Johnny Cash was not a politician
This rushed but massive disclaimer highlights another gaping difficulty with Citizen Cash: If Johnny Cash is a performer printed like the Lincoln Memorial in the consciousness of the American public, wouldn’t an anti-racist banner produced by Cash have marked his audience as such? Instead, to make his oversized claim about the recording’s timeliness impact sound viable, Foley continues to stack warning after warning. ” The importance of Blood, sweat and tears escaped segregationists, ”he observes – something that, again, seems to mark a concept album devoted to racial injustices in the 1960s as a dud. Then again, the importance of the album seems to have largely escaped Cash: while he continued to play in concert some of the race-bent material of the record, writes Foley, Cash “did not say anything publicly. as clashes between militant and racist civil rights in the South escalated in 1963, 1964 and 1965. In those years of March on Washington, Summer for Freedom and Selma’s March to Montgomery, Cash did not nothing more to provoke the segregationists. Foley had previously stipulated that segregationists weren’t really provoked by Blood, sweat and tears in the first place.
It’s no surprise, then, that Cash sank into moments of racial backlash during his later career – confessing on his prime-time TV show that he identified with the Confederate cause during the Civil War, and responding with an indignant letter when a group of segregationists claimed, based on a blurry press service photo, that his first wife, Vivian, was Black — Foley is duly armed with extenuating explanations. The first case, he is careful to point out, occurred during a monologue segment in which Cash “signified his skepticism of the Vietnam War,” and the latter “seemed less of a position of principle that an isolated incident “.
All of this suggests that there isn’t much real politics in what Foley calls Cash’s “politics of empathy.” Any policy worthy of the name would seem to impose a sense of obligation to a shared goal beyond withdrawal preferences, but Foley’s dissection of Cash’s social commitments effectively reverses that logic. Cash “has rarely taken a stand on issues in the conventional way,” writes Foley. “Instead, he approached each problem based on his feelings.” He then goes on to quote a performance on Cash’s TV show, filmed in Nashville’s famous Ryman Auditorium, which centered on a song Cash had adapted from Blues in the Mississippi night called Another man is part, which chronicles the brutal murder of a fugitive captured from a gang of chains. As the song progresses to its conclusion, Cash delivers the grim aside that “it’s almost enough that a man doesn’t care.” Foley, unsurprisingly, hails this as a defining moment in Cash’s social consciousness and, by extension, the nation. (Once again, however, Foley is forced to state almost in the same breath that the song in question was historically whitewashed; the version Lomax recorded horribly portrayed the lynching of the fugitive to punctuate the racial horror of the ‘episode, and Cash’s adaptation excised that crucial passage. But regardless: “Although Cash didn’t explicitly mention race, Ryman’s audience knew the score.”) accusations of first-degree apathy and of complicity in murder after the fact.
Once again, there’s no doubt that Cash has done a great job in drawing the attention of his TV audience and Ryman’s crowd to criminal violence – the topic that would be the main social concern of his later career. And Cash’s take on race had thankfully evolved beyond the laid-back white supremacy of materials such as “Boss Jack.” But Cash’s lawsuit here seems deliberately calculated to leave the defendant with generous grounds for future appeal. For starters, it’s just not the case that fans of Cash in Ryman – let alone the vast audience of National Network viewers – know “the score” by interpreting the events recounted in “Another Man Done Gone” as one. racial lynching. Much of modern country music history, after all, involves the incorporation of black forms of expression into a genre dominated by white people, dating back to country innovators such as Jimmy Rodgers, Bob Wills and Hank Williams. Much of the country’s commercial success relies on the public not know the score when it comes to racing.