It was time for Johnny Cash to die. You hate to give him up, but it was clearly his proper time. He was old and sick. His body was worn out. His wife and savior went on ahead of him in May. They got married in a fever, and now he’s gone off to join her in Jackson. This picture makes a beautiful thought for the couple now together forever.
Cash recorded many great songs of despair and sadness, and dark nights of the soul, but it’s not the time for those. His struggles and pain are through. I find myself today blasting “Jackson” in celebration of Johnny and June’s reunion.
On the other hand, this is my favorite picture of Johnny:
It’s not just the picture here that’s so cool, though it’s certainly a classic. It’s that Johnny absolutely had this placed as an ad in Billboard, literally giving the industry the finger for their lack of support for what turned out to be a Grammy winning album. Yeah, that’s our guy.
What to say about his legacy? It’s been sliced and diced and described beautifully many times. Rolling Stone has a particularly nice essay on the occasion of his passing, and my fellow Blogcritics have lots of good stuff, including a message from Kris Kristofferson.
His deep voice had a unique primal power, like the voice of God, or God’s messenger anyway. He would never have been accused of self-righteousness, but he had this incredible implicit moral authority. No one in the history of recorded music could put across a tone of rebuke like Johnny. I’m thinking of “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” in particular. “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” may be my favorite recording of Cash. He packed it with great intense sad stoicism, comedy and moral judgment. Incredible.
You hate to give up such a legend. It’s especially unfortunate for us in that he’s done some of his best work over the last 10 years in the American Recordings albums. We could have used another half dozen albums like them. I’d probably pick the first one of these as his greatest album ever.
Really we can’t bitch, though. He left us a heller legacy, and even in fact a whole bunch of unreleased recordings with Rubin in the can, already scheduled for release as a box set.
With his passing, the whole revolutionary Sun Records crew has gone, all but one. Who would have thunk that Jerry Lee Lewis would be the last man standing?