Most of us know of Johnny Cash, the Man in Black. But do we truly know who he is, the legend in the darkness? Not many are able to answer with a solid yes. Some can say he was a great country performer, being completely unaware of how his music, as well as his image, had a tremendous impact on their own lives, including the music they listen to. Johnny Cash was an influential person in American history because his “Man in Black” image helped solidify his place as a music writer and performer, he was able to rebound from the depths of drug addiction, and he pioneered many different genres of music although he was a country singer.
Johnny Cash’s main reason why he and his band wore black is quite laughable. Of all the clothing options they had, black was the only common color. It also became a well-known stage standard once the song, “Man in Black,” became extremely popular in 1971. Wearing black, to Cash, is a method of conveying a message, a sign. This message was for the weak, the downtrodden, the sick, the hopeless, the lonely, and those that just deserve more in life. Was it hope? Only Cash would know. Unfortunately, the message was stolen by the powerful clutch of Death.
Johnny Cash’s household image in the United States, and eventually, the world, was that of an outlaw, a criminal. This is a very common misconception about Cash’s life. Interestingly, he never served a prison sentence. Additionally, as well as ironically, most of Cash’s fan mail came from those in prison. His seven one-night stays in jail lasted only that, one night at a time. Rumors about Johnny actually doing time were simply rumors. Another example that works against Johnny’s image is his songwriting. The song “Folsom Prison Blues,” for example, has lines stating Cash shot a man only to watch him die, but this is purely imaginative, not biographical.
From the 1980’s to today, there has been a reputation with hard rock bands, like Mötley Crüe, and hotels. These reputations aren’t what most would call pleasant. Cash is linked to the beginning of such tomfoolery, and therefore blames himself:
I’ve done no direct physical violence to people, but I certainly hurt many of them, particularly those closest to me, and I was hard on things. I kicked them, I punched them, I smashed them, I chopped them, I shot them, I stuck them with my bowie knife. When I got high I didn’t care. If I wanted to let out some of my rage, I just did it. The value of whatever I destroyed, the money it cost, or its meaning to whoever owned it or used it didn’t matter one bit to me, such was the depth of my selfishness. All it cost to me was cash (if that) hands off. Somebody else, usually Marshall Grant, had to actually face the people and do the paying… … It’s disturbing, too, to confront the fact that, in many eyes, the kind of motel vandalism I pioneered is now a kind of totem of rock and roll rebellion, a harmless and even admirable mixture of youthful exuberance and contempt for convention....