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“The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969-1971” DVD Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , , .

A deeply toned narrator introduces footage of Woodstock and Altamont, peace and war, comparing and contrasting various struggles and glories that the world, culture and art were facing through the late ’60s to the early ’70s; but who was there as a voice of reason? Johnny Cash. A tad on the dramatic? Absolutely. But no matter how dissenting any cynic would tend to react to such an introduction, after witnessing only a sampling of the series does a sense of truth begin to weigh far heavier than the sensational introduction’s suggestions. And if anyone could create a setting for such a historical series, blending such a diverse range artists and voices during from that period in a commercial setting it’s Johnny Cash.

Testimonies as to the significance of the show come primarily from likely sources: Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams II and Waylon Jennings, but a far greater example as to the show’s historical significance comes from the segments that are highlighted throughout the set. From a Bob Dylan who had yet to find his voice, to a rhinestone-clad Loretta Lynn. From Neil Young’s “The Needle and The Damage Done” to Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” Best Of takes time to highlight the strange diversity showcased during each and every episode.

In today’s digital age, where all aspects of media and culture are only as close as as the nearest computer it’s hardly startling to think of the diversification that Cash prided his show on. But while straight laced hosts such as Ed Sullivan still held the airwaves, a former drug addict took his stance in Nashville, hosting a show that featured music by the day’s best artists – no matter their genre, race or affiliation. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” one week, a sequin studded June Carter Cash the next – no where else on television did this disparity exist at that time, and when the context is appropriately considered the gravity of the matter fully sinks in.

One of the most startling moments comes from that of Ray Charles, performance on his 40th birthday. After Cash celebrates the date, Charles breaks into a makeshift version of “Walk The Line” before further discussing his new release of country covers with Cash. What follows is one of the most amazing covers of “Ring of Fire” that I have ever heard in my life.

In his heart, Cash wasn’t a commercial artist, nor would he take bland corporate orders in spite of his beliefs. As such discussion on the show ranged from Cash’s spirituality to his history with drug abuse; again, banal topics in today’s society, but in the context of the show’s era – powerful.

For as much emphasis as The Door’s “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” moment on The Ed Sullivan show gets, in comparative terms Cash hardly takes second place. Aside from the frowned upon subject matter, Cash stood by his beliefs and when he was set to perform Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” he was told to censor himself for the sake of the network. “I don’t give a damn what they say, I’m gonna sing it how Kris wrote it” said Cash, recalls a friend… Cash continued as he said he would, recalling the song’s offensive line “Wishing Lord that I was stoned.”

Cash is a legend, no matter Hollywood’s recent influence and no matter Rick Rubin’s presence late in his career, this compilation proves just another solid chapter to his otherwise fabled history.