Truly he is what the land and country is all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here... Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul. This is a miraculous and humbling thing.”
Bob Dylan, eulogy for Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s “profound imagination” has left us with a legacy of song that endures, and will endure for generations to come. Johnny was a brilliant writer, country music idol, husband, father and humanitarian. He fought for better conditions in prisons, supported charities that benefited children worldwide, and stood up for the rights of Native Americans. He was also a rash and unpredictable personality who battled addiction and struggled to redeem the missteps of his personal life.
It excites me to explore the path to redemption that Johnny’s life took. He became a reminder of our capability for compassion towards everyone, whether or not we agree with them or their actions. Rather than pass swift judgment on the darker parts of the human psyche, Johnny shed light on the full spectrum of mortal experience. The songs he left behind express an honest account of life’s highs and lows that extends beyond his own biography, and remind us that we are all human, regardless of the mistakes that we have made. In telling the stories of broken folks, Johnny raised awareness for prison reform and the needless human sacrifice of war, and championed the oppressed. While some of the themes he tackled in his work—adultery, murder, domestic violence and addiction—can be difficult to swallow, they can also serve as a reminder that we have a choice to live as aware, empathetic humans—or not—and that there are consequences that come with these choices.
Ring of Fire is an impressionistic tribute to the “Man in Black” that hopes to capture the essence and journey of this well-lived life, and all the good and the bad that came along with it. The show’s ensemble of five extremely talented actor-musicians will take you on a wild train ride through songs about family, nature, heartache, murder, hardship, loss, rebellion, love, humor, death and God. The performers come to represent not only Johnny himself, but the various (and familiar!) figures who were instrumental in shaping a country boy from Arkansas into the galvanized icon who advocated for the downtrodden. In presenting this material, I hope to hold a mirror up to our own selves, and continue the discussion on how to practice compassion and tolerance in today’s world.