By Vanessa Fiske, Director of Marketing
I can hear that voice in my head as clearly as if he were standing in the room with me now. It’s a voice I know intimately, but I didn’t know that story that voice and where it came from.
My dad was a big fan of The Man in Black. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash at San Quentin. I was singing "Ring of Fire" long before it was remade by Social Distortion in 1989. So, when biographical drama Walk the Line opens, it grabs me from the moment it starts, before taking me into the grittiness of his life.
Even if you’ve never heard of Johnny Cash, you can appreciate the story of a man’s rise to fame, his struggles, and the women who loved him. The first half hour walks you through some of the influential moments of Johnny’s early days: the loss of his brother, leaving for the military, and the complicated relationship with his parents.
Joaquin Phoenix captures Cash’s brooding presence and gripping showmanship. Neither he or his co-star, Reese Witherspoon, knew how to sing prior to the roles. Yet, both of them were convincing enough to walk away with Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor/Actress in a Comedy/Musical, and the film itself won the Golden Globe Award for Best Comedy/Musical. Witherspoon also received the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2006 for this performance.
Playing Johnny’s first wife, Vivian Liberto, is the lovely Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love, Zootopia). She was with him for 12 years, and he fathered four girls, including Rosanne Cash. But the toll of the constant touring, the drug abuse, and the alleged relationship with June Carter had her filing for divorce in 1966.
Vivian was right about June Carter. In a documentary currently playing on Netflix and available on DVD, The Winding Stream, Johnny Cash talks about how June “stole my heart right away” at the Grand Ol’ Opry in 1956. June used comedy to overcome her talent deficit (the general thought that her sisters were more musically inclined) and Witherspoon is spot-on with that charm.
Walk the Line is a love story, a passionate but slowly unfolding one. Though they met in 1956, it wouldn’t be until March 1, 1968 that Johnny finally married June.
June and Johnny went on to share another 35 years together before dying within six months of each other.
To fully appreciate the legacy Johnny Cash has left behind, visit the Johnny Cash Museum. I went while I had a couple spare hours on a business trip last year, and was amazed by the amount of music that he produced across genres.
As influential as Johnny Cash has been, in The Winding Stream, he talks about how he listened to The Carter Family (Sara, Maybelle, and A.P.) as a boy. Their raw sounds had a profound effect on his style. I’m still grateful that I had the chance to take my dad to one of his shows before he quit touring because "the circle will be unbroken."
An evening watching Walk the Line will be time well spent because even if the story doesn’t hook you, the music certainly will.