Highways of Faith
“ONE SUNNY MORNIN’ WE'LLrise I know; and I’ll meet you
further on up the road.” Those lines were
penned by Bruce Springsteen, but now you
can hear them sung by another American
music legend: Johnny Cash. The 71-year-old
sang those words shortly before he died in
September 2003. His death, however, didn’t
prevent the 2006 release of his final recording,
American V — A Hundred Highways.
On the album, Cash’s voice bends, and
almost breaks, from the weight of his burdens.
In intimate performances of covers and
originals for producer Rick Rubin, every song
resonates with weariness, but also
hope; loss, but also faith.
No loss grieved Cash more than
the death of his wife, June Carter
Cash, only four months earlier.
Their famed careers have inspired
tributes from artists such as
Emmylou Harris, who wrote
“Strong Hand,” a song honoring
their marriage, and filmmaker James Mangold,
whose Walk the Line chronicled their story.
But, while Cash’s Hollywood biography celebrated
the extramarital affair that brought him
together with June, it made only passing reference
to the couple’s Christian convictions.
Actor Joaquin Phoenix sang impressively in Walk the Line, but here, in songs such as “Help
Me” and “Love’s Been Good to Me,” we get a
real sense of Johnny Cash’s soul. Instead of
wrapping up his musical career with cocky declarations
of independence, he concluded by
describing how “I came to believe in a power
much higher than I.” Rubin notes in the CD
jacket that, during some of their final meetings,
Cash took communion with him.
Cash’s album isn’t the only new release in
which a veteran songwriter ponders the
Almighty. Beyond the borders of the Christian
music industry, there are more seekers
who, at different stages of their journeys,
pause to look heavenward.
Bob Dylan’s album Modern Times turns a
meditation on repentance and the hope of
heaven into a love song: “Beyond the horizon,
the sky is so blue; I’ve got more than a lifetime to
live lovin’ you.”
Elsewhere, Bruce Cockburn’s album Life
Short Call Now includes a song that declares
“God’s too big to fit in a book,” and exhorts all
believing “stumblers” to let their lights shine.
Paul Simon’s new release Surprise includes the
following question: “Who’s gonna love you
when your looks are gone?” His conclusion?
“God will, like he waters the flowers on your
windowsill.” Both T-Bone Burnett and newcomer
Sufjan Stevens are testifying too. The
resonance of the music comes from the soulsearching
honesty of the artists.
Having worked out his own salvation in
fear and trembling, Cash stood on death’s
threshold with humility, gratitude, and a sense
of humor. Here’s hoping we all meet him —
and thank him — “further on up the road.”
— By Jeffrey Overstreet
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