Thursday, November 17, 2005

CBS’s “Tribute” to Johnny Cash

Warning: this is both a review and a rant.

Last night, CBS did a “tribute” to Johnny Cash, which is just another way of saying that they wanted to capitalize on the CMA awards from the night before and the upcoming movie I Walk the Line.

You’d think that a tribute would involve paying homage to the man and his music. But country star Brad Paisley decided to dance around on his grave to the tune of “Folsom Prison Blues.” I always thought that “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” was kind of a downer of a line, as is the whole song. But Mr. Paisley decided that it was a good song for a hoe-down, turning Cash’s usual downbeat style into some kind of upbeat, twangy thing that most people hate about country music (and Johnny Cash was never twangy).

Sheryl Crow then came out on stage. And you’d think dancing around on his grave would be bad enough. But no, one of rock music’s worst performers (and definitely the most overrated) decided that she would dig up Cash’s body and sodomize his corpse with her 9-inch member (you know it’s true), all to the tune of “Ring of Fire.” She tried way too hard to be country and failed miserably at it. One would think that her “All I want to do is have some fun” song would be Crow’s worst performance ever. One would be wrong.

I apologize for any hermaphrodite Sheryl Crow nightmares that you may have. But I’ve had to live with them for years, so you should too. I promise the rest of the post is less scary.

Martina McBride decided to put some class and respect back into the show by performing “I Still Miss Someone.” Her rendition was decent, and at the very least her style fit the song’s message and feel.

Jerry Lee Louis then began a fast version of “I Walk the Line,” and I have to say that up to this point it was the best performance on the show. It was very much listenable. But then Kid Rock crashed the party like some drunk sorority slut, completely eschewing harmony in favor of being Kid Rock. He was tolerable at best when “singing” his own lines, but the two should have stuck to singing separately. Kid Rock would have been much more in his own game if he would have done “A Boy Named Sue.”

U2 then performed a song that I didn’t recognize. Overall they seemed faithful to Cash’s style, but it was about as entertaining as watching sloths mate. Also, the simple fact that it was U2 annoyed me. It’s like they think they’re God’s gift to rock music, when in reality they’re just cocky liberal activists that have just played their instruments decently for a long time.

Next up was Montgomery Gentry performing “Get Rhythm.” It wasn’t too bad, actually. My only complaint is that it seemed a little on the homosexual side, not something that mixes well with country music. And why can’t they play their own guitar solo?

Norah Jones then came out with what was to that point the highlight of the night, with her rendition of “Home of the Blues.” She has a good voice, and she was true to Cash’s subdued tempo and mood. Kris Kristofferson joined her on another song immediately after, one which was originally a duet with June Carter, but which I didn’t recognize. It too was enjoyable.

Then came the best performance of the night, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Kris Kristofferson and the Foo Fighters. I really don’t know what to say about it except that it was truly fitting of the term “tribute.”

Allyson Kraus and Dwight Yokam came out with their rendition of “If I Were a Carpenter,” and it wasn’t bad at all. The tone and tempo were good.

Finally, Jerry Lee Louis came back out with a song I recognized, but for which I don’t recall the name. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either, especially since most or all of the other performers joined him on stage in an attempt to ruin it.

Well CBS, I hope you’re happy now that you’ve let Sheryl Crow destroy Cash’s lifeless pelvic bone. It doesn’t matter how many tolerable/good performances you bring out after that. You can never repair the damage. Thanks for the most mediocre and insulting “tribute” possible. If you wanted to do a real tribute to him you should have asked Glenn Danzig to perform at least one song, perhaps “Thirteen,” which he wrote for Johnny Cash (and which appeared on Unchained) and later performed himself. Or how about Nick Cave? Or freaking Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for God’s sake. They were his backup band, or didn’t you remember that? Why didn’t anyone perform any of his later songs? “The Man Comes Around” is definitely one of the top ten songs Cash ever wrote, and yet there wasn’t anything from his days at the American label—the only time when his producer and label let him do whatever he wanted. Your speakers were also poorly chosen. I doubt they even asked Rick Rubin to come.

Your speakers made a big deal (correctly) about the fact that Cash defied categorization and appealed to all generations of lovers of both country and rock. So why did everyone go out of their way to be country? In all honesty, while Elvis Presley was considered rock, he has had a much larger influence on country. Likewise, while Cash was considered country, he’s influenced rock music to a much larger extent.

In any case, this was not a tribute by any stretch of the word. It was a blatant promotional scheme.


  1. What!? you listen to Johnny Cash. Who wudda thunk it. Believe it our not in my album searching i recently picked up a 'Johnny Cash I Walk the Line album' in not mint but good condition. Pickwick records, no dates on it tho. The original was recorded on Sun records.
    Anyway it's very good listening.
    Shows his simple direct style.
    You are right he was not a twanger.
    My Hillbilly father was a huge fan of his.
    The Media will prostitute anyone.

  2. Is it really that surprising? In all honesty I think it's unfair to call him country. There's nothing really country about his music at all. There's no twang and the lyrics aren't very country either.
    I love his music because of the sheer dignity of the man and his music. The emotion is real and powerful, and his voice is amazing. Cash was a real person with a full range of emotions, who cared about the plights of other people and could put himself in other people's shoes. He also appreciated the full spectrum of music, performing songs by such wide-ranging artists as Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, Tom Petty, Nine Inch Nails, and Danzig.