Why I hate this picture (and so should you)


Johnny Cash is, without a doubt, one of the best singer-songwriters of our times. He sung simple songs of love, redemption and faith. He sung humourous tunes of life. He sung of heartache, famine, toil and hardship. He sung of his faith in the Lord, his love for Jesus and his hope of eternal life.

Without a doubt, Cash’s life was, at times, marred with abuse from alcohol and drug use. There was no doubt that he struggled with addiction, being out of control, being angry. But that was not his message. That wasn’t his legacy.

Of the 70 or so albums he released over 60-ish years, 11 of them were gospel albums. He released a number of live albums recorded in prisons (who could forget the epic ‘At Folsom Prison’ and ‘At San Quenten’?). He travelled to Israel a number of times and publically declares his love for the Holy Land. Yeah, he was forbidden to play at the ‘Gran Ole Opry’ and got arrested once, but that’s not the legacy he left.

So that’s why I hate the picture above. You’ll often see teenagers or 20-somethings wearing it on a t-shirt, like Cash was some kind of angry, anti-authority figure. Kids that, I’m guessing, have never listened to a Johnny Cash tune in their life.

You can’t listen to ‘A Boy Named Sue’ without smiling. You can’t listen to ‘Jackson’ and hear the playful love he had for June Carter Cash. You can’t listen to ‘Ring of Fire’ and fall in love with that old ‘boom-chicka sound’ all over again. You can’t listen to any number of Cash’s gospel renditions to know the depth of his love for the Lord.

Johnny Cash transcended musical genres, sounds and tastes, all with his deep, soulful voice. The honesty in his singing and simple purity of lyrics. So don’t tarnish his memory with a stupid t-shirt motif.



  1. M.H. Black

    It’s funny, I never really understood why this was ever such a deified image of Johnny Cash. As you point out, it really doesn’t give even the slightest insight to his actual body of work.

    • vidinsinbrisbane

      I concur – and not just his music (as amazing that it was). For me, he certainly talked the talk and walked the walk. One of the rare entertainers that sung about social justice but also did something about it. His concerts at prisons were just amazing and a testament to his amazing legacy.

  2. thomasjford

    Well, if you watch the Walk The Line movie there is certainly a part of Cash’s make up that would happily flick a finger at people. It is all part of rock n roll, along with Elvis and Jerry Lee. To be honest, I kind of agree that this image is sort of at odds with Cash overall, but I think it still represents the guy well in regards to the fact that he played prisons and had inmates cheering about his imagery etc. And anyway, who wants to listen to some of his rubbish eighties gospel years anyway when you have some awesome 50’s and 60’s stuff.

  3. sothislife

    Agree about the shirt but he was an angry at times like all of us. Those shirts are meant to entice the young, what a sad society we are that this is so common.

  4. Errol

    It’s amazing how everything done throughout one’s life, could boil down to this shirt. LOL. His music was far ahead of my time, but i can relate to the idea of the legacy for some, being completely opposite of what you actually stood for. Great post.

  5. Jack Chavoor

    Johnny Cash was a complicated guy. He reminded me of the line in the Kris Kristofferson line, “I’m a walking contradiction.” And we all are. All the more I admired Johnny Cash for being honest about his demons and his angels.

      • harmonioustew

        (this comment is a reply to your post, not to the comment above this one.) you make a good point. a picture can distort people’s image of someone, and johnny cash generally comes across as a much more gentle soul than the photo you’ve posted implies. as a christian, you may appreciate one of the last songs he wrote: “when the man comes around.” it’s a rousing number with lyrics taken from the book of revelation. cash himself said it was the best thing he ever wrote. by the way, thanks for liking my latest post.

  6. brlamb7712

    I think everyone needs to remember that he DID do this. He wasn’t posed to look like this image and no one is twisting his image in a way he did not want it. Sure there are kids who wear the T’s with him on it in this image and yeah, they may not actually be Cash fans or even know who’s face it is in the image. They aren’t wearing it for Cash, they are wearing it for the statement and it’s the statement Cash is making. Hating this image is like trying to deny that there was a part of Johnny Cash that young angry youth can relate to. It is like condemning Cash for being an angry person sometimes and then saying it isn’t fair that other people like that side of him because they should only like the good side of him. I believe this post echos the familiar, “You aren’t a fan of [blank] you don’t own every album and every lyric. You don’t even know where [blank] went to high school!” This post is kind of tinged with the “I’m a true fan and they are all just posers” attitude that is beyond annoying after you pass the age of like fourteen. I understand that you are talking about the image not personifying Cash in all of his facets, but face it. That image did not become popular because the people who liked it liked all of Johnny Cash’s music. It became popular because of the statement it makes. Someone who is a fan most likely likes the shirt image because it does show some angle of Cash’s personality and they enjoy all of the parts and pieces that make up Johnny Cash. Disliking some images of him because they don’t relate to his good christian side is pretty much like saying you are a fan of Johnny Cash but only when he is a saint, never when he’s a sinner.

  7. Mary Adrienne

    I agree with everything you said about Johnny. But, God can work with everything we throw at him…even this awful expression. Those young angry people who don this shirt may (God willing) come learn about Johnny and his faith and good heart. This questionable gateway may draw them away from a Ring of Fire and into His saving grace. Let’s pray that! Mary

  8. Mike

    Great post! I’m so glad my mother played her old johnny Cash vinyl albums when I was a kid growing up. Although, they weren’t old back then lol. I wouldn’t admit it then, but that’s when I grew a deep appreciation for his baritone voice and honest story telling.

    • Pete Vidins Blog

      I don’t think he ever played down his mistakes – I think he used pain to write so simply yet deeply.

      His conviction was amazing – he constantly knew what he was being saved from and how close ‘the end’ could be.


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