FT December 2003: Opinion: Johnny of the Cross

Johnny Cash:

Without doubt, the greatest American artist to die this year was Johnny Cash. Here find a moving elegy to him, "Johnny of the Cross". It may be the best thing I've ever read about the man.

On his final album, he was teaching us how to die. And in a culture that by and large loves death but does not know what to do with it--a culture simultaneously repulsed and attracted by i--Johnny's confrontation with his own imminent demise was largely misunderstood. The critics who complained that his voice was not what it used to be missed the point entirely. It is precisely because his voice was not what it used to be that the songs have such power. The beauty of the record lies in that very frailty, the tremolo in his voice that became more pronounced with each album. Even in his younger days, the inimitable strength and fortitude in his voice was mixed with the occasional moment of weakness, the odd quaver and show of vulnerability. In the last few years those moments became more frequent, and his voice became more diaphonous, disclosing more of the effects of illness.

Yet for that very reason, Cash's voice was all the more beautiful--it had a weakness stronger than others' strengths.

Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily.

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