I have a very special announcement coming this Thursday, so this is day two of my five days of Johnny Cash blog in which I will post a significant song that contributed to my understanding, love and appreciation for Johnny Cash the artist, musician and man.
While I was deeply moved and effected at a young age by the song “Folsom Prison Blues”, which I detailed in the first post of this blog series, Cash’s music wasn’t a big part if my life for the intervening 10+ years. Ironically enough it was this song “Hurt” that brought me back as it was produced by a producer that helped create the same music that took me away from Cash’s canon.
From the ages of 11-22 I would describe my musical tastes, while vast and diverse, as having centered around hard core punk, metal, alternative and old school hip hop. So when I finally came back around to Johnny Cash in 2002, it was fitting it came as the result of the work of music producer and producer of all things cool Rick Rubin and his series of American Recordings.
I don’t remember where or when I first heard Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt” but there are a few things I remember. I know I was an extremely frustrated young musician who wasn’t sure what direction I was going musically. And actually I was thinking it was about time I give this up and move onto to other things. But something about this song intrigued me. Mainly, how did he turn this Nine Inch Nails song into the melancholy brooding gospel-esque ballad of mourning and why did it sound so cool when I sang it along with him.
And I say that with upmost humility and respect. Let me explain. Up to this point I fashioned myself vocally as a high pitched emo tenor. I know, it’s scary. And honestly I sucked at it. There is nothing worse than hearing a cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, 22 year old, fresh out of college thinking he can sing like a mix between Eddie Vedder and Radiohead.
But when I began to sing along with Cash to this song I felt like I found myself. The notes were comfortable, natural and soothing. It actually freaked me out. I had never sung like this and I had no idea what I was doing or how I was producing it.
This set me off on a new adventure in which I had to completely rediscover and reconfigure my singing voice. Notes that I didn’t know existed or were possible to sing became part of my palette. Keys that I had never sung in or knew the scales too became an avenue for my vocal expressions. And most of all, songs that I never dreamed of singing took on a new life and a new interpretation.
But also, songs I thought were part of my repertoire were completely discarded and thrown in the dump.
I realized quickly I needed to start anew and I needed to build up an entire new tower of song. It was exciting, exhilarating and thrilling. And honestly it saved me. I had a new purpose and new drive. So I began doing when any energetic young musician should do, completely immerse oneself in the music of an artist who you love and respect and thoroughly investigate all the parameters, characteristics and circumstances that created this amazing thing.
I needed to go back, way back, back to the source and find out where I fit in all of this.