BOOK REVIEW: Forever Words by Johnny Cash
Allen & Unwin
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
When The Man In Black passed away in September 2003, he left reams of papers, which Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professor Paul Muldoon has sifted through to curate 41 poems which span most of his life.
The collection, when held up against Cash’s musical works, highlights the blurred lines between poems and song lyrics (including in Muldoon’s introduction), and shows that even at just twelve years old words were within him, wanting to come out in the poem Things We’re Frightened At.
Cash’s son John Carter Cash writes a moving introduction, hoping that his father can be seen as a literary figure of note – but surely it is only the truly narrow minded who even now refuse to accept lyrics – poems – as literary works of importance.
Cash’s lyrical themes of love, loneliness, joy, sadness, life and death – all the good stuff – are equally prevalent in these works. He also references his past work, with an updated take on his ‘50s Don’t Take Your Guns To Town, now removed from the plural and telling of a man who has had enough and is ready to go on a shooting spree out of dysfunctional despair; and some tragically personal themes, such as his own drug problems, in Going, Going, Gone.
Some are presented copied from their original notepad or hotel stationery paper, some have scratchy illustrations – notable Don’t Make A Movie About Me, a witty, pithy laugh at his own fame and diatribe against those who would profit from it.
If lyrics and poetry aren’t literary – if the works of Leonard Cohen, Lennon & McCartney, Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash aren’t recognised as important, then we can all despair for modern culture meaning nothing to the powers that make those rules. Luckily, however, they can’t change the importance of these works to us, and to further hammer home the point, the Cash estate is already at work transforming these poems into songs with the help of Kris Kristofferson, Chris Cornell and others.
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