Sunday

Feb. 26, 2006

Folsom Prison Blues

by Johnny Cash

SUNDAY, 26 FEBRUARY, 2006
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Poem: "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash. © Hi Lo Music. Reprinted with permission.

Folsom Prison Blues

I hear the train a comin'; it's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when.
I'm stuck at Folsom Prison and time keeps draggin' on.
But that train keeps rollin' on down to San Antone.

When I was just a baby, my mama told me, "Son
Always be a good boy; don't ever play with guns."
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin' I hang my head and cry.

I bet there's rich folk eatin' in a fancy dining car.
They're prob'ly drinkin' coffee and smokin' big cigars,
But I know I had it comin', I know I can't be free,
But those people keep a movin', and that's what tortures me.

Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine,
I bet I'd move on over a little farther down the line,
Far from Folsom Prison, that's where I want to stay,
And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1564 that the playwright Christopher Marlowe was baptized in Canterbury, England. We're not sure of his birthday. He was one of the most prominent playwrights of his lifetime, surpassed only by Shakespeare. When he began his career most English plays were written in rhyming couplets, but Marlowe wrote in blank verse, without end rhymes. Other playwrights, including Shakespeare, followed his example.

And while he was writing there is evidence that he also worked as a secret agent for Queen Elizabeth. In the 1590s, while he was producing his plays, church officials began to accuse him of espousing atheism, a charge that could be punished by torture. On May 18, 1593, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he died in a fight over a bar bill before the police could find him.

Conspiracy theorists have wondered about Marlowe's death for centuries, and there is a group called the Marlovians who believe that Marlowe's death was actually faked by the Queen in order to protect Marlowe from the Church. They believe the Queen actually whisked Marlowe away to Italy where he continued writing plays. They also believe that Marlowe used an actor named Shakespeare as a front man to cover up his identity.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Les Misérables (1865) Victor Hugo, born in Besançon, France (1802). He was a leader of the French Romantic movement in literature. He published The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831. It's a historical novel, set in fifteenth-century Paris, about a gypsy girl named Esmeralda and the deaf and deformed bell ringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral, Quasimodo. Two men get into a fight with a knife over Esmeralda and when one man is stabbed, Esmeralda is charged with the crime. The hunchback Quasimodo tries to save her, but she is executed by the police. Quasimodo catches the man responsible and throws him from the tower of the cathedral. The book ends with the later discovery of not one but two skeletons in Esmeralda's tomb—Esmeralda's and Quasimodo's, locked in an embrace.

It's the birthday of the singer and songwriter Johnny Cash, born in Kingsland, Arkansas (1932). He grew up in the middle of the Great Depression, his parents struggling to pay the bills on a cotton farm they'd bought with help from a New Deal program. When he was twelve years old Cash watched his brother die in a table-saw accident. He never forgot how his mother had to return to working the farm the day after the funeral.

It was his mother who played guitar and sang songs to Cash and his siblings. But Cash didn't learn how to play music himself until he enlisted in the Air Force and went off to Germany. He began playing music and performing there with his fellow servicemen.

One night, they were showing a movie on the base about the conditions at a prison back in America called Folsom Prison. The movie made such an impression on Cash that he decided to write a song about it called "Folsom Prison Blues." When Cash got discharged, he took a job as a door-to-door appliance salesman in Memphis. But around the same time, he hooked up with a couple other musicians and got an audition at Sun Records. The third song they recorded was "Folsom Prison Blues" and it made Cash famous.

He married June Carter in 1968 and they were married until June's death in May of 2003. Johnny Cash died a few months later.


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