The Day After

Rosanne Cash in her own words about what it was like to go to school the day after Bob Dylan performed on her father’s show…

http://mediamatters.org/altercation/200709240003

“The Johnny Cash Show,” by Rosanne Cash (An Altercation Exclusive)

On June 8, 1969, I walked in to Holy Cross School in Ventura, California, and into my eighth-grade classroom with a new mandate of confidence and coolness. My dad’s television show, The Johnny Cash Show, had aired the night before and his guest had been Bob Dylan. My dad and Bob had sat at the edge of a small stage, wearing hip black suits, with only their two acoustic guitars, and had sung a duet of “Girl From the North Country.” The entire country, or at least my entire generation, was buzzing. It was a certifiable, seminal musical event. My new mandate was justified thusly: the English teacher who had told my entire class, right in front of me — only to pretend that he had forgotten that I was there — that none of my dad’s work was worth listening to, save perhaps “Folsom Prison Blues”; the boy who had said my dad couldn’t sing and could barely talk; the nuns who had made nasty comments about my dad’s profession and attendant personal catastrophes … they could all kiss my ass. They could at least back off. No one was cooler than my dad, well, no one but Bob Dylan. But even Bob Dylan thought no one was cooler than my dad. Everything was forgiven under the terms of my new mandate (at least until MUCH later): the long absences, the drugs, the overnight jail stay, the infidelity, the bizarre and dangerous behavior and the divorce. The stratospheric level of coolness witnessed the evening before on television healed and dissolved just about every problem I had in my 14-year-old life.

Last night, more than 38 years later, I watched that performance on the new DVD which my brother and my dad’s old manager produced. In most childhood memories, when you revisit the place of the memory, the driveway isn’t as long, the room isn’t as big, the grown-up isn’t as tall. Things shrink, scale back and down, and fit into the adult world-view, with its underpinnings of cynicism and weariness. That wasn’t the case in this re-viewing. Dad and Bob were just as cool, the guitars looked and sounded just as rich and ringing, their suits were cut just as fine, and the performance was just as great. Add the superb color, ambience, and sensibility of the late Sixties and early Seventies, and you have what I think is damn near a masterpiece in this four-hour, two-disc set. Add the fact that these are the things that survive of my father, and it’s nearly unbearable for me, in a good way. But the Cash/Dylan duet is only the beginning. In these 58 shows we have an almost quintessential representation of American music, post-Summer of Love. Exciting juxtapositions abound: Dylan followed by Louis Armstrong, who appeared just a few months before his death. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Could someone please find out how I can get a pink plaid shirt exactly like John Fogerty’s? Seriously — followed by Marty Robbins. And thern there’s Pete Seeger, Waylon Jennings, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Loretta Lynn, Linda Ronstadt, and of course, the magnificent Carter Family and Tennessee Three.

It’s almost too rich. Last night I watched Bob, and Creedence and James Taylor and George Jones, and dad with all of them. I had to stop. Almost all my happy memories of growing up with my father are somehow represented in these programs; everything I loved about music is identified and explored. I watched Marty Robbins and remembered how my mother would swoon over him, and tried to figure out if the number of times I had heard “El Paso” was in the triple digits, or more. My father was so handsome, it hurts to look at him. This was the best time of his life, when he was clean and straight, and taking musical risks (bringing blacklisted Pete Seeger on the show, as well as many new and television-deficient artists) and those risks pay off with interest. He was acting with clarity and focus, and singing in his absolute best voice.

The Johnny Cash Show is an artifact from another time and place that you can hardly believe once existed, and doesn’t exist anymore, certainly not on television. But it exists in my memory, and in the template of my childhood experience, and now, on DVD for the whole world. “Ride This Train,” a recurring spot in the show, is an apt metaphor for experiencing the totality of The Johnny Cash Show. If you can let go of your 21st Century constructs and prejudices about entertainment and media, and let yourself be immersed in the earnestness and honesty of a nearly 40-year-old experiment in television, and one man’s extended passion and musical sense of discovery, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride. 

5 Responses to “The Day After”

  1. Thanks Rosanne for your words. i sit here this morning reading though my tears. Your memories are heart felt and I thank you for them. Your father was so handsome and his muisc was America, he sang for the good and not so good. He loved all sides of living, it seems to me. You keep singing and making your music. I am sure your father is smiling from the shadows and even singing along. I look forward to seeing this DVD, i think I’ll ask for it for Christmas.

  2. […] Roseanne Cash says that the day after Bob Dylan appeared on her dad’s show she walked into school with “a new mandate of confidence and coolness.” The entire country, or at least my entire generation, was buzzing. It was a certifiable, seminal musical event. My new mandate was justified thusly: the English teacher who had told my entire class, right in front of me — only to pretend that he had forgotten that I was there — that none of my dad’s work was worth listening to, save perhaps “Folsom Prison Blues”; the boy who had said my dad couldn’t sing and could barely talk; the nuns who had made nasty comments about my dad’s profession and attendant personal catastrophes … they could all kiss my ass. They could at least back off. No one was cooler than my dad, well, no one but Bob Dylan. But even Bob Dylan thought no one was cooler than my dad. […]

  3. ‘my new mandate was justified thusly: the English teacher who had told my entire class, right in front of me — only to pretend that he had forgotten that I was there’
    justified thusly 🙂

  4. OMG!
    I’m a Brazilian simple woman. I’m Professor in one University in the north of Brasil.
    Deeply touched, I want to say: your father and Bob Dylan for me are (yes, are) *much more than* great. They’re divine!
    I’d love expressing myself better, but I cant.
    Excuse me, pardon my awful English. It’s only(I hope) to let you know how important is for me (us), all of you write.
    And, let’s face:-) : you write very, very well!
    Congrats
    Meg Guimaraes

  5. Thanks, Rosanne, your dad was very special to a whole lot of us, and you ain’t bad yourself. Keep up your good work, and keep up that wonderful music.

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