Johnny Cash
By: Jerrold Freitag | Categories: Country, HiLo Heroes, Music


The kind of life JOHNNY CASH (1932–2003) thought, wrote, and sang about is one charged with tension between adoration and disdain, rage and sweetness. Whenever Cash’s own high-tension life discharged bursts of energy, it drove his creative machine inexorably forward. Among such energy bursts were his brutal and elegant discoveries: whether turning intercepted Russian Morse code and the rhythm of trains into his unique clack and boom-chicka music; or the prison-concert ballads to the disenfranchised at Folsom and San Quentin. The ghost in Cash’s machine was Sturm und Drang Romanticism; that he expired only a few months after wife, collaborator, muse, and fellow traveler June Carter Cash was testament to how tight and deep they had their whole thing woven. In-between his heyday and his death come the American Recordings, beginning in 1993 and guided by Rick Rubin. Of these, although his Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” cover is rightly heralded as an epic epitaph, take my advice and let Cash’s blistered tenor in his final refrain — on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” — take you home.

— Written on a train


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Pierre Mac Orlan, Fats Domino, and Karen Berger.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).



Jerrold Freitag lives and works in Berlin. He prefers being outside during inclement weather to being inside at all. Literature and Philosophy degrees from the Universities of Minnesota and Massachusetts. Advertising credentials a plus.