John R. “Johnny” Cash was born February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, and he died September 12, 2003, at the age of 71, entirely too young for a man who left a cultural legacy that rivals Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis … you name it. There isn’t an artist in any genre who had a greater impact on American music than Johnny Cash.
Known primarily as a country singer, he always was much more than that. He befriended Bob Dylan at a time when Dylan was just another hippie war protester, supported the American Indian Movement in the early 1970s, and his signature song – which he played for a somewhat embarrassed Richard Nixon at the White House in 1972 – is the consummate tale of forgotten Americans:
I wear the black for the poor and beaten down
Living 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 it for the sick and lonely old
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold
I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men …
Well there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But till we start to make a move to make a few things right
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white …
Later in life, he stretched his music further, covering Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” among others on the American Recordings series. And then there’s this: Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer doing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”:
(Yeah, I’ve posted that video two or three times before. Because it’s Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer, that’s why.)
In any event, Johnny Cash was a great American liberal to the very end. Here’s his daughter, Rosanne Cash, in the October 2010 edition of Progressive magazine, discussing his opposition to the war in Iraq in the final months of his life:
He was so fragile. We invaded Iraq in March, and he died in September. And because his health was so fragile, he couldn’t take the controversy of making a public statement against the war. He knew that people were rabid. They attacked me mercilessly after I did the press conference with Musicians United to Win Without War. He knew that he couldn’t tolerate that.
In the two weeks leading up to the invasion, my father was in the hospital. He was very sick. The doctors put him in a medically induced coma. He went to sleep not knowing if we had invaded Iraq. It was the last thought on his mind. When he woke up, I was sitting by his side. He looked at me and reached over to pull the television over to him. He was looking at me like, “Did it happen?” I said, “Dad, it happened.” He went, “No! No!” Can you imagine? This is the first thing he thought of when he woke up from a weeklong coma.
Conservatives, of course, will always try to claim Johnny Cash as one of their own. That just goes to show what a badass he really was. But he didn’t dress in black to represent the rich and powerful; he did it for the rest of us.
And one more thing. Via @pourmecoffee on the Twitters, here’s a picture of Johnny Cash with kitten:
ALL YOUR ARGUMENTS ARE INVALID.
[Cross-posted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]