Friday, January 15, 2016

Johnny Cash, Sting, and rifles that go off in our hands.. even when we are not in favor of it

Reading Rodney Clapp's wonderful "Johnny Cash and the American Contradiction: Christianity and the Battle for the Soul of a Nation",  I was caught off guard that in a list of "Cash's songs," was one I wasn't familiar with:

                                  "I Hung My Head."

The lyrics mention a rifle that "went off in my [the narrator's] hands."

I immediately connected that to a vintage U2 lyric  in

God Part II:


"I don't believe in the Uzzi; it just went off in my hands."

Knowing Bono is a huge Cash fan, I figured he was intentionally referencing the Cash song (After all, he references a Cockburn lyric in the same song  (and the title of course references Lennon's "God").

But then checking the footnotes in the book, I found that even though "I Hung My Head" was included in a lineage of Cash songs, it was a Sting-written song that Cash covered.  It is in the league of chilling covers from his late-era American Recordings (Drop eveything and watch "Hurt" for the definitive example) that Cash owned, and the listeners feel "how could Cash not have written that?!"

Here's the song-- by Sting, and as covered by Cash, and also by Springsteen.

I cite it as way of tipping you off if the song is also new to you;
also to get you into the "Violence and Peace" section of Clapp's book; which can be read (almost) in full on Google Books.  The section on the song at hand is p. 102ff   here.

Of course, some Christian fans will be freaked about yet another "controversial" Cash song or cover.
To those folks, I invite you to consider these clicks:

--Beth Maynard on "the naive thought that any artist who writes about sin must be in favor of it." - 

"Here is the easiest way to explain the genius of Johnny Cash: Singing from the perspective of a convicted murderer in the song ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ Cash is struck by pangs of regret when he sits in his cell and hears a distant train whistle. This is because people on that train are ‘probably drinkin’ coffee.’ And this is also why Cash seems completely credible as a felon: He doesn’t want freedom or friendship with Jesus or a new lawyer. He wants coffee. Within the mind of a killer, complex feelings are eerily simple. This is why killers can shoot men in Reno just to watch them die and the rest of us usually can’t.
("Chuck Klosterman, "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs", page 186)

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