cash from chaos
I was flicking through the TV channels the other night looking for something to put me in the Christmas spirit….after a bit of this and a bit of that I stumbled upon the Johnny Cash 1978 Christmas Special. It was pretty mind blowing to be honest….Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson along with a very young and funny Steve Martin were the guests. Johnny wore black and it seemed every festive song was slow, dark and brooding. There was no tinsel and no tree….just country music at its mid to late 70’s best.
It reminded me of the time I met the man in black. It truly was one of the great moments in my life. In the 90’s I spent most if my time managing a band called Tindersticks. Anyway it was 1994 and we had been invited to pay the main stage at Glastonbury. An honour for a band so early into their career and one we jumped at with arms and legs akimbo. I checked the bill once all the acts were confirmed….we were on early in the afternoon about 2 or 3 o’clock. I looked further down the bill and saw that the man himself….Johnny Cash was on the same stage about 3 hours later. What a thrill to be sharing the same stage…Tindersticks played a great set as I remember and it was a sunny afternoon. I couldn’t concentrate at all….when was Johnny turning up…the place was a buzz of anticipation. About 30 minutes before he was due on stage a dark windowed black stretch limo pulled up backstage….pause for a second. A black stretch limo at a festival in Somerset, England. It was very weird and very rock n roll….out stepped Johnny and the ever present June Carter….what a dashing, handsome pair they made as they were whisked off to some special place. Ten minutes later a rough old white transit van type thing with windows coughed into the backstage arena….4 elderly gentlemen stepped out and surveyed the scene….true cowboys in ten gallon hats and polished, but old, boots. Johnnys band…some who had been with him since the 50’s….fuck me – these cats played with Elvis. I was so excited for the show I got out front with minutes to spare….I was lucky I had every AAA pass under the sun and got between the barrier and the stage. Johnny walked on and the place erupted. I had to meet him…I just had to…as the set went on I hatched a plan…a simple plan but a plan. I knew all the set lengths of all the artists that day on the main stage as I was managing one of the bands….5 or so minutes before the end of his blistering set I ran backstage….the place was deserted. Everyone was out front. I heard the crowd roar and Johnny say goodbye…the band carried on as the crowd cheered and hollered for the great man to come back….he didn’t….he carried on walking down the long metal ramp that led to his private secluded area. I was waiting at the bottom of the ramp. There was no one around just Johnny Cash walking towards me…slowly and with a swagger. A swagger you can only pull off if you’re one of the greats….he got closer and closer. What the fuck was I going to say..? It all happened so quickly but I remember it like it was yesterday….I held my hand out to him and called his name – “Johnny”, I said, “great show man…such a honour to see you play, a real honour”….I held my right hand out. He towered above me….sweating and breathing heavily…he took hold of my hand…his enormous hand took mine and shook it. He looked me in the eye and said – “thanks a lot boy, thanks a lot”. He was gone. I had met Johnny Cash. I am very lucky.
I’m off to play his not very good Christmas album now. Here is the whole Glastonbury show…I’ve just come across it on YouTube….I’m sure it’ll be as good as I remember. God bless you Johnny Cash. Never has there been a man so full of the spirit and beauty of rock n roll than you. Happy Christmas wherever you are.