are Johnny
Cash originals. The songs on "American Recordings" are among some of the most stirring and poignant songs
I have heard over the last decade.
Over the course of the last year, more attention has been given to Cash than at any time in the last 25
years. It is all as a result of the video of his cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt". Rubin and Cash
brought a song, originally intended to be about heroin addiction, to life as it turned into something more
spiritual. The haunting and surreal video of the song is unlike any other music video ever made -echoing
his impending death, the last supper imagery, his broken down museum and the look on his late wife's face
as she looks upon his weary body from the stairway of their home...the same look she probably gave for the
last four months looking from the heavens above.
Anyone who is not moved by the video of "Hurt" is lying. I truly felt the video medium had been taken as
far as it could have possibly been taken about a decade back, but I was wrong. "Hurt" may be the greatest
short clip ever done for the format and the fact that MTV aired the video a total of six times and did not
give it Video of the Year is something that should prove how far the network has removed itself from
anything relating to music and the art form of videos. This is more than a video, but a mini movie of
Cash's life. There are images of him in his youth with him as an older man playing his guitar, pouring
wine over a feast and watching the man with his hands shake -images all so powerful it nearly brought me
to near tears each and every time I watched it. Director Mark Romanick did more in four minutes than most
filmmakers do with 20 two-hour films over the course of an entire career. I never knew such a small piece
of film could bring out such a wide range of emotions. Every single person who has seen the video has
mentioned it to me. I can't tell you how many people have watched the video and been completely speechless
afterwards. My friends Chris and Andy, weeks apart, both looked at me and said "Did you see the video for
'Hurt'?" Neither said another word, they just stared at me as if they were in awe, moved, disturbed,
shaken...there was nothing else that could be said. The video said it all.
I will continue to love and relish Johnny Cash through the 400 songs he wrote and 100 albums he released
in his 71-year life. I will continue to look forward to more new material, which will allow him to speak
beyond the grave. I will continue to be moved by his spiritual songs, my heart will be made warm by the
love songs he wrote, and I will be mystified by the songs of cowboys, hustlers and thieves.
And we heard what the angels had to say
Should you go first, or if you follow me
Will you meet me in Heaven someday
Cash was a spiritual man. This is a man whose faith ran so deep that the religious overtones could always
be found among his music. He believed in his God and his faith but expressed hope in so many of his songs.
Cash was a man whose faith was unswerving. He believed so deeply that I have no doubt that he is above us,
looking down, smiling and among an assortment of white cloaks, he is the sole individual dressed in black.
Who knows, maybe even Elvis Aaron was there to greet him along with his soul mate June. I recently watched
a Kurt Loder interview with the Cash. Loder asked him where he thought we go when life ends. Cash, sat
back in his chair, and in most sincere and serene way said, "We all hope to go to heaven". Me too.
Despite a riotous past, I am positive Johnny has made it to the Promised Land with his soul mate, June. I
am sure they are walking hand in hand, after a brief separation, looking over their loved ones below. For
the rest of future generations and us, they will both be in our hearts and minds each and every time we
hear one of their songs. The entire Carter family clan joined Cash on the final track of his most recent
"American Recordings", "We'll Meet Again". As I look over the tracks he chose for the fourth installment,
it's almost as if he had envisioned something would happen. "In My Life", "Bridge Over Troubled Water",
"The Man Comes Around", "Desperado", "Personal Jesus"...all songs I initially thought added for more
commercial value seem to have a much deeper meaning now. The songs on "American Recordings #4" hit deep,
and these feelings rip away the flesh even more so...they represent an artist at his creative peak. The
album concludes with the standard "We'll Meet Again", I am sure we will all meet up with the Man in Black
again and if we're lucky, it will be Johnny Cash in the black and not a gatekeeper below.
When we walk into the light across the bar
But I'll know you and you'll know me
Out there beyond the stars
-"Meet Me In Heaven", lyrics by Johnny Cash
Walking The Line
American Recordings sent out a press release to pay their respects to Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was tremendously influential to many of the artists on his label Lost Highway, Island Records and to the music community as a whole and will be greatly missed by all. If interested, the Cash Family have asked that any donations be made to :
The SOS Children's Mission