Saturday, December 6, 2008

112. Johnny Cash - At San Quentin

My parents had this album. They played it mostly on Saturday mornings while we were doing chores and I spent a long time dusting the wooden cabinet that housed the stereo while this played, mostly just imagining what it was like to play in a prison.

I must have had a pretty skewed vision of what prison was like, because every time Johnny started singing, I would imagine Johnny sitting in a pit of giant rocks while prisoners in black and white pinstripes, ball and chains attached to their legs, sat around swaying to his music. Maybe I got all my information about prison from exaggerated stories about Alcatraz. I don't know, I just pictured Johnny surrounded by prison guards with loaded guns at the ready in case any of those bad people tried anything funny.

I listened to the music, too. I loved I Walk the Line and Wreck of the Old 97, but I had such a hatred for A Boy Named Sue that I had to leave the room when it came on. That song made me angry. Who the hell would name their son Sue? I listened to the lyrics, I tried to understand it, but my child's mind couldn't grasp much beyond Sue? WTF?

And then I'd come back into the room for Folsom Prison Blues and always, every single time, he would get to that line "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," and I would lose interest in whatever I was supposed to be doing at the time to think about what it would feel like to shoot a man just to watch him die. Then I'd wonder if Johnny Cash actually did that, or did one of the prisoners do that and he was singing to him? And I'd imagine the whole scenario in my head, even though I had no idea where Reno was but I imagined it was some godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere, where bad men who killed indiscriminately hung out and murdered each other for kicks.

It wasn't until many, many years later that I would come to really appreciate Johnny's music. But I still to this day think of that same image of rocks and pinstriped prisoners when I listen to this album and I still have a visceral, irrational hatred for A Boy Named Sue.

Favorite song: Folsom Prison Blues
Review of the re-release (Legacy Edition)


craig said...

Johnny Cash is, quite simply, The Man.

Solonor Rasreth said...

This isn't the best of his live prison albums. That honor goes to At Folsom Prison. There's no "Boy Named Sue" on that one. As Roseanne Cash said, "There's just a giant 'fuck you' in the whole record."

michele said...

I like Folsom better, and a review will come eventually, but this is the one I had more specific memories of.