Johnny Cash: “How many of these people have filled a cotton bag, once in their life?”

Johnny Cash would have been 88 years today. I’m actually reading his autobiography, “Cash: The Autobiography“, cowritten with Patrick Carr and published in 1997, 6 years before his death. It’s a captivating book and, today, I want to share with you what he wrote about the evolution of country music, some 23 years ago. Please, forgive me for potential mistakes: I have the french version of the book and I’m making my own translation to english. 

Is it possible, in the US, at the end of the 90’s, to think about entire families, including boys and girls from 8 years old to 18 years old, working together in the cotton fields, in the heat of july, from dawn till dusk, outwitting their great tiredness thanks to religious songs?“, says Johnny Cash. He adds: “Are there still places where a little boy can leave the house after lunch, just with his rod, and enjoy his day wandering alone, aimlessly, without vigilance and fear, with no one being afraid for him?“. 

Then, Cash says this: “Life in country, as I knew it, might be just a memory. Today, when people in the music industry, artists and fans, say they are country, it doesn’t mean they know the land. It doesn’t mean they have some interest for those lives whose incomes came from the land […] For them, it’s more a choice, the choice of a look, a kind of group, a music genre they want to appropriate. and then comes the question: is there something behind the symbols of modern country, or the symbols are the all thing? Cowboy hats, boots, pick-up and honky tonk poses are all that remains from a culture that’s desintegrating? Yesterday, in the Arkansas, a way of life was producing a kind of music. Today, a music genre can produce a way of life? Maybe it’s OK. I don’t know”. 

Johnny Cash goes on with his thoughts and says : “Maybe I’m a stranger to this, because of this freezing wind that blows towards me. The country establishment, country radios and the Country Music Association, seem to have decided that some of us are not part of country music. I wonder: how many of these people have filled a cotton bag, once in their life? I wonder if they know that before not being “country” in the 90’s, I was no more considered “country” for their predecessors in the 50’s, 60’S or 70’s”. 

Johnny Cash wrote this about 15 years before the emergence of “Bro Country“. All was said, with great clear-sightedness. I love country music because artists as Johnny Cash had a real country way of life and created amazing music based on this experience. Thank you, Johnny Cash, for yur beautiful songs… and for those words that goes straight to my heart. Rest in peace. 

Nicolas Davelu

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