JOHNNY CASH: The Redemption of an American Icon

Most anyone who knows of Johnny Cash knows something about the role of redemption in this legendary artist’s life. What’s great about this film is how succinctly and cohesively it’s put together. The great Johnny Cash was able to somehow transcend genres, age groups, decades, sanctimony, and fame.

Alice Cooper is the first one that mentions how transcendently cool Johnny Cash is.

I’m not sure how he did it, but he made country music cool for a younger generation. A cursory look over his career will probably point to his transparency as an artist. His stories put to song were relatable to the common man. This relatability no doubt had something to do with the man never forsaking or forgetting his identity as a sinner and a saint. His biographic song, “Man in Black,” explained that all too well.

Here’s a well-known man who found Jesus but didn’t lose his brain in the process.

This film uses several interviews with Johnny, his family, and many luminaries in the music business (like Marty Stuart) and in the pulpit (both Billy Graham and Greg Laurie) to piece together the outline of his life.

Insight into his familial and early conflicts (like seeking the approval of his father and the tragic loss of his brother Jack’s life) help construct ideas on what drove him and inspired his songwriting. He looked up to his older brother Jack, who was to be the preacher of the family. One can only speculate that the specter of death may have inspired Johnny to speak so fearlessly about the darkness and suffering of this world.

’80s cowbilly greats Lone Justice once sang that “ya gotta sin to get saved,” and this story of the redemption of an American icon does not gloss over the failures of his life. It stares headlong into the addiction and a failed marriage that he experienced. His recovery and transparency was a healthy breath of fresh air in the world of celebrityism.

This movie makes it clear that Johnny Cash did not just lean on his higher power but fell on Him / surrendered to Him and His Name is Jesus Christ. Johnny not only made it cool to have faith in God, but proclaimed the Name of Jesus with no shame.

Watching this film not only tells the story of Johnny Cash’s redemption, but it’s an entertaining biography of an amazing career. It’s pretty cool to hear the statistic that he outsold the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and a host of others in 1969. It’s a flat-out well-done documentary with great tunes, pacing, and solid commentary.

It’s admirable to see how Johnny Cash drove his career. You never hear about a manager or PR firm dictating to him. It’s apparent that this man called the shots in his career (even though his Columbia Records label did drop him midway through). I don’t ever get the impression that Johnny Cash ever let himself be used by others for any sort of agenda. The Johnny Cash Show on ABC-TV is evidence that he drove the ship that was his career. His inclusion of Gospel music on the show seemingly points to his vote having more pull than the 58-episode show’s directors.

I guess you could say he was a strong, quiet, gentle rebel.

One additional comment I’d like to make is the cool film intro, which involves the up-close screen printing of the movie poster. Brilliant, tasteful decision there.

It was also great (and compelling) to hear so much of the storytelling from Johnny’s son, John Carter Cash. It’s easy to see how much this man admires his dad and his legacy.

Little-known fact: it was John Carter Cash’s 21st birthday party bash where the band One Bad Pig were able to perform for and meet Johnny Cash prior to getting the okay to have him share the vocals on their cover of “Man in Black.”

I’ll try not to spoil the epilogue/ending for you, but there might be a chance to receive the spiritual redemption that Johnny found via the “Sinner’s Prayer.” You never know. Sounds quite fitting to me.

[Photo credit: All stills from the movie Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon]

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