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Sordid details do disservice to Ray, Cash

It's enough to make a legendary singer think twice about dying.

As soon as you're gone, Hollywood is going to make a movie that shows you mishandling prosperity, abusing your spouse, getting high, busting up motel rooms, abandoning your friends and going through rehab.

Last year it was Ray Charles who got the treatment, when the movie "Ray" came out shortly after Ray Charles died.

This year it's Johnny Cash whose raucous lifestyle is laid bare in "Walk the Line," a movie that has about as many happy moments as a colonoscopy screening lab.

There is one nice scene, when Johnny and his older brother, Jack, go fishing as kids. But then Jack dies in a buzz saw accident, J.R.'s dad takes it out on John and begins a lifetime grudge, and John goes on to write and sing songs about prison and various other forms of hurtin' while he abuses prescription drugs and tries to talk June Carter into marrying him.

Not to give too much away.

The one upside — it happened because of "Ray" and is already reportedly happening because of "Walk the Line" — is that millions of new fans hear your music and go out and buy your records. The movies launch enthusiastic, money-making revivals.

The downside is that wherever legendary singers go from this life, the royalties do not follow; they're left to be split up among all those ex-wives.

Worse than that, Johnny Cash, unlike Ray Charles, has to deal with the indignity that, in his absence, a Hollywood actor is doing his singing for him.

In "Ray," actor Jamie Foxx lip-synced the words to the original Ray Charles recordings.

In "Walk the Line," Joaquin Phoenix does the singing himself. And while Phoenix is an OK singer for an actor, to paraphrase a political cliche, "I know Johnny Cash and you, sir, are no Johnny Cash."

Why, if Johnny Cash were still alive, he'd bust you up like a Texarkana motel room.

In Folsom prison, they'd make you part of the wallpaper.

The only time Johnny Cash's real voice appears in the movie is when they roll the final credits and he and June Carter Cash sing a duet, as if to verify for anyone still loitering around just how much better the original is than the play-acting.

Maybe I'm just perturbed because they made a movie about Johnny Cash and failed to include anything about "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down."

"Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" is the song written by Kris Kristofferson and performed by Johnny Cash that was voted Song of the Year in 1970.

It starts out:

"Well I woke up Sunday mornin' with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt,

and the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad so I had one more for dessert.

Then I fumbled through my closet through my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt.

Then I washed my face and combed my hair and stumbled down the stairs to meet the day."

It's my all-time favorite Johnny Cash song and one of my all-time favorite songs, period. The song works on so many emotional levels, primarily, I think, because when you hear Johnny Cash sing it you can just see him busting down those stairs to meet the day.

He ain't just singing it, he lived it.

Which is probably about as close to the sordid details as he would have ever wanted us to get.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.