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September 15, 2003

J. R. Cash - Rest In Peace

Mike Kuster

How can you sum up the life of a legend? How can you say goodbye to a man that made music what it is today? What happens when a world loses one of its greatest artists?

J.R. Cash (that's Johnny's real name) was all of these things; a legend, a major influence on today's music, and one of the world's greatest artists.

When he died early Friday morning, it was not a surprise to those who loved him, those who followed his life and career, or those who knew him best. He had struggled for years with bad health. When his wife and soul mate, June Carter Cash, died in May, most of us knew Johnny Cash would not be far behind.

Johnny Cash made it clear since his heart surgery in the late 1980's that he was ready and willing to cross over to the other side. After his surgery, he lay in a coma and willing followed a white light. As he walked toward the light, it dimmed and he awoke to his doctors. He cried when he realized his life had been saved.

His musical career spanned five decades! In the '50s, he burst onto the scene with "Cry, Cry, Cry." His first single, "Hey Porter," did not do very well, but is now considered a classic. His style was simple, yet truly moving and lasting. He quickly rose to the top of the music world.

He had his own television show in the late '60s and through the '70s. His show featured artists from all genres of music. Johnny enjoyed all types of music. One day, he would feature Bob Dylan and sing against war. The next day, he'd be shaking hands with Richard Nixon. He was America.

The '80s saw a decline in record sales, but he still packed every venue.

In the 1990s, Johnny Cash amazed the music industry by continuing to draw new audiences and selling albums. After signing with American, a recording label most famous for rap and heavy metal artists, he released some of his best recordings since Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin. His albums drew a young audience of teens and college students. He began playing clubs regularly featuring alternative rock bands.

At this time, I was the lone country show on WMUC, College Park's radio station. Johnny Cash came to D.C. and played the 9:30 Club. Suddenly, requests for Cash tunes went through the roof. We played everything from the first recordings to the latest from his award winning album, American Recordings.

One of the most recognized voices in the world, Cash was hired for one of the most fitting jobs during the '90s. He read The Bible for a book on tape version of The Book. Not only did Johnny have the voice we imagine sounded like God's, he was one of the most devout and openly Christian entertainers. He lent his voice to many religious causes. He even had prayers during his concerts.

Cash's career continued to skyrocket to the end. Just last month, he was nominated for several MTV awards and won in one category for the video of his cover of a Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt". The video showed eerily featured Johnny looking back on his life, his relationship with June, and seemed to wrap-up his life and career. He had to cancel his appearance on the program due to illness.

Country Music Television named Cash the Greatest Male Artist in Country Music. That, of course, was an understatement. His music transcends country music, but it is his home. Many of his recordings were crossover hits long before Garth Brooks gained fame for that.

Cash is nominated for four awards on the Country Music Awards program in November. He planned on being present for the program. The CMA's will certainly be solemn without him.

Cash was working on American V at the time of his death. He recorded over 50 tunes at his home for the album. He planned on flying to California to select songs from the 50 recordings to be featured on the album set for a 2004 release date.

Also from American, Unearthed is scheduled for release in December. The five-disc album will feature unreleased recordings Cash made for the record company. One of the discs is rumored to be all gospel.

For now, all we can do is celebrate his life, his music, and his love of God and humanity. The following song sums up a legend's wishes:

"Let The Train Blow The Whistle"
Written by Johnny Cash
Published by Song of Cash Inc. ASCAP

I don't want no aggravation
When my train has left the station
If you're there or not, I may not even know
Have a round and remember
Things we did that weren't so tender
Let the train blow the whistle when I go
On my guitar sell tickets
So someone can finally pick it
And tell the girls down at the Ritz I said hello
Tell the gossipers and liars I will see them in the fire
Let the train blow the whistle when I go
Let her blow, let her blow
Long and loud and hard and happy
Let her blow
No regrets, all my debts will be paid
When I get laid
Let her blow, let her blow, let her blow

You'll be left without excuses
For the evils and abuses
Down to today from years and years ago
And have yourself another toke
From my basket full of smoke
And let the train blow the whistle when I go

Let her blow, let her blow
Long and loud and hard and happy
Let her blow
No regrets, all my debts will be paid
When I get laid
Let her blow, let her blow, let her blow.

Rest In Peace, J.R. The world is a better place for knowing you.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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