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11/27/2005

MAN IN BLACK

I watched the movie WALK THE LINE this weekend and once again found myself questioning the perpetual happiness shoveled by so many preachers, writers and much of the Christian Music industry in America these days. There are a handful of quotes within the film that felt like finger-pointing sermons jabbed into the gut of all us Christians who work as artists, preachers and story tellers of faith - me included. But the most unrelenting and hardest to dodge sermon comes not from the dialogue of the small scoped film (it covers such a small portion of Johnny Cash's life) but from the life of the Man In Black himself. I hope those who go to the theaters for a first taste of Cash delve deeper into the full story of his life, go for seconds and thirds listening intently to his music and see the lessons he taught in word and deed.

Far from perfect, Johnny Cash cannot be revered for the same reasons as Mother Teresa or Billy Graham. He stumbled often and fell hard. But his honesty is worshipable, his lack of concern for covering his bruises and breaks, his propensity to roll up his sleeves and show us more than we'd like at times. And his relentless revealing of his faults seems to have bred empathy and mourning for the rest of mankind, the other broken and poor of body and spirit, all of us in his audience. This empathy for the wounded and sinful isn't as clear in the film WALK THE LINE as it is in his vast song catalog. The earliest example I remember hearing is "THE MAN IN BLACK". I remember watching this midnight clad man with the baritone pipes crooning about poverty and criminals on the television one Saturday night. I had no idea that one day this song, his dress code, would affect my own theology and lyricism twenty years later. Here is Johnny Cash's own explanation for that dress code, and reason once again to question the upbeat and positive trends of today's Christian music business and pursue empathy fueled by honesty instead:

"Man In Black" by Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

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.

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.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black

30 Comments:

Blogger GrovesFan said...

Hi,
I'm not a Johnny Cash fan so I probably won't see the movie, but thanks for the review. I love the words to the song you posted. Maybe someone should cover it and get the word out again. BTW, you're glad you're not here in Grand Forks today. It's 18 degrees and dropping slowly. There was about an 1/8th inch of ice that completely covered the truck today and more on the roads.

Beth

11/28/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they've got
When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
'Cause we all get lost sometimes...

excerpt from "The Silence of God"
by Andrew Peterson

11/28/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth,

"I'm not a Johnny Cash fan so I probably won't see the movie"

All the more reason to go see the movie, expose yourself to new art!

There is only so much klove a person can take J/K (or maybe not?)

11/28/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but watched an old 60 Minutes interview with Johnny Cash. It was pretty amazing to see the brutal honesty that so many of us try to shield from our church, friends and neighbors. I just finished reading "Ruthless Trust" by Brennan Manning. It goes along those same lines.

"No longer concerned with apprearing to be good, we can move freely in the mystery of who we really are, aware of the sovereignty of God and of our absolute insufficiency and yet moved by a spirit of radical self-acceptance without sef-concern"

-brody

11/28/2005  
Blogger Toby said...

One Bad Pig did a punk version of "man in black" on the album, "I Scream Sunday." Johnny Cash even did some vocals on it.

11/28/2005  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

Yes, I lead a sheltered life. Don't care much for most country music although I am partial to George Strait (older stuff). I don't listen to KLOVE either though. Don't listen to radio on the internet and that's the only way to get it here in ND.

Beth

11/28/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I don't like country music today. It's just pop music with a southern drawl...sometimes there's a southern drawl. It's all tuned, overtuned and then tuned some more and it's sung by guys who've never, it seems, seen a cow, let alone touched one or ridden one. Posers. But I like George Jones, Haggard, old Dolly Parton, etc etc. Country music was omnipresent growing up in a small Texas town, often on the radio when my mom cleaned the house or my grandfather drove me around town running errands in his wood-panelled station wagon circa 1980. Yea. He taught me how to rope on a bucket though I never had the chance to try my skills on a real moving bovine. But no bucket ever escaped my lasso. Anyway, I'd practice roping while singing Rhinestone Cowboy or Coward of the County or Boy Named Sue - the parts I knew, that's one wordy song. THAT was real country music, made by guys in denim and not vinyl pants, sung out of tune perhaps but honestly, not slick and drained of emotion by a producer with a pro-tools rig and an Antares plug-in. Bring back the real cowboys!

SG

11/28/2005  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

Amen! BTW, did you do the painting of Johnny on your shlog?

Beth

11/28/2005  
Blogger Daniel Konold said...

Yeah, it doesn't matter if you're a fan or snot, go see the movie! It's an excellent bio-pic.

11/28/2005  
Blogger Paula said...

Growing up in country Australia, I was exposed to country music from a young age (as well as such legends as Bob Dylan, and Dr Hook). Australian country is quite a bit different to American Country - in sound and content. Although there are the rare cross-overs such as Keith Urban...

I grew up listening to guys such as Slim Dusty & John Williamson. Now the country music genre in Australia is so wide, they often get played on mainstream radio (such as Kasey Chambers, who's album stayed at #1 for many months!)

I have no idea where I'm going with this!

11/28/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

What part of OZ are you living in, Paula?

11/28/2005  
Blogger Fruitcake said...

Second paragraph, third sentence is a fragment.
Also, his honesty is worshipable? Eh...I think not. Kinda surprised to hear that coming from you, Shaun. I always quote you on what worship is because you say it so well. Admirable would be a better word.
Sorry if I come across as a grammar nazi. I guess I am one.
Fc.

11/28/2005  
Blogger Mary said...

I have never heard much of Johnny Cash's music, but thanks to this reivew, I'll check out the movie and the bio. He sounds intersting, to say the least. How's my grammer doing so far, fruitcake? And, hey, if you think that the Christian myth of needing to prosper is troublesome for Christians, just think how confusing it is for the non-Christians who are trying to figure out what this faith is supposed to be about. I still don't know why we (especially, me) fight the idea of being honest about our imperfections, because when you see it in someone else, like Johnny, it is so appealing. It is definitely something I am working on, or trying to at least. Thanks.

11/28/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, who's the painting by? im lovin it. looks kind of dali-esque.

seth

11/29/2005  
Blogger Alabamamom said...

I don't know why but Johnny's honesty reminds me of the late Rich Mullins. I love the gut wrenching honesty of the two.

11/29/2005  
Anonymous keith said...

You're right Shaun. Yesterday's country is better than today's. I grew up with a steady diet of Ricky Skaggs in my house. There are a few bands making good country these days, but they're mostly under the radar.

11/29/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Fragments are fine by me. In fact, they're often purposeful by me. This one was. I write here like I talk, well, most of the time anyway. And I, like most folks, don't always speak in full sentences. Sounds impersonal and stilted - to me anyway. At least that's my excuse. I don't have one for my attrocious spelling.


Worshipable. I stick by that. Worshipable. No, it's not a word. I made it up, I think. Spell checker doesn't recognize it anyway. I once said my wife was a "worshipful listener" but I didn't mean that she worshiped me by listening in the same way she would worship God by taking care of two-year olds on Sunday mornings in the preschool department at church. Worshipable. Good word I think. Of course I wrote it so I'm biased huh? "To regard with ardent or adoring esteem or devotion." And I do. Honesty is worshipable.

SG

11/29/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

About the painting. It's not mine. I just googled Johnny Cash in the images section and it came up. I just tried it again and couldn't get images to display. I'm on the road and not getting great bandwidth - no pictures are displaying on sites. Weird. So I can't track it down for you right now. But google it and see what turns up. I agree. It's great.

SG

11/29/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.grootlore.com/petergullerud/johnnycash.jpg is where the image came from - I'll let whoever is interested go there to learn more since I'm sure each person's interest is slightly different.

11/30/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Thanks anon.

11/30/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Hey, I've posted since the MAN IN BLACK post but new stuff isn't showing up when I go to shlog.com. Is anyone seeing a new post, newer than this one called MAN IN BLACK? Anyone?

Thanks,
SG

11/30/2005  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

Shaun,
I'm seeing the Gloria tour post. Is that the last one?

Beth

11/30/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry anon, not the same pic. i tried to find for a bit but gave up after 12 pages of pics.

yeah got the new post.

sethro

11/30/2005  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I have it now. Blogger weirds out sometimes. But it's free.

Thanks,
SG

11/30/2005  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

The Gloria post has disappeared again! Very weird. I've never had that happen before.

Beth

12/01/2005  
Anonymous keith said...

I, too, only see "Man In Black" at the top. I even hit ctrl-r just to be sure.

12/01/2005  
Blogger dljordan said...

I also see only the "Man in Black" at the top and not Gloria post. I would like to see a post on it. Especially after your "God Dome" comment last night in Lexington LOL

dj
ps the concert last night was awsome Shaun.

12/01/2005  
Blogger dljordan said...

Ok Shaun, this is weird. The Gloria post is not showing on your blog, but it does in your feed.
dj

12/01/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, since this man in black post is just sitting here ill add my 2 cents about the movie. I just saw the movie last night. Fantastic film. Really suprised at how much music was in the movie. ill give my little johnny cash tesitmony if anyone is interested. (crickets in the distance)

During my undergrad in composition and piano i was going through a rather snobby music phase. pretty much anything that was not written by a towering musical genius was not worthy to be listened to. The only thing i might give some time to was the beatles. but even then i thought that that were mere children in comparison to the great masters like beethoven, bach, stravinsky. anywho, one of my fav things to do in the afternoon at southern missouri state university was pick about five vinal classical albums from the library and get to know some new music in the afternoon. well flipping through bach, brahms, chopin, bartok,....Johnny Cash. ha!, i thought this will be a fun little laugh. so i sat down that august day in missouri looked out the window and dropped the needle to the song "long black veil" the first time i listened i kind of tried to make myself laugh, but i could not help but be mesmorized by that erie and hypnotic music coming out of those headphones. for the next two weeks i secretly grabbed sneakingly (new word) Cash records into my listening assignments. Cash sort of woke me up to music of my culture again and slapped me out of a snobby coma.

there it is, my Cash revival.

cheers

Seth

12/02/2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, the first link to the image was incorrect (my bleary eyes led me astray). I have located the correct image here, http://www.flickr.com/photos/48889100574@N01/9566976/

Enjoy.

12/02/2005  

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