Last night Marti and I were privileged to enjoy a little bit of musical theater around the songs and the memory of Johnny Cash. I say “little bit” to mean that the production and performance level of the play was less than it could be, but it hardly mattered, because the songs were so strong that they carried everything. It was a tribute to the shear power of the music. There was so much of Johnny’s life and struggles in his songs that it was hardly necessary to tell any other story than the songs themselves.
From “We got married in a fever,” to “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” to “Sunday morning coming down,” to “Why Me Lord?”, we experienced the man’s loves, loses, his demons and his redemption and on right into heaven where June Carter was waiting for him on the banks of the Jordan.
Johnny Cash was a poor man’s Billy Graham. He preached the gospel from the bottom of life. If you couldn’t hear it from Billy, you could hear it from Johnny. They both were evangelists and both from an era when culture was not diversified as it is today. One man – one song – could reach everybody.
On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’,
Half as lonesome as the sound,
Of the sleepin’ city sidewalks:
And Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.
He captured the worst of us:
I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die
and reached for the best
The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like ours meet
As to his place in life and the purpose of his art, nothing says it quite as well as “The Man in Black.”
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Living in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the times
I wear the black for those who’ve never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said
About the road to happiness through love and charity
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me
I wear it for the sick and lonely old
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold
I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men
Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black
We’ve all got to touch this somehow. It’s not that the bottom is for a few people who have to fall that far before they get it; it’s that the bottom is where we all get it. Actually, you can’t find Him anywhere else. Not that He isn’t everywhere, you just can’t see him any other way. There will always be some people for whom positive thinking just won’t do it. “Up with People” may say it for a few, but “Sunday morning coming down” says it for a few thousand more.
Lord help me, Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus, I know what I am
Now that I know that I needed you so
Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in your hand
These were the fitting last words of the show, and what a sendoff. No better place for your soul and mine to be than in the hands for Jesus.