Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Man in Black

Yesterday, on my way back home from Sapporo, I stopped in Tomakomai and did some shopping. I picked up a couple of DVDs at the Tower Records store there.

What did I buy?

I'm not sure when this series started, but there's a series of DVDs out there called "Directors Label". The DVDs released in this series featured music videos, interviews, rarities, etc. of famous directors who got their start directing music videos. The first three DVDs featured the works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry. Cunningham's stuff is a bit too bizarre for me, but I picked up the Gondry ("Everlong") and Jones ("Weapon of Choice") collections. Good stuff.

Four more DVDs were released in the Directors Series recently. Yesterday, I bought two: Mark Romanek and Jonathan Glazer. Jonathan Glazer's work includes the amazing Radiohead video "Street Spirit". A beautiful video to go with a beautiful song. The main reason I bought the Glazer collection was for a video by UNKLE called "Rabbit in Your Headlights". My good buddy Czar told me about this video. It was shown on MTV once and then never shown again (at least that what the VJ said). This guy is walking down a tunnel, cars passing him left and right. He gets hit. Then he gets hit again. And again. AGAIN. Then, a car is bearing down on him. You're cringing, because all of the impacts so far have hurt to watch, even though you know that it's just a computer effect. Closer. Closer. CLOSER. Then...


But it's not what you expect. This time, the car crumples, and the man disappears into the smoke.

Intense. And definitely worth the price of the DVD.

While I'm glad I picked up the Glazer collection, I'm even gladder that I bought the Romanek collection.

The unedited "Closer" video is a bonus. The "The Perfect Drug" video makes me happy. The "Novacaine For the Soul" video is great. But what really makes this purchase worth the yen I shelled out for it was...

...Johnny Cash, "Hurt".

Johnny Cash is The Man.

I was fortunate enough to see him perform live once, before his illness made it difficult for him to perform in public. Back when I was in college, there was a special event scheduled over in Spokane, Washington. I was going to school at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, at the time. Ellensburg is about two and a half hours from Spokane via I-90, and is located in (surprise, surprise!) the middle of Washington State. Anyway, there was a special event in Spokane called "Stars: A Celebration of Heroes" on May 21st, 1997. I lucked out and got tickets, so me and my good buddy Rue hopped in The Blue Neon and drove over to catch the show.

General Norman Schwarzkopf spoke. Heroes were introduced. This was all cool.

But it was not what I was there for.

Johnny Cash came out on stage. "Hello, I"m Johnny Cash."

The place went nuts.

He played an hour and a half long set that also featured his wife, June Carter Cash. He told the crowd that he was having serious health problems and probably wouldn't be touring much anymore. He told us that, but he looked strong and sang with as much conviction and strength as you can hear on his albums.

I consider that day one of the luckiest days of my life.

The day Johnny Cash died, I was in the hospital. I had done something incredibly stupid. I had eaten raw liver. And it had come back to kick my ass. I got food poisoning/intestinal infection. I had a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). I had to spend a night in intensive care. I spent the next day on IV fluids. All told, I spent four days in the hospital.

The second day I was there, I had been moved from the ICU into a regular sick person room. This was mostly because I had moved from "Near Death" to "Death Warmed Over". I was not particularly aware of what was going on. I turned on the TV and found CNN. The news ticker said something to the effect of, "Johnny Cash has died." I didn't want to believe what I had seen. One of the greatest figures of real country music (by "real", I mean anything that is not overproduced Nashville crap) has died? No way. Not Johnny Cash. He's just hitting his stride. He CAN'T be dead! Then, I got an e-mail on my cell phone from my mom.

Johnny Cash died today.
I thought you should know.
Get better.

I never really had the chance to mourn his passing, because I was too out of it to do it, and because I was focusing on getting better (and getting out of the hospital).

That is, until I saw the video for "Hurt".

If you can watch that video without crying, I doubt your humanity.

"Hurt" isn't even a Johnny Cash original. It was written by Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails fame. But Johnny Cash makes it his own, and Mark Romanek directs an absolutely devastating video for it.

Better writers have written better words about Johnny Cash. I don't want to try and emulate them. I just want to say that I think the world is a better place for Johnny Cash having lived in it.

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.
I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.
Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.
I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.
And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.
Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.
- Johnny Cash, "Man In Black"


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