Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ring of Fire: June and Johnny Cash

June Carter Cash(on Johnny) I never talked much about how I fell in love with John. It was not a convenient time for me to fall in love with him, and it wasn't a convenient time for him to fall in love with me. One morning, about four o'clock, I was driving my car just about as fast as I could. I thought, "Why am I out on the highway this time of night? I was miserable, and it all came to me... I'm falling in love with somebody I have no right to fall in love with." I was frightened of his way of life. I thought, 'I can't fall in love with this man, but it's just like a ring of fire.

Johnny Cash: “There's unconditional love there. You hear that phrase a lot but it's real with me and her [June Carter]. She loves me in spite of everything, in spite of myself. She has saved my life more than once. She's always been there with her love, and it has certainly made me forget the pain for a long time, many times. When it gets dark and everybody's gone home and the lights are turned off, it's just me and her.”

June: "I have always enjoyed being a part of his life. I've always loved him, and he's always loved me...If we go back on the road we go together.  I'll go where he goes, and he'll go where I go."

In 2005, James Mangold produced Walk the Line, a biographical film about the life of Johnny Cash, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.  The later won an Academy Award for her portrayal of June Carter Cash.  In my opinion, what is most striking about Walk the Line is the Mangold illustrates the way June and Johnny flowed in and out of each others lives for so long, often suppressing feelings of love and waiting for "right time" to finally express those emotions (both were married when they met).  Its the lasting friendship and affection, a flame no storm could extinguish, that makes the narrative both compelling and endearing.  What is clear, both from the film and quotes made by June and Johnny themselves, is that long before they finally entered a union the couple cared deeply for each other's welfare.  During the movie, this unconditional love is perhaps best exemplified in a scene portraying June comforting Johnny after his father had tormented him.

Johnny: You've been there with me. 
June: I had a friend who needed help. You're my friend. 
Johnny: But I've done so many bad things. 
June: You've done a few, that's true. 
Johnny: My Daddy's right. It should have been me on that saw. Jack was so good. He would have done so many good things. What have I done? Just hurt everybody I know. I know I've hurt you. I'm nothin'. 
June: You're not nothin'. You are not nothin'. You're a good man, and God has given you a second chance to make things right, John. This is your chance, honey.

Maybe that scene and the quotes above illustrate why no matter the moralistic argument behind whether June and Johnny belonged together, I think they did.  Screw the gray area.  Not only am I rather enamored with the couple, but, personally, I believe the world would have been a poorer place without them together.  Perhaps, what love really is at is very core is the inability to stop caring for another person.  Or as June put it, loving Johnny was similar to "falling into a burning ring of fire".  She couldn't help herself.  Those words sound familiar right?  Of course, they do!  Ring of Fire is the title of Cash's biggest hit.  That song, which June helped him write about their love, stayed at the top of the charts for seven weeks, was certified Gold in 2010, and has sold over 1.2 million digital downloads. (Keep in mind, Vivian Cash, Johnny's first wife, claims June had no part in writing the song and the" ring of fire refers" to female genitalia.  I prefer to disregard this theory more out of sentiment than anything else.  June and Johnny's children also disagree with Vivian.)   In defense of the romantic theory, June and Johnny's stayed happily married until they both passed away just four months apart from each other in 2003.  Here is a note John wrote to June later on in their marriage:

Hey June,
This is really nice June.  You've got a way with words and a way me as well.  The fire and excitement may be gone now that we don't go out there and sing them anymore, but the ring of fire still burns around you and I, keeping our love hotter than 2 pepper sprouts.  
Love, John

I think that's all someone could ever hope for: to find yourself unconditionally in love (despite your efforts not to be), to understand that as the years pass on, life takes on a slower pace but that love matures and a "ring a fire still burns", perhaps all the more, around you both.  And that's why I enjoy the film, Walk the Line, and why I will always admire June and Johnny Cash.  Because I think, more than most, they exemplified what love really is: Unconditional friendship, longing, and affection.  Because when its "dark and everyone else has gone home" that's the person you want by your side, keeping each other "hotter than two pepper sprouts".

"After you've listened to it, you'll feel like you know us a little bit better." June Cash

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