Johnny Cash - Script from Ikon event, celebrating the life and works of Johnny Cash
(found this in my old defunct web page and felt that it was a timeless tribute, not to be lost)
Johnny Cash is the time line of rock ‘n roll. He was there with Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips in Sun Records in 1955 when that which we all could never have lived without was born. He died covering the songs of the best writers of the late twentieth and early twenty first century. This week Q issued their Best 1001 Songs ever magazine and the number 1 song was U2’s One; so aptly named! Tonight I will start my radio show with the best song ever but it will not be the U2 version. It will be Johnny Cash’s version from his American Recordings Volume 3. It was these four albums produced by Rick Rubin that brought Cash back to the very top of the tree. His video for the Trent Reznor song Hurt is the most talked about video in decades. Trent Reznor for goodness sake! What other seventy year old could do Nine Inch Nails? Only someone who was hip with Elvis and still just as cool 50 years later!
But that is not why we have gathered to remember Johnny Cash tonight. This is a spiritual event. Why would we be spending an evening with Johnny Cash?
Well he was powerful in middle finger gestures but never as potent as when he made the sign of the cross. He took the nice out of Jesus and removed the blue eyes and perfectly groomed blonde hair while at the same time told evil to go to hell and stared the devil eyeball to eyeball. He gave Jesus back his masculinity and gave the devil his due disrespect. With Johnny Cash we never got to only see the pretty coastline, we got the quarry ravaged interior, the smoke stacked poisonous reek of all our ills. We also got to see that house in the midst of the darkness that always had a candle in the window and a fire in the hearth. All the complexities of humanity were there rolled into one.
It has always been a tricky thing after Christian conversion to hold to truth and grace with humility and em…well…grace! Integrity often gives way to pretension; admission of guilt to arrogance! Cash somehow held together the tension. He never allowed the confession of his fallen state to be used as an cheap excuse for an anything-goes-this-is-just-how-I-am slackness. Nor did he allow himself to be so righteous that he separated himself from the marginalized that populated his songs or set himself apart from anyone who was drawn by the candle or needed warmed at the hearth. There was no pseudo self righteousness that he wasn’t like the Church. There was no religious self righteousness that he wasn’t like the world. Tonight we look for inspiration in a life that mirrors something of us all, all of the time.
Johnny Cash exposed traces of humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden and Christ’s blood dripping from Calvary’s wooden cross. He was judgement and grace. He was the sinner and the redeemed. He was the perfect/imperfect balance of a human being. God bless him!