Johnny Cash, He Can Do It
by Ed Collins/Sept 18, 2001
In my rubber boat, I float.
The sea is calm, the air still.
And I am troubled.
Less than a mile from shore, my pole in hand, my line in the water.
Move the boat.
Nothing but the rhythmic rise and fall of the sea beneath me.
Low in my boat I sit, on an inflatable seat, my shoeless feet draped over the side of my inflatable boat.
Things should be right but they’re not.
It’s Tuesday, September 18th, 2001. One week ago today three terrorist-piloted planes found their mark.
This––fishing––a respite. Concerned for my emotional health I am.
My little radio brings me sad stories of unaccounted-for husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers. Tearful sobbing pleas for help, empathy, sympathy.
I listen. I could cry.
I put away the radio. I pull out my CD player and a wallet of CDs.
Music, I need, to soothe my soul.
But nothing seems to work. Favorite music grates, rankles, irritates. Rock, classical, folk and jazz: too cheerful, too melancholy, too thoughtless. Inappropriate, it is. I can’t explain.
I’m really down.
An education I’m getting on Holy warriors, Kashmiri militants and Shiite Muslims. I learn of Usama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Up until now terrorism seemed so irrelevant, so distant––so foreign. For me, personally, of no consequence.
Colombian kidnappings, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Beirut, Pan Am 10, the bombing in Kenya––all of it, for me, I shamefully admit, not more than subjects that I gloss over in Time Magazine.
What am I, callous? Insensitive? Stupid?
Flocks of cormorants fly by on their way to distant feeding grounds. I just watch. Then a Coast Guard helicopter. I can’t get away from it.
In Pakistan a member of a radical Islamic group blows himself up. That night I watch a Peter Sellers movie.
A bomb-filled dinghy is pointed at the U.S.S. Cole. I plan my vacation.
He can do it.
Try to explain how, why, his music is tolerable––in fact, therapeutic. Songs of railroads, prison life, unrequited love and cowboy blues. Songs of salvation and hard times, with lyrics like this: I fell down into a burning ring of fire; I went down down down and the flames went higher. And: When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry.
That voice, that deep and mournful voice, resonating with honesty and truth, coming from a man whose personal resolve somehow gives hope to the uncertain and fragile among us.
To remember a simpler time. Before computers and e-mail, cell phones and VCRs, answering machines and shopping malls. Before multiplexes and freeways even. Before franchised food.
Before Lee Harvey Oswald.
A time when a top-10 record asked this meaningful question: How much is that doggie in the window?
Sears and Roebuck. Red Skelton and Sargent Bilko. Crew cuts and flat tops. Drive ins. When cars had bumpers, grills and fins. When they checked under the hood. When a bicycle could take you anywhere. The Lone Ranger, Superman and Zorro. Kool Aid and grape Nehi soda.
Pre-teen, in a cocoon. Safe on the sofa. Cub Scouts and Little League. Gillette’s Friday Night Fights and the CBS Saturday-afternoon Game-of-the Week. Grandma, Grandpa and three channels on a fluttering black-and-white screen.
The fish won’t bite and that’s not what bothers me.