Living with…Johnny Cash…for a week

“Hello, my name is Johnny Cash”

Those simple words introduce one of Johnny Cash’s several comebacks, this one in 1968 when he opted for a more down-to-earth approach than Elvis.  Whereas the King dressed himself head to foot in a tight leather suit and surrounded himself with cooing young girls, Johnny Cash headed off for a breakfast performance in prison and recorded an album of coughs, splutters, giggles and swearing interspersed with some amazing and raw country music.

I will confess that the fragile plinking sound of country guitar isn’t top of my favourites but that’s not why I enjoy Johnny Cash.  I guess that I grew up with his music (I’m told that I did!) but didn’t really admit to discovering him until the mid 90s when he appeared on a U2 album and the first of his American Recordings appeared.  Then it must be alright to like him, because all these other people were telling us he was cool!   Then I began to recall favourites such as A Boy Named Sue and One Piece at a Time, and worked back from there to discover an amazing collection of songs.

But its not the country guitar that draws me to his music but his amazing voice and the fact that he tells great stories .  I know he’s not the only artist out there to tell good stories in his songs but I enjoy the way he draws me in. 

And this has been the week for us to tell and hear stories.  In Coventry, where we live, we’ve been marking the 70th anniversary of the blitzing of the city in the Second World War on November 14th, 1940.  Coventry was the first city that was bombed in such a way (“coventrated” the Germans came to call it) and that night over a thousand people died and most of a city centre was devastated.  The stories of that night need to be told as the people who lived through that become fewer, and this week the city did tell its story.  The local BBC radio station set out on a journey and captured 70 stories for 70 years.  And for every story that is captured there, there are so many more that have been told in the city about the bravery of parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents.  And in recent weeks the play One Night in November has played to full houses in the city centre theatre.

On remembrance Sunday we told P the stories of people who she’ll never meet.  Her great grandfather, Michael Roskovitch, who flew over 25 missions over Germany during the war, was awarded the purple heart, and died never knowing that he had a child.  And she held his GI uniform button and looked at the old picture that captures something mischievous and mysterious of him.  And she held the London Fire Brigade badge of her great great Uncle Reg who fought fires in South London during the blitz and would regale us with the stories of their adventures.  They were always the funny stories that he told.  And we looked at the group photo of the firemen together.  Each one a story, and hopefully they’re still telling them in their families now.  Because if we don’t tell them, who will…

And that’s why this was a good week to listen to Johnny Cash.  He tells stories.  And he tells them well.  I’d never heard At Folsom prison until this week, but was instantly drawn in to this world of gallows humour, where men count down to their deaths, men work hard until they drop down and die, and dogs steal and suck eggs.  His men have pride in where they come from, and even in where they are however miserable that may be.  It’s a mix of songs that combines grit, sentimentality and dark humour.

So I recommend at least one listen of this album even if country isn’t your thing – sit down for an hour and let him draw you in to his world while he spins a yarn or two. And maybe we should all start telling stories like Johnny Cash…

And for a further 60s journey found out how I got on living with one of Johnny Cash’s friends, Bob Dylan for a week: