Re: Guns and Gun Accidents, Johnny Cash Sings “I Hung My Head”

Johnny Cash, in his later years, made some truly wonderful albums, tastefully aided by producer wunderkind Rick Rubin.

My fave is American IV: The Man Comes Aroundin which you can delight in hearing Cash sing, for instance, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (could there be a voice more different than Roberta Flack's?) and In My Life (Cash was well aware when he recorded this album that he was not long for this mortal plane, and you can hear that knowledge in his every creak and moan as he sings the lyric, Some are dead and some are living . . . in my life, I've loved them all). Also in there you can listen to some of the most raw, laid-bare, essence of pain you'll ever hear, via Cash's rendition of Trent Raznor's Hurt (see the official video if you want to see what I mean, and yes, Raznor is indeed the voice of Nine Inch Nails).

Was there ever a voice that better missed the notes? And were there ever happier accidents of pitch and nuance?

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The song I most look forward to hearing every time I put on American IV, though, is I Hung My Head, a song penned by, of all people, Sting.

It's a beautiful, simple song, with a succinct, memorable melody, telling the story of a young man in the olden days of the West who goes out for a lazy ride one day with his brother's rifle in hand.

The first two verses tell the main story:

Early one morning
With time to kill
I borrowed Jebb's rifle
And sat on a hill
I saw a lone rider
Crossing the plain
I drew a bead on him
To practice my aim

My brother's rifle
Went off in my hand
A shot rang out
Across the land
The horse, he kept running
The rider was dead
I hung my head
I hung my head


The song goes on with six more verses, as, ultimately, this simple gun accident leads Jebbs' brother — the un-named and unfortunate narrator of the song — to the gallows, where Sting the writer and Cash the singer say much by way of the song's refrain referring repeatedly to two very different kinds of head-hanging, similar to their double-entendre'ing of the phrase time to kill in the opening verse:

I prayed for god's mercy
For soon I'd be dead
I hung my head
I hung my head


Here's a video, made by someone or other, showing the lyrics against a simple black background as the song plays in full.

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For obvious reasons, we as a nation are having a great big chaotic conversation right now about guns.

Cash's I Hung My Head is, I believe, as good a way as any to highlight what fast-moving projectiles can do once they leave their respective barrels and head out on their way, seeking their final resting places, regardless of what gets in their way before they find that resting place, and regardless of the intention of any living creature, young or old, stupid or smart, able or embicilic, aware or clueless, in front of or in back of any gun barrel, or above it or below it or to any side of it.

Like water running downhill . . .





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  1. Posted by taj on Monday, December 24, 2012 at 2pm

    Very thoughtful and well said!