Cashing in

Johnny CashWhen you saw Johnny Cash sing, you knew right away that he was the real deal.

I remember watching him perform on the Grand Ole Opry, a show I used to watch religiously on Saturday evenings as a kid. There was no mistaking that quavering, bass voice. No one grabbed the guitar by the neck and wrung soulful music out of it like Cash did. He had a raw and dangerous quality about him, like someone hired by central casting to play a thug in a B-movie.

And there were plenty of rumors to support the image, of brawls, of drugs, of nights wasted in hard drinking.

His music was honest about those things. And honest, too, about his humble appreciation for the forgiveness and love — and peace — he finally discovered at the foot of the cross.

You always knew when you saw Johnny Cash sing that he had made his way down to the church altar more than once, to kneel and weep and ask Jesus to wash him clean.

That’s the part of the story that Walk The Line, the new film about Johnny Cash’s life, doesn’t tell.

In his review of the movie for BeliefNet, Mark Joseph calls the film “a faith-lite version of a faith-filled story.”

There were four great loves in J.R. Cash’s life: music, God, June Carter, and drugs. But “Walk The Line” pretends there were only three. … The Almighty, omnipresent in Cash’s life amidst his struggles to fight addiction, is barely worthy of a mention… Imagine watching a movie about Kurt Cobain and hearing the name of Courtney Love mentioned once or twice as an aside, or for that matter watching Bud Abbott’s life story and never being introduced to Lou Costello. —Mark Joseph, A Faith-Lite Johnny Cash, BeliefNet

To the film’s discredit, Cash’s second wife, June Carter, is elevated to the role of his savior and redeemer:

“Walk The Line” is a love story, with June Carter Cash seeming to get all the credit for helping her man overcome his addictions. The message is a simple one: We are all just the right woman or the right man away from salvation. —Mark Joseph

It’s a shame. But perhaps it’s better to simply let the man speak for himself, through the rich legacy of his recordings and his book: Cash—The Autobiography. You won’t have to listen to Johnny Cash himself for long to hear the stirrings of his faith, and a story of a life transformed by Jesus.

(Photo credit: NBC)

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  1. Charlie:

    I reference your review of ‘Walk the Line,’ along with one by Danny Miller, on my blog. Good post!