The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 28, 2012

America and Johnny Cash

By Ian Faulkner, Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 — America is one of the greatest countries in the world. Why? We are a nation comprised of numerous cultures, traditions and societies. We are the “melting pot,” so to speak; a country of diversity, we take pride in our differences and similarities, using both to create a splendidly unique civilization and strengthen our standing as a whole on this planet.

That being said, I think one of my favorite examples of the plethora of diversity in these United States lies with the late, great Johnny Cash.

This Tennessee native embodies the idea of “American” in a number of ways. As a musician, Cash spanned the various genres, not allowing himself to be limited by a certain musical style; most would call him country, but he’s played rock’n’roll, rockabilly, bluegrass, gospel, blues, folk and even techno, he covered a Nine Inch Nails’ song. He performed for a variety of audiences from convicted felons in prison to Richard Nixon in the White House.

As an icon, Cash broke the mold for a “superstar.” He was one of the original bad boys. Playing for prisoners, recreationally abusing drugs and alcohol, wearing black at a time before it was popular as everyday attire and actively pursuing a married woman whilst still being married himself, Cash defied what was thought of to be a typical icon. Through his life, he showed people that there are two sides to humanity, a light and dark side, and that these two sides often coincide.

Not only was he a singer, song-writer and performer, but the man was also an actor and author, writing many autobiographies.

Cash didn’t let his tastes lie in one particular area, but span across a wide range of styles, categories and philosophies. My favorite example of the diversity in Cash’s life is the song “Highway Man,” and that is probably because this is my favorite song by Cash.

The major theme of the song is reincarnation. This idea originated in India well over 5,000 years ago, and here it is in a Johnny Cash song. According to Indian religious belief, reincarnation is the idea that human spirits are re-embodied after a person dies; this re-embodiment can happen at any time throughout the ages and can land a spirit in another human body, an animal or an inanimate object.

The lyrics in the song reflect this idea of reincarnation. “I was a highway man...” the song begins. Next, Cash relates that “I was a sailor...” Then, “I was a dam builder, across the river deep and wide.” Also, “I'll fly a starship, across the universe divide.” The song ends with, “Or perhaps I may simply be a single drop of rain, but I will remain, and I'll be back again and again...” The idea is that his spirit has lived through many lives, suffered many deaths, but it will remain and carry on, in one form or another.

I find it amazing that Cash, a renowned Christian, found the idea of reincarnation so appealing that he decided to write a song about it. While the idea of reincarnation is Indian, Cash has taken it, internalized it and made it reflect the culture of America throughout the years.

From singing about highway robbery to flying across the universe, Cash has greatly contributed to the idea of American diversity through his works and life. Thanks Johnny, rest in peace.