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Johnny Cash: Remix

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird 

 

selective focus photo of guitar

Photo by Agung Pandit Wiguna on Pexels.com

Johnny Cash’s mother Carrie said to Johnny at age 15:  “You’ve got a gift, JR. You’re going to sing. God’s got his hand on you. You’re going to carry the message of Jesus Christ.”(1)  Cash saw the song ‘I walk the Line’ as his first Gospel hit.  He sang it not just to his wife, but also to God. (2)  His mother Carrie always believed in her son even through the worst of his addictions.  Sadly Johnny’s alcoholic father did not know how to bless his son.  When his older brother died tragically, his father unfairly blamed Johnny, saying “Too bad it wasn’t you instead of Jack.” (3)

Johnny Cash was a seventeen-time Grammy winner who sold more than 90 million albums in his lifetime.(4)  But his life was full of tragedy and heartbreak.  Johnny Cash self-medicated for much of his musical career, saying: “You know, I’ve had my years in the wilderness, had my years when the demons crawled up my back. That was only when the drugs started, and they’ve gone away now…I had to finally accept it, you know, that God thought there was something worth saving, so who was I to say, ‘You’re wrong?.’ I had to accept it and go along with it, and that’s what I did.”(5)

Cash said that he used drugs to escape but it devastated him, making it impossible to communicate with God.  Amphetamines and alcohol were literally killing him.  Cash admitted: “you’re on the suicide track when you’re doing what I was doing.”(6)

Through his addictions, many family members and co-workers were deeply hurt.  As part of his recovery, Johnny Cash worked hard to rebuild many destroyed relationships.  His son John Carter Cash said: “When Dad returned from the Betty Ford Center, he had a new lease on life, a new direction. Like the Apostle Paul, the scales were pulled from his eyes.” (7)  As Cash sang about painful broken relationships, many identified with his struggles.  Bob Dylan said of him: “If we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black.”(8) Cash was described as the poet for the common person: the cotton picker, the gravedigger, the roughneck, the coal miner, the train engineer, the lumberjack, the spike driver.(9)

 Cash’s music spoke up for the voiceless, the rejected, the abandoned, and the prisoner.  Who can forget when he did a live album in Folsom Prison? Time Magazine said that “Cash and his songs are rooted in the basic of country life: the land, lost loves, wanderlust, the seasons, lonely trains hooting across the still prairie night, preachers, prison and Sweet Jesus and home sweet home.”(10)

A major part of his recovery was the relentless love of his wife June Carter Cash. Johnny Cash said of June: “She loves me in spite of everything, in spite of myself…She’s always been there with her love and it certainly made me forget the pain for a long time many times.”(11)  June often flushed his drugs down the toilet, and prayed for him when he was near death with an overdose.  She and Johnny’s mother were there waiting for him when he pulled out of a suicidal tailspin at Nickajack Cave near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Another key to Johnny Cash’s recovery was the loyal friendship of the late Billy Graham.  John Carter said: “When my father fell short, he could always reach out to Billy Graham.  Billy didn’t judge my father.  He was there as his friend unconditionally.  Billy would lift him up, support him and say, ‘You can do this. Stand back up. You know who you are.’”  He and June would eventually share and sing at nearly three dozen Billy Graham Crusades in front of nearly two million people. (12)

Many people don’t know that Cash wrote a novel about the apostle Paul, saying: “If God could embrace an avowed and bloodthirsty enemy of his son Jesus Christ, he’d make a place for Johnny Cash.”(13)  Few were aware that he was an ordained minister, even performing weddings, including  one for his daughter Kathy.(14)  Johnny Cash commented: “The Master of Life’s been good to me…He gives me strength to face past illnesses, and victory in the face of defeat.  He has given me life and joy where others saw oblivion.”(15)

In the last ten years of his life, Johnny Cash came back to his creative roots and was rediscovered by the younger generation of musicians.  Bono of U2 commented: “To me, Johnny Cash –with all his contradictions– was a quintessential character of the scriptures, or at least of the characters in the Bible that interested me. If God had time for these flawed characters, then God had time for me.” Bono said that he would rather spend a day with Johnny Cash than a week with most other pop artists. (16) Bob Dylan said: “Listen to (Cash) and he always brings you to your senses. He rises high above all, and he ‘ll never die or be forgotten, even by persons not born yet –especially those persons…”(17) As an artist, Johnny Cash wanted to make records that made a difference.

Johnny Cash finished well.  His last producer Rick Rubin drew out that which was best and truest about Johnny Cash, particularly in the video  Hurt.  Cash noted: “Rick saw something in me that I didn’t know was there anymore.”(18)  Johnny Cash rediscovered what made him tick musically. Rick Rubin commented: “When I asked artists what they admired about Cash, that’s what they often mentioned –that vulnerable, hurt aspect, that man who wouldn’t give up.”(19)  Bono said that Hurt was perhaps the best video ever made.(20)  It was raw and real.  Cash’s unshakable faith in Christ shone through this remarkable video.  His daughter Rosanne commented: “It’s so unflinching and brave and that’s what you are. I thought it was an enormously courageous . It was a work of art, excruciatingly truthful.”(21)

My prayer for those reading this article is that we like Johnny Cash may finish well, that we may be creative and faithful until the end of our lives.

 

 Hurt Video with Johnny Cash

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-previously published for the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

(1) Robert Hilburn, Johnny Cash: the Life ( Little, Brown & Company, New York, NY, 2013), p. 23.

(2) Hilburn, p. 104.

(3) Hilburn, p. 20.

(4) Reinhard Kleist,Johnny Cash: I See the Darkness (Abrams ComiArts, New York, NY, 2009), p. inside Cover

(5) Johnny Cash: My Mother’s Hymn Book CD and notes, p. 15.

(6) Cash by the Editors of Rolling Stone, edited by Jason Fine (Crown Publishing, New York, NY, 2004 ), p. 162-163.

(7) John Carter Cash , House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father Johnny Cash. ( Insight Editions , San Rafael , CA, 2011), p. 73.

(8) Cash, edited by Jason Fine, p. 205.

(9) Michael Streissguth, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: the making of a masterpiece (Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004),  pp. 13, 27.

(10) Hilburn, p. 363.

(11) Hilburn, p. 606.

(12) Hilburn, p. 370, p. 375.

(13) Hilburn, p. 506.

(14) John Carter Cash, p. 59.

(15)  Johnny Cash: American III: Solitary Man, 2000, CD liner.

(16) Cash, edited by Jason Fine, p. 139.;Hilburn, p. 538.

(17) Hilburn, p. 628.

(18)  Cash, edited by Jason Fine, p. 149.

(19) Hilburn, p. 546.

(20) Hilburn, p. 629.

(21) Hilburn, p. 603.


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Walking the Line with Johnny Cash

By the Rev.  Dr. Ed Hird

During Johnny Cash’s nearly fifty years of music, he sold over ninety million albums.  He learned to sing while picking cotton as an impoverished sharecropper’s son in Kingsland, Arkansas. His mother Carrie said to Johnny at age 15: “You’ve got a gift, JR.  You’re going to sing.  God’s got his hand on you.  You’re going to carry the message of Jesus Christ.”[i]

 

Cash recorded more than 1,500 songs including well-known hits like ‘A Boy named Sue’, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Ring of Fire.’  Johnny Cash is the only musician who has ever been threefold-inducted into the Songwriter’s, Country Music, and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.”

 

More than 100 other recording artists and groups have recorded Cash’s song “I Walk the Line.”  Cash commented: “I wrote ‘I walk the Line’ when I was on the road in Texas in 1956, having a hard time resisting the temptation to be unfaithful to my wife back in Memphis”: ‘I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.  I keep my eyes wide open all the time.  I keep the ends out for the tie that binds. Because you’re mine, I walk the line.’  Cash saw ‘I walk the Line’ as his first Gospel hit, because he sang it not just to his wife, but also to God.[ii]  Cash’s life was often fraught with tragedy and heartbreak. “After my brother Jack’s death”, said Johnny, “I felt like I’d died too. I just didn’t feel alive.  I was terribly lonely without him.  I had no other friend.” His father unfairly blamed Johnny for his brother’s death, saying “Too bad it wasn’t you instead of Jack.”[iii] Like his father before him, Johnny struggled for many years with addiction issues.  His father was never able to tell his children that he loved them.

 

Johnny Cash’s first marriage ran aground in the midst of workaholism and pill-popping.  In Cash’ autobiography, he comments: “Touring and drugs were what I did, with the effort involved in drugs mounting steadily as time went by.” Amphetamines keep him going without sleep, and barbiturates and alcohol knocked him out.  Cash comments: “I was in and out of jails, hospitals, and car wrecks.  I was a walking vision of death, and that’s exactly how I felt.  I was scraping the filthy bottom of the barrel of life.”

He knew that he had wasted his life and drifted far from God.  In desperation, Cash decided to end his life in 1967 by crawling deep into the inner recesses of Nickajack Cave on the Tennessee River.  There in pitch darkness he met God and then miraculously was able to crawl to the opening of the cave. There waiting for him was his future wife June Carter and his mother.  That was one of Cash’s turning points, along with the birth of John Carter Cash, in getting serious about battling his addiction.

 

Cash had relative freedom from drugs until attacked in 1981 by an ostrich that ripped his stomach open and broke several ribs. While in hospital, he became heavily re-addicted to painkillers.  In 1983, his family and friends did an intervention, which included Cash’s going to the Betty Ford Clinic. Cash comments: “I’m still absolutely convinced that the intervention was the hand of God working in my life, telling me that I still had a long way to go, a lot left to do.  But first I had to humble myself before God.”  Because of the enormous pain from sixteen failed jaw operations, Cash well understood the cunning, baffling, and powerful pull of self-medication.

In the midst of great trauma, Cash found that spiritual music helped bring him back from the despair of his addictions.  “Wherever I go, I can start singing one of them and immediately begin to feel peace settle over me as God’s grace flows in. They’re powerful, those songs.  At times they’ve been my only way back, the only door out of the dark, bad places the black dog calls home.” Cash began to find great strength in reading the bible and in prayer.  He learned to stop hating himself, and to forgive himself and  others.

During this time, the late Billy Graham became a personal friend and mentor.  Billy Graham “was interested, but never judgmental…I’ve always been able to share my secrets and problems with Billy, and I’ve benefited greatly from his support and advice. He’s never pressed me when I’ve been in trouble; he’s waited for me to reveal myself, and then he’s helped me as much as he can.”  Johnny and June would eventually sing and share at almost three dozen Billy Graham Crusades in front of around two million people.

I thank God for the late Johnny Cash’s recovery from serious addiction, and pray that all of us will have the courage to change the things that can be changed.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

– previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse

-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.


 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, #102-15168 19th Ave, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Ave, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

[i] Robert Hilburn, Johnny Cash: The Life (Little, Brown, & Company, New York, NY, 2013), p. 23.

[ii] Hilburn, p. 104.

[iii] Hilburn, p. 20.