One of the advantages of travelling by car is the chance to listen to CDs. For a variety of reasons, I almost never do so at other times. Sigh.
I took a variety of CDs on our recent trip to the mountains. It's the older Johnny Cash CD that I can't get out of my mind: American V: A Hundred Highways. It's an amazing CD, with a variety of spiritual songs.
Some of the songs are flat-out spirituals, like the older "God's Gonna Cut You Down." I loved the last song he ever wrote, "Like the 309." That one is a somber look at aging and death, but it's cut through with humor. It's built around a reference to a train, and that lonely train song shows up again in his cover of Hank Williams' "On the Evening Train," a melancholy song about a husband putting his wife's coffin on the train, while their child weeps.
I wept at his cover of the old Gordon Lightfoot song, "If You Could Read My Mind." I knew that this album was the last one that Cash did before he died, and while I can't be sure that he recorded this song after the death of June Carter Cash, it does have the deep longing and loss wrapped through it.
He also covers Bruce Springsteen's "Further On Up the Road." While it's not overtly a spiritual song, when it's offered in the company of these other songs, sung in the rough voice of an aged Johnny Cash, it's hard NOT to see it as a spiritual look at death. I like that idea that we'll all meet again, even if we're not sure exactly where or how, whether it's later in life or after death.
I'm late to discovering this CD--it's been out since 2006. But what an excellent find! It's an oddly comforting CD, even though hopefully, I'm not at the end of my life. And while I don't agree with all the theology, like a God that will cut us down, it speaks to a heritage that I'm glad to be able to access. Plus, it's a great song.
Many of us likely don't place Cash alongside other great spiritual singers. But listen to this CD, and you might change your mind.
When I got home, I did some research on the album, and discovered that I own the The Rising, the CD from Bruce Springsteen which has his recording of "Further On Up the Road." So I've spent the time since we got home discovering that CD.
Should I say rediscovering? Probably not. I bought the CD shortly after it came out and listened straight through. It was almost too painful to bear. If I listened to it again, it was only once. And then I put it away.
What an amazing CD! And what an amazing song. When I hear Johnny Cash sing it, on the last album he would ever record, my brain goes to death and seeing our loved ones further on up that road. Cash's version is somber and meditative; his voice is both strong and appropriately wavery in places.
Bruce Springsteen gives a more spirited recording. When I listen to him sing at a much faster tempo, I think of folks who need to get out of town quickly. I think of people who live on the margins of the law, of transgressives of all sorts.
Both CDs are perfect for this autumnal time of year, when shadows grow, before the darkness of winter crashes down upon us. It's the time of year when we think we might make a mad dash and avoid the snares that are set for us. It's music for plucky people who might just pull it off.
And if not, we'll all meet further on up the road.
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