On the way down to Hendersonville, Tennessee, I had plenty of time to reminisce about the past year where I had suddenly become a Johnny Cash fan.
Growing up I had heard the name uttered off and on, but I was raised in a mostly hard rock/metal household and was never exposed to his music at all until 2011. I knew the name and knew he was a major musical celebrity, but I couldn’t have named you one song or quoted one line till then.
At age 30 I was kicking back with a couple of friends watching WWE Wrestlemania 27 to see The Undertaker, the absolute last link to my boyhood fandom of the wrestling business. It’s always a very pleasant nostalgic experience for me to watch Taker wrestle at ‘Mania. His undefeated streak at the show is one of the last unblemished novelties the business has, so much that it often gets mentioned by legitimate sports media as each annual Wrestlemania nears. Undertaker’s entrance is always a major highlight. The gong, the music, the lighting and theatrical effects all make for a memorable experience. So, one could imagine my surprise when waiting for Undertaker to emerge from the darkness I suddenly hear something unfamiliar. A single guitar strumming followed by a somber voice I don’t recognize uttering the words “Ain’t no grave can hold my body down.” One of my buddies said “that’s Johnny Cash”. “What?”, I replied. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I began listening to the words as I watched Taker make his walk to the ring. The lyrics fit his character perfect and really set the tone for the match that was about to take place. If you’re a Johnny Cash fan and ever get the chance to view the original broadcast of Wrestlemania 27, check out Undertaker’s entrance (can probably find it on YouTube). For copyright purposes, “Ain’t No Grave” has been removed from all home releases of the show and replaced by Taker’s normal funeral theme.
I began listening to “Ain’t No Grave” on my own time and the song grew on me real quick. Wasn’t long after my fiancĂ©e April, a life-long Cash fan, showed me the “Hurt” video. Wow. I never knew about this. Having been a Nine Inch Nails fan for several years, I knew the song in question, but never knew (nor ever expected) Johnny Cash would’ve covered it. The video is truly something to behold. If you’ve never seen it, you should really check it out. Regarded as Cash’s epitaph — the video is extremely deep, personal, and reveals that he knew his time was coming to an end. What’s even sadder is that his wife, June Carter Cash who appears in the video with him, died just three months after filming (with John superseding her just four months later). A deeply moving piece that is a saddening, yet beautiful art form that is every bit as nostalgic as it is prophetic.
Sometime after, Johnny Cash songs mysteriously starting popping up on my Pandora. It was then I began to get familiar with some of his past catalog. “Walk The Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “One Piece at a Time”, “Daddy Sang Bass”, “Boy Named Sue”, and “Ring of Fire” became part of my normal Pandora rotation. Didn’t take long for me to round up one of Cash’s compilation albums along with Live From Folsom Prison and dig a little deeper into his history as these days, when I’m hungering for new music I find myself going back further and further into the past. I found his down to earth simplicity refreshing. Hearing his songs was like a nice throwback to the days where things were less complicated in my life. When the simple things mattered more and were not overshadowed by trivial burden and daily hardship. The music helped remind me my life is much better than I think it is sometimes and there are better things about my day to look forward to. After taking in those classics, I moved on to the American Recordings. Cash has a musical way and a vocal delivery about him that sets him far apart and stands completely on it’s own. I now understand the people who state “Johnny Cash isn’t country, he is Johnny Cash.” He doesn’t belong to a genre. He IS a genre all on his own.
As my fanship of Cash grew stronger, April suggested I watch the movie Walk The Line for Hollywood’s take on Johnny’s rise to fame and the story between him and June Carter. We viewed it together one night and I found it to be very entertaining. It also helped to read beforehand that Johnny Cash himself approved of the casting of Joaquin Phoenix to play him in the film. Contrarily though, I’ve also read a few testimonies from some of Cash’s surviving relatives that the movie was not accurate and certain details of his life were either skewed, embellished, or simply not true. No surprise there. Afterall, it’s Hollywood. But, at any rate, I came away from the movie with a better understanding of Cash than I had going into it. No complaints from me. Good flick.
So, here I am in early 2013 on my way to Hendersonville, TN to visit a legend. A man whose music in only one year has touched me in a unique enough and special way to persuade me to make this road trip and pay my respects. April and I arrive at Hendersonville Memory Gardens and immediately begin looking for John and June’s markers. Didn’t take long to find them. At first, part of me felt like I was standing in the presence of royalty. But, another side of me remembered Johnny Cash for the real human being he was. A man who didn’t act like a celebrity. I remember his final interview with Kurt Loder and listening to him speak. I suddenly felt like I had known him for years, and standing at his grave almost felt like visiting an old friend.
I spoke a few words to him and June, feeling the cool breeze gently swirling between us. I thanked them both for everything they have done for music, but more specifically, for what their music has meant to me personally over the past year. Coming from a brand new fan who discovered them years after they were both gone, I can conclude without hesitance that what they left behind will undoubtedly live forever.