Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Johnny Cash: Bad Ass or Baddest Ass?

That was the question that good friend, fellow music lover and part time softball aficionado, Teddy Ballgame posed just the other day. I found the topic interesting enough to post my thoughts here for the few people that stumble across this while surfing the net and for all of the Thai spammers that like to try to post comments about how my readers can achieve "rock hard wang to make you girl love you long time".

Ted's assertion was that Johnny Cash was the coolest musician of all time. Cash was a bad ass in the '60s and the 70's, then came back in the 21st century and completely kicked ass on a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, Hurt. He was in his 70's when he covered that song. His version is so good, that when Ted heard it on the radio, it provoked his teen-aged daughter to comment on it's bad-assery. (Daughter's comment paraphrased, not an actual quote).

I considered his opinion and did not dismiss it out of hand as I do most other people's opinions about music. That is how deep my respect runs for Ted's musical taste. It should be noted that Ted and I completely disagree on about 50% of each other's musical opinions. Chief among these differences:  my belief that Radiohead is one of the most creative and excellent bands of all time and his opinion that they suck big, sweaty donkey balls.

After much reflection (is 5 minutes considered "much"), this is what I determined. I've never been much into Johnny Cash. He was certainly an iconic name that I have summarily disregarded through living my life much like a (lesbian) teenage girl. I do concede that it is impressive that he can still impress youngsters today as he did 60 years ago.

The first time that I ever gave Cash much though was when I caught wind of the aforementioned NIN cover. I have a touchy relationship with cover songs. Usually, I think it is an affront to the original version, even if they do a descent job. It's a result of the Gleeification of America if I can Fox News-ify terminology. You can find legitimate, labeled bands covering every song on YouTube. Sometimes it's bearable; sometimes it's laughable.

There are certain covers that exceed the original version of an excellent song. I present Cake's I Will Survive and Gnarls Barkley's Gone Daddy Gone as examples of this. Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt is not even a cover. It is a complete re-telling. It is that good. To an extent, it shows how amazing he is. A little more digging will see other excellent covers by Johnny Cash. He also does a respectable version of my favorite U2 song, "One".

Despite this, his substantial catalog of songs spanning over 50 years and his Hall of Fame career, I am unable to label him as a Big Sexy Hall of Famer. There is no doubt he's cool. There is no doubt that, as a musician, he's a bad ass, He's just not the baddest ass. That title is still up for debate.  No matter how many black shirts he has and no matter that he has fired the South's collective memory or iconoclast to nearly Dale "3" Earnhart stature, he will continue to be someone I know of and can respect, but someone who will continue to maintain a safe distance from my ipod. There's only so much room on it with all of the live versions of Radiohead's 1997 seminal album, OK Computer crammed on there.

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