Inspiration Through Music: Johnny Cash

I have to admit, though my music preferences extend into nearly every genre, country music is one that I still am very, very particular about. I have a few choice favorites and at the very top of the list is Johnny Cash. There is just something about his deep voice that moves me whenever he sings. And over the years, several of his songs have been the inspiration behind scenes in stories I’ve written. And the best thing is that his songs fit in many of my stories, no matter if its a futuristic sci-fi, a good ole western, an indie romance, or an action adventure.

Last week, when I committed myself to trying to finish up a handful of stories, I chose to focus solely on one; a western short story I started last fall. I had the entire plot all written out, I just lacked the time to properly finish writing it. Being a western, a slew of Johnny Cash’s music fit into writing scenes very well. The idea of characters living a tough and gritty life in the late 1800’s was easy to imagine while listening to Cash’s ballads. Today I’ll be sharing 9 songs with you that helped to inspire this short story as well as others that I’ve written.

Hurt: I’d originally listened to this song while writing an early draft of Aequitas. The simple guitar strumming with Cash’s pained voice gives the impression of someone completely isolated. They’ve done something to someone else which in turn, hurt them. They regret what they’ve done and are guilty about the kind of person they’ve  become. It’s behavior which has consistently gotten worse and worse until they’ve reached this new low point. They’ve never been this low before. When I started writing Aequitas, the plot was drastically different. There was more of a reflective and slow back story being told which fit with this song perfectly. Since I’ve changed the book so much, this song doesn’t fit in anymore. But it’s so poignant and somber that no doubt, it’ll be perfect for another project in the future. (This song was originally written by Trent Reznor!)

I’ve Been Everywhere: Here we have another solitary character, this one who is searching for adventure. He’s a drifter who has keeps no one home and enjoys it that way. Often hitching rides across the States, all he has with him are his traveling experiences. This is someone who is deeply in love with every part of his country and considers every part of it to be his home. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t believe in possessions or in establishing deep relationships. He’s happy to be alone. It makes it easier for him to keep moving.

Sixteen Tons: Though this song alludes to olden days with men lifting heavy loads in work environments like mines, I draw a parallel to today’s work industry. Instead of the sixteen tons being something the character has to hold physically, it’s the mental weight of guilt and pressure they have to carry. A lawyer who is feeling the pressure of a case he has to win in order to protect a family from an abusive relative, a tax collector who must audit a family business that’s suffering, or a newspaper editor forced to print a story that could result in terrible consequences to a good friend. These are all people who are under pressure to get something done and the weight of allowing something bad to happen is slowly crushing their souls.

Rusty Cage: The main character is someone who has considered themselves a slave to someone else for years. They’ve endured abuse for long enough and they are fed up. And so they’ve hatched a plan to get themselves out of it for good. This is the point that the character is finally taking charge of their own life and their own destiny. It’s a risky move but it has to be done. This song is a cover of a Soundgarden song.

God’s Gonna Cut You Down: This song is one that I listened to for my short story, Landed. The town is divided by two powers of authority, the town founder and the owner of the local saloon. They’ve been at odds for a long time. Now, one character has come to town to start a new life and finds himself caught in the middle of it. The song helps illustrate that no one can hide from their bad deeds forever. Eventually they will be found out and punished in death.

Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down): Another song that inspired scenes in Landed. A character is walking into certain death, knowing he has no other choice. Not to do this could result in the death of another person who means too much to them. He knows that if he dies, at least he did so with good intentions and that his reward will be that other person’s continued existence. The thing about this song that gets me are the low guitar chords coupled with the high ones. The combination of notes is just stunning.

If You Could Read My Mind: This is probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard from Johnny Cash (from anyone, actually). The two characters are deeply in love with one another to the point that they don’t need to speak to show how much they love one another. The main character in Landed has a very similar relationship with his wife and this song illustrates that love perfectly. Though the song ends on a very sad note, it tells me that no matter what continues to happen, those two characters are connected and always will be.

Personal Jesus: I am a serious Depeche Mode fan. And this is one of my favorite songs by them. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that Johnny Cash had done a cover of it. But his style and voice have made me fall in love with this song all over again. Yet another song that inspired a section of Landed, this one I can’t really divulge too much about. It’s absolutely paramount to the stories ending and the continuance of what I hope will be a series of short stories. That’s right. I said the word “series”. I love the characters I created for this short story and I know that their stories are far from over. I’ll be writing several more in the future.

Ring of Fire: My favorite song by Johnny Cash, hands down. I actually listened to this song for a part of Night Time, Dotted Line. The characters find themselves in a diner in the middle of no where. Here they encounter one of the most iconic characters in the novella, Patty. [Anyone who went to my reading at Slainte in March will be familiar with this scene.] To me, this song has always been the perfect background music for a scene were characters find themselves completely outside of their comfortable environment and the discomfort that comes with that.

Next week on Inspiration Through Music, we’ll be switching over to the unearthly Qntal. They are a little known band who I discovered while writing Vox. (I formerly had Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance for next week. I changed my mind when I discovered I really only have a couple songs of hers that I could talk about.) Stay tuned!



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