Forever Words

Forever Words is a beautiful and loving tribute to the late Johnny Cash. It uncovers the reality behind the familiar and famous image of the ‘Man in Black’, revealing the funny wholly human man behind the persona.  If anyone is timeless it is Johnny Cash – over ten years after his death and 2,000 published songs later he still has the capacity to exhilarate and amaze with new (to us) and touching work. His effortless penmanship transcends the pages with its imagery and unassuming simplicity.

The book begins with a beautiful foreword from Cash’s son John Carter Cash, which helps to encapsulate the spirit of the enigmatic man. Carter Cash recalls that “[w]ithin the first six years of my life, if I asked what Dad was to me I would have emphatically responded: “Dad is fun!” This was my simple foundation for my enduring relationship with my father”. This humanises the legend, giving the reader the knowledge to appreciate his words in a new and more compassionate light.

This intoxicating anthology of Cash’s unpublished work blends the hazy lines of song and poetry. Although the reader can hear his familiar rugged voice and melodic tones singing the beautiful lines in his familiar way, the sheer brilliance of his poetry speaks for itself, its stunning simplicity rivalling the likes of Plath and Wordsworth.

His poems have both emotional and political poignancy, as themes range from melancholic discussions of loneliness, depression and loss, to faith, joy and limitless love. His faith and relationship with religion is a strong theme in the book; Cash wrote many books on religion, and the motif of faith and the afterlife save his work from morbidity of life and fixation on his own mortality. One of the most charming elements of the book is that there are photos of his handwritten poems, scribbled on receipts and covered in coffee stains; deciphering them becomes a blissful challenge.

The book is a journey – the workings of his mind transport the reader from Dunfermline to California, all the while maintaining Cash’s rugged rural American sound. He explores everything that it is to be human on the back of coffee stained receipts in a way that only he could, and Forever Words is a perfect encapsulation of the great artist’s spirit.

 

Forever Words by Johnny Cash (Edited and Introduced by Paul Mundoon). 

(Canongate, 2018)

Image: Canongate. 

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