Black has always epitomized the most unnerving characteristics of nothingness. Black holes suck light from the universe, shadows are empty, and some even believe that true hell begets an eternal separation from God, resulting in perfect darkness. The science of color dictates that black is the complete absence of light and, thus, color — and that white is all color because it can be produced by mixing all three primary colors in equal amounts.
I have an immense problem with this. Nothing (human or not, but especially human) visible to me in this world naturally blends all of the elements surrounding it to constantly generate the color white; in other words, nothing is sacred, and everything is corruptible. In fact, I believe the science of color should be reversed. Experience makes a mess, and only by remaining locked inside a Ziploc bag for a lifetime can one remain eternally pure — even Jesus had dirt under his fingernails. Hence, brethren, black is the color of experience, and, transitively, the true embodiment of all colors.
Johnny Cash wore black. In fact, he was the Man in Black up until his death last Friday at age 71. Although it’s true that normally we wear black to broadcast our grief, he turned the notion inside out in order to demonstrate his empathy for the “poor” and “beaten down” and “sick” and “lonely old” and even the “thousands that have died,” as he put it in his song “Man in Black.” He wore black as an homage to those trampled by life, and if you really think about it, what else does life do? Johnny Cash was both pummeled and caressed by life. Success only threw him into the merciless anguish of drug addiction. Each day was a battle for him to overcome this temptation, but he took it all in stride and he considered each victory and each lapse as another experience that he had survived, grateful for every moment.
That’s what was so damn appealing about him. Everyone knows someone gruff and weathered who seems to have the thickest air of profundity around him, and Johnny Cash always seemed to be the prototype. Even after his wife and soulmate June Carter Cash died a few months ago, he continued to be appreciative of his life, though its foundation had become visibly shaken. In order to overcome this death, which clearly dwarfed the pain of his addictions, he returned to the studio, where his vitality and honesty never ceased to bring the world to its knees.
A simple run-down of Cash’s career would be an insult and a feeble tribute to the enormous impact of this man’s music. His voice could move mountains. Forget Max von Sydow or Cecil B. DeMille, Johnny Cash’s voice was the closest thing approximating the authoritative yet mellifluous timbre of the voice of God. Sure, his band always played with remarkable precision and his arrangements could make you wiggle, but only his voice could make you cry, especially combined with the most heartbreaking lyrics ever recorded.
From “I Still Miss Someone”: “At my door, the leaves are falling/ The cold wild wind will come/ Sweethearts walk by together/ And I still miss someone.” Delivered with that voice of rolling thunder, those lines will always be heard through your own trembling. He continued to transfix his audience until his death, and his fragile yet strong rendition of “Hurt,” especially when heard along with the tragically mesmerizing video, grabs your throat and leaves you speechless long after Cash utters his last word.
To doubt Johnny Cash’s wisdom is to negate yourself completely. His last recording, released before his death as a duet on his daughter Roseanne’s album, contains these final words from Johnny Cash the Voice: “They will fly me, like an angel/ To a place where I can rest/ When this begins, I’ll let you know/ September when it comes.” It did in fact come in September, and now Johnny Cash can finally rest. Although we wear black at funerals to represent the void left from a loved one’s death, the black at Johnny Cash’s funeral celebrates a life that finally burst from experience.