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Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Cash’

This morning I accidentally caught part of ABC’s morning show The View, whose hostesses including Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters. I’m not a big fan, even of the network itself, but I happened to see Dolly Parton on the couch while channel surfing and stopped to see what she had to say. Apparently a Broadway musical had opened, based on the popular 1980 movie Nine to Five which starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda and Dolly was on The View to speak up for the musical and her related album. I’m also not a big fan of musicals so my attention drifted to how disconcerting it was that Dolly Parton and Joan Rivers are beginning to look more and more alike. Then something perked my ears up again.

I think it was Joy Behar who made the remark, something about the major record labels not picking Dolly up for her latest album. “What?” I thought. “She’s Dolly Parton … how do you not sign Dolly Parton?” Granted, I’ve never bought one of her albums and think her best days were spent with Porter Wagoner (and yes, I realize a staggering number of readers will not recognize the name of Porter … a shameful thing in and of itself) but Dolly is music royalty. She was there when the foundations of modern country music were being laid down and put in more than a few good bricks of her own. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2001. She’s won several Grammy Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song … twice. Her voice has been on the radio since 1955 and her recording career spans five decades … but she’s not good enough for Columbia? Arista wouldn’t have her? It’s ludicrous. And since no major music recording label would sign her, she started her own: Dolly Records.

But this all seems eerily familiar. For the last decade of his life, Johnny Cash was shunned by major record labels. A living legend in his own right, John had written over a thousand songs, released dozens of albums, been on the top of the Billboard charts more times than anyone could remember … and no one wanted to sign him. In typical Johnny Cash style, he gave them the finger and signed with Rick Rubin at American Recordings, a small label better known for hard rock and rap. From 1994 to 2002 (and one posthumously in 2006), John released five extremely successful albums with American, winning Grammies, other music awards, and gushing critical acclaim. They are among his best-selling albums.

It seems to me there are several similarities here. I’m not saying Dolly’s albums would be as successful as John’s but to shut the door in her face seems … petty. And greedy. And just plain wrong. Well after P. Diddy and 50 Cent are forgotten, long after the Jonas Brothers go the way of Hanson and the Pussycat Dolls make like Spice Girls and split, the name of Dolly Parton will be going strong. That’s something to be harnessed and capitalized on, not shoved aside and ignored.

And ask yourself this … would those same companies have turned down Cher? Did they pull the rug on Michael Jackson or refuse Madonna? Same stature, different genre, and the only difference is money money money. Madonna is a proven cash cow. Jackson was, too. And while Dolly will likely never hit those heights of dividend for her label, I could never be convinced she would lose their money, either. At any rate, it’s the big recording companies who will lose in the end. It’s just a shame that some of their listening base will lose, too.

On an aside, it was at the Grand Ole Opry, while still in her teens, that Dolly Parton first met Johnny Cash. And he encouraged her to go where her heart took her, and not to care what others thought. For John and George and Loretta and Porter and all the other great voices of our musical past who are overlooked and often outright forgotten … go Dolly.

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I was passed the meme torch recently, by Lofter over at Life At the Foot of the Stairs. The instructions were simple: 1) think of “the most depressing song of all time, which we still love to hear”; 2) post a video and the lyrics (if applicable); and 3) tag three others to do the same. There are a plethora of songs to choose from, and I spent days trying to decide on what I thought would be a good one for this meme. And while my choice is likely not the most depressing song of all time, it’s sad and awesome and perfectly good for a black-themed meme.

And while in the theme of black, I decided to go old school. (All the great tragedies have already been written, I think.) The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, came to mind and I eventually settled on “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.”

Lyrics:
A young cowboy named Billy Joe grew restless on the farm
A boy filled with wanderlust who really meant no harm
He changed his clothes and shined his boots
And combed his dark hair down
And his mother cried as he walked out
[Chorus]
Don’t take your guns to town son
Leave your guns at home Bill
Don’t take your guns to town

He laughed and kissed his mom
And said your Billy Joe’s a man
I can shoot as quick and straight as anybody can
But I wouldn’t shoot without a cause
I’d gun nobody down
But she cried again as he rode away
[Chorus]
He sang a song as on he rode
His guns hung at his hips
He rode into a cattle town
A smile upon his lips
He stopped and walked into a bar
And laid his money down
But his mother’s words echoed again
[Chorus]
He drank his first strong liquor then to calm his shaking hand
And tried to tell himself he had become a man
A dusty cowpoke at his side began to laugh him down
And he heard again his mothers words
[Chorus]
Filled with rage then
Billy Joe reached for his gun to draw
But the stranger drew his gun and fired
Before he even saw
As Billy Joe fell to the floor
The crowd all gathered ’round
And wondered at his final words-
Don’t take your guns to town son
Leave your guns at home Bill
Don’t take your guns to town.

One of the things I like best is that it’s a very straightforward song about the brashness of youth and the consequences of poor decisions. But there is so much more to it than that. Billie Joe’s a farmboy, but a young man wanting to stretch his legs and knock off some of that farm dust. I can just see him deciding to go to town, a bit full of himself, a hair cocky, and no one to try and stop him but his mother who cries for him to leave the guns at home. But he’s sure of himself and ignores her request. At the bar, an older and more experienced man sees him for what he is – a greenhorn, a kid still wet behind the ears, a hayseed farmboy playing grown-up gunslinger – and pokes fun at him, probably voicing quite publicly Billie Joe’s own quiet fears and doubts. Which doesn’t sit well with Billie Joe, of course, and which prompts him to make the last in a string of bad decisions. For an insult, a boy dies. A boy filled with wanderlust who really meant no harm.

His death is needless, senseless, and leaves me feeling helpless. A perfectly depressing song that I still love for its true-to-life story, its simple melody, and Johnny Cash’s bass voice cleaving the air into song.

Leave it to The Man in Black.

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