Walk the line - between cool and uncool

Have you heard of this new artist? His name is Johnny Cash or something? Apparently he made music for like 40 years, but until they made this movie about his life, I never cared about him. That Ring of Fire song was cool back in the day.

Before everyone gets up in arms about paying tribute to a great artist like Johnny Cash, let me explain. The man made music forever, and generally speaking, 99% of the music loving population gives less than a rat’s ass about him. Suddenly, they make a blockbuster film about him (Walk the Line) and his albums start selling off the shelves. Remember Ray Charles? Same deal. Thanks to Jamie Foxx, Ray Charles CDs are now played in more North American houses than Cranium. If they decide to make a movie about the dudes from A-HA, people will be downloading “Take On Me” until the ITunes server crashes.

Case in point, reading Peter King’s football column this week, he makes a point to go out and buy Cash’s Live at Folson Prison album. Cash played there in the 1960’s, and the album has been remastered and redistributed about twenty times over the last 40 years. I’m pretty sure that if King had liked Cash at all before seeing this movie, he might have picked up one of the versions of this CD. Suddenly now that it’s a movie, Johnny Cash is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Let’s reiterate - Peter King. He’s a pretty typical white guy who obsesses about coffee and bands like U2. Up until this movie, I’m pretty sure if you asked him what he thought about Cash’s career, he would start talking about his 1985 Wimbledon victory, his cool Aussie accent and his shaggy hair. Cash is his new flavor of the week, like Eli Manning, or anything feel good about the Patriots.

The best part about Cash’s certain boost in popularity is that all the hipsters who claim to love Cash will drop him like third period French now that he is getting the huge mainstream attention. Their Cash t-shirts will take up residence in the closet with the Death Cab and Strokes merch. "If everyone else likes them, I don’t." It kind of shows they didn’t really ever really like his music.

Do I want to see this film? Most definitely. But the reason is not because I want to be introduced to Johnny Cash’s music. I’m more interested in Johnny Cash the person. Cash is an icon. Everyone knows his name, but not too many people can really talk much about his music. He’s one of those artists that is know more for his actions and is deemed cool as a result. You ask anyone who likes Cash about his career, and almost certainly they will talk about the Folson/San Quentin prison shows, or the full page ad he took out giving the country music industry the finger. Why? Because this is all the majority of people really know about him (well that and he’s the only man alive to wear more black than Karl Hearn). Johnny Cash is inherently cool. If you like him, you too must be cool, or 60. If you like Cash, you are a rockabilly rebel, who takes no guff. No one can call you on it because no one really knows shit about his music. It gives you instant music creds. Think about anyone you know who says they are a huge Cash fan. Have you ever been in their car or at their house, and heard complete Cash CD rocking your country socks off? Or have you heard one song on a mix CD and heard them say, “I love Cash.”

Lots of artists fall into this category. Another perfect example is Frank Sinatra. Until William Hung came along and usurped him, Frank Sinatra was perhaps the coolest karaoke singer in history. He never wrote a song, yet he recorded countless CDs. He hung with the Mafia, slept with more women than Wilt the Stilt. One of my hipster friends claims Frank Sinatra to be one of his favorite singers. Have I ever heard him play any Sinatra song? Not one. Does he really sit at home listening to the brilliance of Mack the Knife? Ask anyone why they like Sinatra, and the answer is always something like, “he put his own spin on songs, made them his own.” You know who else they say this about? JD Fortune and every shitty cover bands who try to funk it up at their gigs. Trying to qualify that statement is like trying to argue over the definition of blue, which Baywatch woman looked the best while running, or which white receiver in the NFL runs the best routes. They are intangibles that can’t be measured, so you can’t be wrong. Frank Sinatra was the first American Idol. When people say they like him, what they really mean is that they like his persona. He was a cool dude, no denying that, but can he really be considered a great artist?

Another band that fits into this category is the Exploited? Every street urchin or hardcore punk rocker walks around town with an Exploited patch pinned onto their tattered leather jacket, or fills their merd sack with Exploited pins. Does an Exploited disk ever push Rancid or Bad Religion out of their CD player? I’m thinking not. What they are really saying is, “I love punk rawk. My Mohawk and tight black jeans weren’t enough to convince you? Well how about my Exploited patch!? You can’t say anything to me, because you don’t actually know any songs. You can’t say if they are good or bad, so you can’t say shit to me. My rep is safe.” I went through a pretty serious phase of punk rock, and you know what, I thought the Exploited sounded like shit.

Liking these bands is best summed up by John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity. “It’s what you like, not what your like.” Unfortunately, when you subscribe to this theory, what you’re like is a douche. These people are the same people who have countless of beat poet books with the spines still uncracked. They see foreign films and when asked can’t decide if they liked them or not. Trying to get by on what is cool means you have to change with every new trend. If this is your style, enjoy your flock of Seagulls, but don’t wear it too long or you’ll become what you think you are supposed to hate.

@ 2:28 PM, guero canadiense kicked the following game:

Nice rant.
It's all true.


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