Sunday, May 26, 2013

Song Meaning: Man in Black by Johnny Cash


Johnny Cash - Man In Black

I believe Johnny Cash is the greatest country musician in the history of American popular music. Growing up as a child protege, his musical influences were deeply rooted in southern country music. He was also talented in variety of other genres spanning across blues, soul, folk and rock n' roll. Cash worked with prominent rock n' rollers in the 50s, including Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.


Themes of Cash' songs reflect poverty, injustice, abuse, corruption and general opposition of the status-quo. "Man in Black" culminate those themes perfectly. You could say it's a punk-country-folk-rock song! (trademarked). The song explains why Johnny Cash likes to wear black clothes, which, in fact, he practiced throughout his adult life while being in the public eye. As if in an essay, after the brief introductory-verse, the second verse and beyond clearly explain why he wears black. Lyrics are simple enough for everybody to understand, so there's no point of my restating them here. Keeping the message simple allows the listener to grasp the theme(s) quickly, since the intention of Cash is, not just to entertain his fans through his music, but also to use music as a vehicle in delivering his message. As a matter of fact, I believe the message is much important that the music ( ie riffs, solos, melody ). After all, this isn't a GNR song.

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

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