I remember sitting cross-legged in front of my parents’ cabinet phonograph; the darkly stained behemoth was always stacked high with classic country albums as my mother hurried about the house. I remember holding the thick, heavy discs of black plastic with grooves like deep rings in the trunk of an ancient tree. I vividly remember the smell of the dense cardboard sleeves and the heat thrown off by constant play.
For hours I would sit silently in front of the cabinet, one ear pressed firmly to a speaker, miles away from the rest of the world as the deeply resonant baritone of Johnny Cash blended with the harmonic gospel of the Statler Brothers.
I remember thinking how much my father looked liked Johnny Cash back then. The man in black stared sternly at me from the face of the sleeve while singing of God, crime, and love. I imagined my father as Johnny’s brother, the one in blue collar who would walk through the door each night smelling of kerosene from his job on an assembly line and whose songs were reserved for Sunday-morning services.
My childhood heroes adorned in black and blue.
The first time I saw the Mark Romanek-produced video for Johnny Cash’s haunting cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” I was shaken to my soul. The voice that I’d not heard in years immediately conjured up days 30 years gone — and it is now quivering from the passage of time. The once-strong face appears frail and the iron hands now tremble. In the stark lighting of the video the man in black seems finally at peace.
It made me reflect on my father and how those same signs of age have slowly worked their way into lines on his face and hands. I started to cry as the words “Everyone I know goes away in the end …” played through the television speakers and I visualized a world without my childhood heroes.
“I find myself alone when each day is through …” —Johnny Cash
Fred Mills comments: Absolutely beautiful. Like a Springsteen song — or a Cash song — come to life, in its internal monologue and poetic symmetry. It almost made me weep. It’s written more as personal poetry than music criticism — and what’s wrong with that anyway, if a writer can conjure a unique world that additionally conveys the beauty of the music and the elegance of the artist? I can’t say for sure if I’d want to read page after page of this, as it is non-standard criticism. But it sure works here.
Back to Amateurs write, like, proseBrian Blatz is by day a computer programmer. He’s 36, married, and lives in Sterling Heights. E-mail [email protected]