The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



The Man in Black’s ‘Legacy’ resonates on new CD

Marty Schroeder | Wednesday, October 25, 2006

With his middle finger in the air for the world to see, it’s no surprise the late Johnny Cash is credited for transforming a genre; crossing over musically, lyrically and perceptually from traditional country to pop, rock and (expectedly or no) punk.

The Man in Black is posthumously remembered in a release of his singular style, “The Legend of Johnny Cash,” the result of a collaborative effort from Island Records, Universal Music Enterprises, Columbia Records, American Records and Legacy Recordings. From the beginnings of his career with “Get Rhythm” to his final days with the Nine Inch Nails cover of “Hurt,” this album careens through the career of the iconic and rebellious Cash.

Opening with “Cry! Cry! Cry!,” “Legend” gives a prime example of the country roots of Cash. His southern drawl lopes through the lyrics concerned with a fickle love familiar to country music. While the lyrics are somewhat cliché, they are presented creatively. The “boom-chicka” licks on the electric guitar are the fertile ground Cash would plant his signature sound in.

“Cry! Cry! Cry!” was recorded in 1955 and would go on to become one of his first singles along with the second track, “Hey Porter.” Both of these tracks, while not as well known as “Get Rhythm,” “Ring of Fire” or “Folsom Prison Blues” are the seminal moments for Cash, and one can hear the beginnings of these later hits in the rock-inflected country of Cash’s early musicianship.

The album’s middle tracks are the zenith of Cash’s career. As a type of greatest hits, “Legend” compiles the best of the best. While this is not the only Cash album one should own (the seminal “At San Quentin” is among the best of live albums in history), it does hit the high spots, which is to say in regard to Cash, zeniths of modern popular music.

The pain and torment of Cash’s life (the death of his oldest brother early in his life and a difficult divorce) are the backbone of his music. The cathartic experience, while maybe not as apparent as on his live albums, is readily apparent in the aural experience “Legend” provides. “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Man in Black” are two songs expressing the frenetic life Cash led. Drug addiction consumed the early part of his career until meeting the love of his life and musical partner, June Carter.

Even with the steadiness of his later life, the dirge “Hurt” (originally written by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor) explores the pain and addiction that haunted Cash until the end of his life. Cash’s deep baritone, aged perfectly, paints a ghastly portrait of a man who has been in the fires of a sometimes hellish world. The video, equally daunting, presents a haggard Johnny Cash celebrating and lamenting the life he’s led. Some of the most inspiring and original music to be released post-World War II resulted from some of the worst pain on man can endure.

From “A Boy Named Sue,” written by the children’s poet Shel Silverstein, to the lyrics “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel,” Johnny Cash is the American icon who told old time Nashville country to shove it and gave the jailed, the beaten and the loser a voice. To listen to the Man in Black is to purge feelings of pain, misery while laughing at it all the way to grave.

Cash crossed the cultural divide supposedly separating respectable music from America’s so-called untouchables and is proved to be one of the most enduring music icons from his humble beginnings in 1955 and is not soon to be forgotten.