Remembering Johnny Cash on the day he died

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Johnny Cash died September 12, 2003, age 71.


I can highly recommend “Johnny Cash - I see a darkness”, a graphic novel by Reinhard Kleist.


The night Johnny Cash died, I was driving home, digesting the news, when I decided to stop in at the local bowling alley to do some karaoke in his honor. I sang a half-decent “Folsom Prison Blues” and two large men accosted me afterwards and asked me to sing another Cash song. They added, “We just got out of Folsom! We want to buy you a beer!”

I have an acquaintance who is an ex-bank robber and he told me, “Never owe a con anything,” I politely declined and said I would give it to the karaoke host. I gave it to him saying, “Those guys bought this beer for you. They just got out of prison.” He said, “I don’t want that!” Apparently he, too, knew the rules.

Later in the night, I sang “Ring of Fire”, ducked my head, and headed out the door. As I left, I heard the karaoke host singing a spirited version of the “Three’s Company” theme. John Ritter had died the day before.


Johnny Cash played at the Carter Family Fold just two months before his death. Joe and Jeannette behind him are gone now too. Even in old age, he was a force. Never saw him at the Fold, just kept hearing about him playing there always too late, but I sure wish I had.

I was adjuncting in the CUNY system at the time, and I remember playing Johnny’s records to my classes that day, talking about why he was meaningful to me, his importance to music, the humanity of his live prison albums, etc. I can still remember the upbraiding I got from an asshat colleague who informed me he’d be “horrified” if he’d been told to read, say, Shakespeare for that day’s class and was “forced to listen to Johnny Cash” instead. To which I said, and still say, and shall say forevermore:



Couple days ago just watched “Tricky Dick and the Man in Black”, an hour doc (on Netflix) on when he sang for Nixon at the White House. Really enjoyed it.


(Not sure why the official video is so damn hard to find.)


Wait… are… are you saying the karaoke machine could cause people to die??

I need to get more full albums of Cash. I have some Best of Albums and he’s great. I even got the kiddo to listen to some. In a song camp they were looking for examples of songs that tell a story, and she said “A Boy Name Sue”.


Just my singing.


In 1994 I went to Woodstock hoping to see two musical acts in particular: Johnny Cash and Alice In Chains. When I arrived I discovered that two musical acts had cancelled their appearance: Johnny Cash and Alice In Chains. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of seeing Johnny Cash in concert two years later when he toured with his wife June Carter. It ranks as one of my top three favorite shows.



huh weird, yesterday while driving to the movie theater to see a movie my Pandora played 3 Johnny Cash songs and i jokingly said to my roommate that it must be a Johnny Cash day. Looks like it really was.


I was pretty young, musta been around 10 or 11, and I remember hearing “I Walk The Line” on the radio in my parent’s car and my ears just perked up, mesmerized for the entire song. There’s something weird and hypnotic about the song even though it’s pretty simple. Apparently he came up with the tune by accidentally playing a tape of a standard 12-bar blues backwards in his tape machine, and the “drum” is actually him strumming a guitar with a piece of paper stuck in the strings.


In the summer of '96, my folks and I took my grandmother and aunt to DFW so they could fly home to Nashville. They got on and we hung around to make sure the plane left. There was one couple left in the gate area. I mentioned to my mom, “that guy looks like Johnny Cash. But I don’t think it is, because he’s supposed to play in Austin tonight.” My mom said, “well that woman next to him is June Carter.” Then I heard the man cough, a big “BUHH-HUHH” and it was unmistakably Johnny Cash. We waved as we walked past and he gave a very deep “hello” that sealed it for sure.

It turns out the reason he was at DFW and heading back to BNA was that they’d canceled the Austin show, thinking he had a cold at the time, but (IIRC) it turned out to be the early symptoms of his more serious illness.


For those who didn’t think much of his acting career, I strongly urge them to find his episode of Columbo. He plays the guest star/murderer with a wild intensity as everything seems to come apart as the story goes on.


“After a historic presentation of sold-out concerts in San Francisco last year, two American music luminaries—consummate singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash and visionary artist, producer, and iconic guitarist Ry Cooder—are bringing back their extraordinary collaboration, CASH AND COODER ON CASH: THE MUSIC OF JOHNNY CASH, a sublime tribute to Johnny Cash featuring heartfelt personal interpretations of gems from his treasure-filled songbook. A limited run of one-night performances in landmark venues will take place in five U.S. cities this year. Making up the exceptional band playing alongside Cash and Cooder will be esteemed guitarist and musical director John Leventhal, pianist Glenn Patscha, bassist Mark Fain, and drummer Joachim Cooder.”

I got my ticket for the Boston show.

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