The Man in Black

Last year, it was Jamie Foxx as Ray and this year it is Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. I have not seen Capote yet, so I cannot really compare him with 'current' Oscar favourite - Philip Seymour Hoffman. In any case, Phoenix's performance as Cash has been nothing short of heroic and the movie is one of the best biopics ever made. It is now well-known that Phoenix played and sang all the songs in the movie; at whose start, he did not know the first thing about singing or about playing the guitar. He effortlessly managed to play one of the most interesting characters ever to walk on the face of this Earth; who Bob Dylan called 'an almost Biblical character'. But Walk the Line is more than just about Johnny, it's also about the great love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter.

"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."


Johnny Cash always opened his shows with this simple line. His music was simple and his clothes were simple - just black. Here was a man who never forgot his roots or his faith, remained true to his art, never sold out and more importantly always stood for what he believed. He championed Bob Dylan when most people thought he was just another Woody Guthrie knock-off, encouraged Merle Haggard and told him not to be ashamed of his convict past and introduced Kris Kristofferson to the world. He played in prisons before it became fashionable to do so. When he wanted to record at the San Quentin prison, Columbia Records executives asked him, "Why are you dressed in black? Whose funeral are you going for?" He answered - "Mine". It is a different issue that the album went on to be a huge hit.
When he first met June Carter, she was country-music royalty and he was just another upcoming artist. She sensed the tenderness behind the tough 'outlaw' image that he cultivated. He would propose to her numerous times, but she always refused till one day she accepted 'on-stage' in the middle of a song. The movie ends with him marrying June Carter, but things did not end happily ever after. In the tradition of great heroes, he had his strengths and his numerous flaws. He was addicted to various drugs over the years - stimulants, painkillers and alcohol. There would be more bouts of addiction and June would stand by him like a rock and try her best to save himself from him. When he recovered, he said, "If it wasn't for June, I wouldn't be alive." They were inseparable and would be married for more than 30 years. After June passed away, he completely lost his will to live and passed away four months later.
In the Rolling Stone, Bono reminisced about the time he had dinner with Johnny. When they sat at the table, Cash bowed his head and joined his hands in prayer. After the grace was said Cash remarked, "Gosh, how I miss those drugs!". Bono said, "He wasn't just pretending to be a Holy Joe". It takes a lot of courage and honesty to accept yourself and then it takes a lot of strength to confront your demons and change. Trent Reznor may have written "Hurt", but Cash's rendition of the song has more emotional depth than Trent can even imagine.
While rock-stars have always written protest songs, complained about injustices and participated in demonstrations and marches, few have really put words to action. Only Johnny Cash could have always worn black as he sang:

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.
...
I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.
...
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black


Even now, only a few gangsta rap stars exclusively wear black.

4 comments:

Ashutosh said...

I find Phoenix quite talented. I think his performace in Gladiator was as good, if not better, than Crowe's.

Hirak said...

... it was a forgettable Academy Award for Crowe.

Anonymous said...

i love you johnny cash

daisy said...

hello, it is great to find your post about Johnny Cash, hope you don't mind transfer of your post to my spaces. thank you :)