Johnny Cash’s Enduring Legacy

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Analysis: The copy machine, ease of website building, search engine, and relatively inexpensive travel made it easy to be an intimate part of Cash’s fandom, but a more important factor is Cash’s true stamina in it. popular culture.

Through Michael hinds, DCU and Jonathan Silverman, UMASS Lowell

When Johnny Cash passed away on September 12, 2003, residents of Omagh, County Tyrone called shopkeeper Charlie Taggart to express their condolences. His regular customers knew that Taggart played Johnny Cash in his shop for decades, all day and every day. In some ways, Taggart is one of a kind. Who else could have such devotion?

Lots of people, ultimately, and all over the world. We have documented and investigated their behavior as part of our book, Johnny Cash International: How and Why the World Loves the Man in Black, and found that eighteen years later, Cash is more popular than ever, as evidenced by his continued presence in popular culture.

His music appears on the soundtracks of movies, TV shows and video games, not to mention the posthumous release of albums of previously unreleased material. He is appreciated not only as a musician, but as a storyteller, lyricist and autobiographer.

Each new transmission of his production also adds to the dimensions of his fandom, which is a transnational and transgenerational phenomenon. There are fans who have accompanied him from the start of his career, like Charlie Taggart, but also millions who have been attracted to Cash after meeting his latest American Recordings albums, and in particular his cover of Nine Inch. Nails. “Hurt”, and Mark Romanek’s famous video for the same song.

Cash’s estate is responsible for this new material, but his fans are the real drivers of his continued popularity, innovating ways to celebrate, discuss and communicate Cash’s work which in turn generates an appetite for more. of reproductions of it.

Throughout our research, we’ve looked at the history and culture of Johnny Cash’s fandom from its early days in newsletters and behind-the-scenes meetings to its current incarnations, which include anonymous comments on YouTube videos, a Sophisticated website that lists live performances, a crowdsourced video project, and a cover of Cash’s famous Folsom Prison concert – on Spike Island near Cork – and everything in between.

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From the RTÉ archives, Johnny Cash at the Olympia in 1988

What explains such varied behaviors? Cash has toured the world consistently for over 40 years, worked in multiple genres and with five well-known producers, and was not afraid to break convention. Fans in turn responded with passion to new technologies and tools that made their fandom experience more immersive and rewarding.

The copy machine, ease of website building, search engine, and relatively inexpensive travel made it easy to be an intimate part of Cash’s fandom, but a more important factor is Cash’s true stamina in it. popular culture.

People everywhere feel a connection with Cash, and they express it in various ways. They talk about his industry, his keen sense of reality, his empathy for others, his inventiveness as an artist, his fundamental composure.

To some, he speaks of both past, present and future experience, with the aura of a prophet, but he is also seen as a comedian, unabashedly down to earth, above all, a survivor. Each fan in each locality creates their own Cash, reflecting their particular desires and circumstances. The productive paradox is that Cash encourages such intensity of identification, even though he remains so deeply himself.

Another phenomenal Irish fan was Finbarr Winters, a retired Garda from Cork who performed Cash’s music under the name Strictly Cash. We followed Winters as he traveled to the Netherlands and then to South Central America, making a sort of pilgrimage along with promoting his own work and business.

Winters had an incredibly powerful sense of occasion; on his last stop he performed “Angel Band” at the Carter Family Fold in Virginia, the song by Emmylou Harris that Cash had performed both at June Carter’s funeral and at her last public appearance.

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Excerpt from the documentary On One Podcast, Johnny Cash’s Lost Tour of Ireland. Few people remember the earliest Irish performances of the country music legend who would love Ireland and be loved by the Irish.

Winters has worked particularly effectively with other “deep” European Cash fans, all of whom demonstrate remarkable aptitude for cultural entrepreneurship. They met Elvira van Poelgeest, founder of the online database Cash, a relentless performer of Cash’s music in many bands and intrepid tourist of Cash, and Walter Ringhofer, an Austrian who created his own Cash Museum (and festival music) in his rural hometown of Riedlingsdorf.

Shortly after our book was published, Walter passed away very unexpectedly, and the online expressions of shock and grief were global; it really demonstrated the power of the community in Cash fandom, for all the individualism and self-determination many fans show.

Fans around the world are largely inspired by the example of Cash, a so-called “lonely man” who was nonetheless particularly active in the social sphere and thrived by doing things for others. Cash’s sheer tenacity as a performer, his capacity for reinvention, similarly inspires the people who listen to him; they use him as a guide, adopting his wit, cunning, and frankness in overcoming crises.

Even now Cash fans are endlessly making playlists, now that technology gives them such creative possibilities, and they are making them for all trials and occasions, be it life, death, love or COVID-19. Everything can seem more bearable through the lens of Johnny Cash.

Michael hinds is Associate Professor at the School of English at Dublin City University and Jonathan Silverman is Professor of English and Director of the American Studies Program at UMass Lowell.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ




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