Johnny Cash remained in stable condition Wednesday (Sept. 3) at Nashville’s Baptist Hospital, where he has been treated since Aug. 25 for a stomach condition. A hospital spokesperson said Cash continues to improve and could be released later this week. Although the illness prevented Cash from attending the recent MTV Video Music Awards, several noted rock and rap performers at the show were quick to express their respect for the Man in Black.
NEW YORK — The MTV Video Music Awards Show is always a circus. And this year was no exception. As fans flocked to the pre-show activities in Rockefeller Center, a carousel of today’s hippest stars greeted them. Larger-than-life replicas of artists like Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson were recreated in bobble-head fashion. Limp Biskit vocalist Fred Durst’s enlarged head looked just as angry as he does in life. Missy Elliot’s overgrown gourd was topped with her signature ball cap. And each caricature slowly revolved around a silver “Moon-man” — MTV’s version of Oscar.
But one of the most recognizable (and most nominated) icons in music was missing from the MTV carnival. Johnny Cash, 71, whose “Hurt” video was up for six awards, was hospitalized with a stomach ailment three days before the Aug. 28 show. [The “Hurt” video took home only one award -- a best cinematography trophy for Jean-Yves Escoffer.] Despite his absence at the awards show, Cash created quite a buzz on a red carpet filled with barely-there clothing, tattoos and the work of several plastic surgeons.
“I’m a huge fan of Johnny,” said Joel Madden, lead singer for rock group Good Charlotte. “He’s actually become one of my influences.” With the top of his head dyed fuchsia, Madden doesn’t look like the typical country fan. “I discovered Johnny Cash later, actually, just in the last three years.” he explained. “[The “Hurt” video] made me cry the first time I watched it.”
Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro (formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) confessed he hadn’t seen the “Hurt” video. “I don’t watch videos,” he said, his arms showing more blue tattoo ink than skin. But Navarro’s fiancée, Carmen Electra, couldn’t contain herself. “I love it,” she bubbled over his shoulder. “It’s just so raw, you know? It’s just so Johnny Cash.”
“It’s tight, I like it. I like Johnny Cash,” said rapper Snoop Dogg, while holding two leashes hooked to women wearing dog collars. Asked if the MTV Video Music Awards was an odd place to honor Johnny Cash, he said, “Nah, when it’s good, it’s good. It don’t matter how old it is, it never get old. It only get good.”
Rock artist Kenna agreed. “It was probably one of the most moving videos I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said, his hands going to his heart. Dressed in a vintage Police concert shirt, Kenna addressed Cash’s nominations. “He deserves anything and everything he gets tonight, and if he doesn’t get anything, he deserved to have gotten it. Period.”
“There is no competition to Johnny Cash,” echoed Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri, as he rubbed his shaved head. His long goatee was caked with what looked like smeared red lipstick. “He’s ‘The Man in Black’ and he should win. There shouldn’t even be anybody up against him.” For Oliveri, it is Cash’s sincerity that’s made him a legend in his own time. “The thing about Johnny is he delivers music. No matter who wrote it, [Cash] sang it with conviction and it touched me.” Cash’s influence has touched Oliveri — literally. Among his numerous tattoos, is a “ring of fire” on his left ring finger.
The godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, was also eager to talk about Cash. “I know all about Johnny Cash, you know? I’ve been a big fan from, well, before you were born. … I think it’s a real canny move on the part of MTV to ally themselves with someone who has real strength in the roots of American music.”
As a veteran of the music industry himself, Pop said he wasn’t surprised to see a younger audience embracing Cash. “Once you expose somebody with that sort of presence to younger people, or any kind of people, they’re going to get into it,” he said. “People are people … and in the end, they want quality.” Smirking, he added, “They like a little trash, too, you know what I mean? You want to have a Snickers bar, but not for dinner, you know?” At that, Pop walked away holding the hand of a curvaceous brunette which, if I were to guess, reached a double letter somewhere between C and E.
Cash’s MTV nominations also impressed actor Jason Biggs (of American Pie fame). “I think that’s amazing,” Biggs said, gesturing to the twenty-something crowd behind him. “The fact that the younger audiences are still appreciating him, it’s pretty incredible.”
“C’mon, this is rock ‘n’ roll,” said Method Man, his name lettered in gold across his shirt. “The older you get, the cooler you become. I never really listened to Johnny, but I’m a fan of his style. You know, the cowboy bravado, you know, the gunslinger. … I love it. Plus he has one of the coolest names in the game.”
Another fan of Cash’s style is fashion savant Carson Kressley of the hit TV series, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
“Johnny Cash is such a legend and he was working the black-on-black thing before anybody,” said Kressley. With a wave of his hand he added, “Way before Donatella [Versace].”