Friday, February 26, 2010

A Black Day - in a good way

Today would have been the 78th birthday of the late, great JR Cash - or Johnny, as he became known to the world. (His given name - which, I think, usually appears on his song lyric copyrights and so on - was simply JR. Apparently, his parents couldn't agree on names for him, so just gave him the two initials.... as happened with BJ Hunnicutt in M.A.S.H.)

Today also sees the release of the second (and, it would seem, probably last) posthumous collection of songs from the fabulous series of recordings he made during the last decade of his life with Rick Rubin's American Recordings label - American VI: Ain't No Grave.

I began listening to music - playing records for myself - when I was little more than a toddler, left alone for hours at a time to amuse myself with my parents' venerable Pye Gramophone and their big collection of (mostly) 45rpm singles. Their tastes were very, very middle-of-the-road (absolutely NO rock'n'roll, not even any Beatles), so Johnny's Live At San Quentin album was a decidedly outré component of the collection - but one that had a deep impact on me. I don't think they had anything else of his, though; and my musical tastes developed in other directions. It wasn't until I went to law school in the mid-90s that I began listening to him again, but I assuredly became a convert. These days, I think I'd align myself with Kid Rock, who said of him: "As far as I'm concerned, his face should be on Mount Rushmore."

Johnny himself once said of his output: "I love songs about horses, railroads, land, Judgment Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God."

I can live without the strong Christian undercurrent in his work, but it's hard to argue with the rest of that list. He would, in fact, make a fine, inspiring addition to my 'Unsuitable Role Models' hall of fame. He had some major problems with drink and drugs, especially early in his career, but he got them under control - while continuing to write and sing about that experience with a charisma and conviction that can send shivers down the spine. Here's his quietly devastating version of Trent Reznor's Hurt, from the American IV album, recorded late in his life.

And to honour the memory of The Man In Black, we are all being encouraged to wear black today. I wear black most of the time anyway, but I've been holding off all week, just to make today a little special. I wonder how many other people in Beijing will be joining the tribute.

[I notice that Johnny's ominous, 'Book of Revelations'-inspired When The Man Comes Around - also from the fantastic American IV album - has spawned a large number of video tributes on YouTube. All of them, naturally, are fairly grim viewing; but this, I think, is one of the best.]


gary said...

Great cover of 9 Inch Nails.

I didn't know about this. Thanks for the heads up.

I don't have a black shirt to my name. As it's casual Friday tomorrow I wonder if I could get away with a black T.

Does anybody play Cash in The Jing? Nashville maybe.

The British Cowboy said...

The religious aspect of Johnny's music never bothered me at all. It isn't the in your face version that you see in too many other singers. It was just a part of his life.

Froog said...

I didn't notice anyone wearing black in Beijing yesterday - but then, I didn't get out much; just a brief 'tour' in the evening.

The two friends who most frequently do wear black (and are mostly likely to appreciate and memorialise JC) were both out of town.

Froog said...

Not a lot of Cash in The Jing, I'm afraid, Gary.

The new Nashville seems kind of soulless to me, and it's it an out-of-the-way location. I find I only look in there once or twice a year. Their cover players seems to favour the likes of Dire Straits more than the C&W pantheon.

I'm pretty sure Alc at Amilal has some Johnny Cash somewhere in his huge and extremely good collection. And the Pool Bar has American IV on its MP3 playlist, thanks to my American drinking buddy of a couple of years back, Crazy Chris, who downloaded lots of his own music for them - unfortunately, it doesn't seem to come up very often.

Joseph at 12 Square Metres has this version of Hurt, but I don't know if he's got any of the more classic stuff.

No, Cash fans not well served in this town, on the whole.