In the absence of knowing what to write, the agonies of the point to these words on the screen, and the wonderings of if what is written here is written to a particular audience for a particular reason, I have decided to give up on the musings and get on with doing what I love and writing randomness for my consumption and the consumption of anyone else who might pass this way. I guess writers block gets to us all after a while.
And so, tonight I sit with my knitting buddies. I, having finished a scarf last week, have no knitting and so am sitting with my laptop in the lounge musing on life and listening to the clack of needles. In the background Johnny Cash is lulling us all into a nice state of depression and longing for death. I don’t think there is any other voice in the world that is so world weary and ready for heaven as Johnny Cash on the last American Recording album. No other song so sad as his interpretation of Trent Reznors ‘Hurt’. No man so ready to be in the arms of his Father who, throughout his life, has never let go.
My weekend was one revolving around the Big Man himself, I went to see ‘Walk the Line’, the biopic detailing the first third of Cash’s life. Then I indulged myself in starting his Biography and playing his prison albums on repeat. I’m trying to put into words the importance of Johnny. Bono (always worth quoting) described his songs as ‘singing with the damned’. Not singing to the damned but standing with them in the mess and mire of life. He was a man who told the stories of real people, a man who knew what it was like to genuinely know grace, not just as a clean concept but as a dirty gritty reality. He knew the need of undeserved love and the freedom that comes from it. I’m trying not to use too many superlatives here because there is a danger in being over the top. But having said that this man was an important man.
And I’m not just jumping on the latest bandwagon, the man called Cash has been in my life for a long time, an important part of my parents record collection and hidden amongst my cds for years. Finally I can come clean about my obsession. His songs are different from many country songs, say the word country and lots of Dolly Parton images, pink houses, steel guitars, songs about dogs and overblown love come to mind. Cash’s music has depths that go beyond that. He wrote songs about death, life, faith and love, pretty much covering all it means to be human. That is the essence of his genius, his ability to sing about every aspect of life, and his ability to express the darkness in this life. By putting words to the darkness he made the darkness easier to live with. There is something spine tingling about a man who knows that through his life he has tasted hell but been held back by arms of grace. If you ever need to rediscover what grace really means, check out the life of Cash.
Two albums to start with are his recordings at Folsom Prison and San Quentin. Cash at his most energetic, sparing with the prisoners and warders, laughing at the cheers to the line “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” and bringing hope to men who have lived without hope for a long time. Giving voice to the pain within. Then pick up “The Man comes Around”, one of his last recordings, the sound of a man ready to die with sad worn out songs expressing some of the futility of this life.
This was a man who spoke to many people, mainly due to his lack of self righteousness, his awareness right to the end that he didn’t deserve the love God lavished on him and that no-one is beyond redemption. He was a man of integrity and a man who knew the darkness in his soul and who sometimes gave into the darkness. Not a man who walked the line all of his life, but one who was held to the line by someone else.
At the end of his life he was asked if he was angry that the love of his life, June Carter-Cash, was taken first. This was his response:
“He gripped the arms of his wheelchair and sat up straight, dark eyes blazing, “Never, Never!” he growled, and if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a Johnny Cash growl, you’ll know not to take it lightly. “No, I don’t get angry with God. Not at anything…my arms are too short to box with God.”
A line that gets me everytime. My arms too are too short to box with God, no matter how much I try. And this man teaches me more of the reality that I am not beyond redemption, that there is hope and a reality beyond the world in front of our eyes.