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Man in Black at 50: Johnny Cash’s empathy is needed more than ever

Johnny Cash was always big in Suffolk, perhaps due to the US airbases, or maybe just because East Anglia always weirdly identified with country ‘n’ western. (Ipswich’s radio station back in the 80s and 90s was Radio Orwell – or Radio Awful as it was unaffectionately known – and it played back-to-back dreadful commercial C&W).

Cash was probably the only artist my grandad and I both liked, and I’m pretty sure we were planning to see him at a concert he was due to play in Suffolk in the mid to late 90s. I seem to remember it was cancelled because of Cash’s ill health.

Cash’s life is filmic in its scope and arc. Walk the Line is good, but only tells the great man’s personal story – the poverty and loss of his brother, the drug problems and redemption through his marriage to June Carter.

However, there’s a political and philosophical element of Cash’s life that’s worth exploring – the Christian socialism spoke to people politicians wouldn’t have reached. The story of the Vietnam War is often told through the lens of either the counter-culture or Nixon and his silent majority: Cash had a foot in both camps.