Hurt, a song to live by

As I progress in writing my first book, I am intrigued by the way my thoughts and ideas evolve and formulate. I’ve had the core idea for the book for a while now, but it has been very hard to explain at times. I know people have been confused by prior explanations, as have I.

Now that I have the title, The Music Industry Doesn’t Have To Kill You, it is really beginning to come together. I am not finished yet, but it feels so much better than it did even 3 or 4 months ago.

Just now, I decided to watch Johnny Cash’s music video for “Hurt,” because it truly is one of my favorite songs and music videos, but more so because it is such a strong reminder of what it’s all about. As I was watching, I realized that’s it; that is what my book is all about. Cash sings Trent Reznor’s words at the end:

And you could have it all, my empire of dirt

I will let you down, I will make you hurt

If I could start again, a million miles away

I would keep myself, I would find a way

I can distinctly say to you that this song and music video deeply impacted my soul when I first experienced it in 2003. That actually was probably the beginning of me realizing just how passionate I was about the deeper impact of music, on all of us, but especially those who live life in or around the music industry.

Cash didn’t write the lyrics, but Trent Reznor did, and he was writing about the evils of a terrible substance called heroin.

If I could start again…I would keep myself

Think about that. Reznor, Cash, both men with real life, hardcore experience and subsequent wisdom. If I could start again…I would keep myself. There is a huge lesson in that line.

I’m not saying do or don’t do certain things, just use your brain. Learn from those that have made stupid decisions in the past, and do your best to make better decisions, for your own sake, your family, and all of those around you. Yes, live life. Have fun. Do fun things that will provide countless memories to relive with those near you, just consider the bigger picture. We’re all dealt a different hand, some far better than others, I get that. All you can do is strive to handle yourself in the best possible manner, no matter your upbringing or realities of your today.

The music industry doesn’t have to kill you. That’s what I want to communicate now, and for the rest of my life. I’m so deeply committed to, and passionate about this crazy industry of music and entertainment, and I want to do my part to encourage those around me to see the positive, the good, and to work to push away the dark side, the negativity, that so quickly destroys.


Merle Haggard

Johnny Cash once told me, ‘Hag, you’re the guy people think I am.’

From Merle Haggard’s Rolling Stone interview, by Jason Fine, in the October 1, 2009 edition.

Pop Culture has made the last 5-10 years pretty easy to view Johnny Cash as an original outlaw, one of the original “bad” dudes. And he is. But how about one such as Merle Haggard, who Cash told, “you’re the guy people think I am”?

Oh, and when Johnny Cash was doing one of his famous live prison albums (San Quentin; 1958), Haggard was an actual inmate at the prison, and was in the crowd.

Merle Haggard has 40 #1 hit songs, is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and was pardoned by Ronald Reagan (CA governor at the time) for his criminal past. Together with Buck Owens, he helped found the Bakersfield Sound. And according to the aforementioned Rolling Stone article, “The Grateful Dead named their 1970 album Workingman’s Dead in tribute to Haggard, and the Rolling Stones were influenced by Haggard, most directly on 1968’s Beggars Banquet.”

As I read through this Rolling Stone article yesterday, one common theme kept coming to mind: Merle really doesn’t care what most people think. Maybe he’s not made the most marketable decisions at times, but his integrity can not be questioned.

Haggard is a legend, and I’m convinced that the following sentiment is a big part of why. From the Rolling Stone article.

‘I’ve shot myself in the foot plenty,’ Haggard acknowledges. ‘I don’t even have to look back at my career to see that – I can look down at my foot. But I’m just not one to give a lot of thought to the brilliant ways to make money. I guess you’d call me a lazy thinker in that particular area, but I think more about good songs and catching a big bass than I do about how to make money. I can sit down and spend two, three weeks and make enough money for you and me both for our entire lifetimes. I’m not stupid. But I just don’t find all that much satisfaction with what the money might bring. I’d just rather do what I want to do.’

Haggard sees his maverick approach as a form of self-preservation. ‘If you compare my life to some other people who were ready to do anything they were asked to do, look where they are now,’ he says. ‘You take people who did anything to get on the Grand Ole Opry. They thought the Grand Ole Opry was the pinnacle of their life. Well, it was.’

*Originally published November 9, 2009

September When It Comes

His [Johnny Cash’s] daughter Cindy came to stay with him in June [2003]. Although he was 80 percent blind, he had her bring more photographs of June to his office. He even had Mark Burckhardt, an artist from Austin, Texas, paint June’s face on the elevator doors. “He missed her so bad,” says Cindy. “He sobbed for her daily. He would pick up the phone to talk to her as if she was on the other end.”

…One time she [Cindy] took him in his wheelchair to see June’s grave. “He stared at it a while and tried to focus so that he could see the tombstone,” she says. “As soon as he had focused, he said, ‘I’m coming baby. I’m coming’.”

-From Steve Turner’s incredible book, The Man Called Cash

There is this gorgeous, beautiful song by Rosanne Cash called, “September When It Comes,” on her March 2003 album, Rules of Travel. The song contains a very special guest: her dad, Johnny Cash.

Johnny’s wife and Rosanne’s stepmom, June Carter Cash, passed away on May 15, 2003. Not even four months later, September 12 marked the last day of Johnny Cash’s life.

How amazing that this song was recorded before we lost Johnny, and released the year we did. I read in an MSNBC article that Rosanne’s husband and producer, John Leventhal, who wrote the song with her, suggested she record “September When It Comes” with her dad. Although reluctant at first, she decided to do it.

I don’t know why Rosanne picked September in the song, but that Johnny died in September is eerily poetic.

I cannot move a mountain now; I can no longer run

I cannot be who I was then; in a way, I never was

If you are yet to watch the masterpiece music video to Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt,” please watch it here. Following, appreciate the (below) video for “September When It Comes.”

The Devil, Johnny & That Fiddle

The Zac Brown Band rocked the crap out of Charlie Daniels’ classic “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” at this past Wednesday’s (11/11/09) CMA Awards. (video below)

This is one of those songs that will stand the test of time. It is also one of those songs that it is tough to categorize, which I believe is part of why it has, and will, stand the test of time. Some consider it Country, others Rock N Roll, others simply know it from their local Classic Rock radio station, and others put it in the ever-widening category of Southern Rock.

The Charlie Daniels Band originally released “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” in 1979, on the album Million Mile Reflections. Side-note: the title Million Mile Reflections is a reference to the band surpassing one million miles on the road.

Here is the Zac Brown Band’s performance of the song from the 43rd Annual CMA Awards.

In researching for this post, I came across a very interesting music video from a song called “The Devil Came Back To Georgia,” released on the 1993 album, Heroes, by Mark O’Connor. Included in the song and video are: Charlie Daniels, Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Wanderer

“It was, like, all of a sudden, Generation X had fallen in love with Johnny Cash.”

Shares Joe Nick Patoski, a senior editor of Texas Monthly, in Michael Streissguth’s book, Ring of Fire. Patoski is talking about Cash’s South by Southwest performance in 1994, at Emo’s. A few months prior, in December of 1993, Cash had performed solo at the Sunset Strip’s Viper Room, in LA. The latter was Rick Rubin’s idea. Johnny was in town to record the first American Recordings album, with Rubin, and Rick thought it would be cool for the Man in Black to play out.

So began Cash’s resurgence. Years prior, he had been on his way to the usually imminent rockstar-black hole.

Suddenly he got cool. Real cool. And his reach kept getting wider. I’d argue that one of the strongest symbols of this is the wide variety of figures in the music video for “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” from the album American V: A Hundred Highways. Graham Nash, Keith Richards, Brian Wilson, Justin Timberlake, Billy Gibbons, Kate Moss, The Dixie Chicks, Kanye West, Johnny Depp, Travis Barker, Kid Rock, Tommy Lee, Chris Martin, and many others. Check it out if you’ve never seen it.

But I love that U2 found it a good idea to have Johnny sing on the 1993 album, Zooropa. Cash sang the last song on the project, a song called “The Wanderer.” Here are a couple of lines from the song:

I went out there / in search of experience

To taste and to touch / and to feel as much

As a man can / before he repents

In Steve Turner’s book The Man Called Cash, the story goes,

“That same year (1988) Cash met Bono, who came to Hendersonville during a driving trip across America with U2 bass player Adam Clayton. When they sat down for a meal, Cash intoned a long and elaborate grace, thanking God for his wonderful provisions and asking him to bless the food to their bodies. Then he opened his eyes, winked at Bono, and said, ‘Sure do miss the drugs though’.”

Culminating a career

Cash. An amazing, amazing individual.

John R. Cash was born in Arkansas, in 1932. He participated, and flourished, in arguably one of the most important eras of recorded music history – the 1950s-60s. Johnny Cash went on to become one of the most iconic musical artists in America’s history. The dude is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and earned multiple Grammy, CMA and AMA awards during his career.

He is amazing, for reason upon reason. But I want to look at the way his career/life ended. 

Society is quick to forget that these types of figures actually feel human feelings. They have families. They have worries. They have issues. They have struggles. They doubt – in lots of things – even themselves.

Cash was very much human.

I read a book called The Man Called Cash, by Steve Turner. The sub-title is “The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend.” It really gets in to the spiritual side of the man, but sugar-coats nothing. There are some remarkably inspiring stories and I highly recommend it.

Kris Kristofferson wrote the forward, and I love this part:

“John never lost his sense of humor. When June slipped away from us without warning, he was devastated. At the funeral home where people were paying their last respects to her, I was sitting next to John near her casket as people filed by to offer their condolences. One of the mourners spoke with John, then noticed me and proceeded to tell me what a great singer he thought I was. When he left, John leaned over to me and said, “Well, that’s one.”

The moment I became a Johnny Cash fan was the moment I saw the music video for his version of Trent Reznor’s, “Hurt,” a song about the pain of heroin addiction. I can honestly say that changed my life, because it made me rethink my approach to the entertainment business. It made me rethink what really mattered. 

If you haven’t seen the “Hurt” video, please do. You can view it here. Johnny truly made the song his own and I can’t think of a better piece of art to symbolize the end of his career. It’s not hard to imagine him writing the words he’s singing.

In the video, years of life show on Cash’s face, especially in his eyes, while footage from earlier in his life is juxtaposed with a man who is clearly near his end.

There’s an image of a gold record on the floor (Johnny Cash at San Quentin), leaned against the wall in the now defunct House of Cash Museum (Hendersonville, Tenn.), and the glass is shattered.

This is the chorus from “Hurt.”

What have I become / my sweetest friend

Everyone I know / goes away in the end

And you could have it all / my empire of dirt

I will let you down / I will make you hurt

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