I've always told people the greatest song ever written was "Amazing Grace". The melody is beautiful and fitting and the lyrics are perfection. The greatest thing about the song, though, is that it is transcendent. It moves across every barrier I can think of. People sing it at weddings, in a lonely cell on death row, in the midst of turbulence and in the midst of calm. It's a song most everyone knows.
The same can be said about Cash. I can play Cash for young people who are into rap and they're down with Johnny. I can play him for country music lovers and (obviously) they're down with Johnny Cash. I can play him for the punk rockers and they're down with Johnny. He transcends generations, too. One of the few things grandparents and their grandchildren can agree on is that Johnny Cash is cool.
I start every day about the same. I get up alone because my roommates have real jobs. I walk into the kitchen, make me some breakfast and pour some coffee from the French press. I then walk into the adjoining room, put a record on the turntable, and sit in front of a TV with the volume off and see what the news is. The news is usually so mundane I don't need to hear it. It's just something to get my eyes awake for the day. On Sept. 12 I woke up expecting the same.
As soon as I sat in front of the TV that morning and saw his picture with "1932-2003" underneath it, there was still no need for words. The "dash" said it all.
Johnny is a thread that runs through my life. I realize that even more, now. My grandfather passed when I was young and my longing for him is as fresh today as the morning my father sat me down and told me of his death. I traveled back to Miami, Oklahoma two summers ago and was rummaging through my grandmother's stuff trying to find a piece of my grandfather to take with me. As I went through his record collection, it was all Southern Gospel music except for one LP--a Sun Records release called Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar. It is my prize possession--a gift from my grandfather 20 years after his death. Being a country music singer and songwriter it was the perfect way for my grandfather to visit me from where he is and to let me know he's listening.
I can't explain what it is about Johnny's music. It's a wonder to me. It's utterly void of nonsense. I can listen to "I Still Miss Someone" a hundred times and not tire of it.
I hear our government is blaring Metallica over loud speakers to torture the Taliban. I think maybe they should play some Cash instead. Then we might get somewhere. The lights might finally turn on so we can go forward in peace--kinda like finding a common love for a certain band with someone you disliked.
The last time I saw Mr. Cash, a reporter was asking how he was doing after the passing of June. He simply looked into the reporter's eyes and said, "The pain is severe". I lost my breath when I heard that. Nobody uses the word severe. Once again, for the 1000th time, I understood him and felt connected. Cash understood severe. I suppose that it is the perfect last word for me to ever hear him say. He knew of severe grace, severe mercy, severe conditions and severe joy. His voice was severe. If I had to explain him and all that he is and has done and left behind in a word that would be the one I'd pick.
I don't pray as much as I should but when I do there is a prayer that is usually uttered: "Dear Lord, please in my lifetime give me my 'Amazing Grace' and send me my June Carter."