In February of 2003 I packed up my Honda Accord with whatever possessions I had left and moved from Ft. Collins back to Georgia. I had graduated from CSU a year and a half before, spent my share of time in a couple of restaurant kitchens and believed that I would have better luck finding a ‘real’ job back in Georgia. Needless to say, I was not in a good head space. My father flew out to Colorado to drive back with me. For the trip I picked 12 or 15 CDs into one of those wallet cases, CDs that I hoped would be suitable to both my dad and me.
We left Ft. Collins in the early evening, my father had never driven across the country, and I had done it enough to know that Eastern Colorado and Nebraska are best to drive through during the night. As anyone who has been out east knows, it gets dark in a hurry and it stays dark. My father commented on the lack of traffic, the vastness of the emptiness.
My father was not a music fan, he didn’t hate music, it just wasn’t something he incorporated into his daily life. On that trip I introduced him to Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen and others. But it was Johnny Cash that made the biggest impact. Of course my father knew Johnny Cash and knew the early hits but he had never heard Johnny’s American Recordings series.
Somewhere in the darkness of the high plains I put Cash’s American IV in the CD player. The opening notes of “The Man Comes Around” rattled out of the speakers and hovered between my father and I. Johnny’s voice was so powerful and fragile, his age so apparent, and the heaviness of the song’s lyrics were amplified by the darkness. My father had read his bible many times so he caught all the religious references in the song. I can’t swear to this but I believe my father asked me to play the song again as soon as it was over. For the next hour or so we listened to Johnny Cash’s heart, one song at a time, and only speaking briefly between songs. American IV is an intense album, only made more intense by the surroundings and the circumstances that night. It is the best I have ever heard any music sound. The hour or so of that drive is also my favorite memory I have with my father.
The next night we were still driving, probably somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee, and we listened to the album again. It sounded great but nowhere close to the way it had sounded the night before. Fast forward six months or so. I was talking to my father on the phone when he mentioned that he was at Target earlier that week. He said he was picking up a few basic things and decided to walk through the CD aisle to look for Johnny Cash. Sure enough they had a copy and he bought it. Most likely that is the only CD my father bought his entire life. He listened to it while washing dishes or cutting up vegetables. My mother said sometimes he would dance a little during some of the upbeat songs.
I tell you all of this to tell you that Johnny Cash’s American IV is finally back in print on vinyl! We have copies at the store. We also have American III which is also back in print on vinyl! Hallelujah indeed!