(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Some of the more lasting and haunting images from Johnny Cash’s video of “Hurt” are of the detritus scattered about his closed-down House of Cash museum on Johnny Cash Parkway in Hendersonville: the shattered gold record for Johnny Cash at San Quentin and the debris strewn on the floors. Of course, a casual viewer would wonder if the damage had been caused by a bad storm or had the place suddenly been abandoned because of some personal cataclysm? (In fact, it was flood damage.) The images were a microcosm of a superstar’s career cut short by illness and death.
These are some of the conundrums conjured up by Cash’s rich life and career. Now many of those images are gathered in a tribute book. Cash: An American Man was assembled by longtime Cash fan and friend Bill Miller, who has also been the administrator of the official Cash Web site for many years. [Editor’s note: This is the first CMT book in a new publishing agreement by CMT with Pocket Books.] Miller attended his first Cash concert as a third-grader more than three decades ago and was hooked. He met Johnny and wife June Carter numerous times and became youth editor of the then very-active Johnny & June Cash International Fan Club. Over the years, Cash presented Miller with numerous artifacts and documents, and many of those are presented in this work.
It’s the details of the life that are the most telling. Miller presents here many of Cash’s artifacts and mementos to which he’s been privy.
There’s Cash’s Air Force uniform and his honorable discharge paper. And plenty of rare posters and photographs galore, canceled checks made out to Carl Perkins and Luther Grant and others and folk art representations of Cash.
There are letters from the likes of former presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Billy Graham and many from Cash himself.
There are two rare paintings by Cash and many handwritten song lyrics, including the last song Cash wrote. It’s titled “My Lord Has Gone.” Cash brought the lyrics to his last recording session in August of 2003. As the session wound down, sound engineer David Ferguson asked Cash if he wanted to record the new song. Cash replied that he hadn’t composed a melody for it. Cash dropped the lyrics on a table as he left and said to Ferguson, “You can have them.”
There are vivid posters for the 1961 movie Five Minutes to Live and Door to Door Maniac (its alternate release title), in which Cash portrays a psychotic kidnapper. “It was the worst thing I’ve ever done,” Cash later said of his acting debut.
Shortly before he died, Cash sat for an interview with MTV’s Kurt Loder, and that transcript is reprinted here. The book is replete with Cash memorabilia, such as toy train cars, knives, belt buckles and the like.
And there’s a picture of his office, where you see some of the things that mattered to Cash himself. A teddy bear with his granddaughter Carrie’s (Rosanne Cash’s daughter) name on it, a silver and turquoise conch belt, an Emmylou Harris CD box set and different editions of the Holy Bible
Finally, there’s a handwritten 1969 note on Holiday Inn stationery from Cash somewhere on the road addressed to his children Rosanne, Kathleen, Cindy and Tara. It begins, “Hi Babies! I love you. I’m sorry that I have to be away so long. I miss you so much and I hope you still love me. … Be sweet and don’t forget that I love you. Study hard and be good girls. All my love, Daddy.”