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"Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music"

By admin Published: August 5, 2008

Johnny and June in their heyday

"P.O.V." tonight (check your local listings) unearths this 1969 documentary about Cash. It's deceptively offhanded, following Cash on the road, visiting old haunts, in the studio (including for a duet with Bob Dylan, then in his "Nashville Skyline" phase, on "One Too Many Mornings"), picking up an award for "Folsom Prison," listening to other musicians and telling stories. ...

You may be surprised by some of the things that are not in the film; director Robert Elfstrom says on the "P.O.V." Web site that he deliberately stayed away from Cash's history of substance abuse because "none of us involved with this film thought that aspect of John had anything to do with his poetry and his music." And there has been some trimming Elfstrom's original film. (As I was watching, I realized that I had seen this years ago, and missed one little piece.) But what remains is a fascinating look at Cash, as a musician and as a man of conscience (although that conscience did not always yield great songwriting).

The conscience issue extends not only to his wanting to carry important ideas into his songs and his way of life, but his treatment of aspiring musicians. When you consider how cosseted performers can be today, it's stunning to see how very accessible Cash was, not only in signing autographs after shows but in listening to a young musician who asks to play songs for Cash. When I look at Cash in that scene, I wonder what exactly he's thinking; he seems distracted and holding back his impatience, but he's also listening -- and he hears enough to offer the kid a career boost. There's another scene, with another musician, where you can see Cash just enjoying a sweet, silly little song about a woman called Biscuit. It's as if there are few things that take down Cash's guard; his wife June is one, and music is another.

Good documentary. Worth a look.

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