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Johnny Cash: The man who dressed in black

We all go through difficult times. The eighties was a sad decade for Johnny Cash, marked by addictions and his disagreement with the industry. Only then can it be understood that thirty years later, his son finds an album in a drawer with songs composed between 1981 and 1983, which Columbia rejected. The lost album of this American popular music legend, ′Out Among The Stars,′ is now published, which reveals a faith that went through winding roads, but shows us how it is possible to find the way home.

Article by José de Segovia from Madrid on Monday, January 13th 2020 ·.·★ Reading takes 11 minutes or 2127 words.

With the sixth and final installment of the series of recordings he made at home with Rick Rubin, before he died, ′American VI: Ain′t No Grave′, it seemed that his posthumous albums had already ended. Harassed by a neurological disease, Cash suffered the last years diabetes and pneumonia, but seemed to resist the scratches of time, thanks to the faith and the help of his wife June Carter, who sustained him in the midst of crisis, like the one that sank him in the drug in the sixties and eighties.

Cash′s 2002 version of the song ′Hurt′ (Pain) seemed like the farewell of a man admired for the honesty with which he reveals his weakness. Written by Trent Reznor to talk about his heroin addiction, Cash turned it into a melancholic meditation on his own mortality. The promotional video directed by Mark Romanek, shows selected images of his public life, along with scenes of his abandoned house, ruined by a flood, where trophies of the past are now broken and discarded.

Reznor′s expression, ′my empire of garbage,′ reminds Cash of Jesus′ words: ′Do not make treasures on the earth, where moth and urine corrupt, and where thieves mine and steal; but make yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the moth nor the urine corrupts, and where thieves do not mine or steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also ′(Matthew 6: 19-21).

In one of the scenes we see June at the foot of a staircase, contemplating his fragile body and aged gray face, as he sings: ′what have I become, my sweetest friend? Everyone I know, they go to the final′. What Romanek did not know, is that the day before, she had been diagnosed with a fatal heart condition, which terrified Cash. He was no longer afraid of death, but of loneliness. The possibility of losing June was unbearable, because he was not only his spiritual and artistic companion, but he had taken care of him in his continued weakness with encouragement and energy. Cash couldn′t imagine life without her.


June went to his Father′s House in May 2003. His funeral was in the First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, where they frequently went since 1967, to listen to Pastor Courtney Wilson, sitting in the last row. Her favorite hymns were sung that day and the Gospel she believed was preached. Cash was in a wheelchair with white hair, a brittle and almost blind body. Pastor Glenn Weekley spoke of June′s faith in the love, grace, presence, purpose and promise of God. He said that nothing would have liked her more than someone who was there and was not prepared to die, came to faith.

Cash was taken by his wife to that congregation, after more than a decade of being apart from the church. The singer had been raised on a farm in Arkansas in the thirties, where he went with his mother to the Church of God, which is an evangelical Pentecostal denomination, although she was a Methodist and her grandfather Baptist pastor. The preacher of that church terrified him, because he ′screamed, cried and gasped terribly.′ That young man often got off the pulpit to walk in the middle of the congregation, and when you least expected it he would grab someone by the lapels, and lift him from the seat, shouting at his face: ′Repent!′ After dragging someone like this, it was not uncommon for many to follow them, until there was no place left on the steps of the pulpit.

The musician remembered in the church to see ′women crying, laughing, shouting and gesturing with raised hands′. Those ′convulsions with which they wallowed on the floor, the moans, the tremors and the muscle spasms of which they were subjected,′ he says ′terrified him even more,′ while clutching the bank tightly. The strange thing is that he remembers that his mother′s face ′radiated happiness every time they left the church.′

His training was in that sense, similar to the main rock stars of the fifties. Educated in the Baptist church like Chuck Berry, Little Richard or Buddy Holly, he had the same Pentecostal influence as Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis in Assemblies of God. Many of them recorded at the Sun company, where we heard Johnny singing hymns with Elvis or Jerry Lee. There he also met his usual collaborator, Carl Perkins, to whom he gave the title of one of his best-known rock′n′roll songs, the classic ′Blue suede shoes.′ As a child, music was, in fact, the only thing that interested him in the church. Although, I listened to the Gospel, and I knew very well that in life there are only two ways to go.


Cash′s anger, insecurity and destructive tendency seems to be related to his difficult relationship with his father. Although in his first autobiography, he expresses nothing but admiration for him, he dedicates the book to June′s father, ′who taught him to love the Word.′ After his death, he questions his conversion. One of his childhood friends was the son of a Baptist pastor. I went with him twice to worship, every Sunday, and to a Bible study, Wednesday night. Although he was afraid of calls to the front, he responded to one, ′making a decision′ at age twelve in a ′revival′ campaign of the Baptist church in 1944.

Like so many Americans, Cash followed all the ′rituals of passage′, to become evangelical, even being ′baptized by the Holy Spirit′ in a Pentecostal experience and baptized several times in water. He decided to re-consecrate himself, confirming his faith in a Nashville temple in 1971, although alcoholic, he saw his marriage fail, he became addicted to pills, tried to steal pharmacies, became paranoid with a gun on top, and even caused accidents, so who was in jail seven times.

In a sense, Cash′s life is a clear example of the emptiness of a faith based on certain decisions one has made at a time in his life. Since as he himself has written: ′in life every day is a new horizon, and although today you may sit at the gates of heaven, tomorrow you may be sunk deep down.′ The exciting story of this spiritual odyssey, he wrote long ago in an exciting autobiography, which with the title The man dressed in black edited Clie in Spanish, a year after his appearance in English, in 1975. The version now published by Global Rhythm, he did it at the end of his life with Patrick Carr.

He wanted his story to be a light of hope to all ′who have failed to follow in the footsteps of the Master′, because they have ′sunk into the mud and believe that there is no longer any possibility′. Many then, like today, admire him for being a cursed artist. For what they preferred to see in jail, rather than in a church. But after years, given to drugs, the grace of God could do more than all his attempts to escape from Him, and his life was finally transformed.


′He who wants to be a Christian must change completely,′ says Johnny Cash. ′He will lose some friends,′ but ′you can′t play with fire or swim between two waters.′ So ′every day it becomes necessary to draw very clearly the dividing line, between what you were and what you should be.′ One of his favorite texts of the Bible, was therefore: ′he who thinks to be firm, see that he does not fall.′ His testimony is that of a survivor. What is worth more to me than many success stories, which often excite people with triumphant tales of victory, which end up confusing our desires with reality itself.


′The man dressed in black′ left the stage when he went into a coma in 1993. His cavernous voice did not have the strength of before, but he still kept his soul in suspense, being rediscovered by a whole new generation. His stories of misery and love, show the dark side of the American way of life, which he portrayed so well in his ballads about losers. His was a dry country, far from the sweet choirs. His cold look and old boots carry the mud of having descended more than once to hell. What makes his testimony of faith, more than pretty words.

Cash believed in the reality of Heaven, but also in that of Hell. The death of his brother Jack, when he was fourteen, marked his entire life. On his grave, he put the question: ′Will you find me in heaven?′ His father who did not go to church, then made a profession of faith, stop drinking for a while, without ever controlling his violent character, but Johnny became introverted and quiet. He didn′t like sports and almost never smiles in the photos. After departing from his Christian education, he returns to faith, but struggles with addiction. He returns to the drug, after writing ′A man dressed in black.′ He says he lost contact with God, but never faith.

Johnny saw that his ′politics of loneliness and lack of communion with other consecrated Christians would eventually weaken him spiritually.′ He found at the end of his life that ′there is something very important in the worship of God together with other Christians, and losing that makes us easy prey, makes us vulnerable to the temptations and destructive vices that are always closely linked to the background of the artistic life′. But his life speaks to us above all of the truth of a God of love, forgiving, merciful, patient and kind; but also of how incredibly weak we are. Therefore, thank God that our faith is not based on any emotional decision that one day we have made, but on the persevering work of a God who never abandons us, and whose grace we hope brings us to the end of the road. But while the fight is hard, and the night is long ...

Johnny achieved the purpose of his life, showing the power of salvation. He fought the good fight. He ran the race. He kept the faith. Touched by grace, he had a peace, despite himself, that God gave him. In the midst of his pain, he experienced redemption, for which he no longer lived in misery. He consoled himself by reading the book of Job. He says in 2002: ′I never doubted God.′ His emotional wounds made him an introvert, but the love he did not find in his father, he discovered in his heavenly Father. His suffering made him sensitive to the pain of others. He helped many with his money and his experience.

Cash understood very well the conflict of which the apostle Paul speaks, when he says: ′We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold to sin. Because what I do I do not understand; I do not do what I want , but what I hate, I do that ′(Romans 7: 14-15). His weakness distressed him, when he could not overcome temptation. ′I fight with the beast in me, every day,′ he says. His testimony, therefore, is worth more to me than that of many Christian musicians. It speaks of the reality of forgiveness and the power of grace, which is greater than our sin. ′For when I am weak, then I am strong′ (1 Corinthians 12:10).

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Johnny Cash: El hombre vestido de negro

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