Patrick McGinlay's Internet Tendency

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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 boogie.

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 costume.

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 the soul.

-- Tom Waits

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 do.

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


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