Sunday 26 February 2012

I Walk the Line

According to Wikipedia, Johnny Cash was a "troubled, but devout Christian".  Although his song "I Walk the Line" refers to his attempts to stay faithful to his first wife, Vivian Liberto, while he was on the road, you could say that he "walked the line" between darkness and light.  Raised in a Christian home, Cash was always a believer, but he battled addictions to drugs and alcohol that would haunt him for much of his life.  But what I believe appealed to the general public was how real Johnny Cash was.  He showed a rare and refreshing humility.

Johnny Cash was born on this day in 1932 in Arkansas, the fourth child of seven.  His father was a cotton farmer and his mother, a homemaker.  Growing up during the Great Depression, the family struggled financially especially when their farm was flooded not once but twice leading Johnny to write "Five Feet High and Rising".  Close to his older brother Jack, Johnny was devastated when his brother was almost cut in two by a saw while working at the local mill.  Within a week, Jack passed away and Johnny always felt guilty that he had not been present to help him, but was off fishing that day instead.  One outlet for Johnny was music:  he played guitar and wrote songs at an early age. 

By 1950, he joined the Army and was assigned to an American base in Germany.  He had met a girl named Vivian Liberto three weeks before he deployed and during his time abroad, the couple exchanged many love letters.  Returning to the United States in 1954, Johnny and Vivian married.  Within a short time, they started a family:  Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara.  Johnny took a job selling appliances while he studied radio announcing. 

He got up the courage to audition at Sun Records, but his gospel sound was originally turned down.  He returned to play a rockabilly song and this time was given a contract.  In 1956, Johnny got to jam in an impromptu session with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

By the early 1960's, Johnny started touring with the Carter Family, including June, and her two sisters.  Johnny had given into temptation and had carried on affairs by this point in his marriage.  He found himself strongly attracted to June.  His years on the road had taken their toll, evident in songs like "So Doggone Lonesome". 

He turned to alcohol to relieve the loneliness, evident in one song he wrote called "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea".  Because of the pressures of performing and having to stay awake for long hours, Johnny also found himself addicted to barbituates.  Due to drug possession, he did spend the night in jail on a couple of occasions, although not in Folsom Prison.  The song "Folsom Prison Blues", one of his signature songs, was based on the movie "Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison", which he watched while he was in the Army in 1951.  Johnny felt compassion for prisoners and later held free concerts in American prisons.

The singer found refuge in his faith in God, evident in the fact that he liked to sing many Christian songs, some written by him, some by others, like:  "Agony in Gethsemane", "Choosing of the Twelve Disciples" and "Crucifixion".

Johnny and Vivian divorced in 1966 and Johnny started dating June Carter.  June, with the help of her parents, helped Johnny become sober, staying with him at his mansion for a month straight.  In London, Ontario, in 1968, Johnny Cash proposed to June Carter and she said "Yes".  They were married later that year in Kentucky and two years later June gave birth to a boy, John Carter Cash.

Johnny went on to record more songs, including many Christian ones.  He recorded the new King James version of the New Testament.  Always referred to as the "Man in Black", Johnny wrote a song called "Man in White" about Jesus.  He also performed and recorded with his wife; they co-wrote the song "Ring of Fire".

Johnny and June's marriage would be a lasting one.  June passed away first followed by Johnny in 2003.  A memorial headstone for the couple has the inscription:  "I Walk the Line". 

Photo of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash courtesy

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