strong men create good times
good times create weak men
weak men create bad times
bad times create strong men
June Carter, He Don’t Love Me Anymore. What’s alien in that c. 1955 video is the everyday on-air interaction between the good-natured host and his firecracker starlet guest, the young June Carter. If you imagine having a country of your own in which your public space — in this case television airwaves — belongs to you, you might envision something a bit like that exchange in which he introduces her and they pick on each other a bit.
America was a house with many rooms. One of those rooms was Appalachian hillbilly culture, perhaps one closest to my heart on account of the melodious regional accent. It’s no wonder that this is where Tom Wolfe looked for inspiration in creating the Charlotte Simmons character. And it’s no wonder that Johnny Cash fell in love with June. I once said:
[She] is a vision. Like just about every young woman, she has those little imperfections that modesty makes irresistible… That thing I said earlier about modest attire amplifying a cute girl’s attractiveness…
The decade, with its relaxed ways, was America’s summer. But every summer has its storm clouds. Vivian Liberto, first wife of then-drug addled Johnny Cash and mother of his four daughters, writes about a confrontation in which June said to her, “Vivian, he will be mine.” The rest of the story is Johnny and June growing old together. Do you believe in love?
Angelo Badalamenti, Laura Palmer’s Theme. It’s simple and reminiscent of Erik Satie’s compositions. A bright moment happens at 1:00, a key change. Brett Favre, in the twilight of his career, was asked about his favorite football memories. He said that it’s not the championships or the victories, it’s those times just having fun with the guys in the locker room or wherever. That answer rang true with me. And there is a flip side to that — you also remember those quiet moments alone.
One such inexplicably indelible moment for me was during Army training in San Antonio, Texas in the early 1990s. Our platoon slept in a large bay with two rows of bunk beds. Listening to a local radio station on my Walkman before drifting off to sleep after lights-out, I heard a song from the Twin Peaks soundtrack. It was “Falling” with Julee Cruise.
The early 1990s was a supernova burst of American creativity, all of it animated by the dream of a world that had flickered just out of reach and then disappeared forever. Autumn is elegiac and it is the one season I’d never give away.
George Michael, Praying for Time. It would be nice if the great song were written and performed by a godly man, but that’s not what happened. It was created by a faggot who got busted at an airport toilet stall. It’s a lesson in humility for everyone, but also in hope, when a man so flawed he makes you look clean teaches you something. “Listen without prejudice” means that it’s okay to judge after listening.
Whether you’re Georgios Panayiotou or someone less cursed, you have your cross to bear. He had his, homosexuality. I have mine, a light one. The pretty girl I used to know who was diagnosed with an awful illness at 21 had hers. Maybe you have yours.
Listen to the song’s despairing, nihilistic lyrics. Keep what works for you, discard what doesn’t. Whatever George Michael was thinking of when he wrote it in 1989, it speaks to me now.
It’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well, maybe we should all be praying for time
The girl I mentioned, she told me about the diagnosis that took place a few years earlier and I told her that we all have our cross to bear. After all of that, I met with her dad. He looked like a wreck. He said, “So you’re the ‘PA’ that she talked so much about.” It was a sad moment when I handed him her stuff. He signed a couple of forms where I told him I need his signature.
Johnny Cash, Children, Go Where I Send Thee. Walk The Line (2005) lied about two things. One, the movie blamed Vivian for the failure of her and Johnny’s marriage. Two, it was silent on the greatest part of Johnny’s career, his Christian music. Yet the film had several good moments, the best one being when Johnny’s disgusted father Ray Cash says:
You’re sittin’ on a high horse, boy. I never had talent, I did the best I could with what I had. Can you say that? Mister big shot, mister pill poppin’ rock star. Who are you to judge, you ain’t got nothin’, big empty house, nothin’, children you don’t see, nothin’, big ol’ expensive tractor stuck in the mud, nothin’.
In the movie, that was Johnny’s rock bottom moment after which he changed his life. “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” is the best interpretation of the American Evangelical spirit in popular music. Johnny would have made a fine Marine Corps drill instructor calling cadence. It’s a fantastic performance, featuring an older June Carter and the other Carter family ladies, the Statler Brothers, and Carl Perkins. Under their captain’s command, they sing like conquerors.