Thursday, November 24, 2005

Down, down, down...

One of my first truly impressive childhood memories comes from riding in the backseat of a car moving down a country road through a black Arkansas night and hearing some deep voice rumble out of the radio, more speaking than singing, "Love, is a burning thing. And it makes, a fiery ring. Bound, by wild desire. I fell into a ring of fire."

I sat up, captivated. What was this? I'd heard radio evangelists on late-night radio preaching the gospel to insomniacs, promising divine love and threatening infernal hell, but this bottomless voice offered love as hell.

In that instant came the chorus, and I realized that the man was singing, but in a way that I'd never heard before:

I, fell, in, to, a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down,
and the flames, went higher,
and it burns, burns, burns,
the ring of fire,
the ring of fire.

Then those distant, unexpected horns, unlike anything that I'd ever heard in country music. This stuff sounded like country and gospel and something south of the border but transcending all of them. Who was this guy?

I soon found out.


At 8:26 AM, Blogger Macuquinas d' Oro said...

For me it was "Because you're mine, I walk the line", and that great Gregory Peck-Tuesday Weld movie in 1970. For reasons I do not care to discuss, I thought that song spoke directly to me.
"Ring of fire" was a close second.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I like "Walk the Line," too, but "Jackson" more. His album for the Native Americans, "Bitter Tears," also spoke to me, but I don't have any favorite songs from that. I suspect that some of Johnny's outsider and outlaw side stems from his Cherokee heritage . . . as, possibly, does my own.

The genuinely special quality about Cash was that unlike those of us who are dominated by our failings, Cash was bigger than any of his flaws.

Maybe that's partly what greatness means.

At 9:38 PM, Blogger James Brush said...

Reading your posts the past few days, I've noticed that when I read the quotes from his lyrics, I hear them in his voice. It's like that when I play a Cash song on guitar too. I can't sing them in my voice (to be honest I can't sing at all), but only in a sad attempt at imitating him. No other singer does that to me.

At 5:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

James, many people have noted that when Cash sings someone else's song, it becomes his own.

That can be hard for the one who wrote it. According to Trent Reznor, who wrote "Hurt":

"When my friend Rick Rubin asked if Johnny could cover 'Hurt' I said yes immediately," remembers Reznor. "Because I trust Rick and I admired Johnny a great deal. Later, when I heard the recording, I felt a little invaded, I have to admit. It was my song, one of the most personal I've ever written. And now it's got this massive voice attached to it which isn't mine. A couple of weeks after that I saw the video. And that's when it all came together; I got goosebumps, I welled up with tears and I knew it wasn't my song anymore."

I think that Cash's voice and personality take over a song completely. After hearing him sing it, no other version sounds quite right.

So, we hear it in his voice and have to sing it that way, too.


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