The Man Called Cash

I hadn’t realised that today was the eighth anniversary of the death of Johnny Cash. I’m not a great connoisseur of country music, but Cash somehow transcended his genre, becoming an iconic figure, especially in his later years.

For me, someone with limited musical knowledge, my favourite Johnny Cash songs have a weight to them that goes beyond the music. ‘The Man Comes Around’ sounds like someone gave a biblical prophet a guitar and told him to hitchhike round small-town America, preaching Cassandra-like about the imminent Second Coming. It’s all tied up with Cash’s faith, sincerely held and vital, driving a man who, even so, could still sing about prisoners and outlaws and the damned.

Then there’s the song for which Cash will be remembered among my generation. His cover of ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails is heartbreaking in its beauty, and if just hearing it is emotionally draining, watching the video is devastating, an old man surrounded by the relics of his life. There’s a moment where the lyrics drop out and footage of Cash in his earlier years kicks in; “Stay the hell away from me” he growls, looking straight at the camera and making the viewer feel like a voyeur into a man’s darkest memories, an intruder in an empire of dirt. This is a song you listen to when you know things have gone to hell and when you need music not to cheer you up but to understand you.

Johnny Cash was a legend. But he was also a human being familiar with weakness and failings. And sometimes that’s what you need from the guy standing before you with a guitar, not the icon but the man. Someone who knows what it’s like to be in hell; someone who knows there’s a way out.


2 thoughts on “The Man Called Cash

  1. jamieahughes

    I didn’t know it had been eight years either! I think it’s because they’re still releasing his later recordings one album at a time. After June’s death, he recorded because he had nothing else to work for, and we benefit from that outpouring of his heart. I was born in Arkansas and grew up loving two men–Elvis and (to an even greater degree) my beloved Johnny Cash.

    “Hurt” is one of those songs that digs down in your soul and stays there. American IV, the album it is a part of, is a slice of fried gold. Every single track on it is distilled Johnny, a mellowed single malt scotch version of the rebel I love. I have to say that My Mother’s Hymn Book is my favorite of his albums as of late, but they’re all good. Johnny was a saint and a sinner, a man who (like Bilbo Baggins) had gone there and back again and could tell you all about it. Nice to see another fan of the Man in Black around these parts! Great post!

    1. matthewhyde Post author

      Sorry it’s taken a while to replay! You’re right about Hurt – even if you haven’t lived that sort of life, it still has a way of latching on to your guilt and regrets and expresses something of how you wish they’d just go away. The song’s devastating, and maybe that’s because it understands – and challenges – us. Johnny’s voice just gets the lyrics into your bones…

      Thanks for the comment – anyone who likes Johnny Cash is welcome at this blog!


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