Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Johnny Cash: The True King of Rock and Roll

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Elvis? Give me a break. Johnny Cash was the man, before Elvis came along and until the day he died. Cash lived the rock and roll lifestyle as much as anyone, including prison time. And he did it with soul, dignity, and a fierce spirit.

It's that fierce spirit that kept him making music right up until the end, despite the depression he endured after losing June. His final album has been released, American V: A Hundred Highways, and Rolling Stone has the review.

Rick Rubin's American series with Cash redefined the Man in Black for a whole new postmodern generation. I saw Cash live after the first album in the series was released in the early 90s. Mark Lanegan, a Seattle favorite and then-singer for the Screaming Trees, opened the show with an acoustic set from his first solo albums. That's the only reason I went to see the show.

But Cash blew me away. We were going to leave after Lanegan, but we decided to have a beer and see how Cash sounded. It amazed me that I knew all the songs without having ever owned a Johnny Cash album. I'm glad we stayed.

Elvis who?

Johnny Cash gave every song his deepest appreciation -- he seemed infused with soul. Whether he sang about drinking and fighting or about Jesus, he was fully present. The dark songs off that first collaboration with Rick Rubin were haunting. As great as Cash had been, he had never been so vulnerable before. I feel fortunate to have seen that concert -- without it I may never have discovered the true King of Rock and Roll.

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