Johnny Cash – “Flesh and Blood,” Pop #54, Country #1
By Joel Francis
Johnny and June had only been married for three years when Cash penned this love song for his wife. In that time, Cash had rejuvenated his career with two hugely successful live albums recorded in prisons and earned his own weekly television show.
Although these endeavors burnished under the name “Johnny Cash,” June Carter was no less responsible for their success. With a smoldering strength, she challenged and sustained as her man finally kicked the drug addiction that had plagued him for the better part of a decade and proudly supported him through his rejuvenation – personally, artistically, commercially and otherwise.
The list of adjectives used to describe the Man in Black is a million miles long, but “devoted” has to rank near the top. In “Flesh and Blood,” Cash celebrates his love for his wife and slips in some sideways admiration for his savior.
Bolstered by his omnipresent boom-chicka rhythm section, Cash rhapsodizes about afternoons spent outdoors and nature’s beauty. The majesty of Mother Nature is a feast for the mind and spirit, Cash sings, but “flesh and blood needs flesh and blood, and you’re the one I need.”
Cash grows philosophical on the bridge, for as great as the day had been, he knew it was all temporary. “Love is all that will remain,” Cash intones. In the New Testament, Jesus talks of three types of love: agape, eros and philia. For most of the song, Cash has been singing about eros, or romantic love. But in the bridge, he shifts to singing about agape, or godly love, and philia, love between friends. Eros will fade, he implies, but agape and philia will sustain. This clever turn not only subtly sows a bit of gospel, but universalizes Cash’s eros love for his wife into the broader forms, expanding the palate to a love everyone can understand.
In the 1969 documentary “The Man, His World, His Music,” there is a scene of Cash rehearsing the song at home for his wife. The song was sweetened with strings in the studio, but its soul was intact there on the sofa as Cash found a way to say what every woman wants to hear: All this other stuff is nice, but as long as I’ve got you, I’ll forever be happy.