Johnny Cash. The man, the myth, the legend. Gone, but not forgotten, especially now that the big budget biopic Walk the Line is in theaters, garnering critical praise and talk of Oscars for its stars, Joaquin “Don’t Call Me Leaf” Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Haven’t seen the movie, and I most likely won’t until after its DVD release. For all I know, it could very well be a great flick that I’ll enjoy watching.
But personally, I’ve never cared for Joaquin Phoenix; he’s the Jim Belushi to River’s John, and taking the role of a dead show biz personality, especially a recently dead show biz personality, is a fast and easy route to boosting your reputation as a "serious" actor, so long as you don’t completely fuck it up. Jamie Foxx, I’m looking at you and your Oscar.
This recent trend of Cash worship all strikes me as opportunism and cheap sentimentality disguised, badly, as love and admiration for Cash’s life and music. It happens all the time in the media. For lack of a better term, let’s call it “Hey, This Guy’s Gonna Die Soon So We Better Pretend We Always Thought He Was Cool to Boost Our Own Hipster Cred” syndrome. Well-meaning they may be, but the blatant phoniness behind all the posthumous love is more than a little repulsive. They’re afraid they won’t be able to ride the hip train unless they pay lip service to the recently deceased godfather du jour. And I’ll bet if you put a gun to the head of one of these “hardcore” Johnny Cash fans and asked them to name three of his songs – and “Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues” don’t count -- they would draw a total blank. And probably wet their pants, but that’s beside the point.
(Many of these Cash fanatics can’t even correctly name the tune that started the penultimate wave of sudden Cash love. Hey, King Cred: You’ll have to do better than “that one Nine Inch Nails song” if you want to impress the clerks at ear X-tacy. If you love the song so much, would it kill you to refer to it by name? I realize that “Hurt” is a lengthy, complex title, but make an effort, fucktard.)
And be honest: When you heard that Phoenix was playing Cash and Witherspoon was playing June Carter Cash, did anyone besides their respective agents think the casting was perfect?
It reminds me of when Johnny Carson announced his retirement, and all the big Hollywood stars that were just a little too cool to go on The Tonight Show during Carson’s decades as host suddenly crawled out of the woodwork to express their admiration for his show. What I really thought was bizarre was how critics, pundits and other assorted halfwits all joined in to talk about how magnificent Carson’s show was and how it was still funny and vibrant, when anybody who had bothered to watch an episode of The Tonight Show prior to Carson’s final two weeks on air could’ve told you that the show had, in fact, settled into a rut of tedious mediocrity. But I digress.
I’ll give Rick Rubin props – he was on the Cash love train a decade before things got all maudlin and phony. And I’ll give props to Cash himself; he never seemed to have an inflated sense of importance, even after all the nitwits started pretending they thought he was cool.
Listen to Cash’s music because you enjoy it, not because you’re biding time between your Ray Charles Greatest Hits CD and the next hip dead old singer.