In 1989 I was traveling across Europe playing drums in a British band called Sink. Not long after my twentieth birthday, we arrived in Poland to wind up what had been a fairly grueling two-and-a-half month tour. Finding myself with plenty of Polish currency that was practically useless anywhere else in the world, I wandered into a department store in Warsaw.
Tucked away in the LP section, behind the thin paper sleeves that housed records by Madonna and the Beach Boys, I found a black record cover with "Johnny Cash" emblazoned across it in bright orange. Thinking it might make a nice gift for my Cash-loving dad, I plunked down the necessary 500 zlotys, and made my way back to our tour van.
When I got back to America a few months later, I was sifting through the mountain of LP's I had accumulated in my six months overseas and I came across the Cash LP from Poland. I half-heartedly put it on the turntable, thinking I would listen to it once and then give it to my Dad. From the opening strains of "Hey Porter," I was hooked. The starkness of the instrumentation, the passion in the vocals, the clarity and imagery in the lyrics--it was all there, filling me with a sense of nostalgia, for I had heard that voice growing up. That record would ultimately provide the spark for a renewed relationship between my father and me. It would also be instrumental in pointing me towards a new, lasting career with the Two Dollar Pistols.
When he found out about my reinvigorated love for the music of Johnny Cash, my dad was thrilled. He made tapes for me of the Cash albums he had, and gave me Cash CD's over the next several years as presents. We both expressed dismay when Cash hawked burritos for Taco Bell in 1992, but we were both thrilled when Cash went acoustic on American Recordings. Where once we had argued about what I was doing with my life, now we were discussing the merits of Johnny Cash performing a Glenn Danzig tune.
Years later, when he turned 68, my dad and I, as always, discussed the fact that he and Cash and I were all three Pisces, and I got to hear for the umpteenth time about how Dad had made me watch "The Johnny Cash Show" with him when I was little. I gave him two CD-R's of a couple of import-only Johnny Cash LP's for his birthday.
When my father died last year, four months to the day after that sixty-eighth birthday, there were four CD's in rotation in his car: a Tom T. Hall Greatest Hits CD, an advance copy of my latest record, and the two Cash CD-R's I had given him.