Stealing shamelessly from Simon’s stream-of-consciousness, we have these accurate observations over at the silverdollarcircle:
finally bought johnny cash’s live at san quentin the other day. its excellent, of course, but you don’t need me to tell you that. so i’ll just say this: when johnny starts proceedings with a ‘hello, i’m johnny cash, alright…’ in a voice that manages to be both cheery and graveyard sombre you just know right there and then that its going to be a wonderful record- there’s no way that someone who opens as johnny cash does can fail. these little magical starting moments of perfect harmony and grace are quite common in great art- catch 22’s opening line might be another example, also the opening 30 seconds of ‘i luv u’ and the way dizzee rascal says ‘yo…’ at the start, also the first few oppressive pages of ‘crime and punishment’, perhaps the zither intro to the ‘third man’ as well. actually, talking about ‘the third man’, a friend of mine once said that when orson welles first appears in that film it makes you want to stalk him. and johnny cash seems to cast a similar spell at the start of live in san quentin, drawing you in and not letting you go.also, the audience-noise on the record is an excellently large part of it, a thundercloud of energy, rage and joy, that breaks through the amplified noise frequently. but even when the audience is silent, the silence is a tense, concrete presence [didn’t sartre have a word for things like this? Neants, or something?], a reminder that the next crescendo will be coming soon. Cannonball Adderley and the Quintet’s ‘why am i treated so bad?’ live lp has the best audience noise i’ve ever heard though- absolutely constant, searing, tearing yelps and whoops, claps and cheers dragging and pushing the music forwards.
He’s quite right, of course. It’s one of the all-time great concert recordings, and I’m delighted that Simon’s now caught up with it.I’m currently enjoying a more recent acquisition, Johnny Cash Live at Madison Square Garden, another live recording from the same period as the prison recordings…
And a hundred and eighty were challenged by Travis to die.
By the line that he drew with his sword when the battle was nigh;
“Any man that would fight to the death cross over
— but him that would live better fly!”
And over the line went a hundred and seventy nine…
It isn’t an imperishable classic in quite the way as the San Quentin gig, but it’s still very good indeed: the performances are fine, the various ways in which the ongoing war in Vietnam works to shape the concert makes it an fascinating period piece, and you get a far better sense on this record than elsewhere of how the Carter Family, Carl Perkins, etc. fitted into his show.