Thursday, August 2, 2007
No. 88: At Folsom Prison
Band: Johnny Cash
Album: At Folsom Prison
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Filled with songs of vigilante justice and law-breaking, Cash's Folsom performance is as dark as his famous black getup.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Cash, stylistically, is much more important than no. 88.
Best song: There are few opening album lines more familiar than Cash simply saying "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" as the familiar guitar melody of "Folsom Prison Blues" starts up. Also, "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."
Worst song: Despite its fame, I'm not in love with "The Long Black Veil."
Is it awesome?: Unequivocally, yes.
I mentioned that I have a general bias against country music ("twang," I believe I called it), but Johnny Cash basically transcends genre. When he died, MTV asked a ton of artists to pay him some tribute. Snoop Dogg said "he was the original gangsta."
"At Folsom Prison" is just that, Cash bein' a g. Possibly because he's playing to a prison or possibly because he's an irrefutable badass, most of the songs he plays are about death, breaking the law and prison.
The set opens with probably the best outlaw song ever: "Folsom Prison Blues." One of the most famous lines in music, of course, is the highlight of the song. "I shot in a man in Reno, just to watch him die" is iconic and among the most quoted in country music. Oddly, the whoops of the prisoners was piped in in post-production, because the prisoners mostly kept quiet during the recording, as to not cause a stir with the guards.
Recorded in 1968, some of Cash's most famous tracks are absent from the tracklist. Still, he laments prison life in such a gangsta way, it's hard not to root for the bad guy.
"Cocaine Blues," for example, does not feature a plot one wants to emulate. The main character snorts some cocaine and shoots his wife, basically. "I can't forget the day I shot that bad bitch down" is the operative line in the song. But, it's so hard, it's tough to not enjoy it.
Johnny Cash, original gangsta.
Something to consider for all the boomers (yes, I'm partly speaking to my father here)... Johnny Cash's motives in his songs are considerably less noble than most of the death in rap music. Most rappers don't kill their wives (or if they do, they do so because of cheating) in their songs. Most rappers kill other guys in what is, on some level, justifiable to them (basically, elevations of fights).
I've not heard a lot of rap songs where the protagonist shoots someone "just to watch him die."
Johnny Cash does that. Johnny Cash kills his wife on cocaine on a record. He gets sent to death because he'd rather die than admit he slept with his best friend's wife.
That's not vigilante justice. That's just wrong.
So... Violence in music ain't new. And Johnny Cash's version of violence is worse than most of the stuff done by Snoop Dogg. He's calm about it. It's very explanatory; I shot a guy and that's it. I did it. Like the existential main character in "L'Estranger," Cash isn't exercised about it.
That's scary. And, one some level, it's pretty wrong.
So, what's the reason to destroy rap music for so many boomers? Could it possibly have something to do with the race of the people making the music?
Just a thought.