Childhood Vinyl Memories

Johnny Cash - Prison Albums

As somebody whose early childhood memories are firmly established in the 1970s, I grew up in an era when vinyl was the dominant source of personal music collections.  Raised in a household with much older siblings (including a brother who DJ’d in the evenings, a brother-in-law who also DJ’d, and a brother who influenced my earliest listening pleasures), music was an entity to which I was exposed before I could walk.

Indeed, growing up in a single parent household, with a brother fourteen years my senior living at home, the musical diversity proved to be quite unique.  While mom was partial to some country and western, and Paul more Neil Young and modern-era rock music, I developed an understanding of musical diversity from a very early age.  It was not uncommon to hear John Denver or Charlie Rich one moment, then David Bowie or Queen the next.  Eldest brother Dave was partial to old soul and pop, so the likes of The Temptations and Elton John were introduced to me too.  Needless to say, our household already had an extensive vinyl collection before I came along, and it definitely grew into the late eighties until the time when compact discs became the rage.

With this modern day resurgence of the interest in vinyl (and as alluded to by L in her debut ‘Rescued Vinyl’ article), it is only natural that one experiences a sense of nostalgia when finding familiar childhood memories on vinyl.  During a recent visit to a local antique mall, some crates filled with the distinct 12×12 sleeves caught our attention, and proved to contain several albums that prompted an emotional trip down memory lane.  In one of these very crates, I found two albums from the legendary Johnny Cash (a big ‘mom’ favorite) – and not just any old generic Cash albums, but the “San Quentin” and “Folsom Prison” live recordings.  The very thought of ‘Live Cash’ provoked fond memories of being amused by the tune “A Boy Named Sue,” something that a young boy would naturally laugh at and want to hear time and time again.  While I am uncertain if our household had these actual records (I do recall several ‘Readers Digest’ compilations being owned), this live version was definitely an old memory that has never left me.

Returning to these recordings here in 2018, not only have childhood memories been reinvigorated (fun songs to sing along to), but the deeper understanding of their socio-political undertones meanings now subjected to an adult perspective.  As an eight year old, Cash was a ‘cowboy’ singer that my mom liked; as a middle-aged adult now myself, there is a deeper appreciation for his music and influences during that generation.  In contrast to that eight-year-old who could not possibly understand the relevance of singing in a prison, the adult me is much more aware of his life and advocacy for prison reform, thus giving with each and every track on these two albums a deeper understanding of prison life in 1970s California.

We recently heard this album (the recent reissue on CD) in a music store, and for L, who was not too familiar with them, being exposed to the dark and cruel persecution of the antagonist in “25 Minutes To Go” left her feeling incredibly morose.  Such was the ability of Johnny Cash to evoke reactions in his listeners to the stories and injustices that he chose to represent.  Yet such words today naturally generate reactions from a much more informed sociopolitically minded individual than that of an 8 year old amused that a boy could be named Sue.  Indeed, one could surmise that while the “get tough or die” nature of ‘Sue’ identified the cultural dissonance in gender issues from decades past, these same lyrics could be equally influential toward current issues of increased tolerance for gender equality, identity, and diversity.  While the 8 year old me laughed along at a boy named ‘Sue,’ the informed and open-minded ‘adult’ me is only too happy to befriend ‘Sue,’ no matter how ‘Sue’ identifies in terms of gender, diversity, identity or ethnicity.  Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, Cash was helping push such an agenda after all.

~ M