Fragments of Johnny Cash

February 3, 2010

I never met Johnny Cash in this lifetime, but in a way, I feel I know him well. Shortly after his death, a friend of mine was hired to produce a pictorial biography about his life. After remarking, “I don’t have much time or a big budget, but I still need some great images,” he asked if I would do him a favor and create photographic still lifes of what Johnny had left behind. Spending days intimately walking through Johnny Cash’s life… his personal notes, poems to his wife, unfinished lyrics, sketches, photos, guitars, correspondence, passports, calendars, albums, clothes, bible scripture tests… memories and clues to nearly every piece of his life… didn’t really feel much like a favor at all. So I agreed.

As promised, I was left alone and given total access to “be creative.” Staying focused and on task was difficult. The amount of material was vast and my mind wandered like a school kid in class. I was so hyper-focused on the subject matter, the assignment seemed meaningless.

At first I felt a little uncomfortable… like I shouldn’t be reading his personal notes, handling his guitars, or messing with his stuff… like his boots or blue jumpsuit from San Quentin! But then I realized Johnny kept all these things for a reason. Collectively, they represented him… his memories, thoughts and special moments on earth. Some were fragments… personal pieces of a complicated puzzle, clues from an unconventional life. Many of his notes, sketches and lyrics were scribbled out on random sheets of paper, crossed out, rewritten, edited, and often left unfinished. It was these pieces that I connected with most. The fragments… ideas he had worked on but never finished. The idea seeds… the work in progress… the unsolved mysteries that we all carry with us throughout our lives… hoping to someday find them a home. Read more

“SEE ME!”

December 8, 2009

I just learned that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Storm, is very ill… it’s been 45 years since I was in her class but I still have many fond memories.

SouthEastThere’s one very vivid memory I have never shared before… but under the circumstances, I’d like to share it now. Besides, the statute of limitations for second grade violations surely has lapsed by now… right? I’ll let you be the judge.

SEE ME!” was written in red ink at the top of my paper. After making my way to Mrs. Storm’s desk, she said, “Michael, a period is a small dot… why do you insist on making yours so large?” I glanced down at my paper. The nearly dime-sized dots sprinkled about suddenly seemed to be the only visible things on the page.

“Um, I really don’t know,” I responded. My answer wasn’t truthful. I knew exactly why I made my periods so big. I also knew I couldn’t tell her. In kindergarten I learned our imaginations were good things. In fact, kids like me with overactive imaginations were actually celebrated. But this celebration stopped—abruptly—in first grade. By the time I reached second grade, my glory days of sharing unusual ideas and observations with others had ended. But Mrs. Storm was a nice person and the fact I couldn’t tell her the truth made me feel terrible.

My punctuation problem (large periods) started one cold and rainy fall afternoon. Instead of going right home after school, I hung around the playground with some older kids until it started to get dark… until only Jim and I were left. Jim didn’t attend our school and I didn’t know him too well… only that he was considered a hoodlum of sorts by many parents, including mine. Read more