With the immense attention in these past weeks upon Michael Jackson’s death, I’d like to briefly recall the life of another star, even if his didn’t burn as brightly as Jackson’s did.
Johnny Cash came into prominence a decade before Jackson and didn’t become famous until he was an adult. His early life was on a farm where he learned to sing on the cotton fields. As a young man he served in the Air Force. After serving a tour in the Air Force, where he married his first wife, he moved to Memphis Tennessee where he started selling appliances. But he dreamed of singing and went to the Sun Recording Studios and the rest is history. He ended up becoming one of the most influential musicians in American Music history and while he primarily sang country songs, he also crossed over into Rock and Folk.
Cash, like Jackson, had demons to wrestle with. His first wife had no interest in being a musician’s wife and a gulf opened between them. Cash soon became attracted to June Carter, divorced his first wife and married Carter. Cash also drank a lot and began taking amphetamines to get back up. He soon became addicted to them. He also felt guilt his whole life over a close brother’s death who died in a saw mill when Cash was out fishing nearby. Cash’s sobriety and the quality of his work varied.
But Cash never let go of something that sustained him throughout his life – his faith. He was a deep and dedicated Christian and he kept his focus frequently on the same people Jesus did – those whom society had turned their back on. On top of this, the depth and quality of his songs seemed to increase over time and Cash did some of his best work in the last decade of his life.
Nothing against, Jackson but I see Cash to be much more interesting person. He may not have had the raw talent that Jackson did but he also was, in my view, more modest, more aware of his own weaknesses, and more focused on building up his neighbor, and aware of God’s call in his life. He also was remarkably cognizant of the weakness of human beings to stay on the straight and narrow, the greatness of God’s grace, and the eventual inevitability and centrality of justice. There’s much we can learn from that old country boy.
Interested to find out more? Check out the lyrics to the following songs: “The Man in Black”, “Love’s Been Good To Me”, “The Beast in Me”, “The Man Comes Around”, “Hurt”, and “Ring of Fire” for starters.
All the best,