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Missing June Carter Cash

Country Musings by Robert Loy, June 2003

Want to know why I buy the New York Times every day even though I live nowhere near the Big Apple? It's not just because they have what I consider to be the most in-depth, balanced and well-written news around; not just because they have the hands-down best crossword puzzle anywhere. I buy the New York Times every day because they have the best obituaries of any newspaper I've ever seen.

If that sounds morbid, it shouldn't. It's just that what the Times does is celebrate and uniquely sum up the recently deceased's life and contributions. Whether it's someone I've looked up to all my life or someone I was only vaguely aware of, a Times obit always brings home how much one life can matter, and how much we as a society are diminished by the loss of that life. It never fails to evoke in me a bittersweet wistfulness that makes me wish I had gotten to know this special person better when I had the chance.

Their May 16th write-up of June Carter Cash was no exception. I thought I knew about this great lady, how she was born into a legendary country family (daughter of Maybelle Carter) and has raised a new batch of legends (mother of Carlene Carter, stepmother of Rosanne Cash.) I knew about "Jackson" and "If I Were a Carpenter," her Grammy-winning duets with her husband Johnny Cash.

But I did not know what a comedian she was, how she toured the country portraying Aunt Polly, a character she created, how she recorded with Homer and Jethro. I did not know she studied acting with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. I didn't know she was managed by Colonel Tom Parker and toured with Elvis Presley. I did not know just how literal a truth it was that she saved Johnny Cash's life when he was addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines. I didn't know she was in the movie "The Apostle" with Robert Duvall, (but I intend to rent it tonight.)

Listen to what the Times says about "Ring of Fire," one of the most famous songs June Carter Cash wrote: "Instead of the usual seraphic love language of teen-angels, it used images of suffering and hellfire and is probably the most complicated popular love song in country music."

I knew that but I didn't know that I knew it. Just like I knew we were all going to miss June Carter Cash, but I didn't know how much.