Thursday, November 24, 2005

226. One song left, part 1

My niece and I have a tradition of spending Thanksgiving afternoon at the movies, and today we saw "Walk The Line," about the relationship between Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. I'm not a fan of country music--I've tried, I really have--but loved this film. Although I never knew what a sad, complex, and ultimately satisfying life and career he had, or what a strong woman she was (or how appealing Joaquin Phoenix is), I was most moved by the brief insights into how Cash came to write songs that spoke so eloquently from his soul. "Walk The Line," as critics have pointed out, is not really about his music. But enough of that other story survived the cutting room floor for me to do what the best of movies, and literature, encourage--project myself onto the characters, and imagine how their struggles might reflect my own.

I have very, very little in common with Johnny Cash. There was a scene, however, when his band is auditioning for Sam Phillips, the Sun Records owner who gave him his big break. They sing a popular Gospel tune. Phillips stops them in the middle--sorry, I can't make money from this. I'm not convinced you mean it. Cash gets angry; are you telling me I don't believe in God?

Pretend you have only one song left to sing in your life, says Phillips. Would it be this one? Come back when you have that song for me. (According to the review cited above, the more popular version of the quote is "Go home and sin, and then come back with a song I can sell.") So, in true Hollywood fashion, Cash begins to growl out "Folsom Prison Blues" ("I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"), showing us that he's capable of raw, honest emotion and Oscar-caliber acting. Phillips loves it; a star is born.

(To be continued.)

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