Johnny Cash: about our own Folsom Prison

Everybody knows now the story of Johnny Cash’s famous Folsom Prison Blues (with its 3 stages, how it was received, and so on), but I believe that it is nowadays its meaning has the most resonance with all of us. Everybody knows the famous line I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die, but I also believe that this isn’t about any kind of criminal behavior (with its horrifying motives) but about being imprisoned in our self-constructed world.

This isn’t just the case of those “favored” by the fate that end up famous and always in the public eye, thus lacking any kind of intimacy. This is also our cases, the “not so favored”, who simply make mistakes (or, simply put it, decisions) and then have to live with it.

A famous philosopher (Albert Camus) once said that life can change just around the corner. Isn’t this the meaning of the bend in Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues? He already did the deed, and now is just a bystander to his own history: he cannot change it, but he can still replay the same images in his own mind.

There were rough years in the life of Johnny Cash, when he was literally trapped by all forms of self-destruction. In the same way, after listening to our mother’s advice, we still ended up unsatisfied because of some minor life decisions that ultimately altered our lives. It may be the poor education, it may be a bad relationship, or it may be anything else: we live now in our own Folsom Prison and we can only watch that train taking another bend and another bend, without being able to stop it or just jump in it.

But how come I say that this song is more contemporaneous (if I may) now than back in the days when it was released and re-released? Back then, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues found its success especially among the prisoners, among those living in actual prisons. Otherwise, the song was received lukewarmly.

More than ever, nowadays we confront with life-changing decisions each day (there is even a joke that says we have to make 6 separate decisions just for buying a coffee). Each day we have to choose and we don’t know how that will affect us. Basically, we do things because we feel like it. Just to see them done. And if that doesn’t express the same thing as Johnny Cash’s lines, then I don’t know what does.

I’ll leave you with several other verses from the Man in Black (the man, the song): I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,/ But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

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