The Leaning Cow

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Johnny Cash – what I didn’t know

January 29th, 2017 ·2 Comments

There are, I’m certain, a lot of things I don’t know about Johnny Cash. But last week, there were a lot more. That changed because I came into the living room, sat down and realized: Oh, my gosh, the remotes are here-not misplaced. So, I turned the TV on and there was the beginning of Walk the Line; I have seen this listed many times and it was in the movie theaters in 2005, but I never watched it.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Johnny Cash. I don’t know why I avoided it, but I did. Then, well, there it was, right in my face and I decided Joaquin Phoenix actually looked like Johnny Cash . . . and I was open to an excuse not to do anything else.

Very early in the movie, I learned that Johnny Cash’s worshiped older brother Jack was killed in a sawmill accident and that his father laid a lot of blame on him. Jack was 15; Johnny (then known as J.R. was 12). I watched the entire movie, but that first part haunted me and so I researched.

Not believing everything I read, but pulling together a reasonable summary of the story: Yes, Johnny’s father expressed the idea that it should have been Johnny who died, that Jack was the good son, the one determined to be a preacher and so forth. I suspect that Johnny would have got that idea in his young head by himself, but I think his father’s judgement forced that feeling of guilt into his heart.

Of course, that young boy should have been led to realize there was sorrow in Jack’s death, but not guilt. He wouldn’t have fully believed it, of course, but he might have understood that life and death and accidents are often like the flip of a coin. I know I feel guilt for what have might have come from mistakes I made that, for some reason, missed disaster by a second, a fraction of an inch. It is unnerving when you think of life not in turns of what might have happened good, but in terms of what might have happened bad – what you might have had to live until the grave. If you really think about it, a shrug and a brief thought of “close call” should be replaced with gut-wrenching, nightmare terror. A nightmare that didn’t happen, not because you woke up, but because you got for no good reason – lucky.

It wasn’t even a mistake Johnny Cash made; it was just the way the day played out. In fact, Jack didn’t do Johnny any favors when he said, Go ahead and go fishing, J.R.; he didn’t say he knew it was not save for one person to be alone with a big old saw. In fact, Jack was 15, the good one, the one who was supposed to show his 12 year old brother the responsible way to do something. Oh, and J.R. was going fishing to try and get some food for the extremely poor family.

I don’t know what the pain and hurt and guilt and the accusations of his father did to J.R.’s mind and heart, but I suspect there was cultivated an anguish that became unbearable at times. And I won’t make any judgement because he stumbled on something that eased his pain and he had a hell of a time fighting it.

Maybe the reason he always started each performance with Hello, I’m Johnny Cash is because he was never going to let people think he was some man hiding who he was and what his pat included.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 pottermom // Jan 30, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    We went to a Johnny Cash concert back in … the early 80s I suppose at the Brookfield Zoo when we lived in Chicago. I remember it as a good time and he had a lot of inspirational stories he told, just about life and learning to get along. Told them with humor and humbleness.

  • 2 AmeliaJake // Jan 31, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Ever since I watched the movie, I’ve been going around “whisper singing” Yeah, go on to Jackson, you big talking man. . . . and that circle of fire song, not to mention a couple of others I dug up on itunes. I think I should have been born being able to carry a tune and destined for the Grand Ole Opry.

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