Random Thoughts About Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin

KEXP just played "Hurt" by Johnny Cash, a song that's better known for its devastating video, which featured what I guess you'd call an unflinching look at a frail and aging Cash. It's a really amazing song, and I was reminded of an article I read on vacation this summer about Cash and Rick Rubin, who produced the last four Cash albums, which are better known as the "American" series.

I've always been kind of interested in Rubin, who, along with Russell Simmons, launched Def Jam Records when he was 19 out of his NYU dorm room. As if that wasn't enough, he produced some of early rap's seminal albums, like Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill and Radio. Then he left Def Jam and founded Def American, where he started working with a truly random array of artists that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Danzig, Slayer, Tom Petty, Andrew "Dice" Clay, and finally Johnny Cash. Right now he's producing albums by Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, and the Chili Peppers.

So the dude has got range.

Wikipedia has the best entry on Rubin.

Oh, and I should mention he also starred in "Tougher Than Leather," the truly unintentionally hilarious Run-DMC movie that is way worth catching if you ever have a chance.

Anyway, I read this great article in GQ, which talked about the relationship between Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin. I'd really like to link to it, but GQ is holding out and waiting for this whole interweb thing to go away quietly, so they have jack shit up on their site.

In lieu of trying to reproduce the article in its entirety, here are some random things that stuck with me.

  • When they first started talking about working together, Johnny Cash was working the dinner theater circuit with the Carter Family Singers, with this hokey Hee-Haw kind of show.

  • At their first meeting, they stared at each other without speaking for like five minutes.

  • At their very first sessions, they sat around in Rubin's living room while Cash played every song he'd ever wanted to record but nobody would let him.

  • Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin took communion together every day for the last few years of Cash's life. They did this "virtually," often on the phone, with Cash leading the service ("now imagine the wafer, pick it up...")

  • Rubin would make Cash tapes of songs, like "Hurt," that he thought Cash might be able to play. As they went further into the American series, these songs got more and more outside the country or even rock mainstream, with stuff like "Hurt" and "Rusty Cage" by Soundgarden.

  • This is my favorite thing ever. When Cash won the Grammy for his Unchained album, Rubin took out this ad in Billboard magazine. Country radio had turned its back on Cash years earlier, and he'd even lost his recording contract (before Def American picked it up).

That's all I got. It's a great article if you ever happen to come across it.

Rick Rubin -- if you're out there, how about an interview for Barrelhouse issue three?

1 comment:

TMC said...

If I ever get published or even make a cent off of this whole fiction writing thing, I want to take the same kind of ad out in Ohio based magazines, and address it to Ohio State, who not only rejected me for their MFA program, but wrote, "Dear Thomas, Your application to our program is not competitive."

Those bastards.

Believe it or not, I was insufferably smug toward OSU in the weeks after I was accepted by Iowa.