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Other segments from the episode on September 12, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 12, 2003: Interview with Johnny Cash; Review of the film "lost in translation."


DATE September 12, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Johnny Cash discusses his life and his music

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

Johnny Cash, one of the most influential figures in country music, died today.
He was 71. Cash died after a lengthy and debilitating illness. For six
years, he had struggled with autonomic neuropathy, a disease affecting the
nervous system. According to Baptist Hospital in Nashville, he died from
respiratory failure due to complications from diabetes. Yet during those
years of illness, Cash continued to write and record songs as well as cover
the songs of others. He won a Grammy earlier this year for best male country
vocal performance for his recording of "Give My Love to Rose." His recent
albums, including his versions of edgy songs by Nine Inch Nails and Sting,
earned strong reviews and reached many more fans than just the hard-core
country audience. Lots of his songs involved darkness and death, including
this one, recorded and released last year.

Mr. JOHNNY CASH: And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder. One of the
four beasts saying, `Come and see,' and I saw, and behold, a white horse.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) There's a man goin' around takin' names, and he decides
who to free and who to blame. Everybody won't be treated all the same.
There'll be a golden ladder reaching down when the man comes around. The
hairs on your arm will stand up at the terror in each sip and in each sup.
Will you partake of that last offered cup or disappear into the potter's
ground when the man comes around?

BIANCULLI: Johnny Cash performing his own composition "The Man Comes Around,"
the title track off his most recent CD.

For Cash, pushing musical boundaries and exploring different styles was
nothing new. Almost 50 years ago, he was one of the Sun Records' stable of
artists in Memphis, a group that also included Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins
and Roy Orbison. Over the decades, his hits included "Folsom Prison Blues,"
"I Walk the Line," "Ring of Fire" and the novelty song, "A Boy Named Sue".
Throughout his career, he has inspired and worked with musicians from many
ends of the spectrum; most famously with Bob Dylan who not only recorded with
Cash but appeared on Cash's TV variety show in the late 1960s. He's one of
the few artists honored by both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame.

Cash was on a 1997 book tour to promote his autobiography when he learned of
his illness. He canceled the rest of the tour but not before Terry had
interviewed him in a lengthy conversation covering both his new and old work.

(Soundbite of interview)


Your career has in many ways been about both the sacred and the profane.
You've always been Christian and have always sung hymns. And, on the other
hand, there were times in your life, as you write in your book, when you've
been in and out of jails, hospitals, car wrecks, when you were a walking
vision of death, and that's exactly how you felt, you say in your book.

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Have you always been aware of that contradiction, you know, of the
sacred and the profane running through your life?

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Kristofferson wrote a song, and in that song was a
line that says--he wrote the song about me--`He's a walking contradiction,
partly truth and partly fiction.' And I've always explored the various areas
of society and the lovely young people, and I had an empathy for prisoners and
did concerts for them, back when I thought that it would make a difference,
you know, that they really were there to be rehabilitated.

GROSS: You grew up during the Depression. What are some of the things that
your father did to make a living while you were a boy?

Mr. CASH: My father was a cotton farmer first, but he didn't have any land,
or what land he had he lost it in the Depression. So he worked as a woodsman
and cut pulpwood for the paper mills. He rode the rails in boxcars going from
one harvest to another to try to make a little money picking fruit or
vegetables. Did every kind of work imaginable, from painting to shoveling to
herding cattle. And he's always been such an inspiration to me because of the
varied kinds of things that he did and the kind of life he lived. He inspired
me so, all the things he did so far from being a soldier in World War I to
being an old man in his patio sitting on the porch watching the dogs, you
know? I think about his life, and it would inspire me to go my own other
direction, and I just like to explore minds and the desires of people out

GROSS: You know, it's interesting that you say your father inspired you so
much. I'm sure you wouldn't have wanted to lead his life picking cotton.

Mr. CASH: I did, until I was 18 years old, that is. Then I picked the guitar
and I've been picking it since.

GROSS: Right. Did you have a plan to get out? Did you very much want to get
out of the town where you were brought up and get out of picking cotton?

Mr. CASH: Yeah. I knew that when I left there at the age of 18, I wouldn't
be back. And it was common knowledge among all the people there that when you
graduate from high school here, you go to college or go get a job or something
and do it on your own. And having been familiar with hard work, it was no
problem for me. At first, I hitchhiked to Pontiac, Michigan, and got a job
working in Fisher Body making those 1951 Pontiacs. I worked there three
weeks, got really sick of it, went back home and joined the Air Force.

GROSS: You have such a wonderful deep voice. Did you start singing before
your voice changed?

Mr. CASH: Oh, yeah. I got no teeth. Plus, today, I've got a cold. But
when I was so young, I had a high tenor voice. I used to sing Bill Monroe
songs, and I'd sing Dennis Day songs...

GROSS: Oh, no.

Mr. CASH: they sing on--yeah, songs that they'd sing on "The Jack
Benny Show."


Mr. CASH: Every week he sang an old Irish folk song, and next day in the
fields, I'd be singing that song if I was working in the fields. And I always
loved those songs, and with my high tenor, I thought I was pretty good, you
know, almost as good as Dennis Day, but when I was 16, my father and I cut
wood all day long swinging that crosscut saw and hauling wood. And when I
walked in the back door late that afternoon, I was singing, `Everybody gonna
have religion in glory, everybody gonna be singin' the story.' I'd sing those
old gospel songs for my mother, and she said, `Is that you?' And I said,
`Yes, ma'am.' And she came over and put her arms around me and said, `God's
got his hands on you.' I still think of that, you know?

GROSS: She realized you had a gift.

Mr. CASH: That's what she said, yeah. She called it `the gift.'

GROSS: How did you feel about your voice changing? It must have stunned you,
if you were singing like Dennis Day and then suddenly you're singing like
Johnny Cash.

Mr. CASH: Well...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CASH: ...I don't know. I guess when I was a tenor, I just--and when it
changed, I thought, `Well, it goes right along with these hormones and
everything's working out really good, you know?' I felt like my voice was
becoming a man's voice.

GROSS: Right. Right. So did you start singing different songs as your voice
got deeper?

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm. "Lucky Old Sun," "Memories are Made of This," "Sixteen
Tons." I developed a pretty unusual style, I think. If I'm anything, I'm not
a singer, but I'm a song stylist.

GROSS: What's the difference?

Mr. CASH: Well, I say I'm not a singer, so that means I can't sing,
but--doesn't it?

GROSS: Well--but, I mean, that's not true. I understand you're making a
distinction but you certainly can sing. Yeah.

Mr. CASH: Thank you.

GROSS: Go ahead.

Mr. CASH: Well, a song stylist just likes to take an old folk song like
"Delia's Gone" and do a modern white man's version of it. A lot of those I
did that way, you know? I would take songs that I'd loved as a child and redo
them in my mind for the new voice I had, the low voice.

GROSS: I know that you briefly took singing lessons and you say in your new
book that you're singing teacher told you, you know, `Don't let anybody change
your voice. Don't even bother with the singing lessons.' How did you end up
taking lessons in the first place?

Mr. CASH: My mother did that, and she was determined that I was going to
leave the farm and do well in life. And she thought with the gift I might be
able to do that. So she took in washing. She got a washing machine in 1942
as soon as we got electricity, and she took in washing. She'd wash the
schoolteacher's clothes and anybody she could and sent me for singing lessons
for $3 per lesson, and that's how she made the money to send me.

GROSS: What was your reaction when the teacher told you, `Don't let anybody
change what you're doing,' you know, `I'm not going to teach you anymore'?

Mr. CASH: I was pretty happy about that. I didn't really want to change, you
know? I felt good about my voice.

BIANCULLI: Johnny Cash speaking with Terry Gross in an interview recorded in
1997. Cash died today at age 71 after a lengthy illness. We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's hear more from Terry's 1997 interview with Johnny Cash. He
died earlier this morning at age 71.

(Soundbite of interview)

GROSS: You left home when you were about 18. And then how old were you when
you actually went to Memphis?

Mr. CASH: Well, I went to Memphis after I finished the Air Force in 1954. I
lived on that farm until I went to the Air Force. I was on there four years,
and when I came back, I got married and moved to Memphis, got an apartment,
started trying to sell appliances at a place called Home Equipment Company.
But I couldn't sell anything. I didn't really want to. All I wanted was the
music then. If somebody in the house was playing music when I would come, I
would stop and sing with them. Like one time, Gus Cannon, the man who wrote,
"Walk Right In," which was a hit for The Rooftop Singers--and I sat on the
front porch with him day after day, when I found him, and sang those songs.

GROSS: When you got to Memphis, Elvis Presley had already recorded "That's
All Right." Sam Phillips had produced him for his label Sun Records. You
called Sam Phillips and asked for an audition. Did it take a lot of nerve to
make that phone call?

Mr. CASH: No. It just took the right time. I was fully confident that I
was going to see Sam Phillips and to record for him, but when I called him, I
thought, `I'm going to get on Sun Records.' So I called him and he turned me
down flat. Then two weeks later, I called him, turned down again. He told me
over the phone that he couldn't sell gospel music because it was independent
and not a lot of money, you know? So I didn't press that issue. But one day
I just decided I'm ready to go, so I went down with my guitar and sat on the
front steps of his recording studio. I met him when he came in, and I said,
`I'm John Cash. I'm the one who's been calling. And if you'd listen to me, I
believe you'll be glad you did.' And he said, `Come on in.' That was a good
lesson for me, you know, to believe in myself.

GROSS: What was the audition like?

Mr. CASH: It was about three hours of singing with just my guitar, songs, a
lot of them, like the songs that are in my first "American Recordings" album.

GROSS: So what did Phillips actually respond to most of the songs that you
played him?

Mr. CASH: He responded most to a song of mine called, "Hey Porter," which
was on the first record. But he asked me to go write a love song or maybe a
bitter weeper. So I wrote a song called "Cry! Cry! Cry!," went back in and
recorded that for the other side of the record.

GROSS: Now you say in your book you had to do 35 takes of "Cry! Cry! Cry!"
Why did it take so many takes?

Mr. CASH: It was too simple. We were trying to make something complicated
out of it, and it was the simplest song in the world ever written. And
invariably, at some time during a take, the guitar player would mess up or
the bass player, or I would mess up and we'd have to do it over. It's not
unusual, though, to do a song 35 times.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear "Cry! Cry! Cry!" which was on the first single
that Sun Records released by you.


(Soundbite of "Cry! Cry! Cry!")

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Everybody knows where you go when the sun goes down. I
think you only live to see the lights uptown. I wasted my time when I would
try, try, try, 'cause when the lights have lost their glow, you cry, cry,
cry. Soon your sugar daddies will all be gone. You'll wake up some cold day
and find you're alone. You'll call for me, but I'm gonna tell you bye, bye,
bye. When I turn around and walk away, you'll cry, cry, cry. You're gonna
cry, cry, cry and you'll cry alone. When everyone's forgotten and you're left
on your own, you're gonna cry, cry, cry.

GROSS: So this record was the beginning of your recording career. What was
it like when you started to go on tour? You know, after coming from the
cotton fields--it's true, I mean, you'd been in the Army and you'd been
abroad, you know, with the Army. But what was it like for you in the early
days of getting recognized, you know, traveling around the country?

Mr. CASH: Well, when I started playing concerts, I went out from Memphis to
Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, played the little towns there. But I would
go out myself in my car and set up the show or get the show booked in those
theaters. And then along about three months later, Elvis Presley asked me to
sing with him at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis. And I sang, "Cry! Cry!
Cry!" and "Hey Porter." And from that time on, I was on my way, and I knew
it, I felt it and I loved it. So Elvis asked me to go on tour with him, and I
did. I worked with Elvis four or five tours in the next year or so. And I
was always intrigued by his charisma. You know, I just--you can't be in a
building with Elvis without looking at him, you know, and he inspired me so
with his fire and energy that I guess that inspiration from him really helped
me to go.

GROSS: It's funny, I think of your charisma and his charisma as being very
different forms of charisma because, I mean, he would move around so much on
stage, and I think of your charisma as being a very kind of still, stoic kind
of charisma.

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, I'm an old man to him. I'm four years
older than he was. So I was 23 when I started recording and Elvis was 19.
And I was married, he wasn't. So we didn't have a lot in common, common
family life. But we liked each other and appreciated each other, so he asked
me to tour with him.

GROSS: Did you want that kind of adulation that he was getting from girls who
would come see him?

Mr. CASH: I don't remember if I wanted it, but I loved it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. CASH: Yeah, I did. But I only got it to a very small degree compared to

GROSS: Right. What were the temptations like for a young married man like
yourself on the road, you know, slowly becoming a star?

Mr. CASH: Fame was pretty hard to handle, actually. The country boy in me
tried to break loose and take me back to the country, but the music was
stronger. The urge to go out and do the gift was a lot stronger. And the
temptations were women, girls, which I loved and then amphetamines, not very
much later, running all night, you know, in their cars on tour. And the
doctors got these nice pills that give us energy and keep us awake. So I
started taking those, and I liked them so much I got addicted to them. And
then I started taking downers or sleeping pills to come down and rest after
two or three days. So it became a cycle. I was taking the pills for a while
and then the pills started taking me.

GROSS: I want to play what I think was your first big hit, "I Walk the

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm. That was my third record.

GROSS: And you wrote this song. Tell me the story of how you wrote it and
what you were thinking about at the time.

Mr. CASH: In the Air Force, I had an old Wilcox K(ph) recorder and used to
hear guitar runs on that recorder going `doon, doon, doon, doon,' like the
chords on "I Walk the Line." And I always wanted to write a love song using
that theme, you know, that tune. And so I started to write the song. And I
was in Gladewater, Texas, one night with Carl Perkins, and I said, `I've got a
good idea for a song.' And I sang him the first verse that I had written, and
I said, `It's called "Because You're Mine."' And he says, "I Walk the Line"
is a better title. And so I changed it to "I Walk the Line."

GROSS: No reading of your own life when you wrote that?

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm. It was kind of a prodding to myself to play it straight,

GROSS: And was this--I think I read that this was supposed to be a ballad. I
mean, it was supposed to be slow when you first wrote it.

Mr. CASH: That's the way I sing it, yeah, at first. But Sam wanted it, you
know, up-tempo, and I put paper in the strings of my guitar to get that `oom
chi chi, oom chi chi, oom chi chi' sound, and with a bass and a lead guitar,
there it was, bare and stark, that song was, when it was released. And I
heard it on the radio and I really didn't like it, and I called him Sam
Phillips and asked him please not send out any more records of that song.


Mr. CASH: He laughed at me. I just didn't like the way it sounded to me. I
didn't know I sounded that way, and I didn't like it; I don't know. But he
said, `Let's give it a chance.' And it was just a few days until--that's all
it took to take off.

GROSS: That's funny. I mean, you'd heard your voice before, hadn't you?

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: But--so it was something in your own singing you weren't liking when
you heard it?

Mr. CASH: Well, the music and my voice together, I just felt like it was
really weird, but I got used to it very quickly. I don't know that--I didn't
hate it, but I just didn't like it. I thought I could do better.

BIANCULLI: Johnny Cash speaking with Terry Gross in an interview recorded in
1997. Cash died today at age 71 after a lengthy illness. We'll hear more in
the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my
eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you're mine, I walk the line.

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, back with more of Terry's
1997 interview with Johnny Cash, who died today at age 71. But before that,
let's hear from his former son-in-law, Nick Lowe, who wrote the song "The
Beast in Me" specifically for Johnny Cash. Lowe spoke with Terry in 1995.

(Soundbite of 1995 interview)

Mr. NICK LOWE: It was a little task I set myself, I suppose. I suppose I
thought about it originally in 1980, and I thought up this terrific title,
"The Beast in Me, which I thought would be so--that's a start, I thought, for
Johnny Cash. And I wanted to get a few sort of crypto religious, you know,
terms in there and things like that. It was a kind of cynical exercise except
I thought the title was really good.


Well, what was cynical about this?

Mr. LOWE: Well, because, you know, it was a sort of paint-by-numbers kind of
thing, I suppose I was thinking of. You know, I thought, `Yes, this is a big
man torn down, you know, because of this terrible thing within him,' you know.
And I thought, this is right up John's street. And I thought up this song,
and the first verse came very, very quickly. And it was one of those songs,
really, where I said it all in the first verse. I couldn't really think of
what else to say. Nonetheless, being the consummate professional that I am, I
went ahead and I finished the song rather quickly, really. And John, being
the lovely man and wonderful musician that he is, spotted this, and he could
see that I'd rushed this thing. And he said to me, you know, gently, `Look,
you're onto a good thing here, but you haven't quite got it right. I think
you should have another shot at this,' and which I did, periodically. I'd
sort of mentally get the song out and dust it off, generally, after I'd seen
him in the intervening years.

As I say, this is 1980 when I first thought it up. And he always, you
know--whenever I'd see him, he'd say, `How's "The Beast in Me" song going,
Nick?' And so I'd dust it off a bit, and I wouldn't really get any further,
and he'd always ask me how it was going. And the year before last, I had a
sort of revelation. I realized the song wasn't actually really about Johnny
Cash at all; it was kind of about me and most people I know. And once I
realized that, suddenly, you know, kind of a light went on and I managed to
finish the song quite easily and it all seemed to fall into shape. And I
can't understand what all the trouble I had with it was.

GROSS: So once you realized that it was about the beast in you also, there
was more to be said?

Mr. LOWE: It's more the beast in one.

GROSS: The beast in one. I like that.

Songwriter and singer Nick Lowe recorded in 1995. Let's listen to Johnny
Cash's recording of "The Beast in Me."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile
bars, restless by day, and by night rants and rages at the stars. God help
the beast in me. The beast in me has had to learn to live with pain and how
to shelter from the rain, and in the twinkling of an eye, might have to be
restrained. God help the beast in me.

BIANCULLI: Johnny Cash singing "The Beast in Me," written by his former
son-in-law, Nick Lowe.

Now let's get back to Terry's interview with Johnny Cash recorded in 1997.

(Soundbite of 1997 interview)

GROSS: I think it was in the late 1950s that you started doing prison
concerts, which you eventually became very famous for.

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What got you started performing in prison?

Mr. CASH: Well, I had a song called "Folsom Prison Blues" that was a hit just
before "I Walk the Line." And people in Texas heard about it at the state
prison and got to writing me letters asking me to come down there. So I
responded, and then the warden called me and asked if I would come down and do
a show for the prisoners in Texas. And so I went down, and there's a rodeo at
all these shows that the prisoners have there, and in between the rodeo
things, they asked me to set up and do two or three songs. So that was what I
did. I did "Folsom Prison Blues," which they thought was their song, you
know; and "I Walk the Line," "Ring"--"Hey Porter," "Cry! Cry! Cry!"

And then the word got around on the grapevine that Johnny Cash was all right
and that you ought to see him, so the requests started coming in from other
prisons all over the United States. And then the word got around. So I
always wanted to record that, you know, to record a show. Because of the
reaction I got, it was far and above anything I had ever had in my life, the
complete explosion of noise and reaction that they gave me with every song.
So then I came back the next year and played the prison again, the New Year's
Day show; came back again a third year and did the show. And then I kept
talking to my producers at Columbia about recording one of those shows. `It's
so exciting,' I said, `that the people out there ought to share that, you
know, and feel that excitement, too.' So a preacher friend of mine named
Floyd Gressett set it up for us, and Leo Robin and a lot of other people
involved at Folsom Prison. So we went into Folsom on February 11th, 1968, and
recorded a show live.

GROSS: Before we hear one of the tracks from that live album, tell me what
kind of reaction surprised you the most when you were performing for

Mr. CASH: Well, what really surprised me was any kind of prison song I could
do no wrong, you know. Whatever, "The Prisoner's Song" or "San Quentin" song
of mine. But they felt like they could identify with me, I suppose. I came
from--I sing songs like "Dark as a Dungeon" or "Bottom of a Mountain," songs
about the working man and the hard life. And, of course, they'd been through
the hard life, all of them, or they wouldn't be there, so they kind of related
to all that, I guess, the songs that I chose. Very little of love songs, very
few; mostly, you know, songs about the down-and-outer. And so then requests
started coming in for me to go to other prisons, and it got overwhelming. So
I decided I would do two or three and I wouldn't do any more because, for one
thing, my wife was scared to death, and the other women on the show were, too,
so I decided not to. It was still a great experience to get on stage and
perform for those people.

GROSS: Why don't we hear "Folsom Prison Blues" from your "Live at Folsom
Prison" record?

This is Johnny Cash.

(Soundbite of "Folsom Prison Blues")

Mr. CASH: Hello. I'm Johnny Cash.

(Soundbite of applause and music)

Mr. CASH: I hear the train a-coming, it's rollin' round the bend. And I
ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. I'm stuck in Folsom Prison
and time keeps dragging on. But that train keeps a rollin' on down to San
Antone. When I was just a baby, my mama told me, `Son, always be a good boy.
Don't ever play with guns.' But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin', I hang my head and cry.

GROSS: I guess Merle Haggard was in the audience for one of your San Quentin

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: It must have been pretty exciting to find that out. That was before
he had recorded, I think, that he was in there.

Mr. CASH: Yeah. Yeah, '68 and '69, right on the front row was Merle Haggard.

GROSS: Yeah, and who knew?

Mr. CASH: I didn't know. I didn't know that until about 1963, '62. He told
me all about it. He saw every show that I did there, and, of course, the rest
is history for Merle. He came out and immediately had success himself.

GROSS: You know, it's interesting; you've always or almost always worn black
during your career. And I was interested in reading that your mother hated
it, too.

Mr. CASH: Yeah. Yeah, she did.

GROSS: So we have something in common. Mothers don't like black.

Mr. CASH: Yeah. I love it.

GROSS: Me, too. But you gave in for a while. She started making you bright,
flashy outfits, even a nice white suit.

Mr. CASH: Yes. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What did it feel like for you to be on stage in bright colors or all
in white?

Mr. CASH: Well, that was 1956 and I hadn't been wearing the black for very
long. Color's OK. I would wear anything my mother made me, you know. I just
couldn't afford to turn her down. But before long, I decided to start with
the black and stick with it because it felt good to me on stage that--a figure
there in black and everything coming out his face; that's the way I wanted to
do it.

BIANCULLI: Johnny Cash speaking with Terry Gross in an interview recorded in
1997. Cash died today at age 71 after a lengthy illness. We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our interview with Johnny Cash, who died earlier
today at the age of 71. Terry Gross spoke with him in 1997 and asked him
about his marriage and musical partnership with June Carter Cash, whom he
married in 1968. They performed together for many years.

(Soundbite of 1997 interview)

GROSS: What was it like traveling with a family instead of being on your own,
being on your own leaving the family behind?

Mr. CASH: I really don't like to do an appearance without June Carter. And
what it would be like being alone, it would be awfully lonely, to me. I'm
very comfortable with, you know, how we do it, my wife and my son on the show
and a daughter or two. And it feels so good. I would hate to think to have
to do it all alone.

GROSS: Did it change your life to have a family that really understood the
performing life because it was their life, too?

Mr. CASH: Very much so, yeah. Right.

GROSS: What was the difference? I mean, why was that so important?

Mr. CASH: Well, there's something about families singing together that is
just better than any other groups you can pick up or make, you know. If it's
family, there's blood on blood, and it's going to be better. The voices
singing their parts are going to be tighter and they're going to be more on
pitch because, as I say, it's blood line on blood line. And it's always
really comfortable and easy for me to sing with June or any of those girls.

GROSS: A few years ago, you started making records with Rick Rubin. Tell me
how you and he first met up. It seemed initially like a very improbable
match. He had produced a lot of rap records and produced the Beastie Boys and
Red Hot Chili Peppers. You know, it would seem like a surprising match. It
ended up being a fantastic match. How did he approach you?

Mr. CASH: Well, my contract with Mercury/Polygram in Nashville was about to
expire, and I never had really been happy. The record company just didn't put
any promotion behind me. I think one album, maybe the last one I did, they
had pressed 500 copies. And I was just disgusted with it. So I decided I'll
just do my thing, I'll do my tours and writing and that's all I need. So
that's what I was trying to do. But I got hungry to be back in the studio, to
be creative and put something down, you know, for the fans to hear. And about
that time that I got to feeling that way, Leo Robin, my manager, came to me
and talked to me about a man called Rick Rubin that he had been talking to
that wanted me to sign with his record company; it was American Recording. I
said, `I like the name. Maybe it'll be OK.' So I said, `I'd like to meet the
guy. I'd like for him to tell me what he can do with me that they're not
doing now.'

So he came to my concert in Orange County, California--I believe this was,
like, '83 when he first came--and listened to the show, and then afterwards, I
went in the dressing room and sat and talked to him. And, you know, he had
his hair--I don't think it's ever been cut, and very--dresses like a hobo,
usually. Clean, but--well, it's the kind of guy I really felt comfortable
with, actually. I think I was more comfortable with him than I would have
been with a producer with a suit on. But I said, `What are you going to do
with me that nobody else has been able to do, to sell records with me?' And
he said, `Well, I don't know that we will sell records.' He says, `I would
like you to go with me and sit in my living room with a guitar and two
microphones and just sing to your heart's content everything you ever wanted
to record.' I said, `That sounds good to me.'

So I did that. And day after day, three weeks I sang for him. And when I
finally stopped he had been saying--like the last day or so, he'd been saying,
`Now I think we should put this one in your album.' So without him saying, `I
want to record you and release an album,' he started saying, `Let's put this
one in the album.' So the album, this big question, you know, began to take
form, take shape. And Rick and I would weed out the songs. There were songs
that didn't feel good to us that we would say, `Let's don't consider that
one.' And then we'd focus on the ones that we did like, that felt right and
sounded right. And if I didn't like the performance on that song, I would
keep trying it and do take after take until it felt comfortable with me and
felt that it was coming out of me and my guitar and my voice as one, that it
was right from my soul. That's how I felt about, you know, all those things
in that first album, and I got really excited about it.

But then we went into the studio and tried to record some with different
musicians and it didn't sound good; it didn't work. So we put together the
album with just the guitar and myself.

GROSS: Now aren't you really glad you did it that way? There's something
just so naked about it. There's something...

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...just so emotionally naked...

Mr. CASH: ...(Unintelligible).

GROSS: ...and there's so much emotion in your voice. And it just all, you
know, comes across really clearly.

Mr. CASH: Thank you.

GROSS: I think these records on the touring that you've done with them has
helped introduce you to a younger audience that wasn't around during your
earlier hits and maybe knew your reputation but didn't really know your music
very well. And I'm wondering what that experience has been like for you to
play to younger audiences who are first getting acquainted with your music.

Mr. CASH: Oh, it feels like 1955 all over again. It really does. It really
does. And the ones who've been into my new recordings are becoming familiar
with some of the old stuff like "Folsom" and "I Walk the Line" and "Ring of
Fire," and those songs now just really get a reaction like I did on my songs
back in the '50s. But it feels so good with those young people, and the
adulation, I just love it. I've always been a big ham; I just eat it up. No,
I'm very appreciative to them.

GROSS: I want to play something from your first collaboration with Rick
Rubin, which came out, I guess, a couple of years ago. And this is your
reworking of the old song "Delia's Gone."

Mr. CASH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And you made this the story of a murderer, and it's a very chilling
song with the lyric that you've written and the way that you sing it. Tell me
why you wanted to rewrite the song and how you first knew the song.

Mr. CASH: Well, there were bits in the lyrics of the old song of a good
story. I mean, he thinks about the woman, he kills the woman and buries her.
And then he hears her footprints in the night around his cell. But the song
is an old "Levee Camp Holler" that was sung by the people who were building
the levees back in the teens and early '20s. And I always loved the song, but
when I recorded it the first time in the early '60s, I changed some of the
lyrics and added some. And then when I recorded the song this time, I wrote a
couple of new verses and changed some of the other words. So the song, it
seems to me, is still part of me in my soul, on my mind, and that's why I
worked it over and added something to it.

GROSS: Why don't we hear "Delia's Gone" from Johnny Cash's "American
Recordings" CD?

And, Johnny Cash, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CASH: I want to say you're really good at what you do, and I appreciate
you. Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Johnny Cash speaking to Terry Gross in an interview recorded in
1997. He died today at age 71.

(Soundbite of "Delia's Gone")

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Delia, oh, Delia. Delia all my life. If I hadn't have
shot poor Delia, I'd have had her for my wife. Delia's gone, one more round,
Delia's gone. I went up to Memphis and I met Delia there, found her in her
parlor and I tied her to her chair. Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's
gone. She was lowdown and trifling, and she was cold and mean, kind of evil,
make me want to grab my submachine. Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's

First time I shot her, I shot her in the side. Hard to watch her suffer, but
with the second shot she died. Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.
But jailer, oh, jailer, jailer, I can't sleep 'cause all around my bedside I
hear the patter of Delia's feet. Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, a review of "Lost in Translation." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Movie "Lost in Translation"

Sofia Coppola, the daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola, bombed as an
actress in "Godfather III," but she established herself as a filmmaker three
years ago with her film "The Virgin Suicides." Her new film is "Lost in
Translation," and it stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Film critic
David Edelstein has a review.


The first shot of Sofia Coppola's second movie is a real head scratcher. It's
a rare view of the teen-age actress Scarlett Johansson on a hotel bed with her
butt crack visible through her sheer pink panties as she stares through the
window at the high-rises of Tokyo. The title of the movie appears one word at
a time, "Lost in Translation." The meaning of this image is less transparent
than her attire, but my guess is that Coppola wants us to see the whole film
as the vaguely erotic dream of an alienated young woman. She wants to make
this woman's detachment from Japanese culture and from her own body
hypnotically sexy and to put the longing for human connection into her
bloodstream. I think she pulls it off.

I'm not sure that "Lost in Translation" is the masterpiece that some of its
early adherents have claimed. But as a romantic essay on being locked in
one's own head, it casts a potent spell, and it features the Bill Murray
performance we've been waiting for, the one that somehow connects his ironic
detachment with a deep and abiding sense of isolation so that "Saturday Night
Live" meets Chekhov.

Johansson plays Charlotte, a 25-year-old ex-philosophy major, visiting Japan
with her husband, a successful show biz photographer played by Giovanni Ribisi
as a jabbering whirlwind who barely makes eye contact. In their cool,
ultramodern hotel, which feels like a space station, Charlotte wanders the
corridors or sits on the windowsill of her room hugging her bare knees and
staring at the city from afar. She can't sleep at night, and neither can
Murray's Bob Harris, a fading American movie star getting $2 million to make a
series of commercials for a Japanese whiskey, Suntory. When Bob arrives in
Tokyo, he stares out of his limo at his own image on a building-sized Suntory
poster, and he blinks and shakes his head. The sense of being outside himself
is total.

Far removed from the city, the culture, the language, Charlotte and Bob seem
like prisoners in their own heads, where they feel the lack of connection in
their lives more intensely than on their home turf. Charlotte is a stranger
to her hot-shot husband. Bob is in a long and seemingly loveless marriage
held together by children who won't even talk to him on the phone. The movie
pokes along as Bob and Charlotte drift together, first over drinks in the sky
lounge, then through the streets and arcades and restaurants of Tokyo. The
structure is shaky, and the drama often nebulous. Coppola might have lost us
without Bill Murray's constant hilarious riffing with the Japanese, who
bewilder him, and with Charlotte, who he understands almost too well.

Murray's mock, suave irony has always been based on not opening up
emotionally. It's a triumph over vulnerability. So how does he go from there
to seeming exquisitely vulnerable in a single line? Listen as he banters with
Johansson's Scarlett over sushi.

(Soundbite of "Lost in Translation")

Mr. BILL MURRAY: (As Bob Harris) It's feeling tight.

Ms. SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (As Scarlett) Mm-hmm.

Mr. MURRAY: Shoulders and neck.

Ms. JOHANSSON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MURRAY: So I called down and had a shiatsu massage in my room.

Mr. JOHANSSON: Oh, that's what I need.

Mr. MURRAY: And the tightness has completely disappeared and been replaced by
unbelievable pain; just staggering, unbearable pain.

Mr. JOHANSSON: Oh, that's too bad.

Mr. MURRAY: Yeah.

Mr. JOHANSSON: I'm in pain. I got my foot banged up. Want to see it?

Mr. MURRAY: How do you say no? Oh, my gosh.

Mr. JOHANSSON: I know.

Mr. MURRAY: That's--when did you do this?

Mr. JOHANSSON: I did it the other day. It hurts, you know?

Mr. MURRAY: Didn't you feel any pain? You...

Mr. JOHANSSON: Yeah, it really hurt. It was...

Mr. MURRAY: That toe is almost dead. I think I got to take you to the
doctor. You can't just put that back in the shoe.

Mr. JOHANSSON: No, I don't think so.

Mr. MURRAY: Well, you either go to a doctor or you leave it here.

EDELSTEIN: The one-liners in that scene are an attempt to cover for his
awkwardness and to create a kind of joshing intimacy between a middle-aged man
and a young woman that's sexy but not dangerously sexy. There are times in
"Lost in Translation" that I felt I was seeing Bill Murray's real face for the
first time, and Johansson has a good face, too, so young and unblemished, yet
so strangely self-possessed. The other faces are barely glimpsed. And
there's something a little narcissistic and entitled about these two people
that isn't a great advertisement for Americans abroad. Charlotte asks Bob why
the Japanese mix up their L's and R's, and he says, `For yucks,' which is a
very funny line, pure Bill Murray. But there are yucks, at their expense.
The sense of otherness and of cultural superiority merges uncomfortably. The
movie would be richer if Coppola had found a way to dramatize how Bob's and
Charlotte's superiority contributes to their loneliness, making them more
alienated than they'd otherwise be. But Coppola's alienation is so gorgeous
and so transfixing you can't help forgiving her for wanting to wallow in it.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is the film critic for the online magazine Slate.
For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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