Johnny Cash: Life, Love, and the Magic of Being Your Badass Self

Johnny Cash, original men, Man in Black, musician, passion, dedication

Chantele Theroux on how to live and love like the Man in Black.

“Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.”—Johnny Cash

For as much of a progressively independent, stand-alone hellcat-in-heels as I can be, I’m the first to admit that I’m a sucker for old-fashioned flair and finesse in life, and in love.

Part natural-born talent or studied subtle art, believe me boys, it’s all sexy. It’s the hold-the-door-open, pull-my-chair-out, offering-your-coat-kinda man. You can’t buy that kind of charm, and charisma doesn’t come bottled or on tap.

You’re tearing apart your dirt bike by day and enjoying dinner with your grandma by night. Your rugged edges frame that wildly kind and considerate heart of yours, and we love you for it.

I’m not talking about launching ourselves back into a revivalist regression of gender stereotypes. From the royale femme fatale to the manliest man among men, we all seek to satiate that natural craving for a delicious balance of feminine strut and masculine swagger. It’s the yin and the yang of it, Baby, and we’re a limited edition of both.

While we oppose, there doesn’t have to be conflict or competition. It’s a hearty dose of resonant convergence where strength in doing meets the goodness of being. Rocking your very own, real balance is what makes anyone sexy. Especially the Man in Black.

Johnny Cash was a full on outlaw-country badass blessed with a locomotive voice so strong it busted through prison walls. He epitomized grandeur in complexity and the exquisite contradiction of soft and beautiful strength, expressed through the songs, stories, scars, triumphs and trials of his very real, remarkable life.

Here are six classic ways to live and love a little more like the one and only Man in Black:

1. Be compassion.

Compel with charm and sincerity. For over 20 years, Johnny Cash performed free prison concerts for inmates in the U.S., and even once in Sweden. ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ also provided a forum for social issues that ranged from the war in Vietnam to prison reform to the rights of Native Americans in the 1960s.

He helped build bridges of commonality by propelling unpopular opinion and often unmarketable ideas into the mainstream. He also passionately supported S.O.S. Children’s Villages, an international child charity that provides long-term care for orphans and children in need.

Written and performed for his first-ever prison performance, ‘San Quentin’ … at San Quentin:

2. Define devotion.

This love and life isn’t all happily ever after. It’s sometimes wrought with disappointment and near disastrous, total train wreck tragedy. For as bulletproof as a heart can become, most can still bleed and cause a bloody massacre. To those who have totally unraveled, full on fucking lost it or have met the rock-bottom versions of yourselves, I salute you, and welcome you to our club.

After you’ve been blinded by the full and colorfully real expression of the human spectrum, life seems different. You start to realize that beauty isn’t always pretty, that not much in life is black and white, and that the only real guarantee in any fairy tale is that one day it will end.

Believe me ladies, if you lose your shoe(s) at midnight, chances are you’re walking home barefoot. Please try your best to keep them both on your feet. Mr. Cash said (when asked about June), “she loves me in spite of everything, in spite of myself. She has saved my life more than once.”


He and his first wife, Vivian Liberto, wrote over 10,000 pages of love letters to each other during the time he was stationed in Germany and he proposed marriage, over the phone. Because sometimes when you know what you want, you do what needs to be done to make it happen.

Johnny Cash battled alcohol abuse and drug addiction most of his adult life, burned down over 500 acres of a national forest, and affairs were one of the main reasons for the breakdown of his first marriage.

He wasn’t a saint, but never claimed to be.

“You build on failure. 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.”—Johnny Cash

In 1970, he also played a free concert at LaFayette’s High School football stadium along with other country artists. It attracted 12,000 people (amazing, considering the town’s population was about 8,500) and raised over $75,000 for their athletic association.

3. Simple is Sexy. Scars don’t hurt either.

Depth doesn’t have to be complicated.

Scars show the world you’ve risked it, came out wounded, but landed on your feet…eventually, and somehow.

Wear all of them with pride.

4. Stir.

Merle Haggard (another iconic country music Hall-of-Famer) credits Johnny Cash with giving him the inspiration to launch a music career after prison, recording an impressive 38 #1 hits on the country charts.

At age eleven, Haggard’s mother had turned him over to the juvenile authorities as “incorrigible.” By twenty, he was sentenced to fifteen years in San Quentin.

In 1958, Johnny Cash played that now legendary concert that helped steer his path to becoming a country music legend in his own right. The world has too many limitations as it is, be a motivating force.

5. Rage.

With the night. Against the dying of what’s light. Be fearless, and please find a cause beyond how much literal cash you carry, the ride you roll in, or style you rock.

He famously said,

“I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion—against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”

In addition to being a music legend, Johnny Cash was also a best-selling novelist and an artist. He showed the the world that your greatest gifts are what you can give back to it.

Rage and be a rebel with a cause, anyone worthy of 1-4 will love you for it.

6. Respectfully Yours.

Given and earned, esteem is one of the best gifts on earth.

Bob Dylan described to Rolling Stone Magazine that Johnny Cash used his gifts “to express all the various lost causes of the human soul.” Muhammad Ali was also a big Johnny Cash fan.


Johnny Cash also covered hundreds of other artists’ songs over the span of his career, always gave credit where credit was due, yet made them his own. Trent Reznor described hearing Johnny Cash’s cover of his Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt,” to Rolling Stone Magazine:

“We were in the studio, getting ready to work—and I popped it in, by the end I was really on the verge of tears. I’m working with Zach de la Rocha, and I told him to take a look. At the end of it, there was just dead silence. There was, like, this moist clearing of our throats and then, ‘Uh, OK, let’s get some coffee.‘”

You can watch the tragically soulful video here:

Having just celebrated what would have been Johnny Cash’s 81st birthday, take it from him, “be thrilled to death with life,” and remember that the fastest way to anyone’s heart is staying true to yours.


This was previously published on Rebelle Society. {Walk the Line} with Rebelle Society on Facebook

Read more in A&E.

Image credit: brehantodd/Flickr

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About Chantele Theroux

Finding inspiration in the insane series of confirmations and contradictions in life, Chantele's writing is a reflection of attempting to roll with it and rock her own balance. She can be found in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada teaching yoga and, among many other things, getting down and dirty playing in the beautiful, wonderful, awful mess of life. You can connect with her on Facebook.


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