Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Johnny Cash's birthday

This is an archive piece written and posted on LiveJournal in 2006, albeit slightly edited and re-published in 2013: 

In honour of Johnny Cash's 80th birthday, I present part of my review of the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk The Line" from 2006.

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"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine...

...I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the ties that bind
Because you're mine..."

Back again on the subject of the Johnny Cash documentary "Walk The Line" that I recently viewed, I thought that Reese Witherspoon was a fairly convincing June Carter but Joaquin Phoenix's performance left a lot to be desired. Take into account I had just watched "Ray" recently and Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles was so realistic he deserved that Oscar he won. I can't really say the same for poor ol' Joaquin. After listening to "Johnny Cash at San Quentin" yesterday it became apparent to me just how far off the mark Joaquin really was:- Sorry mate.

I think it's so cool that Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two arrived at their unique sound because they were playing at the limit of their abilities. In short, they couldn't play any better. And while Johnny was once a labelmate of Elvis Presley, Johnny's legacy is way more vital that Elvis's ever was. At least Johnny wrote his own songs...

Johnny's legacy is unfortunately hampered by the fact that he will forever be tied to the genre of Country music. That is a great shame as his music really was genreless - it was a seamless mix of Gospel, Folk, Blues, Rockabilly AND Country. He crossed genres so seamlessly he created his own sound, and style. He became idiosyncratic, and the words he sang were, in most cases, real. They felt lived in, and he believed in what he sang about and made that known. No wonder his fans are as diverse as Nick Cave and James Hetfield from Metallica.

Johnny was associated with a movement in music called the "Outlaw" movement. Although in the eyes of most people that title stuck because he sang songs about spending time in jail and various social injustices, oh and killing people too. But that is not in itself correct, although it probably helped. The title was applied to people like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and others because what they did was "outside" the accepted conventions of country music, whose aristocracy is based around the all powerful Nashville music scene and "The Grand Ole Opry". Jim Reeves, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette were/are "Nashville-approved", Johnny Cash, strictly speaking, was not. He, like the others I've mentioned, chose to do things their way and flipped the bird at Nashville. Thus the title "outlaw".

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And I think popular music on the whole is all the better for it.

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