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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.


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

More American icons:

Johnny Cash