Johnny, Willie, Carole, and James…

…Cash, Nelson, King and Taylor, that is.

The interwebs say that today would have been Johnny Cash’s 84th birthday. This 1) reminded me it has been way to long since I’ve popped my DVD of Walk the Line in and watched it (I loved that movie so much, I actually paid to see in the theater 3 times), and 2) sent me into a tailspin of musical nostalgia.

If I were to create a soundtrack for my childhood, it would, aside from just about every church hymn under the sun, include songs from Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Carole King and James Taylor.

Truth is, I don’t remember how much I actually heard these folks sing, but in my mind’s eye, one of them was always crooning something on the radio or the record player. A few years ago, I saw Willie in concert, and a grizzled old Vietnam vet sitting next to me at the show, said, “Honey, you’re too young to even know who he is! What’re you doing here?”

I laughed, raised my red Solo cup of Falls City to the man and said, “I’m older than you think I am–sound of my childhood, sir!” And then he and I sang along with Willie at the top of our lungs.

I love music of all kinds. Almost always have it playing–at home, in the car, in my office. And I suspect a large part of my brain’s capacity is taken up with lyrics from more genres and eras of music than I could even begin to name.

As anyone who knows me much at all knows, I proclaim Indigo Girls and Bon Jovi my favorite bands all the time. But y’all…you get me listening to Johnny or Willie or Carole or James, and I’m suddenly lost in a swirl of memories so powerful, so real, that I can barely remain in the present.

They’re real, y’all–the way the chords strike just at the center of your heart and leave you feeling things you didn’t know you could feel. The way the lyrics say just what you’ve been wanting to express to yourself or someone else or the world in general and you just couldn’t find the words. The heart break or happiness or loss or longing captured so beautifully with just the right note paired with just the right word. The way the first notes of their most beloved songs begin to play and suddenly you’re anywhere but here.

It’ll undo a girl.

And it’ll remind her, too, of what matters most in this life, what’s worth holding on to no matter the pain or heartache that crops up along the way. Because these singers? They were not perfect human beings (as if anyone is). They weren’t saints of any kind, except in their willingness to share the depths of their beings with us. But God–they’ve lived. A thousand times over. And along the way maybe even taught the rest of us something about what it can mean to love, cry, laugh–all of that–as hard as you can–because somewhere in the midst of it there is such sweet beauty to be found.

Go, right now…play a song you love…let it settle deep in your bones and wash all over your heart…let it get in your soul and remind you of something true and good, even if it means remembering something that hurt more than you thought you could bear.

And if it reminds you of something that helped make you whole? Well…even better…but then you should totally go share it with someone else who might need to be whole, who might need to be loved.

And also, meanwhile…treat yourself to this: Johnny and Willie singing one of my favorites.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Cash.






3 thoughts on “Johnny, Willie, Carole, and James…

  1. Good foursome. Heard Johnny live around, umm, ’69? ’70? in Memphis. In fact had my first fender bender (just a bump) on the way home. Still remember him belting out “Boy Named Sue” in that auditorium. And James in Memphis (7th row) and at Red Rocks. Quite the concert both times. Never caught Willie or Carole. And all indeed with chords / lyrics straight to the heart no matter how often heard. Music, good music, is magic.


  2. Exactly Julie! Listened to Carole King and James Taylor for over an hour with Lindsay yesterday. Soooo many memories and I am always awed by their talent and ability to put words to music. Love!!!


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