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Johnny Cash

Barney Hoskins: Do you really need to tour so much? Do you need to work so hard and drive yourself so hard?

Johnny Cash: For my soul I do. Yeah, for my soul. It’s a gift. My mother always told me that any talent is a gift of God, and I always believed that. If I quit, I would just live in front of the television and get fat and die pretty soon. So I don’t want to do that. You know I just hope and pray I can die with my boots on. I’ve been in hospital beds and I don’t want to end it up there…

I went through a period that I didn’t want to sing those old songs again. I finally decided that I was really cheating them and myself. And I started singing all the old ones with gusto and lust. Like I loved them. Those songs, “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Ring of Fire”. They’re part of me. They’re an extension of me when I get in front of that microphone. There’s a part of me going through that mic, you know, to that audience. They feel it and they know it if I feel it, you know. They’ll turn it right back to me, the appreciation. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what performing is all about, is sharing and communicating.

Barney Hoskins: Could you have ever been a preacher? Were you ever tempted to–?

Johnny Cash: No. I think in my world of religion, you’re called to preach or you don’t preach. Called by God to preach. I never been ordained by God to preach the gospel. I have a calling, it’s called to perform and sing. That’s it. I think gospel song is a ministry in a way. Gospel music is so ingrained into my bones, you know. I can’t do a concert without singing a gospel song. It’s what I was raised on.

It was the thing that inspired me as a child growing up on a cotton farm, where work was drudgery and it was so hard that when I was in the field I sang all the time. Usually gospel songs because they lifted me up above that black dirt.

johnny cash

Barney Hoskins: I was going to ask you how the pain is in your jaw these days.

Johnny Cash: It’s pretty severe.

Barney Hoskins: Really? All the time? Constant?

Johnny Cash: Almost all the time, yeah.

Barney Hoskins: How do you–

Johnny Cash: Except when I’m on stage.

Barney Hoskins: Really?

Johnny Cash: Yeah.

Barney Hoskins: That’s miraculous that it just leaves you. Power of music I guess.

Johnny Cash: Yeah, I pray for that and it works. It doesn’t alter or hinder my performance.

Barney Hoskins: It must be a struggle to have to take pain killers at the same time, to be able to regulate them–

Johnny Cash: I don’t take them. I can’t take them. It’s like an alcoholic: he can’t drink. I can’t take pain pills.

Johnny Cash

Barney Hoskins: You must be very brave to–

Johnny Cash: No. I’m not very brave because for five years I didn’t try to take the pain. I fought it. I had a total of 34 surgical procedures on my left jaw. Every doctor I’ve been to knows what to do next, too. To relieve me of pain, I don’t believe any of them. I’m handling it. It’s my pain. I’m not being brave either. I’m not brave at all after what I’ve been through, I just know how to handle it.

Barney Hoskins: When you look at yourself in the mirror do you feel like an American icon when you look at yourself in the mirror?

Johnny Cash: God, what a question. Shit. I see the pimples on my nose and I see the fat jaw from the pain where it’s swollen… Icon? No. I don’t see him. He’s not in my mirror. Thanks anyway.

Barney Hoskins: I was interested to know whether you ever talked about gospel music with Elvis?

Johnny Cash: Oh yeah. That’s all we talked about. Well that wasn’t all, we talked about girls too. Yeah, Elvis and I, a lot of shows we would sing together in the dressing room and invariably we’d go to black gospel. We knew the same songs. We grew up on the same songs.

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Johnny Cash, speaking in an interview with Barney Hoskins on October 14th, 1996.


More American icons:

Johnny Cash