Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

How Many Times?

for Johnny Cash

How many times must I repeat
the same old tired line?
How many times can this old heart
be broken and be fine?
It doesn’t take a genius to opine
the odds are bound to take a sharp decline.

How many times must substance
take a backseat behind style?
How many times can a good man
walk down that extra mile?
The calculations need not take a while;
no need to note an entry in some file.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you,
but I’m getting tired
of waking up each morning
feeling old and uninspired;
There’s just an empty feeling
in my heart that’s like a hole,
and a longing for something that’s
out of my control.

How many words should be too many
spoken out of turn?
How many matches must we strike
before we start to burn?
It doesn’t take a brilliant man to learn
the law about diminishing returns.

How many lies will we both tell
before we face the truth?
How much of careless, foolish love
is wasted in our youth?
It doesn’t take too much to find the proof
that some foundation must hold up the roof.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you,
but I’m getting tired
of waking up each morning
feeling old and uninspired;
There’s just an empty feeling
in my heart that’s like a hole,
and a longing for something that’s
out of my control.

05 MAR 2006

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Careful With That Rhinestone Axe, Eugene (Radio Free Nashville)

Johnny Cash said that Nashville’s had a hard time figuring how to sell country to New Yorkers with boots. It’s a national advertising demographic thing now.

Well, country ought to be personal and interactive. Nobody in new country makes you think of Marty, Hank or Lefty – not because they weren’t influential, but because real country singing requires life outside a studio, not video appeal. But Nashville, Inc. doesn’t want that – it’s too risky. Why? Well, new country radio is designed to offend no one. Sure, it’s caricature, apology or hip idiom, but nobody laughs at themselves anymore. Politically correct? Maybe, but there’s a lot of cutesy girls and dimpled boys, and nobody’s hands are getting dirty working. It doesn’t reflect reality. God didn’t make these honkytonk angels, unless he’s writing the graffiti in the mens’ room.

Old country doesn’t get on radio because “there’s no money in nostalgia”, but there is quite a bundle in fantasy. Nobody’s ever mad or disgusted in New Country, where a smile and great hair prove your heart is broken. It’s a product for a disposable society, leaving no impressions, taking no stand and requiring no listener commitment.

Real Country is like whiskey – it improves with age. A new country song doesn’t need born-on dating. You know when it goes bad. Praise of mediocrity devalues genius, which is a long-term thing. Singers who survive their twenties, who resist being groomed and shrink-wrapped, and who prefer giving unique memories to each two-bit roadhouse rather than an intimate global satellite experience from Central Park.

Buddy Holly told Nashville, Inc. “My way, or I’m leaving. I’d rather shovel shit in Lubbock.”

Well, until there’s a Buddy in New Country, you’ll just have to pretend that Hank Sr. would have been “discovered” on Star Search.

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On idols and influences

Thinking about Johnny Cash today made me pause for a moment and reflect on where I am as a result of my Musical idols. Now, I’m not talking about bands I like, or songwriters that strike a particular chord in me, or unique and individual voices — although each of those is a part of what I’m talking about. When I say idols, I don’t mean for worship, either. Worship is too much of a separation between the ideal and the reality – worship in the sense of a specific ritual that delineated in time and space focuses the attention of the worshipper in a single-minded beam of light that absorbs the universe — although THAT is part of it, too. What I am talking about is performers (in my case, Musicians) who when I first heard them changed — irreversibly, immeasurably, irrevocably, dramatically, definitely and undeniably — who I am in relationship to what I do as a Musician. It’s different for different arts, I suppose — in some media, perhaps the effect is not so immediate, but in Music, when a guitar or harmonica or piano or whatever is just within reach at the fingertips at the split second the performer’s first thing hits my eardrums. And that makes the absorption, I guess, so much more (well, in my opinion) intense and well, poignant. To put it into another vernacular, it’s like the first time you do serious amounts of any drug (enough to alter your thought energy in a pleasant way) the first time you cross the asleep/aware threshold — but it’s BETTER, because it happens every time you hear a new thing by someone who has the potential to absolutely blow your mind.

For me, it was perhaps a very strange progression … almost like some things happened accidentally, to force me to look in a different direction — although we all know that nothing really happens by accident. So it’s a plan. Maybe not mine, but a plan nonetheless. You probably get the point by now 🙂

Anyway … here, in attempted chronological order, are the performers (and their recordings or other performances) that put me where I am Musically and gave me the map to get there.

El Gato (Duke Ellington live at Newport 1958, with Cat Anderson on lead trumpet). Not really the first thing I ever heard, or sang or played, but definitely the first thing that absolutely changed me. When I heard this, I didn’t have any records of my own, but listened to the stuff accumulated by my parents (and fortunately, some of their elder relations). There was a lot of classical, mostly piano and orchestral; some jazz, mostly samplers and that sort of thing; a lot of that “Music for Dining”, “Music for Dancing” boxed set sort of thing from Reader’s Digest. Also not to be forgotten were the three “rock and roll” samplers – well, popular Music from 1952-1954, 54-56, and 56-57 – on Decca. “Blueberry Hill”, “Rock Around the Clock”, “The Glow Worm” by the Mills Brothers – oh that song still gives me chills — and so on. Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” was on those Decca records too. Wow. We also played a lot of Music at home. Each kid had to play three instruments – piano, a stringed instrument and a horn. Plus my dad played piano and lap steel on occasion. And my cousins played, too, as well as my uncle, grandfather and grandmother. It was rural, so our Musical styles were standards and country, or country standards (and when I say country, I mean America the whole country, not just Nashville). My cousin four years older had every thing the Beatles ever made or was merchandised through them. To make a long story somewhat shorter, there was a lot of Music that didn’t come from records or the radio. But that first taste of this record was cosmic. Since it was a sampler, it also had the Gerry Mulligan sextet, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck … ah, what an introduction.

Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash) and Gold Records Vol. 4 (Elvis Presley)And here is where it really begins. The first two albums I ever actually owned and didn’t have to put back in someone else’s record rack. There is so much to be said about these two artists that this post cannot suffice. Needless to say, I learned how to sing listening to Elvis records. But I learned how to play the guitar from Johnny Cash. And write Lyrics.

The Beatles. Of course, with my cousin’s extensive collection, every time we went to visit that was all we listened to. And learned how to play. Because of the Beatles, I understand the necessities of group performance, particularly where vocals are concerned in rock and roll. Probably the most influential early Beatles’ song (the first one I ever heard was “Run for Your Life” from Help!) was the song “Ticket to Ride”. I learned that one on at least three instruments.

Maynard Ferguson. When I was 12, my clarinet teacher and junior high school band director got together at the teacher’s college (Ohio Northern University) and took us all to see Maynard Ferguson in concert. We were playing stuff from “Chameleon” in jazz band – Gospel John, Livin’ for the City, using Maynard’s charts, and seeing him live was unbelievable. I’d seen orchestras, and choirs and symphonies at this point (the ones I was participating in, of course, and on television and record), but seeing a live band that grooved was major.

The Beach Boys. Before I hit high school, I didn’t have many albums. Elvis’ Gold Records (all of them), Johnny Cash, The Bay City Rollers, Shaun Cassidy, The Eagles Greatest Hits, some stuff I’d won writing a Halloween essay contest for WKTN (Linda Hargrove, Roy Clark and The Blues Project — special note here, it was their 1974 reunion album, complete with Al Kooper, Steve Katz — the guys that wrote “I Can’t Keep From Crying”. Man, I didn’t really understand the range of the album or where that sound exactly was, but that album was GREAT. Anyway, back to the Beach Boys … the harmony vocals always drew me in. Thanks to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, I understand harmony vocals — and it certainly helped with my background and lead singing at family outings. If you sang a good harmony, everybody was VERY happy. Brian Wilson’s range of songwriting to this day amazes me. And his voice – how haunting …

KISS Double Platinum … oh, I forgot the other album I had in junior high … more on that later 🙂

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Born Outside of Nashville

rededicated to Johnny Cash

Well, yes, I’ve been in prison, and I have been dirt poor
I’ve spent time in worn out shoes and I’ve slept on the floor
And the hat I wear is there to keep the rain off of my boots
It ain’t no fashion statement, just reflection on my roots

I’ve never roped or wrangled, but I’ve been behind a plow
And it’s been quite a row to hoe to get where I am now
I have played for pennies on the streets just to get by
And I can sing a melody to bring tears to your eye

BORN OUTSIDE OF NASHVILLE and it’s probably just as well
I never was too interested in how much I could sell
They tell me country Music’s all ’bout heart and paying dues
Well, mister, I’ve been country nearly twice as long as you.

I was raised on rock and roll when Elvis was the king
And I won’t lie, I’ll tell you, man, that’s where I learned to sing
But I learned some from the Beatles and as much from Bill Monroe,
Merle Haggard and ol’ “No Show Jones” taught me to love the show

I love hearin’ Hank and Patsy and the Grand Ol’ Opry
But Sam & Dave and Otis Redding sure weren’t lost on me
You might say that I’m not a purist, far as you can tell
But America is my tradition, and I’ve learned it well

BORN OUTSIDE OF NASHVILLE, guess I’ll never be home-grown
But I could never be convinced that’s something you can own
They tell me country Music’s all ’bout heart and being true
Well, mister, I’ve been country nearly twice as long as you.

I’ve never been a Rebel, never fought in any wars
But I’ve met carpet-baggers, slaves and money-hungry whores
I’ve been called trash, and I’ve had cash, ‘least long enough to spend
And I’ve lived through this country in between and at both ends

I’ve spent some time in Memphis, but in northern cities too
And maybe country’s in one place, but I don’t think that’s true
You can keep your rhinestones and your video appeal
As for me, I’ll stand by Austin and the streets of Bakersfield

BORN OUTSIDE OF NASHVILLE and it sure don’t feel like home
Time in Music City makes glad I can still roam
They tell me country Music’s all ’bout heart and paying dues
If that’s the case, I’ve been in country twice as long as you.

1996

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The Underground

So I guess it would be something complex,
with a different perspective and view,
more than just a reaction or reflex,
some knee-jerk response that simply brings you

back to the same old emotional edge,
feeding on yesterday’s angst and stale pain,
standing stupidly on the window ledge
and wondering how to turn off your brain

(in case the lyrics get a little real);
trying be alternative to that
would take rejecting any of the praise,
and that meaningless “you’re the next big deal”.

If you want to truly be your own cat,
you’ll never be what the radio plays.

27 FEB 2003

for Johnny Cash

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