Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

There is a Blockbuster’s worth of "classic" movies I haven't seen, and a record store’s worth of "classic" albums. Thankfully I now have Netflix, and BitTorrent. I am attempting to fill in those gaps. Please do not leave comments saying "zomg, i can't believe u haven't seen/heard _____." Please do send suggestions.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

The first time I heard Johnny Cash, knowingly, was on the local alternative station in Kansas City, covering Trent Reznor. Songs don't get much grimmer than "Hurt," and here was a song by a man I knew, vaguely, to be very legendary and very old. And apparently very sad. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have known it was a cover if the DJ hadn't told me. The song seemed natural.

Just last week, also for the first time, I heard Cash sing "Flushed From the Bathroom of your Heart," which goes something like this:
In the garbage disposal of you dreams I’ve been ground up dear
On the river of your plans I’m up the creek
Up the elevator of your future I’ve been shafted
On the calendar of your events I’m last week
The song is from Cash's live album, "At Folsom Prison," but I couldn't help imagining Adam Sandler with a guitar and a stool on Saturday Night Live. If all you knew of Cash was "Hurt," or any of his other AARP-approved recordings, you'd never know this humorous side of Cash existed. There are so many Cashes on display at Folsom Prison that it makes me sad to have never witnessed this version - in the same way it would have been nice to enjoy Gore Vidal when he wasn't a crank, or Michael Jackson without the baggage. There's anger ("I shot a man in Reno/just to see him die"), sex ("Come here Sugar/Ya know, I believe this is the first time I ever watched the sun come up/That I couldn't come up"), and heartbreak ("Sweethearts walk by together/And I still miss someone.")

And, if it needs to be done, note that Cash let all this loose in a state penitentiary. Could anyone do that today? Bruce, perhaps, but he's lost his edge. Jay-Z doesn't have the sense of humor. It seems no coincidence that Cash's dark humor comes across nowhere more than the half a dozen songs he seems to have picked specifically for his prison audience. There's no "Ring of Fire" or "I Walk The Line." Instead, there's "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Got Stripes," and "25 Minutes to Go," a song that recounts a death row inmate's last half hour of life:
Won't somebody come and cut me loose with 4 more minutes to go
I can see the mountains I can see the skies with 3 more minutes to go
And it's too darn pretty for a man to want to die 2 more minutes to go
I can see the buzzards I can hear the crows 1 more minute to go
And now I'm swingin' and here I go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!
The inmates hoot and laugh and holler throughout. You only want to do the same.

Reeves Wiedeman