The Sun Is Shining On Kentucky…
When I took over this blog, I did not expect music to play nearly as large of a role in my writing as it has. I’ve devoted a lot of time to song lyrics that have impacted my life, and my opinions on the artists who wrote them. As someone who primarily focuses on other artistic mediums, I suppose I underestimated the often spiritual relationships we have with our favorite music.
Those who know me don’t have a hard time identifying the ten songs I’d take to a desert island. The usual suspects would be there: lots of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, “Scarlet Begonias,” etc. But I always get a double-take when I tell people the last song on the list: “Johnny Cash” by Kid Rock.
My roommate in Boston and I have a nightly ritual that we take very seriously. After a day of classes and rehearsals, whichever one of us gets home first has to set up our speakers to play “Johnny Cash,” and hit play as soon as the other one walks in the door. We have a whiteboard in our kitchen that tallies the “Days Since We’ve Heard ‘Johnny Cash,’” and it always remains at zero. We’ve played the song hundreds of times in our apartment, and we’re not stopping anytime soon. Why? Because “Johnny Cash” is the worst song ever written.
I try to avoid blanket statements, but this is a rare situation where they’re necessary. “Johnny Cash” is not just a bad song. It defies so much conventional logic about what constitutes a good song that we simply can’t believe it exists. The lyrics are so incoherent, lazy, and ridiculous that it has come full circle and become brilliant. As an aspiring comedy writer, I would give my left arm to create something half as funny as this song.
I could write a dissertation on everything we deem wrong with the lyrics, so I won’t bore you with too many details. But I’ll hit you with a few gems:
The song is called “Johnny Cash,” but the titular singer is not mentioned until 70 seconds into the song, and the verses have absolutely nothing to do with him.
It is a love song that features such poignant musings as “I like the way you love having fun” and “I like the way you shake it, work it/Ten out of ten baby, you’re perfect.”
The chorus starts by saying “The sun is shining on Kentucky/They’re drinking bourbon by the batch/I walk this line because you love me.” Which makes sense, until you think about the fact that neither Kid Rock nor Johnny Cash is from Kentucky. So they just named a random state because they needed something to rhyme with “love me.” Which makes sense, until you remember that “Kentucky” does not, in fact, rhyme with “love me.”
I could go on and on, but you should really just listen to the song. It’s a treat.
I really don’t mean any of this as an attack on Kid Rock, or anyone else. He never claims to be a poet of any kind, and he is making the kind of music he knows his desired audience will enjoy. All the power to him. I’m just grateful that my friend and I discovered the song when we did.
Which brings me to the point of all this. As stupid as this all sounds, “Johnny Cash,” has helped me maintain perspective in the high-pressure world of entertainment. I’m constantly surrounded by talented art students looking for their big break, and everyone is determined to create something that changes the world. In such a competitive environment, everyone occasionally finds themselves derailed by imposter syndrome. We all have days where it feels like we’re no good, that no intellectual will ever take us seriously, and that our creative endeavors are fruitless pursuits.
This is an unhealthy mindset for any line of work, but it is particularly damaging when you need to be creative. So on days when I inevitably feel that way, I think about why we set out to make art.
The ultimate goal of any entertainment product, in my mind, is to brighten people’s days. To give them a brief distraction from their problems, to add some sparkle to a world that would otherwise be quite dull, is a noble pursuit. And there are very few works of art that have brightened as many of my days as “Johnny Cash.”
It wasn’t the result of some pretentious writer slaving away for days over metaphors and sentence structure. And yet it has brought me more laughter than words can describe. I’ve played it for countless friends, and it’s helped strengthen my relationship with my roommate, giving us something to look forward to every night.
On days when career anxiety becomes too much to bear, I remind myself of a simple fact. The best case scenario is that I make the next Citizen Kane, the worst that I make the next “Johnny Cash.” But sometimes, they have the same effect on the world.