Dear Ben Greenman,
I just read your pop note on the last John Cash record in this week’s New Yorker. I like the first part best but I think you done let Sasha Frere-Jones write the rest. You ask for a “more accurate” portrayal of the Man in Black on this record, Ain’t No Grave, recorded around the death of Mrs. June Carter Cash and shortly before the death of man himself. You pine a bit for some humor, wanting to hear about dirty old egg sucking dogs on a man’s death bed.
I’m not sure you get the whole enterprise, and while I do not know Rick Rubin, and did not know Mr. Cash personally (although a friend’s daddy did once meet him on Air Force One, but that is a grand story for another day), I am not sure you know how music or memories work. No matter how much I hear Mr. Cash sing “Hurt” or ramble about in that floor-length duster, these things do not obliterate his past, or smudge the muddy lines of the Tennessee Two; indeed, the legendary video for “Hurt” by Mark Romanek makes great and desperate use of the past. Yet you are worried “about remaking image” and the import thereof.
Sir, “A Boy Named Sue” ain’t gone—hell, I was called Sue once, at a strip pit in North Alabama once, on account of my long hair at the time—it’s just past, Mr. Greenman, and demanding that a man who just buried his wife and partner (whose death grieved me, sir, me, having never met her, having nothing more than a few electrons of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” whirling around on my hard drive, whose death reduced me, a stranger in Mississippi, to unbidden tears), demanding that a man ravaged by disease, whose death was accurately forecast on the medical charts like an overnight rainstorm, ask him for humor, to ask him for a brisk bassy shuffle: for Christ’s sake, Ben, that’s not just tone deafness, that’s horror.
Which is why, if we ever meet (and I would not mind meeting; I am sure you are a fine fellow), just tell me that Sasha Frere-Jones wrote those bits, that you were on deadline, and that you’d met this really great cat at a party (I say “cat” a a gender neutral term for “hot somebody”), and y’all were in bed all weekend, and then whammo, Remnick’s on the mobile (is that who would call? I would really love to know), and damn it three ways, you’d listened to the record and found it fine—if wanting, and I see that, most do—but needed to bang out a few more paragraphs, and Sasha is likely doing nothing other than carefully editing out bass parts from indie rocks songs so that he can proclaim them “white” and he said he’d pitch in, and you made him swear to keep it between the lines, but of course he lied, because that’s just what he does, in between writing 5,000 word essays on Fall Out Boy or some such.
And I’ll laugh, and we’ll order another round (I will buy you a Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan—the Yankees are all taken with it right now) and tell you that story about Mr. Cash picking flowers in Starkville (I lived there for many years, you know), but I will give it some special secret details, on account of I know more about it, since my sister married the grandson of the lady who done called the police (and hint, Mr. Cash was not actually picking flowers, as I am sure you have surmised), and we will just ignore the rest of your column, and how Mr. Cash could have really brightened it up a bit right before he died, since that is so utterly God-damned ludicrous that no human being could actually think it, let alone the alleged paramount indicator of culture in our society actually print such frivolity.
It will be a grand time, my soon-to-be friend, a grand time.
and The Ghost of Goddamn Lester Goddamn Bangs