“I Walk the Line”: Cash on the border

(Short Recap of the sub-section of the team’s topic I’m doing research on) This should have appeared on 22/2/19 but I uploaded in the 17-18 section by mistake. It was done before our group decided to alter the direction of our research, so new material will be uploaded soon.

Incited by the live version of “I Walk the Line” found on Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin album, I began thinking about the further possible significations of the song’s refrain: “Because you’re mine / I walk the line”. Indeed, ‘walking the line’, tracing the borderline between two states of perception, two diametrically opposed opinions, between different social roles can be seen as a defining metaphor for the sense of “America” as perceived by artists like Johnny Cash. However, the ‘line’ as a symbol of liminality does not only function divisively. Comparing Johnny Cash’s artistic and political liminality to Robert Frost’s “Mending a Wall”, one understands that the line one traces, the fence one is always so keen on rebuilding does not only divide: it eventually becomes an substantial end in and of itself, be it within a socio-political or a purely aesthetic setting. The lines is transformed into the ‘ideal’ scape in which the two sides interact and through which they find ground for escape: this is a defining trait in the works of writers like Whitman, Melville, Kerouac, and musicians like the blues singer Charley Patton ( — his mixed-race identity paradoxically placed him centre-stage in the developing Delta-Blues scene of the 1920s), Miles Davis, Bob Dylan — all walking side-by-side with Johnn Cash. Following Deleuze’s discussion on the superiority of American Literature, “to leave , to escape, is to trace a line”. On the whole, Deleuze’s essay “De la supériorité de la littérature anglaise-américaine” found in Dialogues, and his argument about American writers who find themselves bravely tracing and experimenting with borderlines is crucial as to our understanding “I Walk the Line” as an all-encompassing metaphor for Cash’s artistic and political personna and, simultaneously, to our piercing through all the performative/ political symbols which abound in the Folsom Prison and San Quentin recordings.

“It is possible that writing [and singing, song-writing] has an intrinsic relationship with lines of flight. To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary, and which one is indeed forced to follow, because in reality writing involves us there, draws us in there.” Deleuze,”De la supériorité de la littérature anglaise-américaine”

Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues. 1. “Un Entretien, qu’est-ce que c’est, à quoi ça sert?” 2. “De la supériorité de la littérature anglaise-américaine” (On the superiority of Anglo-American literature)

Cf. The case of George Jackson and his murder at San Quentin in 1971. Bob Dylan’s “George Jackson”, would be an equally useful example of what an artist makes of an activist transcending boundaries and crossing lines.

[I Walk the line, Forever Words (Johnny Cash’s posthumous selection of poems and unrecorded songs, Robert Frost, “Mending a Wall”]

Cf. The Man in White — Cash’s fictional biography of St Paul — side by side with poem “Job” — binary equivalents to the construction of The Man in Black

[The Man in Black:”I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times”]

The notion of “double-bind” in Dewey and Derrida is another useful phenomenological tool to take the analysis a step further into a more theoretical field

Reading List and some notes on meeting (see Rebecca’s post for more detailed outlined)

  • Is it exactly an accurate portrayal of his image?
  • How much has Columbia records had an impact on his image?
  • Can’t rule out that johnny cash is still a famous country musician
  • How much was his image controlled in the creation of johnny cash
  • Does the public person coincide with his outlaw identity?
  • Album covers, johnny cash backlit as a musician

Johnny Cash, Glen Sherley Greystone Chapel

Sounds kind of emotional


June sings with him

Makes it his own if he sings it every time

There are men here that don’t ever worship

Men who scoff at the ones who pray

I thank the lord for helping me today

Shower of light in a field of darkness

Reading/Watching List:

  • A Politics of Empathy: Johnny Cash, the Vietnam War, and the ‘Walking Contradiction’ Myth Dismantled Michael Stewart Foley
  • Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity, Leigh H. Edwards
  • “The Way I Would Feel About San Quentin”: Johnny Cash & the Politics of Country Music, Daniel Geary
  • Singing across the scars of wrong: Johnny Cash and his struggle for social justice, Kenneth D. Tunnell, Mark S. Hamm
  • Johnny Cash and philosophy: the burning ring of truth / edited by John Huss and David Werther.
  • The Man in Black, Johnny Cash
  • Foucault chapter
  • Reception theory
  • Adorno on sound/music
  • Walk the Line film
  • Johnny Cash: the American Rebel
  • ReMastered: Tricky Dick and the Man in Black
  • Through the prison of song, positing an american idenituty, Therese Smith
  • All videos of San Quentin footage
  • https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-country/flashback-see-johnny-cash-sing-wanted-man-at-san-quentin-prison-93160/
  • Listening to San Quentin album and Folsom Prison album

Spyros analyses Walk the Line Eloise analyses Folsom Prison

Week 4 and 5

Week 4: suffered from a combination of sickness and absences. However, even though our group was unable to formally meet, we continued to communicate and collect material around our project to keep on track.

Week 5: Being the first time we got to meet since week 3, we decided to dedicate two hours to brainstorming and consolidating our material. In the end, with Rebecca as our scribe, we developed a rough layout for how we see the presentation unfolding. Rebecca has already uploaded our plan into another blog post. In addition, we broke the presentation up into parts that we will tackle individually over reading week. With the basic idea of our project coming together and as we have a better idea about what kind of theories we are going to base our argument around we feel confident that in a matter of weeks we will have a completed script.

So far, I feel our group has really come together and had a positive experience working as a group. No one seems to be doing less work than anyone else, we are all pulling our weight, and maybe most importantly, we are having fun doing it.

  • No external media was taken in this meeting.

Rough Plan


  • Johnny Cash
  • Concert/ album
  • Number 1 sold album
  • Live at San Quentin and Live at Folsom Prison – acknowledging that there are multiple moments where these concerts happen
  • Possibly starting out with a song – Folsom Prison – analyse a small section
  • Now that we’ve presented this song to you, is he really an outlaw?

His image – outlaw and artist

  • Introduction of his image
  • How he was viewed
  • Been in jail but never been imprisoned
  • Multiple identities
  • Photo taken by Jim Marshall at the 1969 San Quentin State Prison gig

Idea of the album

  • Deciding to recording an album in Folsom Prison after performing there once before
  • How it came about – lack of sales before, downfall of his career – this was to save it
  • How it caused his second career

The gig – four mini sections

The music / gig itself

  • Pre-talk – trying to relate to the prisoners, empathy Cash is trying to express, political activism through doing the concerts
  • First gig was with The Carter’s. Next time only took June who helped his image – crowd goes wild. What does she do? Opposite. Sexualised bringing into the male prison

The prisoners

  • Performing a song by one of the prisoners – prisoner didn’t know, Johnny Cash then helped him get out of prison, ended up touring with Cash, threatened a member of Cash’s team and left the tour, ended up working on a farm. Saw the good in him
  • By singing his song, gave him a voice but was mediated by Johnny Cash – taking prisoners experience but making it his
  • Glen Sherley’s Greystone Chapel – relation to religion
  • Mentality that has formed within the prisons
  • 00:44 – Tex Perkins Folsom Prison
  • Adorno – Theory of Sound – prisoners expressing themselves
  • Allowing prisoners to act as rowdy as they want to, feeling free, performance (permission to act this way from the guards), illusion of being free
  • Appreciative of the time that is being given

The videos

  • Video footage – filming is subjective. Not necessarily accurate of what is happening
  • Limited amount of videos available

Process of recording

  • Columbia records influence on the album / gig
  • What security and measures had to be taken to allow the recording to take place
  • What the prisoners got told about the gig?
  • Equipment that must have been in the space – artificial environment?

The album

  • How was it received?
  • What was this to the public?
  • Who was listening to it?
  • People listening without realising how it was really recorded. Is it more politically motivated now when people have a bit more context?
  • Video vs. album – album diffused? How is this political in itself?
  • Everything is recorded then put into the CD – accompaniment to the soundtrack, giving a new depth and political activist nature.
  • Album cover
  • Keeping in his speeches and rallying cries
  • Lack of editing – doesn’t cut out any of the conversational performance at the beginning/end of each song. E.g. getting water, reception wanting a specific prisoner, conversations with the other musicians
  • Importance of little editing the music and including the whole experience

Break down / analysis of a song

  • Folsom Prison Blues
  • I Walk the Line
  • How this relates to all of the above – the concert, album and prison reform activism
  • Reviews of the album
  • Analyse according to what we’ve said – they are our case study

Prison reform / politics

  • Johnny Cash with Nixon – parallel to the concert and Cash with the prisoners
  • If you pose yourself politically as a musician, you’re going to isolate a market
  • Wasn’t throwing it down people’s throats – did it artistically
  • Wanting to bring people together
  • Political reform video footage: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison Dumps His Water – drinking a glass of water and how that was a statement
  • Offered to donate $5,000 of his own money to build a prison chapel
  • No change to prisons in Cash’s lifetime – did he have any impact?

What was the purpose etc.? What did the album do?

  • Reception theory
  • Public reception of the gig in film (Walk the Line film) – interpreting the water scene

Was this all just a hoax?

  • Is it really an accurate portrayal of his image?
  • How much as Columbia records had an impact of his image?
  • How much was his image controlled in the relation of ‘Johnny Cash’?
  • Album covers – Johnny Cash backlit etc.
  • Clash of him as an outlaw/ rebel and famous musician?
  • Concert in Sweden – became a consumer product taking away from the heart of it wants to do
  • Other musicians doing prison concerts – became a trend


  • Dedicated something to Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison – gift shop and licence plates with Johnny Cash on / his name on (2017)
  • Consideration that prisons are now privatised and commercial

Preparation for Group Session

Since Spyros was sick last week and Rebecca was working on a play she is directing we decided it would be best to meet for two hours on the 12th of February in order to make up for lost time. We have all researched our given sections and I look forward to discussing what we have found.

Useful Links of videos and articles on Johnny Cash at San Quentin:





interesting  photos of Cash with Nixon and prisoners in BBC article that I can not copy here for some reason.

All video footage held at the British Library ( At San Quentin. (Legacy edition/+dvd) Cash, Johnny, 1932-2003, 2007)

Lessons from San Quentin, Everything I needed to know about life I learned in prison by Bill Doulas with George Barna  (this source is written about a prisoner’s experience… mentions that Johnny Cash ‘did time in another prison’) but every source says otherwise… myth of johny cash

Academic Articles

  • A Politics of Empathy: Johnny Cash, the Vietnam War, and the ‘Walking Contradiction’ Myth Dismantled Michael Stewart Foley
  • Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity, Leigh H. Edwards
  • “The Way I Would Feel About San Quentin”: Johnny Cash & the Politics of Country Music, Daniel Geary
  • Singing across the scars of wrong: Johnny Cash and his struggle for social justice, Kenneth D. Tunnell, Mark S. Hamm
  • Johnny Cash and philosophy: the burning ring of truth / edited by John Huss and David Werther.
  • The Man in Black, Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash General Research Questions and Notes:

  • Johnny Cash’s prison reform, a prison activist who believed in rehabilitation over imprisonment // maybe this was his image when he went into prisons — a celebrity country singer or an activist, or both?  
  • Look into the album as a medium of political activism
  • image in the concerts as an activist? Speeches as a way of politicizing his image?
  • albums advertised as a way of sharing his politic ideals without explicitly doing so?
  • Who listened to his music?
  • Think about the aim of conservative music more generally, libertarian escapism, Wild West … how did Cash’s political (liberal) motives fit into this category?
  • Think about how the footage was directed, emphasis on Johnny or the prisoners?
  • What did Johnny Cash mean to the prisoners? How did his outlaw image comply with his political activist intentions?

Transcription of a section of Johnny Cash’s San Quentin Prison Album:

I was thinking about you guys yesterday

I’ve been here 3 times before

I think I understand a little more about how you feel about some things  […]

I try to put my self in your place and I feel this is the way that I would feel about San Quentin


Not the usual ‘hello this is Johnny Cash’ more of political activist investment in what he says

Week 3 Meeting

Our most recent meeting was extremely helpful to the organization of our ideas and in formulating a research question. We are all very enthusiastic about the prospect of researching Johnny Cash’s San Quentin Prison Album, especially given the fact that this year is the album’s 50th anniversary. Having completed our assignment for the week, which was to bring in research on Johnny Cash related to sound, visuals and linguistics, we had an extremely fruitful conversation, propelling the topic of our presentation in the right direction. We decided to establish a broad research question for the time being: How does Johnny Cash’s San Quentin Prison Album illustrate his image both as an outlaw and an artist? We then established three main points in response to the question in order to guide our research:

A. Cash’s image

B. Cash’s Image in the Concerts

C. Cash’s Image in the Album

We hope that this plan will help us navigate the complexities of Cash’s public and private image. We are going to look into visual and audio material when grappling with point B and C and especially pay attention to the recording process as an indication of his perhaps fabricated, or at least privileged, image as an outlaw.

We have split up each section: Tess and Spyros are looking into part A, I am looking at part B and Rebecca is researching part C.

We also created a mindmap and recorded our brainstorming process in order to start thinking about the processes of recording. This made us aware of what we were saying, how we were speaking and even of the acoustics of the room, all aspects we will be sure to investigate in Johnny Cash’s album as well.

There is a great group dynamic and we are looking forward to meeting again next week.

Pre-seminar prep

Pre-seminar prep

 Other artists who have performed in prisons:

  • Gern Sherley, Live at Vacaville
  • B. King, Live in Cook County Jail
  • Jerry Garcia & John Kahn, Live at the Oregon State Penitentiary
  • The Cramps, Live at the Napa State Mental Institution
  • Black Uhuru, Live at Soledad Prison
  • The Sex Pistols, Live at Chelmsford Top Security Prison
  • Binary Star, Master of the Universe
  • Frank Sinatra & the Count Basie Orchestra, San Quentin & Lorton Correctional (had the idea of recording the album in a prison before Cash but album didn’t happen).
  • Fugazi, Live at Lorton Correctional Insitute



  • ‘Short of illicit substances, music is the most effective anaesthetic to the pain of long or short-term incarceration’
  • Normality of the prison audience – Foy Vance amazed at how ‘erudite and pleasant they all were’
  • Bonnie Tyler going in to film a single – rather than for the benefit of prisoners. Who do these musicians really go and perform for? What is the benefit?
  • ‘I’m not sure that there was anything altruistic about what Cash did. I think he just enjoyed playing in those places and identifying with the underdog’
  • Musicians being appreciative of the time that the inmates are giving them – it’s not a favour to them but rather an enjoyable experience.
  • Encouraging a positive alternative when inmates are released – a reminder of society and possibilities that freedom gives
  • A prisoner, Fetch, explaining how musicians coming and performing in a prison in Brixton provided peace after a prison riot a matter of weeks earlier.
  • Charity Jail Guitar Doors – named after Clash song
  • ‘What does he say to people who might question the morality of giving treats to people who have caused harm to others?’ – difficulties of different approaches to prisons and rehabilitation.


Photo taken by Jim Marshall at the 1969 San Quentin State Prison gig



  • Cash feeling as though he had ‘been endowed with this fame in order to do something with it’ in relation to prison reform
  • ‘As well as singing for the prisoners, Johnny used the platform of the concert, which was being filmed for local TV, to put his money where his mouth was, offering to donate $5,000 of his own money to build a prison chapel’
  • ‘Cash’s conversations with the men he met at Cummins clearly touched him too. At the 1972 US Senate hearing, Cash relayed stories of some of the worst abuses he had heard of on his prison visits, including the harrowing tale of a 15-year-old boy who died of injuries caused by his rape at an Arkansas prison’
  • Full experience of Cash – invested in the prisoners and aimed to provoke change
  • No change during Cash’s lifetime – was there any impact?


Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison

  • Lack of editing – doesn’t cut out any of the conversational performance at the beginning/end of each song. E.g. getting water, reception wanting a specific prisoner, conversations with the other musicians
  • Realistic recording of his experience at Folsom prison
  • Importance of not editing the music and including the whole experience
  • Difference of Cash’s experience in comparison to other musicians coming in?
  • Cash’s image – dark, outcast, time spent in jail



  • Looked at various different newspaper articles from the last 10 years or so – how might this compare with the opinion from when the album was first recorded? Haven’t easily found many opposing articles.
  • More analysis into the SOUND of prisons in relation to the MUSIC of Cash (from Eloise’s comment about Adorno and Bach and sound and music being complimentary)
  • Limited amount of materials?

Summary of Week Two Meeting

After determining that we are all interested in looking more into the issue of sound and memory, we all came prepared to the group with examples of potential case studies. This work help us not only to support our initial idea but to give us more ground to conceptualize our idea. Being that memory and sound is such a broad idea that can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the discipline you choose to view it through, it was important to consider that we are all more prepared to look at it through it’s linguistic or cultural value, and not so much on the psychological effect.

After seeing what everyone brought to the table, it appears we’ve agreed to look more into Johnny Cash’s concerts in Prison. There are still quite a number of questions we have to work through before finalizing the thesis/argument of the presentation: such as what effect does the music give, by Cash (a free man) choosing to go into an environment where people are intentionally kept away? How does the ‘natural’ sounds of the prison effect his own music? What does his image mean to the other prisons? Is there vision evidence that we can pull from? What linguistic changes might he had made to his lyrics for the specific audience???

These are only a few questions, but I believe that everyone at this point seems excited by the research and what we might learn. As well as, it seems everyone is willing to put in equal work. We are now looking into what particular theories might fit our presentation: linguistic (for example) as well as what visual evidence we might find.

Minutes — Communication Group A Week 2

This week we each brought in case studies related to our interest in sound. Tess, Rebecca, Spyros and I presented our research to each other:

The Work trailer ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8OVXG2GhpQ ): (Eloise) 

  • National identities: pan African, Native American, Hispanic, Caucasian 
  • masculinity? transcending societal norms? cultural restrictions/boundaries?
  • releasing emotions through deep
  • confronting trauma via group therapy with people from the outside
  • resonance of low voice to release emotions, male pride
  • Good and bad music which doesn’t relate to positive or negative
  • cultural relationship to music
  • sounds created by a prison

Johnny Cash albums recorded in jail (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wG0fS4DoGUc) (Tess) 

  • Johnny Cash Folsom Prison: don’t include extraneous sounds from the prison
  • Relates to outsiders coming in as a way of community building Cf. The Work, drawing parallels with different case studies 
  • Changes the lyrics and doesn’t swear // leaves in the recording but chooses not to contravene
  • Jail skits 
  • Jail is meant to keep people out of society and yet musicians are finding a way of making it intrude society: humanize and dehumanize criminals
  • Albums recorded live
  • video footage?

The Bee Gees and war torture methods, i.e. in Afghanistan : (Rebecca) 

  • Music as a form of torture (the bee gees — disco music as torture because of the upbeat and repetitive intensity of sound) music will always penetrate // music and sound goes to a different part of your brain than anything else, thinking about the relationship between language and sound? communicating trauma? 
  • The death of a maiden, ariel dorfman
  • Holocaust prisoners made to sing
  • Saydnaya Torture Prison, the ‘welcome party’

Metropolis: silent film and industrialization (Spyros) 

  • Metropolis: silent film dominated by sound
  • Sound with piano in the background?
  • Adorno and the value of musical accompaniment
  • investigate

    the nature of sound in the film, if accompanied by piano how is this valuable to communicating industry?


  • Analytical framework needed 
  • Ressources? primary ressources and secondary? 
  • Adorno and Bach: sound and music as complimentary 
  • How can we talk about sound in a way that’ll bring something to it?
  • Come up with 4 or 5 points for each idea
  • When researching look at primary and secondary resources

For week 3: 

  • Johnny Cash focus looking into linguisticssound, and visuals
  • assess different material we would want to use
  • underlying ideas within our established analytical framework
  • each team member take notes on the research they have found and we will discuss our approaches to said information in Week 3


  • research framework established by reading week
  • organise video chat during reading week?

  • decide what we want to show to Angel in week 4

Minutes — Communication Group A WEEK 1


  • Research Blog — assess individual participation
  • Meet every other week
  • 20-minute presentation
  • Oral presentation: more structured
  • Trello: group organization method? 


  • Interest in sound and memories it resurfaces
  • sound/film → significance of an image without the sound
  • Psychological aspect
  • Space and structure
  • Acting techniques Meisner // use own personal histories to bring up your own experience // music is used to bring up that experience
  • Slave songs
  • Memory and traumatic memory // sound as communication of memory
  • Proust and Madeleine memories
  • Listening to songs to resurface memories
  • VICE
  • prisons/humanity/sound
  • Los frikis
  • Interdisciplinary approach: film/psychology/performance
  • 20 minutes is about 3500 words
  • The work: documentary about prisoners/outside society members doing group therapy in prison together

We parted ways deciding that for our next meeting we would all bring case studies related to the study of sound.

We created a shared google file and a facebook group chat for us to share and organize our previous research related to sound. Rebecca had written an essay on The Death of a Maiden and the presence of sound in that play so was able to share her research with us in the file. I had also written an essay on the sonic modeling of the Saydnaya Torture Prison so was able to share my findings on the relationship between sound and language as inspiration for our group presentation.