Johnny Cash American V
Thank God we dont just have doctrines to adhere to, as Christians. We also if we have ears to hear and eyes to see have the work of artists, musicians and writers to draw from; restless spirits who refuse to toe the line, who resist, revolt, and rage against the dying of the light.
Johnny Cash is one of those artists.
He was certainly no saint. As a high-profile Christian and musician, he didnt live a model life, battling with amphetamine addiction, flirting with infidelity, never fitting the bill of the well-rounded believer, torn between devil and angel.
Frustratingly, as Steve Turners biography The Man Called Cash observes, he often, like so many of us, seemed to keep faith and life in separate compartments. Yet his search for the everyday reality of the God he believed in continued, passionately, throughout his journey and career.
It was in his twilight years, when he met the producer Rick Rubin, that it all seemed to come into focus, and faith, art and life truly converged around this unique character. Rubin showed him that music didnt have to be gospel to express a deep and enriching search for faith. Cash began to play songs like Hurt (by Nine Inch Nails) and Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode) and made them his own.
By this point, his Titanic-deep voice had begun to waver; yet it bore, in its fragility, a quality we seldom experience within todays shallow music culture.
In the end, Rubin produced a series of albums for Cash the critically acclaimed American recordings. And on Monday, American V was released the last from the archive. Cash began recording it shortly after his beloved wife June Carter died; he himself died before the process was fully completed.
Nevertheless, it is, quite simply, a sublime record of one mans persistence to the end, offering themes of life and death, faith and doubt, heaven and hell, love and loss, departure and arrival.
The realm Johnny Cash lived in was clouded by pain and coloured by grace, argues Steve Turner. But what made Johnny Cash so great was his unique way of seeing the world.
Rubin, who distilled the essence of the artist so movingly, recalls: It seemed like his devotion for life came from his devotion to God. An enviable epitaph, undoubtedly, for a man who in his weakness once seemed finished, yet who finished in undeniable strength.