photo & text by nacrowe
AMERICAN icon, folk hero and COUNTRY legend JOHNNY CASH was in the wilderness for decades, figuratively and probably literally, when producer RICK RUBIN resurrected his career with slew of albums for his AMERICAN RECORDINGS label that were largely SPARE, MODEST affairs that put the emphasis back on his songwriting and penchant for STORYTELLING. these records also introduced CASH to an ALTERNATIVE ROCK audience that grew to view him as a CELEBRATED elder statesman of the first order along the lines of LOU REED, DAVID BOWIE or IGGY POP.
the formula of these recordings was a handful of original songs supported by several covers. on the debut AMERICAN RECORDINGS (AMERICAN, 1994) record CASH recorded SPARSE solitary covers of songs by CELEBRATED songwriters like NICK LOWE, LEONARD COHEN, GLENN DANZIG, KRIS KRISTOFFERSON and TOM WAITS. on the follow-up AMERICAN II: UNCHAINED (AMERICAN, 1996) RUBIN decided to introduce more MODERN selections by current songwriters such as BECK, CHRIS CORNELL (SOUNDGARDEN) and TOM PETTY. speaking of PETTY, RUBIN brought in THE HEARTBREAKERS as the backing band to supplement the recordings, which i believe is the only time they ever did such for an artist (other than the follow-up AMERICAN III: SOLITARY MAN). so high was their esteem and respect for CASH.
for me the highlight of the record is his cover of SOUNDGARDEN's signature PLODDING, riff-heavy track "RUSTY CAGE" which CASH transforms into a bit of a dirge. what once felt like a POWERFUL, SELF-AFFIRMING statement instead becomes a tome to SELF-DOUBT and hard lessons gained through PAINFUL lived experience. in my opinion this late career discovery of CASH's capacity for bending established songs to his will would later hit EMOTIONAL pay dirt on his TRANSCENDENT cover of NINE INCH NAILS' peon to SELF-FLAGGELATION, "HURT." this ability served a dual purpose in elevating the material to near FABLED status through the alchemy of his voice and persona, as well as provide a vehicle for ALTERNATIVE ROCK fans of the period to discover him, his history, his artistry and especially his back catalogue.
i came across this record long after the fact. in 1996 i was in AFRICA and the internet was well in its infancy at the time, so CASH was something i associated with grandfather's record collection in NEVADA (of which he sadly unceremoniously trashed for no reason, all those SUN RECORDS 45s, sigh). i didnt even catch him on MTV when i returned stateside that summer, which was how i initially came across GARBAGE, METALLICA, NADA SURF, MEGADETH and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE among others. discovering his prison recordings would come much later in high school, but when it did i went back and found everything i could including these AMERICAN RECORDINGS which i still feel provided him with a sendoff commiserate with his LEGENDARY and near MYTHICAL cultural stature as a true AMERICAN icon.
RIP JOHNNY CASH.
photo & text by nacrowe
so 9/11 happened during my senior year of high school and shortly thereafter i abruptly moved from KUWAIT, where my family was stationed at the time, to a suburb of SACRAMENTO to live with an aunt and uncle. obviously that was a tragic and turbulent time for lots of people and my experience was no different, having to navigate both a new school and living with distant relatives. during that year i got my driver's license and while i was taking driving classes my teacher had this thing for having his students drive out by FOLSOM PRISON while playing, you guessed it, AT FOLSOM PRISON (COLUMBIA, 1968) by JOHNNY CASH. for me, driving down US ROUTE 50 and venturing off to the prison is the defining experience i associate with CASH's music. did you know they have an store near the prison that sells art made by the inmates? neither did i.
regardless AT FOLSOM PRISON is the first of two legendary live shows recorded at NORTHERN CALIFORNIA prisons in the late 1960s. the first, AT FOLSOM PRISON, was not filmed but was photographed by the iconic, peerless photographer JIM MARSHALL. CASH's public persona was always that of a champion for the UNDERCLASS and DISPOSSESSED of AMERICAN society and these two shows very much solidified that association in the public's consciousness. its hard argue against such being the high watermark of his career full stop. standout tracks from AT FOLSOM PRISON include the duet (with wife JUNE CARTER CASH) "JACKSON," "COCAINE BLUES," "25 MINUTES TO GO" and of course, "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES."
written shortly before the concert, "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES" was CASH's attempt at EMPATHETICALLY putting himself in the mindset and perspective of an inmate incarcerated for murder. the much celebrated lined is from the first verse in which the narrator coldly explains he "shot a man in RENO just to watch him die" which heightens the sense callous RECKLESSNESS and MORAL DEPRAVITY at play in the decision-making process of a killer. but my tellingly my favorite line is from the third verse in which that same inmate fantasizes about what could have been his IDEAL life, eating in a fancy dining car, drinking coffee and smoking cigars, but "those people keep a-movin', and thats what tortures me." the world has moved past him without a blip and he is rotting in jail for a horribly misguided past decision, implemented on impulse. its one thing to make a mistake, but the real pain and anguish is having to stew and futilely attempt ATONEMENT for such the rest of your waking life. its a BRUTAL song that is deserved of its legendary and universally celebrated status.
should also mention that CASH here is backed by his band THE TENNESSEE THREE and the immortal ROCKABILLY god himself, CARL PERKINS. if you are into GOLDEN AGE COUNTRY, ROCKABILLY or even PSYCHOBILLY than this is a great record to check out. an outright AMERICAN classic.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the influential MUSIC PRODUCTION career of the legendary RICK RUBIN!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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photo manipulation by nacrowe
TRICKY DICK AND THE MAN IN BLACK (ALL RISE FILMS, 2018) follows the path of COUNTRY MUSIC icon JOHNNY CASH and "pun intended" the line he walked between the political fracas that defined the VIETNAM WAR era.
i think CASH's place in the pantheon of AMERICAN CULTURE is fully secure in part due to his sharing of the spotlight in the late 1960s on his namesake television show where he introduced MIDDLE AMERICA to songwriters and voices they may not have been familiar with or had negative opinions about: artists like JONI MITCHELL, BOB DYLAN, NEIL YOUNG, RAY CHARLES, LINDA RONSTADT and PETE SEEGER. the generosity that showed endeared him to the growing counterculture and FOLK movements that were then emerging, but make no mistake, the man himself was the very embodiment of the heartland and all that entails.
the main narrative of this documentary follows RICHARD NIXON's troubled presidency as he continues the unpopular war he inherited and expands it into CAMBODIA as a way of taking the fight to the NORTH VIETNAMESE ARMY and the VIETCONG. famously, NIXON rose to power through the notorious SOUTHERN STRATEGY that saw him adopt the politics of grievance and adeptly exploited racial divisions. this strategy is still very much a part of REPUBLICAN sloganeering to this day. what NIXON saw with his rise was a cultural chasm between the unbridled optimism of the newly politically and economically empowered youth culture of the BABY BOOMERS (now a voting bloc) who listened to BRITISH INVASION rock bands from the UNITED KINGDOM as well as homegrown acolytes alike.
he saw this as a threat. famously he harassed JOHN LENNON through deportation threats and others he saw as agitators that could potential galvanize the youth against him. enter CASH whom he invited to the WHITE HOUSE to play a concert in support. CASH at this point was in the uncomfortable position of not wanting to appear to support NIXON explicitly while also feeling a patriotic obligation to appear when you are called by your country, in this case the commander-in-chief himself.
the climax of this respectful interaction as his playing of his song "WHAT IS TRUTH" which addressed in its lyrics war, drug addiction, intergenerational differences and the use of politics as a tool for the institutional mistreatment of minorities. all this with NIXON in attendance. a few weeks later WATERGATE happened and NIXON was later removed from office, but that moment became a a part of the CASH legacy and gained him credence with AMERICANS of every stripe.
watching this film, you can see the beginnings of bifurcated cultural divide that separates RED from BLUE, RURAL from SUBURBAN. for a moment CASH was able to walk that line with grace. something we are missing at this political moment indeed.
parodies by nacrowe
i am by no means a fan of modern COUNTRY MUSIC, as i make abundantly clear in this throwback episode dedicated to the GOLDEN AGE OF COUNTRY MUSIC.
what gets me about the old stuff is the lack of bullshit. lyrically JIMMIE RODGERS, ERNEST TUBB and HANK WILLIAMS are so cutting and raw that its hard not to respect them as songwriters, even if rhythmically the music is rather lacking and lifeless relative to their BLUES contemporaries.
even if you are like me and not a fan of the overproduced, underwritten schmaltz that passes for modern COUNTRY MUSIC, this set list will hopefully provide you with some rays of hop for the genre as a whole. you have to remember that it was this tradition that cross-pollinated with BLUES that gave way to ROCKABILLY and early ROCK N ROLL.
art by nacrowe
watch HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC which explored the golden age of country and the modern americana movement that rediscovered that rootsy appalachian vibe. under no conditions did we ever consider playing any of that commercial pablum that passes itself as modern country. that stuff is utter shit.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.