What did Johnny Cash say about America?

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What did Johnny Cash think about America?

A lot of singers sing about where they live and what they did when they lived there. While U2 like to comment on american culture and politics, they haven't lived through America's eyes like Johnny Cash did.

You'd think a series of records known as American Recordings would be about America. And you'd be right. But you might also ask yourself (other than how did I get here?) seeing as these songs are all covers of other mostly american artists, what is Johnny Cash actually trying to say?

There's a lot of songs in the American Recordings series written by US citizens and their lyrics are open to interpretation and they are not always direct references on America and it's politics, culture or heritage but when Johnny Cash sang these songs, he totally changed them by virtue of being Johnny Cash - through his own living and experiences, when he sang another person's lyrics the meaning changed or was amplified somewhat.

Think his cover of Nine Inch Nail's Hurt as an example. Ostensibly Trent Reznor wrote a song about "differences between society and self-harm", but when Mr J Cash sang it, it become a personal commentary on his own life, and perhaps indirectly, his own influence on american culture.

The Beatles 'In My Life' is song that offers Cash the chance to put his own spin on a classic song. When he sings about 'places and people' he's loved, he's talking about american prisons where he famously sang and he's singing about his friends and families that have been part of the American fabric. He's singing about June and he's singing about Buddy Holly.

When he's takes on the Eagle's Desperado he's singing about the infamous Dalton Gang and America's Wild West history. He's singing about some of America's building blocks.

When Johnny Cash teamed up with U2 to sing on Zooropa's The Wanderer, Johnny Cash can be found having a field day with Bono's lyrics. While he's singing about a man searching for God in a post-Apocalyptic world, he's singing about that part of American culture that what everything they can have - being the kingdom but how they don't want God in it. Despite the American President continually asking God to Bless America, church attendance is falling in America and Cash knew it. He's also suggesting that American's want the nice things, but aren't prepared to put in the effort.

You could argue that when Cash did a cover of U2's One, he was singing about America's confusion about Jesus (refer to the horrible God Hates Fags campaigners) but it's really just a break up song...... when he sang Nick Cave's The Mercy Seat, he wasn't singing about a man's last thoughts before he dies, he's pointing about America's preoccupation with killing people. He was looking at you Texas.

When Cashing mournfully lays down Sheryl Crow's Redemption Day, he turns her fears about an impending train accident into a lament that nothing can be done to save America.

When the Man Comes Around follows a different route that the above arguments. Apparently its one of Cash's few last original composition before he left this planet to hang out with Elvis. It's a commentary of sorts on the Devil, God and how when it's all done and fucked up, you're gonna be claimed. And these lyrics can easily be seen as a warning to America - relying heavily on the Book of Revelations to set the scene, Cash is saying when America's whores are done whoring and you've done enough sinning yourself and got yourself nice and 'filthy', God's gonna come down with his Pale Horses of Death, take America up his golden ladder and put it in its place. Cash actually had a lot to say about Jesus.

U2 did get one thing right though, Elvis would have been a sissy without Johnny Cash!

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