By Bruce Sylvester
Johnny Cash was larger than life. He and wife June Carter Cash were also ardent archivists of their own work. Thus their son John Carter Cash’s discovery in their files of the 1981 and 1984 sessions presented on Out Among The Stars (due out Tuesday on Columbia/Legacy). Despite the doldrums state of Cash’s career in the early ’80s, the tracks are impressive. Take the crime-and-retribution title track by Adam Smith (which, not surprisingly, Merle Haggard too has sung), the cover of Hank Snow’s 1950 “I’m Movin’ On” and comic “If I Told You Who It Was” written in the voice of a star-struck but obliging Grand Ole Opry fan.
There’s also “She Used To Love Me A Lot” (a 1985 David Allan Coe hit penned by Rhonda Fleming, Dennis Morgan and Charles Quillen). It’s the basis of the CD’s first arresting video. Directed by John Hillcoat (who previously brought us The Proposition, The Road and Lawless, where Ralph Stanley covered Lou Reed), it’s a fascinating example of a visual artist moving a musical work in totally new directions the authors and performers may never have imagined. Hillcoat’s video takes a forlorn man’s lament over a woman who no longer cares about him and turns it into a chilling portrait of a nation forgetting its outsiders and underdogs – people J.R. Cash long spoke for in song.
This is hardly the first time a woman has become a metaphor for a nation heading in dangerous directions for some of its own citizens. Take Miss Delia in Paul Siebel’s “My Town” from the Vietnam years. There’s also Nick Lowe’s Thatcher era “The Rose Of England.”
Hillcoat has said, “’She Used To Love Me A Lot’ contains all the hallmark brilliance of Cash. The honest simplicity and deep conviction of his delivery shines through. The lyrics seemed to speak to America as it is now, to the nation that loved him and to the great divide he fought so hard against. This divide has only grown exponentially since he died, so we wanted to show America under this stark light and as a homage to the very reason Cash always wore black: to the shameful increase of the disenfranchised and outsiders. At the same time, we wanted to reference the great man’s own struggle and journey from the love of his life to the burnt out ruins of his infamous lake house home, personal photographs, the cave whee he tried to take his life but then turned it all around, the place he last recorded in and his last photo before his passing.”
We can only guess what Mr. Cash would say about the video. Judge for yourself. And look closely at the graffiti on the wall after we see a bitter-faced Native American.