The Half-Dead Poet Review – Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

Why I Still Wear Black or The Story of Me and Johnny Cash

So did I ever mention I grew up in suburbia listening to Johnny Cash?

My father had all his records and when I was a kid I heard all his songs never knowing that as an adult later on how they would have such a profound effect on me or my life. How his words of everyday wisdom and on standing alone, being yourself or an individual, a man shaped my blue collar upbringing. Much like the words and the life lessons of my own father himself who to this day I think of whenever I hear Johnny’s songs.

You see Johnny Cash was a troubadour, a poet who spoke of things simply, honestly and through his lyrics about love, life, spirit, and death. And I admire that. He was a real person and not just an entertainer or a legend. He was a man with a conscience and a soul. Something that mattered. A singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor, and author. Not just an icon. Also, just like my father, he served in the U.S. Air Force.

 

I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never readJohnny Cash

 

Some people most likely or today’s generation of poets may not find or understand how Johnny Cash could be a poet. But if you listen to his lyrics and even read them as a poem you’ll understand. As much as I like Bob Dylan’s work to me he will never be as good as J. R. Cash. “Ring of Fire” “Folsom Prison Blues” “I Walk The Line”. Cash grew up in the depression and lost his brother in a tragic work accident. Those things shaped him and his music. Southern Gothic, dark country call it what you will. Hard times that made him the artist he became. When I was young I never appreciated or understood why my father loved his music so much but as a man who’s lived, I now know why and having experienced such things at times like death and poverty, sadness and pain I can relate to the words he’s shared. I found my voice through my own personal pain. I found my soul through poetry and tribulation. Loss and the fire in which I was made. Heartbreak and failure. Johnny is an influence in that making much like the other poets and writers, musicians and great lyricists that have come before me. My generation’s legacy who were also influenced by Cash. Nick Cave, Mike Ness (Social Distortion) and so many others. The list goes on. We all share a love of his music in common.

 

There’s no way around grief and loss: you can dodge all you want, but sooner or later you just have to go into it, through it, and, hopefully, come out the other side. The world you find there will never be the same as the world you left.Johnny Cash

 

So why do I wear black?

Johnny CashOriginally it was a part of my time period and music. Goth, punk, metal but over the years has become something more. A part of my own character and my own legacy. For me, as a poet, I am getting older. And like Johnny, I can see things coming from a mile away. Good or bad but I have learned that we just have to navigate our way through the worst of it all to lead the lives we want. And that’s the main lesson which to me his voice and words have left to us. A legacy of the human spirit. A gospel. A reminder that we are not all perfect and that we all can make mistakes but that we can overcome just about anything and that yes, we all walk through this short time, this short life with regrets. Johnny died in 2003 and shortly before his death released a number of cover songs produced by Rick Rubin. A series of songs which seemed to suddenly mix in my own timeline musically with his. American IV: The Man Comes Around is still of all his albums my favorite. The cover of Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” is probably one of the most incredible and saddest ballads ever written and still speaks to me to this day more than most poems.

Just last year a book of Johnny Cash’s unpublished, unknown poems, Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, was finally shared with the public. I recommend reading it highly.

So, if you want to understand the man, if you want to understand the poet? Read his work.