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BY LENNY VOLKOV
September 15, 2003
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So there she was, the girl of my dreams,
brown hair dyed freshly blonde, it was her birthday,
I skulked off at about 6am to go sleep in the car. Perhaps
I should grow my hair long, she seems to go for that.
She hates Johnny Cash.
That was last night. This morning, I get
a text message from my friend Ben: the Man in Black
died last night. I always seem to be hung over when
I find out about people dying. I was on the way back
from the Basin when John Lee Hooker could no longer
It's not a nice thought to wake up to.
Your hero is no longer. He oozed cool. He and Bowie,
neither could give a fuck. Johnny didn't need the elaborate
I was in the prison band in San Quentin
when I first saw Johnny Cash. I was impressed with
his ability to take five thousand convicts and steal
the show away from a bunch of strippers.
-- Merle Haggard
In Johnny Cash, Nick Cave "saw what
was to be the forbidden side of rock and roll."
I suppose that's part of what I see in him as I sit
here listening to Murder (Columbia, 2000). The other
part is choice and freedom and Robin Hood. He didn't
sing protest songs about the government and their wrongs,
instead, his songs have heroes, common men that did
wrong or had wrong done to them. They don't always have
happy endings, but there's something to be taken from
them. He presents us with his common man's actions and
choices; the hero is a hero because he had to make choices,
the choice itself is irrelevant. Perhaps they were criminals
but they were honest men. You and I have to make choices.
We have to get our own back: Johnny Cash told me it
was alright to do so.
I'm not saying I've gone out and killed
anyone or that I ever would, but his music made me stick
to what I think is right, made my morals something worth
upholding. Like the man in The Long Black Veil (From
Orange Blossom Special, Columbia, 1964) who chose to
hang instead of telling the truth of his whereabouts,
he was "in the arms of my [his] best friend's wife".
That's a decision I've never had to make, but it makes
my moral dilemmas easier.
"When Johnny Cash comes on the radio,
no one changes the station."
How could you? His voice, warm and reassuring,
that steady rhythm. It's a strange sensation when you
realize you can be soothed by songs about hillbilly
thugs. But then again you wouldn't begrudge those hillbilly
thugs a thing. Perhaps it's clichéd but his voice
is magical. Crisp and clear, deep and holy. Some might
say it's not the best singing voice around but for me
it's perfect. It tells you everything you need to know,
his very breath speaks a thousand words. It's hard to
describe a voice, but look at a picture of him, you'll
know what his voice sounds like. His voice was made
to be heard.
It's a voice, a name with a soul
that cuts across all boundaries, and it's a voice
we all believe. Yours is a voice that speaks for the
saints and the sinners - it's like branch water for
I'm not a religious person, but Johnny
Cash made me come close to believing in God, something
Darwin took away from me at about the age of seven.
Maybe it's because that's what God would sound like,
and his are the stories God would tell.
Perhaps it's not just this recent death
that makes me so fragile, but also that I'll never get
to see the Man in Black, I'll never get to stand and
watch him walk out on stage with his shoulders slightly
hunched, guitar slung over his shoulder, then stand
tall at the microphone and say loud and clear in that
voice, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."
Today I'll wear black. There'll be a black
armband on my cricket shirt all season. I don't know
if I'll grow my hair, I don't think that's what He would
I've never cried as I've typed before.
Wherever you are, rest in peace, Johnny Cash. You've
touched so many lives, you will not be forgotten.
God is not making any more.
-- Nick Lowe
All quotes are taken from the sleeve
notes of The Essential Johnny Cash, Sony 2002