Cash lived life through his songs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I'm looking forward to seeing the new Johnny Cash biopic &#8220Walk the Line” due out in theaters in the coming weeks.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash, the movie is sure to stir the souls of Cash fans who long for anything related to the country music superstar. However, those looking for historical facts about Cash should approach the film with a bit of caution. This is, after all, Hollywood's interpretation of Cash and will more than likely deal with the mythology surrounding the musician.

Cash came late in my life, which is to say I just discovered the singer and songwriter only in the past five years. When I say discovered, I mean deeply discovered. For me, Johnny Cash was always the black- clad man who joined other country music singers on stage for a few songs. In fact, by the late 80s, the country establishment in Nashville had all but turned its back on Johnny Cash.

Four compact discs captured the true essence of Johnny Cash in the 90s. The last of his American recordings, which featured a stripped down version of Nine Inch Nails' &#8220Hurt”, may have been the best. Cash died soon after its release, but not before filming a poignant video that was more like a four-minute documentary of Cash's life.

The life and times of Johnny Cash, like everyone's, is both a tragedy and comedy. Like everyone, he wore many masks and carried many titles. He was the druggie. The boozer. The lover. The activist. The father. The musician. The songwriter. The fighter. The Man in Black. By his own admittance, he wasn't that great of a guitar player, (he knew maybe four chords, tops), but he strung words together and created powerful sentences and produced hit after hit after hit.

Lyrics like this:

Because you're mine. I walk the line.

Or this:

I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

Or:

And it burns. That ring of fire. That ring of fire.

Cash was no saint. But neither was he a devil. He was, as are many of us, a complex individual living his life through song. While most of us live our lives in relatively quiet obscurity, Cash lived his in full view of the world. He struggled and fought with his demons and in the end, it seemed, he won. Johnny Cash went to his grave at peace with his life, his family, his fans and the world.

We can all aspire to face the end of our lives like that.

Kevin Pearcey is Group Managing Editor of Greenville Newspapers, LLC. He can be reached by phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or by email at: editor@greenville.advocate.com.