The Man Called Cash by Steve Turner Response

Whilst listening to The Man Called Cash by Steve Turner, I was continually inspired by this guy called Johnny Cash. I was especially enamored when my friend Erik and I listened to him for a week as part of our musical spotlight program (in which we listen to a specific artist each week). The reason I love listening to Cash is because he has something to say and isn’t shy about doing so. I think these lyrics from the song and album The Man Comes Around pretty much summarizes John's life in saying that we're all sinners and how much value he placed in his faith.

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the Man comes around

That sort of life doesn’t come easy though, he definitely earned it. He’s referred to as the man who “went to hell and came back alive to tell about it”. If you’ve ever seen the great movie about his life Walk the Line, you’ll know what I mean. He was born into a redneck country family in the southern United States with a raging drunken father who would verbally beat John to a pulp – for things that Johnny had no control of like his brother getting killed. After he had a few painful years serving his country in the air force he got into the music business (he had been writing songs in the Air Force). Johnny and his musically illiterate friends who worked in car repair shops started recording and pretty soon the trio became a staple in the “country” music scene, touring with the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.

After the initial venture into music, he got into drugs and made sure he was on a constant high. After he got off them though, he married June Carter, who filled in the archetype of a mother for Johnny Cash by looking after him and giving him a reason to stay sober. John married June was because of her ability to work in an industry dominated by men, and of course her deep love for and rich history in music. The rest of John’s life was a mix of John trying to find his spiritual side and finding meaning in his devoutly Christian faith.

Johnny found something in the area of commercial Evangelical churches and he got to become friends with some mega-preachers. Johnny appealed to a wide range of people, from the young rebel to the fundamentalist Christian – which is why he got involved with the church. It was part of his lifelong desire to continually go to church, but he had trouble remaining faithful to this commitment. He left the church, and got into drugs again in his fifties. After getting out of that stint, he continued to explore his musical tastes and found the rap and hard rock producer Rick Rubin. Rubin helped Cash make his amazing American albums.

The reason why Johnny Cash started such a revolution of staying true to what he believed was because he gave himself up to anybody who would listen to him and could only do that because he was an outcast. He also kept in tune to what the youth of the times were into. I love the idea of a dying 70 year old man doing a cover of a dark and gloomy industrial rock song (Hurt by Nine Inch Nails). He was open to say the least.

With Johnny Cash being an outsider, he sympathized with the other bold sinners in society. He played in large prisons multiple times. He said that the audiences there were grateful and would give all their energy to the concerts. I think the reason why Johnny Cash was compassionate to prisoners was because of how he had gone through hell and understood a bit of it. He didn’t forget his own sinful humanity because he had so explicitly experienced it numerous times himself. One of Cash's statement in the book was about how God had forgiven him, and so the least he could do was forgive himself.

Cash's status as an outsider is probably one of the reasons why he appeals to me so much, because I see myself as one, not as a left-out-in-the-cold one, but someone who's somewhat outside of the norm. It's not just about being outside the norm though, it's growing strong roots in the soil of faith from the many seeds planted inside yourself.

Johnny Cash understood the human condition quite well. One of his statements was when he was talking about when he was at his lowest and had hit rock bottom, that’s when he found God the most. In his mind he was never alone. The cultural significance of Cash as a mythological figure resonated in the book loudly. It makes sense. Mythology (from Wikipedia):

“Stories that a particular culture believes to be true and that use supernatural events or characters to explain the nature of the universe and humanity.”

Johnny Cash’s story was supernatural in the way that it showed how a life that was so entrenched in sin could also have so much compassion. In his later years when he met Bono of U2, his first impressions of Cash were of meeting someone akin to Moses. He certainly left a rich legacy.


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