Gosh, first Warren Zevon and now Johnny Cash. Death in any form is sad, of course, but we knew this one was coming for quite a few years. Nonetheless, this is the death of a legend – a character who clearly transcended just music. Even if you’ve never heard a lick of his music, you knew who he was – testament to his staying power, his importance and cultural signifigance in our world.

I came around to Johnny Cash fairly late in life, probably in my early 20s when I inherited some vinyl records from a high school friend and “The Essential Johnny Cash” was included as part of my new gaggle of albums stuffed into a milk crate. Much like Cash himself, the album was a little weathered, encased in a tough exterior – that strong, heavy, musty-smelling cardboard they used to put records in. It was a time in my life when my appreciation of music really turned the corner and started becoming a flat-out obsession and it’s when I realized that certain forms of folk and country music were a crucial and important piece of the American fabric. Country music is, perhaps, one of the more controversial, misunderstood pieces of the American musical landscape. It’s name over the past 20 years or so has been utterly wiped dry and destroyed with negativity and metaphor because of the way the music business has been coldly turned into a mindless machine of bottom lines, glitz, cookie-cutter “hat-and-boot” babes and very little taste or substance – everything Johnny Cash wasn’t. Despite it all, he continued to have the respect of everyone with the exception of country music radio, which is riddled and ridiculed with the gutless smear of payola – whoever pays the most plays the most. So it was with great satisfaction a few years back when I, probably in the peak of my music-crazed obsession of running a record label and having to beg extra pizza crusts off my roommates because I couldn’t afford to buy food, that I opened Billboard magazine and found an ad, taken out by Cash’s small record label, thanking “country music radio for all the support in helping him to win a Grammy” and placing the following picture – both big in size and sarcasm…….:

………in a full page ad! In Billboard magazine – THE bible of the music business! That’s why I liked the guy so much. Bigger than life and now bigger than death. Johnny Cash not only said so much for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the down-and-out, he was just one of those monumental personalities that made him so much more than just a country singer. He was one of those people that, even though he stood 6-feet-tall or so, it always seemed like he stood 9 feet tall. Over the past few years, Cash had been wracked with physical problems and the recent death of his longtime wife couldn’t have had him in a great place emotionally – in this sense I feel a bit of relief that his struggles are over. His legacy is one of a kind – and we will have his music forever, his unstoppable, deep, tremendous voice and dark sense of humor. Moreover, his grand and thoroughly impressive library of memories is all neatly sorted for us in track listings on vinyl records and compact discs, so we, our children and their children can continue celebrating his life long after the news of his death slowly drops off the presses. What more of a legacy could anyone ask for? There will never be another Man In Black.

Even more shocking today is the news of John Ritter’s death, proof positive that even doctors can’t find problems – proof positive that we should appreciate every damn second we have while we’re here. For me and probably everyone else, Ritter will be most remembered for his role as Jack Tripper, from the one-trick pony sitcom “Three’s Company.” I do, however, have a specific memory of Three’s Company that makes me chuckle, for this television show was the very first instance of Peer Pressure – the need to fit in – that I can remember personally affecting me. I seem to recall that two of my friends in 3rd or 4th grade, Shep and Bruce (forgive me if I have the wrong people here, but I believe this is who it was) were always talking about how much they enjoyed the show. I believe at the time I was pretty non-plussed by it, but professed my undying love of it regardless, simply to fit in. It wasn’t until years later that I did actually grow to enjoy the show, at that time relegated to syndication and re-runs. Same story every week, yet still funny. Must be the actors – and Ritter of course was the centerpiece. I didn’t pay much mind to Ritter again until the movie Slingblade, when he turned in a fantastic performance as the gay family friend. By all tokens, it seems Ritter was well-respected and a good man. Sad day…….

It all seems fitting, though, doesn’t it? I mean, surely Warren Zevon has got to be chuckling a little bit today, for he’s right back in the shadows again after a short ride in the spotlight. He’s right back where he was when he was alive…….I’m sure the irony is not lost on anyone who was a fan.

Finally, to cast a little goofy light on today, I offer you this – I’m tickled by this fella’s gumption, but goofily saddened by the fact that he couldn’t find anything better to do with his time.

Song now playing: Silver Jews – “Federal Dust”