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Monday, February 25, 2008

The Diversity of (Man In Black) Thought

I was reading this website called Racialious, "a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture" late last year when I came across this post about a black country singer, who I admit I've never heard of. But like the writer, I am happy that a black artist can go into whatever niche of music he or she chooses. I remember all too well what grief artists as diverse as Dionne Warwick (pop), Jimi Hendrix (rock), Charley Pride (country) and Leontyne Price (opera) got, from black people as well as white people, about not performing the "right music".

Then one commenter wrote:
worth Netflixing when available: Johnny Cash openly championed bucking the Nashville crowd and his (thankfully) just released on-DVD 1970s tv show featured more black performers from the jazz, pop, soul/r&b arena as well as emerging rock/pop acts who were unable to get air time in the South during Nixon/Vietnam for politics/appearances/cultural "issues" (long hair, pot, etc.). He purposefully counter-programmed what "Hee Haw" had on and made a point to play with the artists, promoting them as well, driving the suits nuts, but boosting his show’s popularity. The artists were his friends and he knew talent when he saw it. Open your eyes to some sizzling performances with great audio (just forgive the fashion sense).

And I thought that was nice. Then this comment:
Just want to back up Hy on the “Johnny Cash Show” DVD. The costumes and pompadours are giggle-worthy, but the music is AWESOME. I got the DVD set as a gift for my mom (not that I don’t go over to her place and watch it, oh noooooo).

And this:
I too have enjoyed the "Johnny Cash Show" DVD but agree it needs a "wide lapel" warning. I skipped to the obvious treats right away, including an amazing early Stevie Wonder cut of "Heaven Help Us All" and Ray Charles doing "Ring Of Fire".
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the other items, and didn’t think I would like it, but the history lesson was worth it! The show only ran two years (1969-1971) and there’s no way it could ever run on the networks today.
It basically took top artists from the counter-culture folk arena, artists written off as past their prime who influenced Cash, anti-establishment country stable, and anti-corporate rock and soul wing (despite their star power) in a "down home" environment.
It’s weird to think of Dylan and Cash playing live together on TV one moment and Cash and Louis Armstrong performing "Blue Yodel #9" then just...hanging out with "traditional" country folks like the Statler Brothers(?)… then shifting to all the "long haired hippies" (Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Neil Young) that show up with the "old guard" of rock (Carl Perkins, Everly Brothers) all viewed during Vietnam and Nixon.
It may not have solved much, but it was a pretty bold statement to make on a lot of levels. I highly second it as a viewing recommendation as well.
Still humming a few of those tunes too, damn...

Three recommendations for the The Johnny Cash Show: The Best of Johnny Cash 1969-1971 from what I would have considered a most unlikely place. Not so incidentally, John R. Cash would have been 76 tomorrow.
And George Harrison would have been 65 yesterday, though for most of his life, he thought his birthday was today, and many sources still cite February 25. I was listening yesterday to a CD a friend made for me of George's Beatles songs, including those on the Anthologies.
I was talking to a fellow about the expected death of someone, and even though I knew knew that person was going to die, it still hit me, albeit differently than when someone you admire dies quickly via accident or violence. Sometimes that slow and inevitable death doesn't catch you right away as you rationalize that he or she's been sick for a long time, and somehow it's "for the best". And then - after the rationalizations have all worn away - then you grieve.



Anonymous said...

I was watching the Cash DVD recently and was blown away by Ray Charles' take on "Ring of Fire." Fantastic stuff. Nik

Anthony said...

Wow! It seems to me that the common notion is that today's television is more progressive and sophisticated than yesteryear, but Johnny Cash's show certainly undermines that idea.

Anyways, I kind of like keeping George Harrison's birthday on February 25th (today), as that is my son Ethan's birthday.

Roger Green said...

Part of older TV's problem is that it does something daring and bold, then it's replicated and expanded, so when you look back on it, it seems old-fashioned; Hill Street Blues falls into this category, for instance.

Happy birthday, Ethan!