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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Johnny Cash and my Grandmother

As I'm up here in Wyoming, I find myself thinking of my grandmother a lot.  My grandmother's "tall drink of water" wasn't my grandfather (who was, admittedly, a very "handsome fella" in his day).  It was Johnny Cash, the man who gave her rebellion a voice.  Every time Cash's name came up in conversation when I was a child, my Grandmother would get this funny little light in her eyes-- something mischievous, alive.  She didn't really speak in terms of hero worship or admiration.  She loved his music, to be sure-- but that's rarely the context I heard her mention his name.  She once defiantly announced in front of my grandfather that Cash "could park his boots under [her] bed anytime."  I remember stifling a childish giggle.  I don't remember my grandfather's reaction, however, but I bet it ended up with a fight.

I think it was a connection that went a little farther than Cash's resinous voice, gorgeous deep eyes or rebellious personality; rather, they were both shockingly beautiful, profane people needing redemption, and I think she recognized that.  In the midst of their personal turmoil and agonizing failures, they both longed for something stable and holy, something which they knew, for all their stubborn willpower and passion, they couldn't provide for themselves. 

And then there's this video.  I only ran into it recently when I heard it over the stereo at a local taco joint, and the sound of Cash's voice singing Nine Inch Nails over the hubbub stopped me in mid-bite.  It made me think of my grandmother.  I looked the whole song up on my computer a little while later, and I was just overwhelmed.   Oh my gosh, the psychological pain in this song is unbearable.

Even though I know how talented he is, I've never liked Trent Reznor; he's a good songwriter and can tap into pain (but little else) with a raw-edged clarity.  But Cash takes it and turns that anguish into something else-- it's a lament to Christ, for a seemingly wasted life. 

I don't know what my grandmother would have thought of hearing the discontented spokesman of her generation singing music from the discontented voice of mine.  Maybe it's something in the slight lisp in Cash's voice that betrays his last stroke (just like hers once did), but I think she would see something familiar in this song, something that would break her heart... 

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