A statue of American music legend Johnny Cash will soon stand in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol, looking as if he’s ready to warn all those politicians to walk the line, but not everyone is as happy about that as I am.
According to a story in The Washington Post, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a measure to replace two marble figures on the wrong side of history with statues of Arkansas native Cash and civil rights icon Daisy Lee Gatson Bates, part of a move by some states to revamp the two statues they are allowed to place in the Capitol building’s hallways.
Back in Arkansas, where the lawmakers were doing the debating and picking and choosing, the politicians in charge had the good sense to offer few objections to Daisy Bates, but Johnny Cash had some of them singing a different tune. One of those was Rep. Doug House.
“Mr. Cash is a great musician ... but the drugs, the alcohol, the women, that kind of thing ... no, I can’t hold him up to my children as a model,” House said according to the Arkansas Times.
The measure failed in the state House by a single vote, according to the article, but eventually wound its way back through the Arkansas legislative process in a way that doesn’t interest me enough to look it up to explain it but, when all the speechifying was over, Johnny got the OK.
While I am sure Rep. House is a good man who represents his constituents well, puts on wonderful barbecue fundraisers and smiles genuinely in photographs while presenting grant checks to volunteer fire departments, I must disagree with his assessment of Johnny Cash as a poor role model for children. (He just said “model” so I assume he meant “role model” and not “Sears catalog model.” If that is not the case, I sincerely apologize to Rep. House for the rest of this column and promise to buy barbecue fundraiser tickets the next time I am in Arkansas.)
Here are some reasons why I believe Johnny Cash is a good role model for children:
- He didn’t really shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but if he had he shows the terrible consequences resulting from such an act.
In “Folsom Prison Blues,” the protagonist stuck in the titled penitentiary doesn’t get to see the sunshine, time drags on and he hangs his head and cries. If that doesn’t convince a kid not to shoot a man in Reno, I don’t know what will.
- Yes, Rep. House, he had some substance abuse problems but he overcame them (multiple times).
Like all humans, Johnny Cash had his failings and like many people he liked to catch what some might call a double super buzz and like very few of us he actually burned down a national forest (he settled with the government for $82,001) but he took responsibility for his actions (for the most part).
"You build on failure,” he once said. “You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”
-He bravely addressed the thorny subject of gender identity decades before it became a topic of national debate, wisely noting, “Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.”
Johnny Cash was far from perfect, but he is more than worthy to stand in marble in the halls of the Capitol where men and women who are also far from perfect dwell. They would do well to follow in his footsteps, embracing diversity, giving voice to the downtrodden and the forgotten and admitting mistakes when they are made. That sounds like a pretty good role model to me.