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Freedom is in the head and the notes,
This review is from: At Folsom Prison (Audio CD)
Johnny Cash is a voice from along time ago for me, a voice I heard and enjoyed for the first time in North Carolina in the late 60s, yes after Woodstock that occupied my musical conscience a lot too. What attracts me, and many other people, in this music?
First it is the country style, and I should say his country style which is very distinctive by the voice and the systematic, too systematic some would say, opening chords. We can recognize his songs because of that trait. It is not in every song, for sure, but quite present.
Second the themes are often dealing with crime, outlaw-ness, prison, the death penalty, the loss of freedom and the dream of freedom. Of course his concerts in prisons are famous and the songs he wrote to these prisons are well-known but he sings in prisons and about prisons to celebrate freedom, a sort of compensation for the inmates, a sort of relief for the ex-con he may have been, the demonstration that no matter what a man is free everywhere, even where he is locked up and tied up and humiliated. Freedom is in the head and not in the hands and guns of judges that gavel things away and prison wardens that ring their sticks on all the bars of the gates.
The third interest is his singing about love. For him love is simple: I am yours and you are mine, hence I keep on the line. That means love is a way to live with someone else and to share duties and chores, to live under common choices and with common objectives. He does not elaborate on the subject more than that.
The fourth element is America and its rebellious history. It is amazing how he rewrites the history of the United States in that simple perspective that the constitution is to be improved all the time to keep the promise of a government from the people, for the people and by the people. At times he speaks like Obama spoke in his campaign. But he does not deal with the serious dramas of modern history that we know. These dramas were divisive and he looks for unity, the unity of the United States after Gettysburg.
Then he wrote some songs that were absolutely luminously brilliant and my favorite in that line is the Boy Named Sue. It portrays the relation between a father and a son in the most loving and moving terms. I think that it is probably one of the best songs ever written in the world about that subject, the recognition of the enormous debt a son has towards his father, and the acknowledgement of the tremendous responsibility a father has towards his son. And what's more this is contradictory and that contradiction is expressed entirely in a name. No love is lost here but there is a lot of love there anyway, but certainly not wasted.
The song about his ending up in prison because he was picking a dandelion flower after midnight in a city that had a curfew to prevent the roaming around of bad guys is also very funny and original, and yes I have experienced that in a small city in North Carolina. I did not end up in prison and with a ticket but I had to prove my identity because I was too close to some flowers in the street late at night.
That's what is most moving in Johnny Cash. He is speaking to us of a world that we have encountered, visited, liked and feared, disliked and jeered, and the night when I was more or less "kidnapped" for a few hours by some frantic students who pretended to be the Ku Klux Klan is one episode that goes in that direction: a deep love-fear relation with the deeper layers of the American society.
And yet I defended peace in Vietnam under Nixon, including in the press and no one ever said anything against the right to do so, even if they were in full disagreement with the content. My best recollection in that line is when I was asked, by a local newspaper, my opinion on Davis California in 1974 or so and I answered that I loved the extreme quiet working atmosphere of this campus city but that it was cut from the rest of the world like an intellectual ghetto. Some did not like the "ghetto".
That's what Johnny Cash is for me and He is not aging that much altogether.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU