Johnny Cash is such a complete man. He is the prototypical all-American male. He out John Waynes John Wayne, is more rugged than Clint Eastwood, has more class than Frank Sinatra, makes Ronald Reagan look like a flag burner, cares for the downtrodden and exploited more than Michael Moore and is no less faithful than Billy Graham.
He is a complete and purely American character because he is a ball of contradictions. He is patriotic, but protests war and won’t forget his country’s faults; he supports law and order, but entertains prisoners; he is God-fearing, but has abused his body and drifted and strayed; he is an artist, but for most of his career has preferred simplicity over ornament; he doesn’t give a damn about what you think about him, but has carefully crafted his own image; and, for a man who has spent his life in the adoration of the stage light, he is humble and polite to the people he meets.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
— Walt Whitman
Cash is 71, has had health problems, and is clearly aging. There is little doubt that he is very near the end of his career, if not his life. It is a career that began in 1955 at Sun Studio, in Memphis, Tenn. If his career had ended after he left Sun a few years later, he would still be remembered today as one of the giant legends of American music.
- Cry, Cry, Cry
- Folsom Prison Blues
- I Walk the Line
- Home of the Blues
But Cash’s career didn’t end there.
- Tennessee Flat Top Box
- Don’t Take Your Guns to Town
- Delia’s Gone
- Understand Your Man
- The Ballad of Ira Hayes
- San Quentin
- A Boy Named Sue
- Ring Of Fire
- Man in Black
- One Piece at a Time
- Cocaine Blues
Most of those songs were written by Cash, but where they weren’t, such as “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” or “Cocaine Blues,” Cash has shown himself to be a master at finding obscure songs and making them his own. Nobody will ever be able to cover those songs without giving tribute to Cash.
Cash has never been afraid to play songs by other songwriters, even famous ones. He’s covered Harlan Howard, Don Gibson, Jack Clement, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, U2, Neil Diamond and Nine Inch Nails. Each time, Cash, with his maler than thou voice, brings a new depth and dimension to the lyrics. He doesn’t always nail it, but he always makes you see the song in a new way.
Now, late in his life, a life that by any standard is bigger than life, Cash is turning out his most consistently outstanding work. Starting with 1994’s American Recordings, Cash, with the help of Rick Rubin, has put together a body of work, four CDs in all, that shames the country music world for it’s own pathetic poisoning of its very roots.
Nobody is doing music as honest, as heartfelt and as true as Cash has in this quadrilogy (one, two, three, four). The latest CD, The Man Comes Around, is only further confirmation that Cash is the man, the man for all seasons and the kind of man who made America what it is — as complicated, forthright, singular, imperfect, shameful and shameless, proud and doubting, brilliant and woeful as the man himself.