NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Yes, Johnny Cash once wrote a novel about the early persecutor-turner-proponent of the Christian faith.
Test — or maybe expand — your awareness of Cash’s spiritual pilgrimage with 10 questions. The answers follow.
1. What was the first song Johnny Cash remembered singing on a flatbed truck as his family moved to Dyess, Ark., circa 1935?
2. When Cash pitched himself to a Memphis record producer in 1954, Cash identified himself as “a gospel singer”. Name the producer.
3. In October 1967, with his drug addiction out of control, where did Cash go to try to end his life?
4. What 1971 song includes the lyrics: “I wear the black for those who 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.”?
5. What 1973 movie did Cash produce and co-script about the life of Jesus?
6. What’s the title of Cash’s 1986 novel about the Apostle Paul?
7. On the occasion of Cash’s 70th birthday (Feb. 26, 2002) who wrote: “Locusts and honey? Not since John the Baptist has there been a voice like that crying in the wilderness”?
8. What song released in 2002 did Cash describe: “It’s my song of the Apocalypse, and I got the idea from a dream that I had”?
9. On May 15, 2003, Johnny’s wife, June Carter Cash, died at 73 of complications from heart surgery. What Bible book states: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord” — Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, or Song of Songs?
10. What Cash video won the 2003 MTV Music Video Award for Best Cinematography?
1. “I Am Bound for the Promised Land.” After his family finished their long days working on the farm, they would gather on the porch and sing folk songs and hymns. Cash said the first song he remembers singing with his mother was “What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul.” Observed Cash: “I hear it today … it takes me home.”
When Cash was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, he told the audience: “My mother was a great inspiration to me. I remember in the cotton fields she would tell me, ‘Keep on singin’.’ And I think the singin’ took us through the work of the cotton fields. And she said, ‘God has his hand on you, and you’ll be singin’ for the world someday.'”
2. Sam Phillips of Sun Records, who steered Cash in a more commercial direction, releasing in 1955 the single “Hey Porter” and on the flipside, “Cry, Cry, Cry.” On Dec. 4, 1956, the “Million Dollar Quartet” legend is born when a Memphis newspaper publishes a photo taken at the Sun studio with Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. One of the reasons Cash left Sun in 1958 for Columbia Records was the freedom to record gospel songs.
3. In Nickajack Cave, outside Chattanooga. Cash recounted: “And I turned around, and the light got smaller and smaller, and the darkness got darker and darker…. I lay down on the floor of the cave and I said, ‘God, take me away’…. And I lay there for a long time before I felt that warm presence — that all-knowing presence, that sweet presence — said, ‘Get up, and get out of here. I’m not ready for you to die yet.'”
4. “Man in Black,” the same title as his 1975 autobiography.
Another verse: “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin’ 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.”
Jesus says: “‘When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25: 39-40).
On Jan. 1, 1960, Cash gave a free concert at San Quentin, the first of many at California prisons, which found 22-year-old inmate Merle Haggard sitting in the front row.
5. “The Gospel Road,” filmed in Israel and distributed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Reflecting on the death of Cash, Graham said: “Johnny Cash was not only a legend, but was a close personal friend. Johnny was a good man who also struggled with many challenges in his life. Johnny was a deeply religious man. He and June came to a number of our crusades over a period of many years. Ruth and I took a number of personal vacations with them at their home in Jamaica and in other places. They both were like a brother and sister to Ruth and me. We loved them. We are praying that God will comfort his family and staff at this critical time. I look forward to seeing Johnny and June in heaven one day.”
6. “Man in White.” Cash’s well-researched novel tells the story of Saul’s (Paul’s) zealous persecution of early Christians and his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
7. Bono (of U2), who continued: “The most male voice in Christendom. Every man knows he is a sissy compared to Johnny Cash.” Cash is the only person to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame.
8. “The Man Comes Around.” Cash told Larry King: “I had dreamed I saw Queen Elizabeth. I dreamed that I went into Buckingham Palace and there she sat on the floor. And she looked up at me and said, ‘Johnny Cash, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind.’ And I woke up, of course. What could a dream like this mean — thorn tree in a whirlwind? Well, I forgot about it for two or three years, but it kept hauntin’ me. This dream. Kept thinkin’ about it. How vivid it was. And then I thought that maybe it’s biblical, so I found it. Somethin’ about whirlwinds and thorn trees in the Bible. So from that, my song started” (See: www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0211/26/lkl.00.html).
The chorus begins: “Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers/One hundred million angels singing/Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettle drum/Voices callin’, voices cryin’/Some are born and some are dyin’/It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come/And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree….”
Job 38:1 begins: “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind….”
9. Proverbs (18:22). “My daddy has lost his dearest companion … and his soul mate,” said Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and first wife Vivian Liberto. June married Johnny in 1968 and she helped him through several bouts of drug addiction, toured and recorded with him, and gave birth to son John Carter Cash in 1970. Johnny’s 1963 hit “Ring of Fire” was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore, recorded with the Carter Family on backing vocals.
10. “Hurt,” written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
The first verse: “I hurt myself today/To see if I still feel/I focus on the pain/The only thing that’s real/The needle tears a hole/The old familiar sting/Try to kill it all away/But I remember everything.”
When Justin Timberlake beat out Cash and others for MTV’s Best Male Video, Timberlake told the audience: “This is a travesty. I demand a recount… my grandfather raised me on Johnny Cash. I’m from Tennessee. And I think he deserves this more than any of us in here tonight, so I guess in some cool way I share this award with him and he deserves a round of applause.”
Steve Beard of www.thunderstruck.org writes: “In the Hurt video, director Mark Romanek spliced together one of the most vivid and moving visual portraits of Johnny Cash’s illustrative career. Never before in the history of music videos has there been such a rattling reminder of youth, aging and the sometimes agonizing trek through the twilight years. To view, see the web site www.johnnycashmusic.com/music.html. Beard’s essay on Cash appears in Spiritual Journeys (Relevant Books, 2003).
Professor Russell D. Moore of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary commented: “When other Christian celebrities sought to down-pedal sin in favor of upbeat messages about how much better life is with Jesus, Cash sang about the haunting tyranny of guilt and the certainty of coming judgment. An angst-filled youth culture may not have understood guilt, but they understood pain. And, somehow, they sensed Cash was for real. He didn’t sugarcoat or ‘market’ the Gospel like a game show host. Instead, he resonated honestly with human pain and pointed to the climax of history coming in the triumph of Jesus of Nazareth.”
Producer Rick Rubin: “John can sing a song like you may have heard a thousand times. You may even know the lyrics to it. But when he sings it, all of a sudden the words take on a new meaning, and it takes on a kind of seriousness that it didn’t have before. I’ve had artists say to me in the past, once he’s done one of their songs, that’s his now. It’s like, ‘I can sing it, but I feel like that’s a Johnny Cash song now.'”
Copyright 2003 by David Buckna. Used by permission. David Buckna is the author of “The Pop Gospel,” a regular quiz feature in the Observer/Faith & Reason section of the Calgary Herald in Alberta, Canada.