I have a confession to make: I cry somewhere very embarrassing. No, not any place it’s even mildly acceptable to cry. I don’t cry in movie theaters or at the dog pound. But without fail, I cry at every music museum I attend. That’s right, this girls tears have been wept all over the rock and roll hall of fame in Ohio, in the piano room at the Motown museum in Detroit and I sputtered my way through Graceland in Memphis. I was taken aback by the grandeur of Elvis’ home, the way that people still made their pilgrimage to see the residence of this legend. Yet when I got in front of his grave I cried for a solid 5 minutes, realizing that the legend was just a regular man. When I left, I signed my name on the famous wall that enclosed his estate, scrawling ‘Jack J’s daughter was here’ in permanent marker.
Jack J was my fathers radio name. He did the oldies Sunday when I was growing up on the air and made my childhood full of music I never would have otherwise been exposed to. My birthday parties were filled with old classics and Motown hits instead of current pop top 40. He practised music like it was his religion and was positively obsessed with good ol rock and roll. I’m the only kid I know who has seen just about every Roy Orbison impersonator on the eastern seaboard. It was through him that I learned to love Memphis Rock. Roy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cal Perkins, Elvis and my favorite, Johnny Cash.
So given my crying history, when I found myself in front of Sun Studios in Memphis, I thought I would hyperventilate. There I was about to tour the building where all those legends had recorded, had all got their start. Rock legends were still recording in the humble one room recording studio today, convinced there was still some good luck in its walls. I didn’t feel worthy to be in it. We sang into Elvis’ mic, played Jerry’s piano and even got on the ground and kissed the very spot where Elvis stood when he came to ask to record a song for his mothers birthday. I began sweating when we got the opportunity to touch Johnny’s guitar, and almost fainted when I got to strum it.
You see, to me, Johnny Cash has always been the epitome of timeless music. From his dark, mysterious personality to his drawl on certain words, I’ve always been fascinated with him and his life. His gloomy take on all his songs always made me feel the opposite of morose. He always gave me hope. Growing up, Johnny was who I listened to during the rough times. His insistence on singing without sugarcoating always made me feel that if Johnny could get through whatever he was going through, that I could too.
I don’t fully know why I cry at music museums. I think I just get caught up in the nostalgia of a time long gone, of my childhood, of my father. Of the impermanence of it all, I guess. All of these legends were as much a part of my growing up as extended family, and they’re not here anymore. Chuck Palahniuk said ‘We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will’. I guess that’s true for these men, who are more timeless in a way that no one has been since. It’s Johnny’s birthday today. He would have been 81 and this is my favorite song he ever recorded. He succeed in making himself into the best reincarnation I can think of. What he created will carry on forever, on radio airwaves, on car stereos, and in fathers showing their favorite music to their little girls.
Happy Birthday, Johnny.