There’s a word that’s bandied around a lot – “iconoclast”- and like a lot of words, it’s misused, misheard and misunderstood. Suffice to say it comes from another misused and misunderstood word- “ikon”. When you hear of some fucking movie star that’s not John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or Bogey being described as an icon, don’t you just wanna slap someone? I do.
And don’t start me about musicians and singers……
Then there is Johnny Cash.
Seems to me that pretty much everyone uses Cash as an ikon in the original sense- something or someone on which we project our own ideas and thoughts, our own way of looking at the world and we seek therein a mirror for our own worldview. Cash the singer, the spokesperson for the poor the downtrodden, for Native Americans or plain ol’ Indians, for veterans, for peaceniks, for hippies, for rednecks, for Jesus. And at the same time he seemed to understand the voiceless, the perils of being rich and wealthy, cowboys, cops, bootleggers, people just barely staying afloat and people drowning. Oh yeah and Satan. Cash “got” him all right.
Unsurprisingly enough for a large corporation, ABC saw none of this when they gave what to them was a hugely popular entertainer his own tv show. In 1969, in the middle of a war and with the country seemingly spiralling into anarchy, Cash, in the iconic projections of ABC suits, must have seemed like a safe, profitable bet.
Profitable maybe – but safe never. Cash used the show and the now unbelievable carte blanche he received when picking guests, to book acts from all across the musical spectrum. ABC must have expected a roster of Cash’s country friends, not realising that Cash’s Memphis Sun rock and Roll pedigree made him suspect with the denizens of Nashville’s ultra conservative music scene. Instead they got a cross-section of talent – Dylan on the very first show, Neil Young, Kris Kristofferson, Louis Armstrong (doing a Jimmy Rogers song which Louis had played on back in 1928 or something), Ray Charles, Creedence. Best of all maybe was Carl Perkins, a regular on the show, playing some terrific guitar and getting to smoke young whippersnappers like Eric Clapton.
Clapton, leading the Derek And The Dominoes band does a country-blues version of the old Chuck Willis tune It’s Too Late and is then introduced to his hero Carl, by to my mind at least, a slightly hostile Cash. I don’t know what happened backstage but doesn’t Cash seem just a wee bit baleful here? Maybe saying, **puts on deep Cash baritone** So you’re the one they call God. Maybe you should meet my friend Carl. God huh?
Or is that just my iconic projection….?