I have a deep appreciation of Johnny Cash and his music. It’s not that I love country, or that signature “boom-chicka-boom” drum beat. But what I love is how his music speaks to the reality of life. Cash doesn’t sing about idealistic pleasantries- he sings from his heart about the struggles of grief, love, rebellion and death. I believe the song “Folsom Prison Blues,” is the characteristic Cash song. It’s the title track of his album recorded live from within an actual prison. Here are the lyrics…
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when,
I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a rollin’ on down to San Antone..
When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son,
Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry..
I bet there’s rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They’re probably drinkin’ coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free
But those people keep a movin’
And that’s what tortures me…
Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that’s where I want to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away…..
Folsom Prison Blues is a song about a man longing for freedom, for a chance to ride the train away from the troubles of his life. The tragedy of the song is that the man singing isn’t free from his troubles and this tortures him. The exhortation to freedom denies the reality that he is a prisoner.
This is the basic plight of being human. We all wish we could be free from the despairs of life. We wish we could transcend the difficulties and stress of our inability to be who we want to be. We long for a time when we could be free. Or as St. Paul says “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
Yet when we hear, as if for the first time, that we are undividedly loved by God, we are rescued from the captivity of ourselves. When the deep, deep, love of Jesus touches our brokenness, we too taken far from Folsom Prison and the stresses and sorrows of our life are blown away.