Continuing my Ouija Board Q&A sessions with the recently deceased, I was contacted by a spirit claiming to be Johnny Cash*. This happened just the other night. I took the opportunity to speak with him about the soon-to-be released biopic "Walk the Line." It was very interesting to get the legendary ghost's take on the matter…
Orange: Why is it important for you to have this story on screen?
Cash: It's not. What do I look like? Some kind of asshole? Don't get me wrong. It's great that someone would want to tell this story. I wouldn't necessarily want to watch it. I know the story already, don't I? I hope they didn't do a disservice to my name. But then, I'd be ashamed if they held back anything. Its personal, you know? When you're in the midst of a domestic fight or a brawl, you never think in the back of your head that it might someday be projected onto a fifty-foot screen. I guess; I just hope they get it right. There's a lot of history there. Not all of it is mine. It's a tough thing to share. I shared what I wanted through my music and my writing.
Orange: What do you think about the casting choices?
Cash: That was their choice. Not mine. And that's all I'll say about that.
Orange: Is there anything you wish they hadn't shown in the film?
Cash: I haven't seen the film yet.
Orange: Well, is there anything you hope they haven't shown?
Cash: That's a hard question to answer. If it's not in the film, and I don't want them showing it, why would I sit here and tell you about it? Then they might as well have put it in the movie. I don't feel much like discussing my past discursions. That's for other people to do, apparently. I think enough has been written, not all of it's true. You can't control that stuff. It's out of my hands. That's why I wrote my own biography. So I could tell my story, not have it filtered through someone else's eyes.
Orange: What do you think about the title, Walk the Line?
Cash: I wouldn't have picked that title, personally. It's not my style. But from my understanding it does perfectly reflect the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. From what I hear, it focuses a lot of its time on my relationship with June. I Walk the Line is a song about avoiding temptation while married. A lot of the narrative rests on this idea, so I can see why they would have chosen it as a title. A lot of the actual film is based on two different books I wrote. Man in Black andCash: The Autobiography. They couldn't have used either one of those titles. They don't want to confuse my life story with a Will Smith movie, and I understand that. Even though I wrote the books, I don't get a writing credit on the film.
Orange: What would you have called it?
Cash: Thorn tree in a whirlwind. I was in England about seven years ago. I had a dream about Queen Elizabeth, and that's what she said to me. That I was like a "Thorn Tree in a Whirlwind." I couldn't get those words out of my head. There was no real reason for me to be dreaming of Queen Elizabeth. I didn't know what her words meant, but I started doing some research. I studied the bible, and I turned up some things. I based the title song of my last album on these ideas. The Man Comes Around was something I put a lot of work into. I've never put more time into writing a song. It defines me as a man, and it defines my work.
Orange: I understand that a lot of the movie is based on interviews conduct between you and June over the last couple years.
Cash: That is true, but how closely can you stick to the spoken word as truth in storytelling? Movies have got to move. I understand that. Something that took a year to live through takes about a moment of screen time. The filmmakers have to be diligent in draining the emotion from that amount of time in a very sharp, focused pinpoint of a second. You can do it in song. You can do it in image. But you have to do it right. Have they done that? I guess we'll see.
Orange: What do you think of the film's score?
Cash: T-Bone Burnett was a friend of mine. I think he has a pretty good handle on the specific sound that is needed to tell the story. I especially liked the work he did for O' Brother, Where Art thou? He has mastered bluegrass and folk, and he knows how to ease that sound into a very focused sound. The work he did on A Mighty Wind was meant to be humorous, or at least push a humorous story along. But really listen to that music. It stands on its own as true folk music. I'm happy with the choice they made. But from what I understand, the filmmakers have sidestepped the creation of music. They wanted a love story. Throughout the course of the film, it's as if I fall into my musical style as if I've given it no thought. From what I understand, the film gives neither me nor June away as musicians. And that's what its about. The music. That's what I would have wanted my story to be. For the public, the love story should come second. The music should come first. My personal life highly affects my writing. I'm not sure they succeeded in showing that. I do note that the Cash family gave the filmmakers their blessing in making the film. If they are happy with it, then I am happy with it.
Orange: What do you think about The Man Comes Around being used prominently in the remake of Dawn of the Dead?
Cash: I didn't see that. I understand it was a popular movie, and that's a very important song to me, as I told you earlier. So if it means more people get to hear it, maybe the younger people, then that's great. Music was made to be heard, sometimes by any means necessary. I'm not a big fan of horror movies. But I don't mind one of my songs being used in a horror movie, especially if it helps define a moment. From what I understand, it did that perfectly. It wasn't cheap.
Orange: Your first movie was a horror movie. Door-to-Door Maniac could be considered a slasher flick.
Cash: It was made in 1961. That was a different time. Movies weren't as gory back then. More visceral. They didn't rely on blood and guts to sell the audience. I'm not saying Door to Door Maniacs is one of my shinning moments. But it's a different kind of movie then they make today.
Orange: How did you like acting?
Cash: I always enjoyed it. It was fun. I think I would have been better suited to the role of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. But I don't think they would have let me play myself.
Orange: One last question before you disappear…
Cash: Son, I'm Johnny Cash. I'll never disappear.
Orange: True, true…But some of your music has. My favorite album of yours is The Baron. I have it on 8 Track Tape, but I want to know when they're going to release it on CD?
Cash: Good question. You'd have to ask the studio heads that own the rights to release that. I'm not sure. You know I made a movie based on the title track.
Orange: I did not know that. Is that song actually a metaphor for a father that finds out his son is gay?
Cash: It's what you want it to be about. If that's what you get out of it, then that's what you get out of it.
Orange: Thank you for your time.
Cash: Any time, son. And remember, Instinct is vital. Listen to your heart.
(*To avoid a liable case from the Cash estate, we here recognize that this may not have been Johnny Cash speaking from the grave, but some other deceptive spirit masquerading as the legendary country crooner. Though, I have a pretty good hunch that it was him.)
Dont't forget to also check out: Walk the Line