My tiny piece of the Man in Black
Like many of you I’m sure,
I was forced against my will we took the opportunity this holiday weekend to do some spring cleaning, which involved exploring areas of my closet that haven’t been touched by human hands since we moved into this house giving my closet a thorough sorting and scrubbing. Among a few boxes in the back I found what my wife called the biggest pile of useless junk ever collected some priceless memorabilia from my younger days as a concert hound. As you can probably guess most of it was various and sundry items from R.E.M. shows from the 80s. Big shock there, huh?
Tucked in the back though is one of my real prize possessions, and one that I have shown very few people over the years. It’s my own little piece of the great Man in Black, Johnny Cash, and I acquired it thanks to the apathy of my fellow students at Eastside High School in 1987. For this I am forever grateful to you all. Here’s how it came to be.
I was walking through the halls one spring day in 1987, past one of those fundraising auctions (for I forget what) that you often see in high schools in the spring. I can only assume it was something earth shattering like the Class of ’87 raising money to pay for prom or similar. I basically ignored this thing for a couple of days, but decided to take a look since it supposed to end that afternoon and who knows I might be able to pick up a bargain in the process. A I suspected though, the tables were littered with things like gift certificates for dinner for two at Applebees and the like, 50% of coupons for services at local businesses that no teenager would use in a million years, and more of the plain vanilla kind of stuff that nobody really needs but everybody bids on that these kinds of sales.
When I got to the last table, however, I saw a very nondescript manilla envelope at the end that didn’t have a single bid on it yet. I didn’t give it much thought but then the return address caught my eye.
House of Cash? As in the Johnny Cash museum in Tennessee? No way.
Then I noticed the envelope was open and so I slid the contents out on to the table. Inside I saw this:
What i was looking at was a tour program/promotional book signed by Johnny Freaking Cash. I tried to contain my excitement, less I alert any of the other folks browsing around of the hidden nugget of gold in their midst, and gently flipped through the pages while trying to decide how much I would have to bid to ensure that I won this book of awesome. The inside was full of some really nice but unspectacular stock photos of the Cash family and some of his friends and collaborators. What sold me though, was the reproduction of the lyrics to one of my favorite Cash tunes, The Man in Black.
So there’s no doubt I’m going to buy this thing, but the question is how much to bid? Literally everything else on the tables had multiple bids and this had none, so I felt safe in sliding the booklet back in nondescript envelope, placing it back on the table as innocuously as possible, and putting down the minimum bid. Later that day I stopped back by the table and saw that my bid (I think it was $5) was the winner (winner, chicken dinner. Sorry, old habit.)
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that nobody else bid on this. First off, I made sure to tell NOBODY about what I had found, lest one of my other music savvy classmates swoop in at the last second and take my prize. I’m sorry to anyone I may have deceived. Wait, no I’m not. HAHAHAHAHA. Second, look at the date on that envelope again. It was 1987, and Johnny Cash could not have been more anonymous to high school/college kids than he was at that time. This was before the Cash Renaissance kicked off with his American Recordings series, before he completely owned Hurt, before his death in 2003, just 4 months after his beloved June, spurred even greater appreciation, before the Hollywood biopic, and before seemingly every hipster in the word was wearing a black Cash shirt and had THAT poster on their wall (you know the one, Johnny with his middle finger raised, and a sneer on his face that was more punk that anything the Sex Pistols had ever done.)
I had been lucky enough to catch some reruns of the old Johnny Cash back in the day, and had loved his music from the start, and I’m fiercely proud of that fact. As Mrs. Lo always tells me, I’m as unhip as they come, but my interests are kind of a barometer of things that hipsters will come to like one day (see zombies, vinyl, craft beer, etc.) This is probably the most glaring example. Those shows, by the way, have never really gotten their due. They are seriously amazing. Yes, there was a time when you’d turn on your TV in prime time and see this.
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And there was a time, Jon Snow, when “wearing the black” meant something really very different.
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Andy are you goofing on Elvis, baby?
I suppose there’s a few morals to this story: don’t judge a book by its cover, you find the best things in the oddest places, etc, etc. Maybe it’s that there’s always a diamond in the rough, so pass by that garage sale, auction table, or thrift store at your own peril. You never know what you’ll find in that plain, manilla envelope.