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Culture, Music

The Shadow Of Johnny Cash

by Max Barashenkov / Images by Luke Daniel / 05.10.2011

The man in black fled across the desert, and the alternative hearts followed.

Johnny Cash has long become the music scene version of Che Guevara – an image to be branded, sold to pseudo-rock ‘n roll wankers, plastered over commercial events and generally fucked-empty of any real meaning. The voice, the outlaw persona, the jail-themed lyrics, it all constructs a perfect mechanism, a simulacrum of the true underground, a monument to something eternally cool, and its power knows no end, drawing dozens of supposed misfits, most of whom had only seen Walk The Line, to the Harley Davidson Club this Saturday. It seems that nobody, myself especially, is immune to the beyond-the-grave charm of the man in black. We’re all country zealots when the question comes up.

The crowd tonight is a peculiar mix, a cross section of nearly all the hip castes of Under The Mountain – from rockabilly whores and bloggers of all denominations to severe-looking blues men and inked-up demons clad in leather, from indie-rock musicians clutching their girlfriends, lest they stray from the path, to fragile creatures, serene in their beauty and only visible at these kind of events. Good people, every last one of them. The electro-dubstep fiends are, mercifully, absent, which either speaks of their general retardation or the fact that the modern generation (those, say, under the age of 21) has moved on from such obsolete symbols as Johnny Cash. Perhaps the love for railroad blues is a taste that is developed over time. Who knows, but the crowd tonight has one more common denominator to add to getting fucked, one that is perhaps a little more precious, a little more lasting. It is a different question whether any of them will carry that away with them or not, if any of this actually means anything to them. Standing there, in the oddly uncomfortable setting of the Davidson Club, it is very tempting to swing my balls around and get all Brandon Edmonds on their asses.

It is so easy to write an ode to the capitalist appropriation of the Johnny Cash image, to its submission to the ways of the dollar, to the fools that stand mute and tight-lipped when the Cash covers play, oblivious of the lyrics, only here because of that one photo taken in San Quentin. It’s even more alluring to delve into conspiracy theories and mention Dan Nash’s involvement in the Last Train To Nashville outfit, to conduct a basic semiotic analysis of the surname and the city and scream ‘Megalomania!’ But to do so feels like disrespecting a great man and that has been done enough. The show rocked, plain, prosaic and simple.

The same, sadly, cannot be said about the opening act, Long Time Citizen, who, with their attempt at coat-tail-riding by “Featuring Trinity of We Set Sail”, come off as rather limp. The frontman’s voice is dull and unpleasant, the lack of drums leaves the sound hollow and stage presence hovers in the vicinity of zero, despite the enigmatic bass-player. “This is a hillbilly song,” they proudly declare and launch into “Who Is Gonna Bang My Drum” – it might pass here, but in the real South they would be laughed off stage. They butcher “Ring of Fire”, make a mockery of the country-standard “Ghost Riders In The Sky” and I’m about to get sour at the whole tribute affair when Sixgun Gospel take the stage.

By the table saw that ended Jack Cash’s life, this is the real fucking deal! Not an ounce of pretence, not a whiff of rock-stardom, just stripped down, raw and honest blues. Their sound is hard to get into at first, but as you watch Murray Hunter coax orgasm after orgasm out of the harmonica, as Dave Cornwell drops his shy, precise riffs, as the Amish-Rabbi bassist spazzes euphorically around, you realize that you might have just found your new favourite band.

Danieyella Rodin drips bluegrass sex with every swing of her hips, something primal and gypsy-like in her delivery, a vocal range that is unique to the Cape Town circuit. They make me want to guzzle moonshine out of Mason jars, live on a swamp, hunt gators for a living and fuck toothless, truck-stop hookers. They’ll make you want to forsake the dull, local music scene and immigrate to South Carolina, where the hunger for deep-fried chicken will be eternally sated, where you can wear dungarees without the fear of being judged, where “hipster” is just another term for “faggot”. There is Devil behind this music, no doubt, and I howl with deranged abandon. Don’t bother with the recordings that they have on their Facebook – their poor, live quality does no justice to this band. Go see Sixgun Gospel in their sinful flesh and, if you don’t enjoy them, I’ll be the first to hand you a brick to throw in my face.

“You can run on for a long time, you can run on for a long time,you can run on for a long time, sooner or later God’ll cut you down, sooner or later God’ll cut you down…” George van der Spuy’s voice makes me stop and abandon the attempt at getting another drink. Holy shit! Holy fucking shit! Is this the same band that before only elicited indifferent shoulder shrugs? To say that Taxi Violence kick the shit out of their tribute set is to say absolutely nothing. I’m so moist that I have to bum a tampon to stem the flow. Even their own, old songs attain a new meaning and light when framed by the spectacular Cash covers. Perhaps I’ve been wrong about them all along, perhaps I’m just fooled by my love for the man in black tonight, but, by the time they launch into “Folsom Prison Blues”, my hooves and horns are solidly in the air, throat torn hoarse, soul happy as a pig in shit. Jason Ling, my dearest friend, please convince your band to play those covers at every show and I’ll gladly pay to see you guys, time and time again.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the alternative hearts followed.

*All images © Luke Daniel.

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