ohn Carter Cash's very name gives him away as famous offspring; the only child of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash's marital pairing. If you haven't noticed, it's a busy time for time for Cash-related activities, especially because of the new June Carter Cash biography, "Anchored in Love," and the simultaneously released and same-named all-star tribute album to June's musical legacy.
(Photo of John Carter Cash and Loretta Lynn)
"I think that I'm stubborn like my dad, but I can be a little bit easily distracted like my mom," John admits, when asked how he's most like his parents. With the sound of kids playing in the background during our phone conversation, Cash's stubbornness must fight to avoid being distracted by all of the horseplay going on in his home. But it's a battle he mostly wins.
It's tough to imagine just how difficult it must have been for Cash to lose both his parents in 2003, only months apart. But undertaking both these June Carter Cash-related projects has helped him in the grieving process, at least some.
In retrospect, tracking the music came far easier than writing the words
"It was instrumental," he says. "I looked at it as a blessing being able to write the book. I was trying to make up my mind if I would do it, and when I did...it was a hard process to write the book. It was a joyous process to produce the record. But overall, the two together were very healing."
Johnny Cash's imprint upon popular music is unquestionable and unavoidable. With his booming voice, those early clickety-clack song rhythms and distinctive black attire, Cash is a towering icon. In contrast, the recent biopic "Walk the Line" exposed how June Carter Cash developed her gift for humor because she lacked confidence in her singing voice.
And if you're in a pioneering singing group like The Carter Family, low singing esteem is a handicap not to be taken lightly. So, after all is said and done, what in particular is June's musical legacy?
"The song "Ring Of Fire" is one thing," Cash begins. "But she perpetuated The Carter Family's music by singing the songs of the family for years and years. There's a great measure there. Her latter works were great. It's really hard to single out one thing."
When asked to name what he's from his mother, musically, Cash turns his answer into something closer to a life lesson, instead.
"First of all, it's about continuance," Cash replies. "It's about carrying on, pressing on in the face of adversaries, when there is suffering in your life. No matter where you are (so) that you don't stop. That you continue. As far as a musical knowledge, she was a great inspiration in my learning to love the music of The Carter Family. That's a great lesson. There are many blessings, both musically and spiritually."
June Carter Cash impacted many various artists far and wide, which is exemplified by the eclectic mix found on the "Anchored in Love" disc. For instance, onetime New Wave rocker, Elvis Costello, covers "Ring Of Fire," a song June wrote about her early hot love for the young Johnny Cash. There are also three duets. This makes sense because June and Johnny's musical pairings were also some of their best musical moments. Sheryl Crow, who also sang at June's funeral, joins Willie Nelson for "If I Were a Carpenter." Patty Loveless and Kris Kristofferson double up for the touchingly spiritual "Far Side Banks of Jordan," and although it cannot hold a candle to the original, Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn give it their best on "Jackson."
Asking Cash to choose his favorite songs from the disc, as the saying goes, is like forcing him to name his favorite child. Rather than list favorites, however, Cash prefers to fondly recall his many memorable studio experiences, instead.
"The songs are wonderful, but the experiences I had recording them are what stand out," he recalls. "Working with Ralph Stanley or Loretta Lynn in the studio spending time with them; these are the things I'll never forget. (It was) a wonderful blessing to be able to work with Loretta, for one, because she is so much like my mother. It was like being back in the studio with my mother again, working with Loretta. The blessings were great all around, feeling everyone's energy and excitement over the project."
It's easy to understand why Cash calls the June Carter Cash biography a hard process. When you watch the movie "Walk the Line," you may be left with the false impression that once June came into Johnny's life, everybody lived happily ever after.
But such was not the case. June might have helped Johnny kick drugs for a spell, but substance abuse would come back to haunt him again and again, like a ghost, throughout the remainder of his life. John Carter Cash writes candidly about Johnny's medicinal struggles, and he also relates Carlene Carter's well-publicized troubles. Saddest of all, his half-sister Rosie Nix Adams died in 2003, after a long fight with drugs.