Friday, December 02, 2005

Walk the Line

Judy and I went to Walk the Line this afternoon. I knew pretty much what to expect, having seen other celeb bios in my time (Ray, most recently), and knowing that all these people seem to be leading each other's lives. Or maybe they're all living the same life.

Anyway, the story's very familiar: the hard early life, the disapproving father, the eventual success, the pills and the booze, the love story, the fall, the recovery, and all the rest. That being said, the movie's still entertaining, if too long. Joaquin Phoenix does a good job of capturing some of the dark menace of Johnny Cash, and Resse Witherspoon is spunky, funny, and cute as June Carter. Her performance doesn't really seem all that different from some of her other work to me, and I'm not sure why there's been so much Oscar talk. Maybe I just missed something. Both she and Phoenix do a creditable job of singing, though in the case of the Johnny Cash songs I miss the resonance and power of the real thing.

I saw Johnny Cash in person once, long ago, and it was a hugely disappointing event. It was in either 1959 or 1960, and I (along with most of the audience) thought he was drunk. I'm sure now that pills were the more likely cause of his behavior, but the audience wasn't appreciative of the performance, such as it was. We'd come to hear him sing, and he could barely handle the job. The thing I remember most is that in response to a few catcalls, he belched into the microphone. It was all pretty sad, and I regretted then (and still do) that a great performer had let himself get on stage in that condition. I'd have loved to see him when he was clean and straight.


  1. Johnny Cash used to play Cedar Rapids every once in a while, usually with a couple other acts.One night I was going to the can and saw him sitting on the floor against the wall of this anteroom/lounge. He was on break, another act performing.He didn't look drunk, he just looked weary and sort of sad. I was fourteen so he was right to say, "You got a cigarette,kid?" I gave him one and lighted it for him. He was very courteous. "Thanks." When I came back from the can, he was gone. I dined out on this minor tale for years afterward.

  2. Great story, Ed, and thanks for repeating it here. I owe you a dinner.

  3. I think maybe you're still the richer for having seen him even in that condition. After all, how many people can say they saw (and heard) Johnny Cash belch onstage? His wasn't always a pretty or happy life and I'm sure there were quite a few of those substandard performances. There's only one cut (Girl From the North Country) with him on Dylan's Nashville Skyline album and it doesn't seem like they could have rehearsed it beforehand but it's enjoyable nonetheless. Supposedly they did a lot more together that day but none of it was deemed worthy of commercial release. Still, I'd like to hear it.

  4. Jeff Meyerson7:16 AM

    We saw him at the Central Park Summerstage with the rest of the Highwaymen - Willie, Waylon & Kris Kristofferson. This was in May of 1993. They were great - sang group songs and their individual hits, including "Ring of Fire" of course.

  5. My DJ brother Jim Foxwell had the great good fortune of introducing Johnny Cash at a concert in the Philadelphia area some years ago (I think the concert also featured members of the Carter family). Jim said Cash, who had recently emerged from surgery, was gracious, in good voice, and used a line on stage that Jim had given him related to the local town of Folsom. It received a warm response from the audience.