Friday, August 5, 2016

Johnny Cash Made Me a Punk (Guest Post)

Today's guest blogger is Paul Jennings, or @ovenglovespj as he's known on Twitter. Paul describes himself as a "Swansea City FC supporter", a "punk/indie/lo-fi fan", and a "piss-poor guitarist". He's here today to talk about Johnny Cash and why The Man in Black was a punk at heart.

On Father's Day this year, I tweeted "This was one of my Dad's favourites, we played it at his funeral" alongside a video of Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill. I then immediately deleted it because I thought it might be a bit maudlin for someone trying to enjoy their morning cuppa in a World's Best Dad mug.

Three years ago, I lost both of my parents over a devastating twelve week period. Music is a conduit that connects us.

My mother was more of a radio listener, really, although rather randomly her favourite songs were The Knack's My Sharona and The Smiths' There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.

My father was the record collector. Having access to stacks of vinyl to explore was a revelation for a small child. The album I kept coming back to again and again was an old one: Johnny Cash at San Quentin.

In 1969, Cash's career was already on a high. His record sales were huge and he'd kicked the drugs, put together a good band, and reunited with June Carter. The BBC offered to film a live prison concert, which his record company would then release as an album. All nice and easy, right?

But live albums can be troublesome. Too often, they can be spoiled by poor sound quality or simply lose something in the translation. That's not the case here. Don't get me wrong, it ain't perfect - there are some tuning and timing issues, and some parts where his voice sounds like he's been gargling cat litter - but who wants perfection anyway? Those lovely flaws are part of the beauty.

It's not just the snarling, gruff-voiced anger that make this a great punk album - At San Quentin has empathy and a social conscience too. That famous middle finger (pictured at the start of this post) was directed to the BBC film crew for blocking the audience's view. He's not just an artist for the prisoners to enjoy; he's one of their own. It's a big 'FUCK YOU!' to the system. As Billy Bragg (surely a Johnny Cash disciple himself) sang on Rotting on Remand, "You don't turn prisoners into citizens by treating them this way". This is Cash, the band and the audience - the filmmakers are irrelevant.

Many have tried tracing the origins of punk, often listing artists like the Sonics, MC5, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, and Dr Feelgood. There's no denying those people's credentials, but punk's a broad church, and The Man in Black deserves his place amongst them.

Cheers Dad and thank you for the Johnny Cash records.

Huge thanks to Paul for sharing this post - if you enjoyed reading it, be sure to follow him on Twitter!

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