Mudcat Café message #1724137 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #90789   Message #1724137
Posted By: GUEST,Richard Brandenburg
21-Apr-06 - 04:30 PM
Thread Name: Johnny Cash - How come an icon?
Subject: RE: Johnny Cash - How come an icon?
As much as for what they do, people become icons because of what they represent, which includes what people project onto them, and this, I think, is what raises the ire of their detractors: iconic status suggests that one ought to be able to identify in some way with the projection. If it's hard to identify, we tend to blame the artist.

Danks, for example, seems to have difficulty in identifying with John Cash, who toward the end of his life was raised to iconic status. But I think it's a mistake to point to just the recordings, and to overlook what he represents to people on other levels beyond his music.

In Cash's case, the current popular interest has very much to do with the dignity with which he faced into his final years; how he matured into an elder in the country music field, surviving for a while the death of his beloved wife, and working right to the end, creating some of his best work. Folks are understandably moved by a life that has that contour, whoever the person is. And June herself, of course, was a Carter, at the root stock of American country music.   

On another level, Cash represents an individuated person, someone who became himself through his work and talent and his admitted, stupid mistakes. Cash was no one but himself in a field that spawns the basest imitators - and people identify with that quality, and want it for themselves. He was also a somewhat unreconstructed man of his time, struggling as a Christian, and seeking redemption by his faith and by the love of his wife; openly readable as ambivalent; and people identify with that as well.

Cash became Cash as the popular media became what it is today: it's possible to never have heard his recordings (which I suspect is true of a number of his detractors) and still have a sense of what Cash represents on the Projection Screen of his fame in the popular imagination. Particularly now, following that movie, it would be foolish to confuse the images you see with the life that got lived in the man.

It seems to me that Mudcatters are especially proud of their abilities to see through contemporary hype systems; this would be a good subject to be thoughtful toward. People feel Cash, for one reason or another. He is an icon to the extent that folks project their archetypes onto him.

The "Cash" that Danks writes about in his opening is exactly the distillation of the current media gloss; but for that very mechanism Cash exists as an archetype, like it or not.