Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Johnny Cash: What You Don't Know or Don't Want to Know

There is not much going on this morning, but there is a lengthy article about Johnny Cash at Slate. The point of the article is that his stuff with Rick Rubin was kitsch. Here's a few bits:

"[F]or all their greatness, the Cash-Rubin records give off an unmistakable whiff of cheese. It feels peevish to find fault in albums that contain indelible performances by one of the 20th century's singular troubadours. But if it's possible for music to be both great art and shameless kitsch, look no further."

"[T]he American Recordings albums include some of the most purple musical moments this side of Mantovani. Cash's emotional forthrightness was a refreshing change from irony-choked popular culture. Still, sometimes too much is too much. Many a pop balladeer has been raked over the coals for lesser sins than Cash's corn-pone recitation of the Old West poem 'A Cowboy's Lament.'"

"The problem with all this Cash-worship is that it's reductive. Cash had a long and varied career as an entertainer. Sure, he specialized in gothic country songs and murder ballads, and yes, he had a drug problem, wrecked some hotel rooms, and did other 'rebellious' things. But he also recorded albums of children's music and clowned around with the Monkees on The Johnny Cash Show, a tacky ABC variety program he hosted for two years."

I guess this might all be true, but I don't know why we should care that much. Music journalists love to tell us that we really don't know the truth about our favorite artists and then try to explain to us why our love for those artists is problematic. But has any actual person thought "I love Johnny Cash, but I'm concerned that my affection for him might be reductive"? Maybe there should be some kind of spoiler alert attached to these articles so we'll know that we're going to be told how little we understand our favorite artists. Then we can stay in the dark if we want to.


Anonymous said...

i mean, by the phrases you highlight, i think it's obvious, but the reason we should care is because all these seem like signs of advancement reported by a critic who's unaware of the concept.

to me, the advanced theory is less about staying in the dark than finding the mystery in the dark itself; the joy of not knowing (not in some anti-intellectual way, but kind of like, this seems like a theoretical system where enlightenment is always just beyond your reach and that's not a fault but a pleasure -- advancement is difficult to define because it's always advancing.

p.s. the "personal jesus" and "hurt " covers -- advanced or overt?

Jason Hartley said...

You're totally correct in everything you said. I realized after posting that I do something similar as the killjoys (I say you don't understand why you like certain bands and artists), but you put the difference nicely: "enlightenment is always just beyond your reach and that's not a fault but a pleasure." Also, those covers are certainly Advanced! Thanks for the great comment.