Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Every Sound Goes Quiet

"I only feel the grasp of his sweatin´ hand. Everything ´round me loses importance. Every sound goes quiet."

That´s Glen Sherley talking, in I See A Darkness, the amazing biography of Johnny Cash in graphic novel form. It may seem a little weird that it took a guy from Germany to cook this up, but Reinhard Kleist proves he sure was the right man for the job. He´s obviously a fan, has a fine drawing style, and knows how to make up a storyboard.

Kleist depicts the turbulent life and times of the Man In Black through the eyes of Sherley, an aspiring songwriter doing time for armed robbery at the infamous Folsom prison in the days that Johnny Cash played for the inmates there. An event that would be recorded to try and revive a somewhat sagging career.

When he got word that Cash was coming to his penitentiary to entertain the prisoners, Sherley managed to smuggle out a tape with one of his songs, aided by the prison minister. Cash heard Greystone Chapel only a day before the gig was to take place, but was impressed enough to learn it quickly, so he could use it at the two shows he would play on January 13, 1968. He ended both sets with it.

"There's a greystone chapel here at Folsom,
A house of worship in this den of sin...
You wouldn't think that God had a place here at Folsom,
But he saved the soul of many lost men..."

In an interview with Life magazine, Cash would later remark: "The night before I was going to record at Folsom prison, I got to the motel and a preacher friend of mine brought me a tape of a song called Greystone Chapel. He said a convict had written it about the chapel at Folsom. I listened to it one time and I said, "I've got to do this in the show tomorrow." So I stayed up and learned it, and the next day the preacher had him in the front row. I announced, "This song was written by Glen Sherley." It was a terrible, terrible thing to point him out among all those cons, but I didn't think about that then. Everybody just had a fit, screaming and carrying on."

"Now there's a greystone chapel here at Folsom,
Stands a hundred years all made of granite rock,
It takes a ring of keys to move here at Folsom,
But the door to the house of God is never locked..."

Later country singer Eddy Arnold would cover one of Sherley´s songs as well. And the man himself, by that time transferred to Vacaville prison, recorded a pretty good live album while still behind bars. Of course, it featured a rendition of Greystone Chapel. When he finally became a free man, he went to work for House Of Cash, Johnny´s publishing company. He was eventually kicked out because of bad behaviour - even Cash himself was a bit afraid of him, and I guess that´s saying something. Sherley ended up living out of his car, working for a cattle company. He fatally shot himself in ´78. "Inside the walls of prison my body may be, but the Lord has set my soul free..."

Johnny Cash - Greystone Chapel MP3
Glen Sherley - Greystone Chapel MP3


peterrocker said...

Wonderful story. Thanks for that.
Obviously a man with a poetic & very dark side all in the one package.

moondingo said...

thanx for the history an' the music! ;)*

Nazz Nomad said...

I read this graphic novel- I liked it alot. Have you heard the American6 (i think it's 6) - brutal vocals- Cash's voice is like the sound a plough makes as it is drawn over an old rocky barren field. the sound of death.

Ramone666 said...

Liked what I heard from American 6 so far Nazz. Yours is a spot-on description of his vocals on that record.