Nashville, September 2003: At age 71, singer Johnny Cash died today at Baptist Hospital. The medical report will say complications from diabetes resulting in respiratory failure. Friends will say he died from mourning the loss of his wife, June Carter, who passed away in May.
I hear that train a-rolling, it’s a-rolling round the bend
I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps dragging on
And I hear that whistle blowing … down to San Antone.
When I was just a baby my mamma told me: Son,
always be a good boy; don’t ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
When I hear that train a-pulling, I hang my head and cry.
I bet there’s rich folks riding, in their fancy shining cars;
They’re probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars.
But I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free;
But I keep on keep a-moving, well that’s what tortures me.
If they’d free me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine;
You bet I’d move it on a little further down the line.
Far from Folsom Prison, that’s where I long to stay
And I’d let that lonesome whistle … blow my blues away.
I think of Johnny Cash, lots of nights. A funny thing about our new home in Mount Shasta — a railroad runs through it. Amtrak comes whistling through, the deep two-toned sound echoing from the hills, and eternal long freight trains clattering in the night.
Does it wake you?
No, it’s soothing.
I’ve missed this sound, and hearing it again feels like home. When I was a child, the Katy line ran south of town. Katy means ‘MKT’, or Missouri Kansas Texas railroad. When the wind blew from the south, the soft clatter of the boxcars floated into my bedroom, and sometimes the far-off whistle.
Does anything capture lonely and vast space like that sound? And did anybody capture the lonely and vast spirit like Johnny Cash?
I think not.