Friday, March 24, 2006

Ring of Fire, by Johnny Cash

I read recently that the English cricket team in their last series deployed a secret weapon when they were getting down (a common fate I imagine for a: the English cricket team and b: for anyone who likes cricket). In their locker room (or what ever the cricketers sit in) someone managed to put on the one tune that, frankly, not only could inspire them to go back on but could inspire anyone to jump into the pits of hell itself. I speak of course of Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. The only thing surprising to me about this, is the fact that it does not happen more often

There is something about this song. Something beyond the fact that it is a Johnny Cash song (and let us face it that alone grants a song into Valhalla once it dies) and I think I recently realised what it was. I am now convinced that this song is the centre of a vast untapped and hitherto unknown collective male subconscious. Let me explain.

There was a TV show I watched called Spaced that once claim that all men were bound by a primordial instinct (in their case to fight out slow motion gun fights) but that is not the case. Put a group of men together and I am sad to say not all will join in a rousing rendition of using your fingers to play out a gunfight. Some of the ‘sensible’ ones will stand aloof during the entire encounter confused. All men, however, are bound body and soul to Ring of Fire.

I can recount many a time I have gotten a lift home from a friend after a session in the pub, only to find that, to my horror, we have incompatible music tastes. Awful dance music or the most puerile of rap comes blaring out of their speakers. Whenever any of my generous drivers -with horrible music tastes- say ‘This is a compilation CD of all my favourite songs’ I smile because I know what will happen next. They will see my discomfort at the horrible sounds coming from their speakers and say ‘Maybe you’ll like this’ as they skip the CD back to track one or two and without fail it is Ring of Fire and we sing along, very loudly, unashamed of our lack of talent.

The power of Ring of Fire is so strong in quenches another of my friends sacred taboos. At the poker table, we laugh and joke and generally mock each other as a group of guys do, when sitting around a table, drinking and trying to steal money from others. Any sign of weakness will be exploited and derided. Being allowed to listen to music is still hotly debated and is still somewhat frowned upon by the majority and therefore actually singing along to a tune, unsurprisingly, will be meet with a symphony of condemnation and mockery. Ring of Fire is the exception. Play it and we all listen intently (even our member who never listens to any music unless classical) and within twenty seconds one of our members will start singing along for a mere ten seconds. As he finishes, instinctively, another will replace him and so on until we all join in for the chorus.

Why Ring of Fire has this power I cannot say - nor do I know if it effects the opposite gender in the same way (I can only hope so). Perhaps God (if (s)he exists) was listening to it as (s)he created man and it seeped into our subconscious or perhaps the song resonates with the big bang itself. Whatever, I don’t care! I think it is time we stopped merely enjoying this masterpiece and employing it for the good of humankind. What if Ring of Fire was played at every peace conference? During labour disputes? At protests marches and the like? Peace man, that is what will occur.


Ernesto Sandoval said...

wow, amazing. several weeks ago i posted here something on joaquin phoenix's version for the "walk the line" film. i loved your post on one of my all time favorite tunes.

Caddy Powers Jr said...

As sad as it is to say, I have been unable to get to the cinema since November and therefore missed about 9 films I really wanted to see, Walk The Line included.

Have to wait for the video release before listening to the Phoenix version because I don't want to hear what he is like until I see the flick

Ernesto said...

It's funny because a few weeks before the flick was released here in Mexico a group of friends -including girls- got together to play cards. We listened to a Cash concert, and when Ring of Fire came in we were all singing it without even noticing we had all stop making any kind of comments and were all into the chorus.

It's disgusting, I know, but, painful as it is, I have to accept publicly that the first time I listened to Ring of Fire was as a Social Distortion cover. I got into Cash thanks to that version. What you say in your post is utterly true, though: this tune has some sort of primordial bonding power. It's perhaps the way the music merges with the words; the way the sounds produce a compatible signification with what Cash sings. Maybe it's the fact that falling for someone like a child; being posessed by a burning desire is something many of us can relate to.

Small Ball of Anger said...

I think any human being on earth can relate to this song, and it has the same effect on me too! I think, with regard to the gender issue, since June Carter actually wrote it (or the lyrics at any rate) that this is just one of those universal songs.

Caddy Powers Jr said...

I've always been a believer in the serendipitous nature of finding bands and acts you like through cover versions or from terrible compilation albums / soundtracks that you end up accumulating (particularly in your teenaged years).

Much the same way that when I see some boy / girl band do a travisty of a cover of a great song, I live in hope that it will plant the seeds within some of the little kids who listen to that pap which will guide them to great music as they grow.