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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Liz Serves Up Some Music for Dads

Since I did my mom’s favorite album for Mother’s Day last month, it seems only fitting that I do one of my dad’s today. I’ve mentioned before on the blog that my father was playing saxophone in a swing band when he met my mom, so jazz was a big part of my growing up. The majority of the music in my parents’ album collection was jazz or swing (with a handful of cheesy stuff like Mitch Miller and the Ray Coniff Singers thrown in). But my dad also went the country route from time to time. He loved Bobbie Gentry (though he thought it was scandalous that she performed wearing--gasp--pants) and Tammy Wynette. But more than anyone in that genre, far and away, he loved Johnny Cash.

I remember distinctly two albums: “Mean as Hell” and this one, “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.” But since “Mean as Hell” isn’t widely available anymore, and since so much of it is more storytelling than singing, I’m blogging on the live album. And yes, it was actually recorded live at Folsom Prison, the audience consisting of a couple thousand inmates and the guys paid to keep an eye on them. My only gripe with this CD is that it doesn’t have “Ring of Fire.” In spite of that, it’s really, really, really excellent, Johnny at his best in many ways.

There are great classics on this CD, like “Orange Blossom Special” and “Jackson,” and, of course, “Folsom Prison Blues.” There are ballads like “Dark as the Dungeon” and “The Wall.” There’s funny stuff like “Cocaine Blues,” with lyrics that go, “I thought I was her daddy, but she had five more,” and “Twenty-Five Minutes to Go,” where the gunslinger is taunting the sheriff during the last twenty-five minutes of his life that said sheriff has promised him. There are songs of loss, songs of celebration, songs of love, songs of life. And yes, there is much storytelling, too. All of it sung in that craggy, affectionate baritone that somehow makes it all sound even more meaningful. This CD is just so quintessentially Johnny Cash. He’s performing in an environment that helped to define him, singing about every aspect of life--his and ours.

A lot of performers reach out to their fans, but I don’t think anyone ever touched them with the depth and tenderness that Johnny Cash somehow managed. He probably wasn’t any more human than a lot of celebrities. But he displayed that humanity more than most. He overcame a lot of hardship in his life and struggled with demons to his dying day. He loved more deeply than most people are able to ever manage. He embraced his faith with a tenacity that many believers envy. He was just a lot like us, and he wasn’t afraid to show it. And all of us--even those of us who aren’t big country fans--still love him for it.

I hope my dad and Johnny ended up in the same place in the afterlife. I’m thinking they probably did. They were a lot alike in many ways. And I hope, wherever he is, my dad is still able to enjoy the things he did when he was Earth-bound, like the music he loved so much in life.

Today of all days, here’s to the dads. If you can, give yours a big hug today, whether physically or through a phone call. And if you can’t, do what I do and remember what those hugs were like. Happy Father’s Day, everybody.
Elizabeth Bevarly, 11:23 AM
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