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December 03, 2005

Ring of Fire: The Johny Cash Reader

Right of Fire: The Johnny Cash Reader
Michael Streissguth, editor
Da Capo Press, 2002

I found Ring of Fire on a remainder table in a bookstore in DC last week. I ended up reading in a single sitting on the bus ride home. It's primarily a compilation of music journalism with interspersed with excerpts from memoirs and biographies.

One of the strongest contributions is an excerpt from Christopher Wren's 1971 biography Winners got Scars: Too about Cash's hometown of Dyess, Arkansas. Dyess, originally Colonization Project Number One, was a WPA homesteading project to turn sharecroppers into farm owners. The WPA set up the original colony for 500 families. Colonists were issued a house, a barn, and rudimentary tools. In exchange, they cleared the surrounding land, farmed crops, and sold them through the town co-op. After a few years, the farmers had the opportunity to buy their farms from the government. Ray Cash brought his family to Dyess in 1935. By 1938 he bought his 20-acre farm from the government. Later in life, Cash would joke that he was raised under socialism.

Another great essay is a first-person account of Johnny Cash's concert at Leavenworth Prison, written by Billy Nussbaum, then an inmate doing time for bank robbery.

Ring of Fire spans Cash's entire life. The collection of articles about Rick Rubin and the American recording series is one of the strongest parts of the book.

The book strikes an excellent balance between the biographical details and the actual music. The essays are well-chosen to show how Cash's sound evolved over the course of his career. The only weak parts of the book are the very long mid-career interviews originally published in country music periodicals. As someone who unfamiliar with the industry during that period, I found it hard to put the interviews in context.

Ring of Fire would make a great stocking stuffer for a Johnny Cash fan.


If you dig Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, and Tom Waits, then you'll love EELS. Trust me on this one.

eels is cool.


Hey ('mkay everybody wear yer flame retardant undies)

You think we are being passive and succer for glorious past? I mean seriously, observe how we keep clamoring over dead guys/artists who couldn't possibly be relevant today aside from 'generalities'.

What happens? Either we are not paying attention to struggling new artists who try to deliver new message, or we are really bunch of lazy fuckers who eat up anything served by corporate media (ie. hey, let's repackage old crap. It sells before and it still sells.)

Isn't this what stagnant culture is made of?

I am not advocating naive neo-dada anarchism or blind novelty-ism here, but how about drop those irrelevant, and frankly a bit overated, dead guys? There is old masters and virtuoso, and there is brilliant comers. Give the little dudes a chance.

Are we lazy, living in cultural low time, or....what?

what's going on?

Surprisingly appropriate:

"Old Shit/New Shit" by Ells

With sad regrets
I'm tired of the old shit
Let the new shit begin

The psychic pain
Of living in this world
Is overwhelming me
Again and again
A beautiful afternoon
Inside you in your bed
I'm tired of the old shit
Let the new shit begin

(I am sure Johnny Cash would forgive me for this. heh)

Johny Cash's message and music are definitely still relevant. People are still homeless, in prison, fighting wars without real leaders, amd falling in love. Does everything have to come in the latest packaging to be worthwhile?

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