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Oct 29, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


Tori O’Dea

History 495


Hello, I’m Johnny Cash…

These iconic words heralded the beginning of every performance the late Johnny
Cash would conduct. Even today, thanks to the live recordings Cash produced during his
life, fans can still hear these
memorable words spoken by Cash himself. But it is
impossible to discuss the impact Johnny Cash had on popular culture without first
introducing the man, the humble beginnings that would foster one of five men in all of
music history who would belong to the

Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, the Country
Music Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many argue that Cash’s story
is that of a typical rags to riches motif

“…a man grows up poor picking cotton in
Arkansas, then fights through the har
dships of the music business, drugs, marital woes,
personal tragedies, and hobbling health problems, and ultimately casts an imposing
shadow in popular music for five decades.”

While accurate, Edwards’ depiction of the
life of Johnny Cash is narrow and sl
ightly unforgiving. Cash himself spends time at the
beginning of his autobiography depicting his own childhood and upbringing, paying
specific attention to the events that would shape his life and future career and would
eventually impact the popular cultu
re of the country.

The view which Edwards presents to her readers, a description based on the study
of biographies written about Cash’s life, leaves out the most striking part of Cash,
personal story

which he spends time explaining to his readers.

1997, Johnny Cash,
with the help of Patrick Carter, produced the second autobiography that has come to mark
his own story. The description on the back of the book explains that Cash is seeking to


Edwards, Leigh.
Johnny Cash and the Paradox of t he American Identit y.
Indi ana University Press, 2009. Print. 17.

dispel a few myths, chronicle his own life and story, and e
xplain the struggles he endured
throughout his long and interesting life. But Cash, during his life story, seems to be
answering only to himself. He does answer a few of the lingering questions which have
caused such confusion about his life story, ranging

from the length of time he spent in jail
to the depth of his drug abuse, but the overarching point of the work seems to be his
attempts to explain his own life. He chronicles the events that made him the Johnny Cash
he was in 1997, the relationships that
shaped his life and his career, and the decisions he
has made that have both sparked controversy and made him a star in his own right.

In the beginning of his work, i
t seems almost as though Cash is out to make sure
that his readers truly have a sense of
him before
he delves

into the specifics of stories that
shaped his
. He explains, as if trying to earn the reader’s trust by disclosing
questionable details early on, that there are several different people who make up the
overarching Johnny Cash. “I’m

Johnny Cash in public and on record sleeves…I’m
Johnny to many people in the business…To June, I’m John…finally, I’m J.R., my name
from childhood.”

It is this view of the opposing Johnny Cash’s that will play into his
future as the “American Paradox”, th
e opposing personalities. “Cash is [June’s] name for
the star, the egomaniac. Johnny is her name for her playmate.”

Cash acknowledges that
there are conflicting personalities within
, something that will factor into his national
perception as his popul
arity grows.
It is here that the roots of his reputation as the
American Paradox took root. “
The revelation is that Cash lived long enough and hard
enough to embody a host of personas

and they’re all true. Songwriter. Six
strummer. Storyteller. Co
untry boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 8.


Cash, Johnny and
Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 9.

Addict. Rebel. Sinner. Saint. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. Klan
target. Outlaw. Moviemaker. Jailbird. Jailhouse troubadour. Truth teller. Novelist.
Salesman. War Protestor. Patriot.
Hell raiser. Heavenly guide.”

Johnny Cash was
able to embody the spirit of a man with multiple talents and multiple ways of
expressing those talents. He appeared as the Man in Black, defending those who had
no one else to stand up for their defense. Yet h
e also appeared as the drug addicted
rock star

took it upon himself to smash everything from hotel rooms to the
lights on stage during his own performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

In both his own
autobiography and the
popular opinion of him as an arti
st depicted through articles
and multiple biographies and books, Cash represents the dueling nature of the
American persona. His beliefs often conflict and contradict. “And it’s for those
reasons that pinning down Johnny Cash in any way, shape, or form is
impossible. He
made it impossible. He never intended to be categorized or pigeonholed.”

In the beginning of his autobiography, Johnny Cash takes time to map out the

of his life and his career, almost as if he wants the reader to understand his root
before they move on into his life story. Growing up in Arkansas, Johnny Cash’s roots
were humble and modest, his family large and barely able to sustain itself. He makes a
point of explaining to the reader everything that goes into picking cotton, justif
ying his
explanation by saying “Huge swaths of the blues and country music do after all come
from the cotton fields in a way…”

This description of his childhood, coupled with the
discussion of his older brother Jack, helps to establish the forces that influenced Johnny


Urbanski, David.
The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash.
Relevant Books, 2003. Print. 6


Fabi an, Shel ly. Top 40 Johnny Cash Moment s. htt p://countrymusic.about.com/od/al lthingscash/a/40momentsjcash.htm


Urbanski, David.
The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash.
Relevant Books, 2003. Print. 6


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck
Cash: The Autobiography
. New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 1997. Print. 12.

Cash from childhood and would go on to influence the artist and the public perception of
this l
egend. “[Jack’s]
influence on me

was profound…the most important question in
many of the conundrums and crises of my life has been, “Which is Jack’s way? Which
direction would
have taken?””

The first part of the book explains the family’s loss,
particularly his own, wh
en Jack passed away. His older brother, always the decent
idol in
his life, the brother who would act as the role model Cash so often needed in his life.
“…the table saw had cut Jack from his ribs down through his bell, all the way to his

Cash exp
lains that it was not much longer until the family eventually lost Jack,
despite his ability to survive the initial damage the table saw did to his body. “After
Jack’s death I felt like I’d died, too. I just didn’t feel alive. I was terribly lonely without

him. I had no other friend.”

Yet Cash also explains that, when the initial pain and loss
began to fade, he began to realize that his brother was not fully gone. As
autobiography and his career progresses, Cash often pulls on the influence of his olde
brother in order to explain his faith or his motivation for doing something. He explains
that he sees Jack from time to time, always in a dream and always two years older than
the current age of Cash, despite the fact that his brother passed when he was

It is
this perception of his brother that, Cash explains, has helped him to solve the problems in
his life or understand the choices he has made, especially those that fly directly in the
face of what his brother would have wanted him to do.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 38.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. N
ew York: Harper Collins Publishing, 1997. Print. 34.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 37


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi sh
i ng, 1997. Print. 39.

’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”

On the heels of
explaining some of the things that make him who he is, such as his religion, and just
before explaining the things that he is thankful for in the first chapter of his
phy, Cash takes a moment to explain the fact that he is a complicated
individual. He acknowledges the fact that there is complexity in the way that he is, in
what makes him who he is, and the factors that have influenced his life. The previous
quote is act
ually from Kris Kristofferson, a fellow musician and the future winner of
CMT’s Johnny Cash Visionary Award in 2007. While Kristofferson’s lyrics mention the
fact that Johnny Cash is a walking contradiction, he does not go into detail about why or
how Cash

really earned the title of the American Paradox and what cultural impact that

“Cash’s persona brings disparate or even opposed ideologies into close, symbiotic
relationship with one another.”

Cash is the classic image of the American outlaw, the
ug addicted troublemaker credited with crashing cars and trashing hotel room. He is the
man who spent a vital chunk of his career performing for prisons and creating live
albums in those prisons, not in a concert hall or with a public audience. Yet he is a
lso the
man who declared himself a Christian on national television during his own television
show. He is the man who fought his record label tooth and nail in an attempt to produce a
Christian gospel album, something that few people seemed inclined to all
ow him to do.

These opposing ideologies live side by side in Johnny Cash; he is everything from
the family man with children and stepchildren to love and care for to the man whose first
marriage fell tragically apart and which he sought an escape from. “T
he artist’s iconic


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 9.


Edwards, Leigh.
Johnny Cash and the Paradox of t he American Identit y.
Indi ana University Press, 2009. Print. 2.

image in fact depends on his ability to stage the idea of irresolvable ambivalence

illuminate how that model of cultural ambivalence, what we might call a “both/and” idea,
is an important paradigm for U.S. popular music and for Amer
ican identity. Cash
embodied the tensions in the American character without resolving them.”

Cash embodies these tensions without ever solving them, it is important to ask what
impact his dueling, contradicting public and private image had on popu
lar culture at the

I Keep A Close Watch on This Heart of Mine…

The lack of linear flow to Cash’s autobiography is important; just like people
expect a certain image from artists, people expect a certain structure from an
autobiography. Cash surprise
s, again, by structuring his autobiography in a way that
makes the reader feel as though he or she has simply sat down for a cup of coffee with
Cash and allowed him to tell stories. He structures the book around main ideas in each
part, usually focused on
a particular home of his. For example, the first section of the
autobiography is titled “Cinnamon Hill” and often references the home he has in Jamaica.
The reader is able to gather that Cash is actually at this home while he is writing this
section. This
motif carries through the rest of the autobiography, giving it a different, less
linear feel.
When examining Cash as an individual, it is important to take this fact into
account. He did not compose his autobiography around the typical sequence which most
follow and the reader can assume that it was Cash’s decision to structure it this way,
especially based on his decision to include the different homes he has had and currently
owns. He structures parts of his autobiography based on the questions that have


ds, Leigh.
Johnny Cash and the Paradox of t he American Identit y.
Indi ana University Press, 2009. Print. 2.

throughout his career, but his work does not give the reader the impression that an
interviewer has been asking him specific questions. Instead, Cash seems to structure his
work based on the questions and stories that arise in his own mind. The conv
about his childhood bring about the memories of Jack that eventually reminds him of a
time when his home was burglarized and his own family
The order in which
the events discussed in his book fall displays the thought process of the m
an who crafted
the work, with some help from Carr as far as editing is concerned.

Johnny Cash is a complex m
an. It is not a secret nor

is it
a surprise for those who
have seen him in public or know anything about his public image. He spends a significant

amount of time in his autobiography talking about family. This is hardly a surprise
considering how complex his family is and how important they have been in his life.
When he talks about his drug abuse later in the book, he explains an intervention that
family held for him. “This is it. This is my salvation. God has sent me these people to
show me a way out. I’m going to get a chance to live.”

His family is the reason he was
able to battle his drug addiction and they are an important part of Cash’s public image,
especially during the beginning of his relationship with June and in the later part of his
career. Cash also brings up the idea of fai
th and of “country” music. Of country music, he
explains, “…Before I became “not country” in the ‘90s, their predecessors were calling
me “not country” in the ‘50s and the ‘60s and the ‘70s too.”

Research has been done in
regards to his role in the genre
of country music, his impact on the music that this genre
would go on to produce. He is credited with strives that the genre has made; yet many


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 245.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 17.

argue that much of his work cannot be classified as truly country.

Cash has represented
the evolution of a musi
c genre that has seen major artists and major change, a genre that
is depicted by particular sounds, particular cords.

Yet this conflict of classification is
not the only thing Cash spends his time exploring. He also depicts his faith and the idea
of his
changing stages of faith
. Cash explains that he has always been a Christian, has
always had faith, and yet has often chosen to ignore what he should have done in favor of
what he wanted to do. Both aspects of his discussion here impact the way in
which the

public perceives him.

Because the primary source utilized is an autobiography, there are certain biases
that need to be acknowledged. Cash explains a lot about the relationships he had with
other artists and performers. He talks about the good times he h
ad with them, but does his
best to avoid slandering them or explaining anything that they would not

him to.

This can be seen specifically in the chapter in which Cash describes his drug abuse. He
explains the fact that his family held an intervention
for him, attempting to force him to
seek clinical help. Cash specifically states that the people in the clinic with him helped
him to battle his demons, yet refuses to comment on any names out of respect for their
own right to privacy.

In trying to


, Cash is showing an
obvious bias
toward these people

His recollections are c
rippled by his attempts to protect the figures
who have become his friends over the years.

Even though they are all public figures,
Cash knows these men and women i
n the private sense and does not seem inclined to
reveal things about them that are not well known or public knowledge. While this is
something that can only be expected from a friend, it does pose complications for the


Ameri can Folklore

, Vol. 85, No. 338 (Oct.

Dec., 1972), pp. 309


Mal one, Bi l l.
Count ry Music U.S.A.

Austi n: Uni versit y of Texas Press, 2002. Print.

source. Because Cash often explains
aspects of his own life through stories that involve
other artists, it is necessary to be wary of these stories until they can be corroborated.

Patrick Carr was selected to edit Cash’s work. Although Cash likely chose the
things that appeared in the final

edit to be published, it is very likely that Carr decided to
eliminate things that Cash had originally sought to put into the autobiography or altered
the way in which they were presented. Therefore, the reader must keep a slightly critical
eye on the tex
t in order to make sure that they do not fall into any traps. This also holds
true for fans of Johnny Cash. It is easy to read something like an autobiography in a very
positive light; however, fans hold an obvious bias toward Cash and need to make sure to

stay subjective throughout their reading.

One of the other important questions that must be considered based on Cash’s
work is the “truth” of the piece. When reading the autobiography, the reader needs to
keep in mind the validity of Cash’s recollections
. While it can be argued that there is not
one version of truth for a particular person’s life, events that appear in Cash’s
autobiography can be corroborated by other sources. For example, the reader can
through books about Cash in order to determine

that he did indeed go into rehab, did
smash the stage lights during his drug abuse, and that he did announce his religion during
the airing of one episode of
The Johnny Cash Show.

One of the things that readers should
keep in mind when examining Cash’s au
tobiography is the validity of memory. Over
time, people seem to recall certain events with a certain lens, something which Cash
discusses when he talks about the robbery which his family endured in Jamaica. He
explains that June, his wife, remembers thing
s that he does not and that her memory
seems to change as years pass. Memory can be shifted to fall in line with current day
beliefs and emotions, something which Cash’s autobiography seems to relate to people.
For example, Cash talks about the demons he

survived with humility and gratitude for his
survival. This does not mean that those are the emotions he felt at the darkest times in his
life, though. That is just how he views them based on experiences and emotions after the

Johnny Cash’s reaso
ns behind producing the book are, for the most part, to simply
reflect on his accomplishments. He seems to be chronicling the decisions he’s made and
achievements he’s reached throughout his life. He sets the record straight on a lot of
issues and talks ab
out myths that have surrounded him throughout his career. The
intended audience
seems to be

anyone who is willing to read through the book. Cash does
not seem to be targeting anyone in particular though

or a certain sect of the population.
his early chi
ldhood, Cash is situated very low in economic classes. The depression hit his
family hard and they struggled for a long time to get back onto their feet. They are white
and he is a man and though he does achieve fame throughout his life, he does not become

entrenched in that fame. He calls money a “means to an end” for himself and says that he
does not need to be rich. He and his family are comfortable at the time that he writes this
autobiography, but they do not flaunt or abuse their wealth.

It Seems I H
ad to Fight My Whole Life Through…

Johnny Cash is iconic as an outlaw. Images of him have often portrayed him as
the stoic artist, depicted in black and white and rarely with a smile on his face. In fact, the
most iconic images of Johnny Cash are found
from early in his career. His face is often
set into an almost pensive look, like the

first picture on the next page
. It is through this
medium, photography, that most people recognize Johnny Cash. The photographers were
looking to cast Cash in a specific
light before making the photographs public, especially
when it comes to displaying a particular side of Johnny Cash’s complex personality. For
example, by choosing to utilize the images of a stoic Johnny Cash, photographers are able
to display the harsh si
de of the popular culture

As Cash progressed in his career, the
images released to the public displaying the
artist began to change. The image at the right
shows a pensive Johnny Cash who seems to

the viewer can assume, thinking over a
particular song or lyric or something similar. He
does not seem like an outlaw; rather, the image
displays Cash as an almost reserved artist who is
seeking the perfect lyrics for the emotion or
melody in his mind
. As Cash’s outlets began to take over his life, though, ranging from
his amphetamine dependency to his alcohol
abuse, the images projected to the public began
to change. For example, images similar to the
one at the left began to dominate the public eye.
Arguably one of the most iconic images of Cash,
he is shown flipping off the camera and making
a face that is much more full of emotion than the
previous image. He seems to be angry, almost as though he is preparing to swear at the
All Johnny Cash Pictures. 2
012. Country Music Television.

All Johnny Cash Pictures. 2
012. Country Music Television.

cameraman or the audienc
e he plays for. This is the outlaw image that Johnny Cash was
able to take advantage of. It is images like these, coupled with stories about the man who
started a forest fire and trashed a hotel room while strung out on amphetamines, which
fueled the popul
ar belief that Cash was a rebel for popular culture. In a time where young
people seemed eager to break away from the conformist culture they had been raised in, a
time where teenagers were tired of the fear that their parents had lorded over them in an
tempt to keep their family in line, Cash’s image as the American Outlaw fueled their
rebellious streak.
The previous image, the one of Johnny Cash flaunting his middle finger
at the camera, is from the rehearsals for his prison concerts and was taken by th
e hired
photographer for the day. This image has been preserved and projected in galleries like
the ABC Art Gallery
, keeping the outlaw image of Cash intact for years to come.

As Johnny Cash’s image as the American Outlaw grew more popular, his
dependency on amphetamines grew more demanding and more damaging to his career.
Shows were cancelled a
s his
throat grew worse, making it
nearly impossible to sing. Hotel
rooms were trashed by a Cash
who had no other outlet for the
anger which plagued him as he
grew more dependent on the

“When I got high, I didn’t
care. If I wanted to let out some


ABC Art Gall ery. From a Musician t o a Rock Star. http://www.abcartgal lery.com/archives/5752

Al l Johnny Cash Pictures. 2
012. Country Music Tel evi sion.
http://www.cmt.com/pictures/j ohnny
cash/phot o
gall ery/330/art ist_t humbnails.jhtml


my rage, I just did it.”

During a show at the Grand Ole Opry in October of 1965,
Cash, who was high on his amphetamines at the time, overreacted to a faulty microphone
which resulted in him smashing the stage lights and being asked not to return to the
theater to sing again.
His autobiography devotes a significant section to discussing his
drug abuse, something that Cash seems to discuss almost reluctantly. The information he
offers has an air of being almost matter
fact and he often references the fa
ct that he has
discussed all of it before, in his previous autobiography. While his reluctance to discuss it
is understandable, Cash continues on to explain why the drugs were so important to him
and the impact they had on the people around him and the cou
rse of his life and his
“Touring and drugs were all I did, with the effort involved in drugs mounting
steadily as time went by.”

Part of the way through his autobiography, Johnny Cash takes a moment to
reference the most common questions he faces
through interviews. His tone is almost
mocking, yet his answers seem sincere, almost as though he is tired of having to answer
the same questions again. “Question One: Why was I in prison? I never was.”

Throughout his amphetamine abuse, Johnny Cash explai
ns that he spent many nights in
jail yet never really faced charges. However, public perception was that Cash was a
criminal, often being sentenced to jail time. Fueled by images like the one
on the
previous page
, a mug shot of Cash, popular opinion quickl
y shifted to the belief that
Johnny Cash had done a significant amount of time behind bars and was, as far as they
were concerned, a criminal.
“One might gather from the song [Folsom Prison Blues] that
Cash had marked time in a cell block, but he only had
an idea of such existence based on


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 208.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Auto
bi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 197.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 76.

Hollywood dramatics, solitude in Landsberg, and the tragic

death of his brother Jack,
which in his childhood had made him a prisoner of guilt and grief.”

In actuality, Cash
“spent a few nights in jail [during his amphetamine years], but strictly on an overnight
basis: seven incidents in all, different dates in different

where the local law
decided [they’d] all be better off if [Cash] were under lock
and key.”

Cash explains that
people often do not

to accept the noncriminal view of him as an individual. In this
section of his autobiography, he explains that he has had to argue with people in an
attempt to convince them of the truth: that he never

actually served time in prison. Johnny
Cash’s lack of an actual prison stint is in direct conflict with some of the songs he went
on to produce in his career. Two of his most popular albums were recorded in prisons in
front of a criminal audience. Several

of his songs discuss the ideas of criminal acts, from
thievery to “[shooting]
a man in Reno/ Just to watch him die.”

It is these lyrics that are
most commonly associated with the man, leading people to assume that his inspiration for
such lyrics is based

on his own personal experience.

You Wonder Why I Always Dress In Black…

People have always wondered why Johnny Cash took on the persona of the man
in black, a persona that he began wearing early in his career and did not give up
throughout the entirety
of his decade long prominence on the music scene. While people
argued about the origin of Cash’s ‘Man in Black’, Cash himself was all too happy to
explain the reasons behind his dark image. In his autobiography and in the song
Man In
, Cash explains t
he reasons he wears black. These lyrics make even his image as the
man in black an arena for his competitive personality and contradictory self. The black,


St rei ssguth, Michael.
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Mast erp
i ece.
De Capo Press, 2005. Pri nt.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 76.


Johnny Cash, “ Folsom Prison Bl ues,”
With Hi s Hot and Blue Gui tar,
1955, Sun Records.

which many would argue has long held negative connotations, has become Johnny
Cash’s symbol for what

should be made better in society. “It’s still my symbol of

against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against
people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”

Cash explains that the black is in
mourning for the man
y men

who have died defending the country in the Vietnam War.
He explains that black is the color he likes to wear, the one he has always worn, but
wearing it during the late 60s directly related to the men he knew were dying before their
time. As time pro
gressed, d
espite the fact that the Vietnam War



and men were
no longer being sent to fight for their country
, Cash continued to wear the color he had
become associated with. Incidentally, Cash explains in his autobiography that the origin
of the c
olor he chose to wear for the majority of his career actually stemmed from the
first band he played in. Its origin, he explains, is much more innocent and simple than
people would believe. Black was the color which all of the members of the band owned,

color that would give them the appearance of presenting a united costume to their

Unlike the rest of his band mates, Cash explains that black is the color in which
he was most comfortable. It was the color that would come to define him and his

The “Man in Black”, born from simple reasons, would come to stand for something

In his autobiography, Johnny Cash spends time explaining his persona as the man
in black again. He explains its significance and the reasons behind his desire t
o still
showcase himself in black. Many people, he explains, have argued that the Vietnam War
is over and therefore his image of the Man in Black is less relevant. Cash, however,


Cash, Johnny and
Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 86.

explains that “The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the youn
g are still dying
before their time, and we’re not making many moves to make things right. There’s still
plenty of darkness to carry off.”

Inside the Walls of Prison, My Body May Be/

But My Lord Has Set My Soul Free

If there is any song that is emblemat
ic of the contradiction of Johnny Cash’s rebel
persona and faith in his own life, it is

Greystone Chapel

. The song explains the
Greystone Chapel in Folsom Prison, describing the fact that the chapel itself is “…
house of worship in this den of sin…”

Written by a prison inmate at Folsom Prison,
Cash sang the song at the very end of his concerts at Folsom Prison. While this song was
not one that Cash wrote himself, it does seem to perfectly describe some of the
contradiction in Cash as an individual. H
e is like the Greystone Chapel; he is a faithful
man wrapped in a house of sin. Beneath a layer of drug and alcohol abuse, poor
decisions, and a failed marriage, Cash continues his own strength of faith in somewhat
unexpected and unanticipated ways.

of these unexpected ways took the form of Cash’s television show “The
Johnny Cash Show”
, a television show produced by ABC that ran from June of 1969 to
March of 1971 and spanned 58 episodes

It reached an admirable popularity during this
time, making its

way to the 17

slot in ratings conducted by the Neilson Company.
endeavor was something that allowed him to tap directly into the public and help to
showcase artists whom he believed deserved a little bit of extra time in the spotlight.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 86.


Gl en Sherley. “ Greystone Chapel,” Live at Fols
om St at e Pri son, 1968. Columbia.


Ki enzl e, Ri ch. 2007.
Not es for
The Best of the Johnny Cash TV Show
. DVD Boxed Set.Reverse Angl e Product ions.

Cash spends
a significant amount of time discussing the show in his autobiography; it is
evident that the time spent on the show is time that Cash believed was well spent.
Although it is widely accepted that “Cash is against proselytizing as well as imposing his
n on others”
, Cash eventually responded to a multitude of letters by declaring
himself a Christian on national television. While his decision to do so was widely
criticized and may have been one of the factors in the cancellation of his show, Cash does
t seem to regret it. Instead, he spends a section of his autobiography explaining why he
chose to make such a public announcement. “If you want to be Christlike, for that’s what
“Christian” means, you have to be willing to give up worldly things in order t
o stay true
to your faith.”

By Cash’s reasoning, he had no option but to declare his faith on
television; if he had not, he would not have done his own faith justice. “I had to take a
stand on my beliefs. I’d been a Christian all my life, and while I’d ne
ver advertised it…I
didn’t believe I could compromise or evade when the question was put to me. I had to tell
the truth.”

Despite the outlaw image with which Cash has been saddled for the majority
of his career, he explains that there has never been any d
oubt about where his beliefs lie;
instead, he explains that he does not believe in parading his beliefs around or pushing his
beliefs on others. His show did not exist in an attempt to proselytize, he explains in his
autobiography. Instead, the questions v
iewers asked of him eventually led to him having
to declare his own beliefs and religion.

The American Paradox of Johnny Cash can most aptly be seen in the
juxtaposition of the man who both declares himself as a Catholic on national television
and perfor
ms in several prisons, eventually releasing those performances as best selling


Edwards, Leigh.
Johnny Cash and the Paradox of t he American Identit y.
Indi ana University Press, 2009.

Print. 174.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 278.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 278.

albums. “There never was any dividing line between Johnny Cash the Christian and plain
old Johnny Cash.”

In his autobiography, Cash even addresses the fact that so many
believed in the opposing sides of Cash’s personality. He tries to explain that the
difference is only perceived, not real. But in doing so, Cash acknowledges that there are
differing perceptions of him as an individual and as a culture icon.

When I Breeze

Into That City, People Gonna Stoop and Bow…

“My star came on strong in the mid
‘50s, cooled in the early and mid
reignited with a vengeance in ’68, burned brightly until ’71, and then dimmed again, save
for a brief flare up in 1976.”

Johnny Cash’s

height of popularity came about in 1968, on
the heels of the release of his prison albums,
Live at Folsom Prison
At San Quentin
Throughout her work, Leigh Edwards aims to show that part of the American Paradox of
Johnny Cash is his conflicting displa
ys of masculinity

“Cash imagines a version of
heroic Southern working
class masculinity, and yet he also questions that gender role
construction, devoting a great deal of attention to the uncertainties, ambivalences, and
vulnerabilities of that manhood.”

While her argument has a sound base and a multitude
of examples to present to the reader, it is also arguable that Edwards does not pay enough
attention to the contradiction in Cash’s actions. Yes, the artist presents opposing
ideologies of manhood in hi
s lyrics and in his words. But the real opposition is based in
the outlaw and the Christian; Cash is the prime example of a man who cannot come to
terms with the warring ideologies he has based his life around. The star Cash, as he
explains, is the man who

is a rebel, who is free from social rules and social order and, in
fact, directly opposes them.

This outlaw is the one who achieves success based on his


Cash, Johnn
y and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 279.


Cash, Johnny and Carr, Pat ri ck.
Cash: The Autobi ography
. New York: Harper Col lins Publi shi ng, 1997. Print. 262.


Edwards, Leigh.
Johnny Cash and the Pa
radox of t he American Identit y.
Indi ana University Press, 2009. Print. 13.

radical actions, especially his decision to perform in prisons. “
Folsom was also a social
statement on

half of disenfranchised peoples…
for by appearing in front of America’s
day lepers and recording and releasing what came of it, he unapologetically told
his listeners that these locked away men deserved the compassion, if not the liberation,
the 1960s offered.


It is J.R., his childhood name and his childhood roots, who is
based in the faith that has existed within him throughout his life.

“Distinctive here is Cash’s signature embodiment of saint and sinner, family man
and rambler,
establishment patriot and outlaw rebel.”

Cash reached his height of
popularity in 1968, towards the end of the age of youth. The 1960s were the age of the
Space Race, Woodstock, and a culture of change. It was at this time post
war baby
boomers began to m
ature into their young adulthood and adulthood. It was in this
atmosphere that Johnny Cash’s prison albums found a solid footing. Motivated by a
desire to change and challenge the things which their parents had accepted and pushed on
their children, partic
ularly the life and family values these individuals had been raised
under, young adults began to revolutionize their way of thinking. These generational
conflicts were the breeding ground for change, a change that Johnny Cash would thrive

It is ea
sy to say that Johnny Cash as the American Paradox found his home in the
60s and among those who came of age in the 60s because they were looking for change
and he provided that on the music scene. But it is probably more accurate to describe it in
the opp
osite; Cash was able to find success with his Prison Albums and his paradoxical
nature because the culture of the United States was one that was breeding revolution. If


St rei ssguth, Michael.
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Mast erpi ece.
De Capo Press, 2005. Pri nt.


Edwards, Leigh.
Johnny Cash and the Paradox of t he American Identi
t y.
Indi ana University Press, 2009. Print.13.

Cash had risen to fame earlier or if the generation that came of age in the 60s had not

sought change, Cash’s novel and radical work would not have found a strong audience.
Yet, because the culture climate in which Cash flourished sought the things it did, the
paradoxical nature of Cash was embraced.


ABC Art Gallery. From a M
usician to a Rock Star.


All Johnny Cash Pictures. 2012. Country Music Television.


American Folklore

, Vol. 85, No. 338 (Oct.

Dec., 1972), pp. 309

Cash, Johnny and Carr, Patrick.
Cash: The Autobiography
. New York: Harper Collins

Publishing, 1997. Print.

Edwards, Leight.
Johnny Cash and the Paradox of the American Identity.

University Press, 2009. Print.


The Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s.
Hill and Wang: 1st

Edition; 1994. Print.

Fabian, Shelly. Top 40 Johnny Cash Moments.


Malone, Bill.
Country Music U.S.A.

Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002. Print.

Miller, Ben.
Cash: An American Man.
Simon & Schuster Ltd; 2006. Print.

Streissguth, Michael.
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece.

Capo Press, 2005. Print.

Urbanski, David.
The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash.

Relevant Books, 2003. Print.

Wiener, Leigh.
Johnny Cash: Photographs by Leigh Wiener.
Five Ties Publishing,

2006. Print.