Sunday, June 30, 2013

Song Meaning & Analysis: Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash

Folsom Prison Blues was re-released in Cash's 1968 live album
Folsom Prison Blues was re-released in Cash's 1968 live album
Many considered to be his signature song, "Folsom Prison Blues" is from Johnny Cash's debut album, With His Hot and Blue Guitar. If you have spent any amount of time studying Johnny Cash ( I haven't :-), you'd have realized that Cash absolutely loves depicting the lives of poor, needy and disadvantaged, and this song, I believe,  lays the groundwork for his eventual songs showcasing these themes. One such song is Man in Black.

"Folsom Prison Blues", as the title suggests, is a blues-based country song. Accordingly the song was well received by country music folks. Johnny Cash managed to mix rockabilly of the 1950s with hillbilly of southern country sound. He was a mainstream popular musician at the time, though not as successful as, say Elvis. Part of the reason was maybe his somewhat subdued themes incorporated in songs, that didn't have as wider appeal as more easy-going songs.

The song is about the torturous lifestyle of a imprisoned murderer. As with most of his songs, there's no hidden meaning; lyrics are very straightforward. On an interesting note, the song doesn't state the person as being innocent and unlawfully brought into prison. Such scenarios would eventually be commonly showcased in Cash's later songs.

I hear the train a comin'
It's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin' on
But that train keeps a rollin' on down to San Antone..
When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son,
Always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry..

I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They're probably drinkin' coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
But those people keep a movin'
And that's what tortures me...

Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....

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