The Random Griffith

Johnny Cash in heaven

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 06/01/2010

Sometimes my sailor mouth can get me in hot water with a friend or two.

At any rate, I figure it might behoove me to repost the lyrics to this song I wrote recently, titled “Johnny Cash in Heaven,” because the original place on here where I posted it contained some profanity. And I wanted to feature it in a post that people could feel comfortable sending to their mama or dad, if they ever do such a thing; at any rate, I didn’t want my profanity to be any kind of stumbling block. No one wrote me anything indicating they were upset, so this is a preemptive move. As I wrote in the song’s lyrics: “Yes, I have a dark side, and sometimes it drags me down.” I do not set out to offend deliberately, but sometimes I can achieve that end without even trying.

Anyway, where I grew up, in California’s San Joaquin County, Johnny Cash was a pretty big deal. I thought it was pretty sweet that he cut live albums at Folsom Prison, which is about 30 miles east of where I’m writing this in downtown Sacramento, and at San Quentin, across the San Francisco (technically, San Pablo) Bay from my birthplace in Berkeley. At the time, I didn’t fully cognate the full measure of Mr. Cash’s coolness; he exuded the kind of tough guy vibe that people in my working-class social stratum, even us hippie boys, found desirable as a male role model. Later, it was his mix of toughness and sensitivity, plus his concern for people who weren’t all that fortunate, that struck me as a pretty decent combination. Especially his concern for people behind bars.

In March 1994 I got to interview Cash for a cover story that ran in Pulse, the Tower Records monthly magazine where I worked for 16 years. Cash’s album American Recordings was about to come out, and I went up to his room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas. It was an okay interview, but I’d hit a rough spot of depression at about 18 months of sobriety, and I remember feeling pretty worthless during an event that should have been a high point. That night, all was forgiven, and Cash put on a killer show in the courtyard of a club called Emo’s on Austin’s Sixth Street, still perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen anyone do.

And even though I felt kinda down talking to Cash, one of the cool parts was him acknowledging his familiarity with this area, not only Folsom Prison but Sacramento and Lodi, near where I grew up. If I recall correctly, A.P. Carter, who would be his great uncle or something, lived in the area. Don’t quote me on that, because I no longer have the tape or my notes.

In 2008 I was part of a Buddhist sangha, or group, that goes into Old Folsom Prison to teach and practice meditation with a sangha of inmates there. We would meet on Tuesday nights in Greystone Chapel, a granite building Cash sang a song about on his 1968 album At Folsom Prison that was written by Glen Sherley, an inmate there; to get to the chapel, we would have to walk through the prison, including the dining hall where Cash’s album was recorded in January 1968, and across the prison yard.

Each time I walked through the prison and across the yard, which was probably every Tuesday that summer where the prison wasn’t on lockdown, I’d think about Johnny Cash, and how he was willing to donate his time and talent to affirm the value of men who have been thrown away by society. Just because somebody may have done awful things and has gotten himself (or herself) locked away, that person is still a human being. Call me a bleeding-heart liberal, but I think everyone has a Buddha nature.

And even though my own religious and philosophal views may be grounded in Buddhist thought, I have no problem with Mr. Cash’s professed Christianity. I myself was raised in the Presbyterian Church, and a couple of my beloved cousins are Presbyterian ministers, and my sister was a missionary in Papua New Guinea for around 30 years. We all find our way, and anything that gets us to stop being so damn self-involved and more directed toward getting outside ourselves and helping our fellow human beings, especially those who need that help, is a good thing in my book.

At any rate, that may have been what came to mind this past fall. I’ve walked through my own version of the Bible’s book of Job in the past few years, and I really was skidding pretty hard a few months ago. One morning I was sitting on my zafu, or meditation cushion, with my eyes closed, and I hit a deep well of sadness and tears, and heard the phrase “Johnny Cash in heaven.” That was it; and later that day I returned, sat down with the guitar and wrote the following song:

Johnny Cash in heaven, I think you understand
When this whole world comes tumbling down, what happens to a man
Who’s been chewed up hard by circumstances beyond his control
And fears for losing everything, even his soul
Wandering in darkness crying, nothing left to lose
Singing these sad, sad blues
Johnny Cash in heaven

Johnny Cash in heaven, tell me what you know
’Cause I ain’t worked in so long, and got nowhere to go
And every day I hit a new bottom, can’t move on up
I’m wrestling with some demons that got me all messed up
But when I listen to your records, they bring me peace
Find some peace for me now
Johnny Cash in heaven

Ain’t stuck in Folsom Prison, just a lonesome vale of tears
Paralyzed by hatred for myself and gripped with fear
I met a woman, fell in love and opened up my heart
And then one day she said goodbye and my world fell apart
I feel like a stranger in a once-familiar place
Spinning hard into space
Johnny Cash in heaven

I know you ain’t Jesus, though you might be a saint
’Cause you walked through adversity, and you stood tall through pain
And I know you once walked this way, tell me where to go
I’ll put one foot in front of the other, never felt so low
But I’ve got faith there’s someplace better, show me a sign
And I will walk the line
Johnny Cash in heaven

Johnny Cash in heaven, I think you know me well
I’m simple but I’m complicated, inside this shell
And yes, I’ve got a dark side, sometimes it drags me down
And I can feel that river rising, think I’m gonna drown
But I know you stood where I stand now, on a cold, dark night
And it’s gonna be all right
Johnny Cash in heaven
Johnny Cash in heaven
Johnny Cash in heaven
Johnny Cash in heaven

If there’s one thing I hope about it, it’s this: Perhaps one day I will be able to use my music to help other people, and maybe this song and some of my other ones can make some money that can be put to use helping those who might need the help. Lord knows I’ve been the beneficiary of other peoples’ kindnesses, especially when things went sideways in recent years. And I’d really like the chance to pay them back, and then pay something forward.

Sincerely, I would. —Jackson Griffith

Technology, entertainment, design

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 06/01/2010

Yes, I’ve fallen down the TED rabbit hole.

Some of you may be up to speed on TED.com, but for those of you who haven’t yet drunk the Kool-Aid, TED is a website that features an ever-expanding offering of free talks, or videos of said talks. Most of them seem to clock in between 10 and 20 minutes, so they’re pretty easy morsels to digest during the day, if you’d rather chomp on a bit of brain candy than surf a news or gossip site, bullshit around the water cooler or step outside for a smoke.

TED is an acronym for “technology, entertainment, design.” My first exposure to it was via a lecture titled “Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight” by a brain scientist who had a stroke, or left-brain hemorrhage, and she knew enough about the function of the human brain to follow exactly was going on inside her head. She knew that the left brain, which governs the logical part of thinking, was shutting down, leaving her right brain to plunge her into a far more mystical state of being. It was a pretty popular viral video a few years ago, and my attention got drawn to it via my interest in Buddhist insight meditation, or Vipassana, which I’ve been practicing daily for a few years now.

And then last summer, my friend Roderick Bedingfield turned me on to a couple of coworking office spaces that were alternating in hosting TED videos on Tuesday mornings. I never made it to Capsity, but I did start hitting The Urban Hive, and eventually, TED Tuesday shifted there every week.

Basically, what happens is we sit around and start drinking coffee, because 8 a.m. generally is a time when caffeine intake can be quite helpful. Then we watch a TED video that host Brandon Weber has picked out, then we talk about it or whatever ideas arise, then we watch another TED video and then talk some more. Sometimes we get through three videos, but two seems to be typical.

It seems to be a pretty excellent format for opening up discussion on a variety of heady topics. This morning, we watched two: first, a short talk from a recent TED India conference by Asher Hasan, which showed photos of ordinary people in Pakistan who are not part of what people in the West would call terrorist insurgents; it probably made more sense in the context of this TED being held in India, a nation in conflict with Pakistan, which was carved out of the former British colony of India (along with what’s now Bangladesh) to give Muslims and other non-Hindus a chance at a stable future in the post-colonial Indian subcontinent. The seven of us there didn’t have a whole lot to say about the short piece, which clocked in at a short-for-TED 4:29.

The second video we watched, by aviator Bertrand Piccard, left a stronger impression on us. Piccard, who already circled the globe in a hot-air balloon, now seeks to accomplish the same feat in a solar-powered plane. But his talk was more universal, beginning with the metaphor of navigating to the proper altitude where the wind currents will be best for moving where we want to go, and achieving that objective by dropping items of ballast — a Buddhist idea, one person at the Urban Hive said, after describing the metaphors as “cheesy.” Yes, some metaphors are cheesy, others agreed, but cliches become cliches because there’s at least a grain of truth resonating through them.

For me, these TED Tuesday events, along with Cereal Creative, a Cap’n Crunch-fueled Friday morning bull session, also at The Urban Hive, have provided a sense of community with an intellectual context, at a time when I’ve become a bit untethered to normal office culture, me being unemployed and all that. It’s good to be around smart, creative and forward-looking people, if only to remind me that I’m smart, creative and forward-looking, too, and I seem to thrive best in that milieu; I’m probably not Tea Party or Glenn Beck’s 912 Society material.

If I miss a TED Tuesday, I feel like I’ve missed out on something special, because the discussions are typically scintillating. But the beauty of it is that you can watch the TED talks with an Internet connection, and there is a huge library of them online that you can explore whenever you like. And they’re free. I won’t list a bunch of my favorites, because part of the fun of exploring is finding your own. But I will give you a link to one TED talk that really fired my imagination: Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’ 3 warp-speed architecture tales, which blew my mind as well as any, ahem, stable alkaloid could, and this one’s non-toxic.

(And if you like this stuff, The Urban Hive has begun hosting TEDx events here in Sacramento. There’s one scheduled sometime this spring; check The Urban Hive’s calendar page for when that will be.)

So why am I telling you this? Because we live in an age where commercial media is foisting so much junk culture on us, at a time when it is absolutely crucial that we rise to the challenge of building a future that will sustain life, human and otherwise. If we sit around watching the idiocies of the Kardashian Sisters Go Shopping and then talk about their over-magnified vanities around the water cooler, we’re wasting time better spent on finding solutions to the many problems before us.

And solving those problems will require that we shut off our old and long-established defaults long enough to hear the whispering voices of the answers we seek. I’m guessing these answers will arise from causes and conditions we have established; the intention of a group of people meeting with the accord of being open to finding and manifesting these solutions, in similar fashion to the way jazz musicians collaborate to elevate a shared musical idea into something transcendent and far more wonderful than something they each could have accomplished on their own, really gets me excited and inspired.

Which doesn’t stop me from enjoying Jersey Shore, by the way. I love my junk culture, too, but I’d also like to see humanity survive long enough to give us the next generation of Kardashians. —Jackson Griffith