Sunday, January 01, 2006

Open Letter to Johnny Cash

Dear JR:

I've been a fan of your best music and not a fan of some of your worst (some of your songs are just weak) ever since I was introduced to you the first "American Recordings" album back in the mid 1990s. I've always thought for all the laurels thrown in your path, your prose writing has been neglected. For instance, the liner notes to Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin are fantastic, visceral writing that grabs you by the back of the neck and forces you into the mess line.

Yet you seem to have a comfort with your writing that many people, many who have far more formal education than you did, can ever hope to have. Your voice is a storytellers voice.

That's sort of why I'm writing. A friend of mine gave me a great old videotape you made back in 1974: Johnny Cash: Ridin' the Rails. When I first saw the video, I have to admit, there were a few times I was laughing, and not in the "laughing with" sense. Your enthusiasm during the "driving of the golden spike" scene is so intense, it seems you think you, Johnny Cash, are actually witnessing history. Johnny Cash, The Man in Black is a 6-year old at heart. Bwahahaha!

I was embarrassed for you during that scene, and never finished the movie until yesterday when I put it on for Sam, who loves trains. And you know what? Johnny, that movie is one of the best things you've ever done. Really. Sam was simply entranced by the trains, and he listened to you sing all those great old songs that I sing him, and a bunch I've never thought to sing him. You came across as such a kind, gentle, and nice man, without a trace of the brooding with which you have been forever saddled. When I watched the silly "golden spike" scene through my kid's eyes, your immersion in the proceedings was contagious. The documentary footage of gandy dancers was also very cool. Sam particularly liked the Confederate Railroad scene.

We watched half the video yesterday. It was the first thing he went for this morning. Instead of a story tonight, he watched the end of the video tonight. The longer the video went on, the more I appreciated your role as narrator. The simple and direct way you addressed the audience was perfect for a little guy like Sam and older kids, but was completely engaging for adults too.

I'm going to make sure I find a copy of this on DVD so Sam can watch it back home in Montreal.

Thanks for making this documantary.
Best to June and her folks, and say hello to Jimmy Martin for me!
Brendan Skwire


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