Last night I watched a movie about the early years of Johnny and June Carter Cash titled, “Walk the Line.” While I’ve never been a big Country Western music fan (I was born with Rock ’n Roll pulsating through my veins), Johnny Cash looms larger than life on the American musical landscape even ten years after his death on September 12, 2003, a scant four months after his beloved wife, June Carter Cash, died on May 15, 2003. They married on March 1, 1968, and were married until the time of her death.
The movie portrays his early life starting with his childhood and the death of his older brother, Jack, when he was ten and Jack was twelve, which devastated him along with the rocky relationship he had with his father. The movie continues through the years leading into his musical career, his first marriage to Vivian Liberto (from 1954 to 1967), his drug addiction, divorce and eventual marriage to June Carter Cash in 1968. He first heard the singing voice of a ten-year-old named June Carter on the radio as a young boy and it was a voice he never forgot.
To say his life was complicated is an understatement. Yet, “the Man in Black” connected with young and old, famous and infamous, Presidents and prisoners, and he was a champion of the underdog. According to a quote in Wikipedia, “Cash felt great compassion for prisoners. He began performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1950s. His first prison concert was held on January 1, 1958, at San Quentin State Prison. These performances led to a pair of highly successful live albums, ‘Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,’ (1968) and ‘Johnny Cash at San Quentin’ (1969)” (quote source here).
In an article by Dave Urbanski in Relevant Magazine published on what would have been Johnny Cash’s 81st birthday on February 26, 2003, titled, “Inside the Complicated Faith of Johnny Cash,” he stated:
“Johnny Cash’s musical accomplishments are storied and staggering. He occupies spots in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame—he, in fact, was the youngest living person ever inducted into the latter. He sold 50 million albums, recorded more than 1,500 songs, boasted fourteen number-one hits, won scads of awards, and is mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles when it comes to musical impact. . . .
“But more importantly . . . he always stood up for the underdog (the poor, Native Americans, prisoners, and others) and always stood up to the oppressive; and he beat just about every odd that was stacked against him” (quote source here).
Urbanski also stated:
“Cash lived long enough and hard enough to embody a host of personas—and they’re all true. Songwriter. Six-string strummer. Storyteller. Country boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug addict. Rebel. Sinner. Saint. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. And more.”
Actually, much, much more. The article continues with the following:
“As songwriting friend Kris Kristofferson recently said, ‘He’s as comfortable with the poor and prisoners as he is with presidents. He’s crossed over all age boundaries. I like to think of him as Abraham Lincoln with a wild side.’
“Cash’s cluster of enigmas was so impenetrably deep that even those closest to him never got to see every part of him, every thought, every emotion.
“‘I think Johnny’s as complex as anything God or man put on this earth,’ his brother Tommy once noted. ‘He’s a man of uncommon characteristics, mentally or physically. Even though you’re his brother, or his wife, or his mother, you never know him completely. I’ve felt myself at times trembling because of my inadequacy around him'” (quote source here).
Of course, regarding his marriage to June Carter in 1968, “the 35-year marriage of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash is one of the great love stories of the entertainment industry. The movie ‘Walk the Line’ is about their being there for one another during the tough times” (quote source here). While the movie actually ends at the point where they married in 1968, their life together lasted another 35 years ending at her death in 2003 followed by his death four months later.
Johnny Cash was also a Christian (as was June Carter Cash). Regarding his faith, Cash made the following statement in the article titled, “Inside the Complicated Faith of Johnny Cash”:
“‘I don’t compromise my religion,’ Cash once declared. ‘If I’m with someone who doesn’t want to talk about it, I don’t talk about it. I don’t impose myself on anybody in any way, including religion. When you’re imposing you’re offending, I feel. Although I am evangelical, and I’ll give the message to anyone that wants to hear it, or anybody that is willing to listen. But if they let me know that they don’t want to hear it, they ain’t never going to hear it from me. If I think they don’t want to hear it, then I will not bring it up.’
“‘In short, telling others is part of our faith all right, but the way we live it speaks louder than we can say it,’ Cash said. ‘The gospel of Christ must always be an open door with a welcome sign for all.’
“‘There’s nothing hypocritical about it,’ Cash told Rolling Stone scribe Anthony DeCurtis. ‘There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I’m the biggest sinner of them all.’ To Cash, even his near deadly bout with drug addiction contained a crucial spiritual element. ‘I used drugs to escape, and they worked pretty well when I was younger. But they devastated me physically and emotionally—and spiritually … [they put me] in such a low state that I couldn’t communicate with God. There’s no lonelier place to be. I was separated from God, and I wasn’t even trying to call on Him. I knew that there was no line of communication. But He came back. And I came back’ . . . .
“‘Being a Christian isn’t for sissies,’ Cash said once. ‘It takes a real man to live for God–a lot more man than to live for the devil, you know? If you really want to live right these days, you gotta be tough.’ What’s more, he’s intimately aware of the hard truths about living God’s way: ‘If you’re going to be a Christian, you’re going to change. You’re going to lose some old friends, not because you want to, but because you need to.'”
“It was through the quiet friendships of men such as Billy Graham that Cash found an alternative to the vanity of shifting celebrity. He found freedom from guilt and the authenticity of the truth in a crucified and resurrected Christ. And he immediately identified with another self-obsessed celebrity of another era: Saul of Tarsus. He even authored a surprisingly good biography of the apostle [“Man in White“], with the insight of one who knows what it is like to see the grace of Jesus through one’s own guilt as a ‘chief of sinners.’
“Even as a Christian, Cash was different. He sang at Billy Graham crusades and wrote for Evangelical audiences, but he never quite fit the prevailing saccharine mood of pop Evangelicalism. Nor did he fit the trivialization of cultural Christianity so persistent in the country music industry, as Grand Old Opry stars effortlessly moved back and forth between songs about the glories of honky-tonk women and songs about the mercies of the Old Rugged Cross.
“To be sure, Cash’s Christian testimony is a mixed bag. In his later years, he took out an ad in an industry magazine, with a photograph of himself extending a middle finger to music executives. And yet there is something in the Cash appeal to the youth generation that Christians would do well to emulate . . . .
“Cash always seemed to connect. When other Christian celebrities tried to down-play sin and condemnation in favor of upbeat messages about how much better life is with Jesus, Cash sang about the tyranny of guilt and the certainty of coming judgment. An angst-ridden youth culture may not have fully comprehended guilt, but they understood pain. And, somehow, they sensed Cash was for real.
“The face of Johnny Cash reminded this generation that he has tasted everything the youth cultures of multiple decades have to offer—and found there a way that leads to death. In a culture that idolizes the hormonal surges of youth, Cash reminds the young of what pop culture doesn’t want them to know: ‘It is appointed to man once to die, and after this the judgment.’ His creviced face and blurring eyes remind them that there is not enough Botox in all of Hollywood to revive a corpse.
“Cash wasn’t trying to be an evangelist—and his fellow Bible-belt Evangelicals knew it. But he was able to reach youth culture in a way the rest of us often can’t, precisely because he refused to sugarcoat or ‘market’ the gospel in the ‘language’ of today’s teenagers” (quote source here).
In the last line of the article, “Inside the Complicated Faith of Johnny Cash,” Cash stated, “I don’t give up … and it’s not out of frustration and desperation that I say ‘I don’t give up.’ I don’t give up because I don’t give up. I don’t believe in it” (quote source here).
Those words are familiar. They were spoken by Jesus Christ in the “Parable of the Persistent Widow” in Luke 18:1-6, specifically in verse 1 when he stated to his disciples “that they should always pray and not give up.”
And so we also should always pray . . .
And–just like Johnny Cash—“not give up” . . .
Don’t ever give up . . . .
YouTube Video: “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash:
I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you’re mine, I walk the line