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The man in black has become the man in white. Johnny Cash died this morning. I've known who he was for many years, but I really have become an admirer of his in the last 2. I was sifting through a makeshift t-shirt shop somewhere in Germany, early August 2002, at a Christian festival called Freakstock where I was playing drums for some new friends. Although the event was mostly in German, the guys running this tent were playing Johnny Cash over the stereo. Stuff I had never heard before. A cover of U2's "One" stuck with me, as did another very haunting song, the author of which I never found out, but can still hear when I close my eyes. I was up late that night hearing the words over and over again. Later that year I bought a copy of Mr. Cash's (it seems disrespectful to call a man you don't know simply "Johnny", unless using his full professional name) newest album, the fourth in his American series. Titled "When the Man Comes Around", it's an amazing collection of sound and voice, expressing so much emotion with so little effort. As a young musician, I am aware of the ways many performers emote vocally, or pursue complex musical ideas with their instruments. Certainly we all want to stand out, want to do something original and break new ground, but the work on this album is humbling in it's simplicity. There has been no attempt to preserve his pop status by adding in drum loops or making remixes, for that would violate the very idea of the music. Every time I listen to this CD, which I'm playing now as I type, I realize that playing faster, stringing together chords that noone has ever combined, singing louder, or higher, or more aggresively will not make me an artist. There is nothing contrived or pretentious here, and that violates so many of the rules of rock and roll, and what is now currently passing for country music. There are few recorded voices that are as honest and strong, even in recent years. His age just makes him harder to fool, harder to lie to. Johnny Cash takes songs that other people write and makes them sound both very new, and very old. For a time it's hard to imagine anyone else could sing that song, because he owns it. I'm sure that many of these songs are being given entirely new meanings through his interpretation (Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" is taken very literally), and there is no sense that he is trying to emulate the styles or production of the originals. "I Hung My Head" by Sting is originally in an odd, shifting 9/8 time signature, but Cash brings it back to a simple 4/4 without making it sound dumbed down or adapted in any way. This past spring I had a conversation with some friends regarding the version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" recorded with Fiona Apple. Some among our group felt that the song ought only to be sung by Art Garfunkel, but I disagreed. If someone is promising to be your protector, your refuge through darkness and trouble, who would you rather have on your side? Art Garfunkel, with his pure, soaring voice, or a man in black who shot a man in Reno just to watch him die? To me that's like choosing between Howdy Doody and Clint Eastwood for an old west shootout at high noon. Johnny Cash is a voice that you can trust, and Fiona Apple's lovely vocal contribution adds in just the right amount of tenderness, so you realize that the hands that pull you out of the deep well may be calloused, but they wont hurt you. I haven't even begun to listen to all of the older music that Johnny Cash has recorded, although I certainly intend to do so. He is a man that, despite living through a time as a rebel and an outlaw, started out with gospel music, and finished with gospel music. The man in black has left us, and gone on to become a man in white, in another far off place. For more information you can see this article, and I'm sure there are many more out there. http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/09/12/cash.obit/index.html

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