21 Jul 2010 7:00 am   //   Filed under: Music

Don’t mess with Johnny Cash

Country radio stations recently started spinning a song called “Way Out Here” by Josh Thompson.

At first listen, it’s a celebration of the nobility of the American small town. On the second listen, it’s a rallying cry supporting God and guns, criticizing government welfare, and boasting that people from small towns are more likely to serve in the military. “If it was up to me I’d love to see this country run like it used to be,” Thompson sings.

So it’s a Republican political song. That’s fair. At least, until the chorus comes around, which goes like this:

“We’re about John Wayne, Johnny Cash and John Deere, way out here.”

Oh no he didn’t!

Hearing Josh Thompson summon the name of Johnny Cash is nails on a chalkboard. Johnny Cash was a protest singer, a social justice advocate, a reformer. It’s impossible to imagine him asking for America to be “run like it used to be.” Thompson has Johnny Cash’s politics exactly backwards.

Johnny Cash played his most famous concerts for prisoners. He refused Richard Nixon’s song requests for “Welfare Cadillac” and “Okie From Muskogee.” He stuck up for the poor and the mistreated, flatly denouncing the “white man’s greed” in “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”

But mostly, we remember Cash for writing and singing really good country songs. He used music to tell stories about love and lust and personal struggle. His songs were humble. In “I Walk The Line” and “Ring of Fire,” Cash was singing about the fight to be a good man, not boasting about how great his values were. In “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town,” he was singing about the love of a mother for her son, not taking a stand on gun ownership.

Cash was a religious man and sang about Christ as a vehicle for love. “Man In Black” has these lyrics:

“I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.”

Compare that to this lyric (repeated twice) from “Way Out Here”:

“Our houses are protected by the good Lord and a gun, and you might meet ’em both if you show up here not welcome son.”

Sing what you want to sing, but if that’s your message about God and love, leave Johnny Cash the hell out of it.