Wednesday, January 19, 2005

mompoet sound journal #4

Johnny Cash
Country Boy
Musicbank 2000
***** out of 5

When I talked to her about my listening project, my friend Irene Livingston told me, "I won't have any music that you'd like." So I said, "What about some Johnny Cash?" Irene has sung a few of her "old time favourites" (not Johnny Cash) to me in the car and on the phone. She has even written them into a couple of the poems that she performs at the Vancouver Poetry Slam. She loves music, how could I not ask her for help with my project? So Irene loaned me Johnny Cash.

Irene is a poet and writer. She's my #1 encourager - reads my poems and stories, helps me improve them, tells me she thinks I'm great. We email a lot, talk on the phone, and go out to the Vancouver Poetry Slam together. She is a precious friend. Irene told me that she can remember the first time she knew she liked country music. She was 10 years old, living in New Brunswick. Her family had gone out to the country but she had to stay at Grandma's because she was sick. She remembers hearing her teenage cousin Walter playing guitar outside of her bedroom door, "real wailin', train-whistle blowin' stuff," she says. It gave her goose-bumps. When Irene says something gives her goose-bumps that means it's really good. She loves country singers like George Jones and Paul Brandt and "Tex-Mex' singer Freddy Fender. Her real favourite is Willy Nelson. She also enjoys Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli and she loves Leonard Cohen.

My first memory of Johnny Cash is when I was 8 years old. Our neighbour got a new car with an 8-track tape player. I remember sitting in the car in the driveway with the daughter, also 8, listening to the tape. I remember her saying, "Don't touch the key or my dad won't let us listen." So we sat, surrounded by new car smell, feeling very special, listening to every word and marvelling at the picture of the man in black with the deep, serious-sounding voice. There were songs about love and prison and shooting a man. My curiosity about dark and dangerous stuff was definitely piqued. This guy seemed that way. But I didn't get another chance to hear any more Johnny Cash for a long time after that.

I guess I have mostly thought of Johnny Cash as "just some country guy with a super deep voice who sings-talks pretty corny songs." I was aware that he is tremendously popular, both in North America and Europe, but I didn't get it. Remember, I don't like country. But Irene had spoken several times about a video of Johnny Cash singing a song called "Hurt." She talked about how it moved her, so I thought I would like to know more about this singer and his music.

Country Boy is a compilation of Johnny Cash songs, including the (I think) first song he recorded, "Hey Porter." The iconic "I walk the Line" is on this CD, along with "Cry! Cry! Cry!" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Some things about it are really funny, like all of the syllables stuffed into one line of lyrics in "Train of Love,"

Every so often everybody's baby gets the urge to roam
But everybody's baby but mine's comin' home

My favourite song on the CD is "Mean Eyed Cat." It starts out like this:

I give my woman half my money at the general store
I said, "Now buy a little groceries, and don't spend no more."
But she gave ten dollars for a ten cent hat
And bought some store bought cat food for a mean eyed cat.

I listened to the Johnny Cash CD a few times and I liked it, despite myself, I thought. I couldn't figure out why. So I decided to take a break. Hmmmm what would I listen to now? Then I had a craving for Patsy Clyne (who I got interested in years ago when Beverly DiAngelo played Patsy in the Sissy Spaced movie, Coal Miner's Daughter and also when kd lang was the reincarnation of Patsy Clyne.) So I listened to Patsy Clyne. Hmmmm. Then I wanted to listen to the Beatles. Early Beatles songs, which I usually think are less interesting than later ones. Hmmmm. Maybe there was some logic in this. What did they have in common? I'm still trying to piece it all together, but I think what I like about Johnny Cash, Patsy Clyne and the Beatles is that they all have a real sound. Not phoney or flashy. Just singing like themselves, earnestly, and with intelligence and humour. Also a steady unswerving beat and very distinctive singing voices. My Mom says that the best actors aren't beautiful. They are interesting looking. Are the best singers not the ones who sing brilliantly, but those who have interesting and real voices that set them apart from the good-but-boring? Charisma and sex-appeal is definitely all tangled up in this too. How can you ignore any of these artists? They are full of yummy stuff for curious people to find out about.

So I did some internet looking about Johnny Cash and found out that he was a big fan of Bob Dylan and vice versa, which is really neat. Then I remembered that I picked up a Boy Dylan CD, Nashville Skyline from a remainder bin for really cheap before Christmas but I hadn't listened to it. So I found it and guess what - Johnny Cash was on the CD, singing with Bob Dylan. Now those are two very interesting voices, especially together! And on the back of the album cover there's a poem that Johnny Cash wrote about Bob Dylan. I was beginning to get a very different picture of this "man in black." Finally, I found "Hurt" on the internet and watched it and cried pretty much the way through.

I found out that Johnny Cash recorded covers of songs by contemporary singers later in his career. "Hurt" is one of those songs - originally recorded by a band called Nine Inch Nails (wonder if I'll listen to them on my sound journey?) I think I would like to listen to some of this music - compare it with the older, more traditional. So yup. I guess I like some country music. And I do like Johnny Cash.

Thanks Irene.

Question: Am I going to like everything just because I'm like that? Will somebody suggest something that I can just have fun hating?

mompoet - infatu-eared

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