In his autobiography, Johnny Cash (1932-2003), the famous country and rock’n roll singer, looks back on the enigma his father was to him and questions the influence the latter had on his life.
Dropped by the father
J. Cash tells us that as a child he was exposed to his father’s jouissance. Cash was terrified when the father drank, came home drunk and quarrelled with his wife. His father never had a single loving word or an affectionate gesture for his children. Worse, he denigrated his son’s passion for music even though it was the “best thing in [his] life”. Johnny reports that when he was five, his father – in a way that could not have been predicted – killed the dog the child had taken in a year ago, claiming that the dog was eating leftovers, that could have been used to fatten the few pigs on their small farmland. “I thought my world had ended that morning, that nothing was safe, that life wasn’t safe. It was a frightening thing, and it took a long time for me to get over it. It was a cut that went deep and stayed there”. It was a letting down that affected little Johnny in his body.
“The man who delivered the sermon”
At the age of twelve, Johnny lost his older brother, Jack, in an accident. It left him devastated, and he remained prey to feelings of emptiness and profound solitude. Following his [brother’s] death, his father stopped drinking and became a deacon at the temple: one day he was asked to replace the pastor on an exceptional basis. He took the floor. J. Cash writes about him: “His subject was a passage in Second Chronicles […] and he was very effective. He didn’t shout; he was calm, contained, reserved. I was impressed, and I think the congregation was too. It was such a wonderful thing for me seeing him in the pulpit”. This encounter with a surprising father [épatant], linked with the Holy Scriptures, and contrasting with an unleashed and immoral father figure, constitutes an event that has a significant influence on J. Cash’s future encounter with God.
While his music would find success, Cash sank into amphetamine and alcohol abuse. In irrepressible outbursts of drug-induced rage, he smashed many hotel rooms during his tours – a vandalism that became a model for future generations of rockers. In 1967, unable to sing and to give concerts because of his addiction, reduced to “one-and-a-half-inch frame” and looking like “a walking vision of death”, he decided to disappear in the depth of a cave to let himself die there. In the darkness, he writes, “I felt something very powerful start to happen to me, a sensation of utter peace, clarity, and sobriety. […] I couldn’t understand it. How […] could I possibly feel all right ? […] my mind started focusing on God”. This body event, interpreted as a divine intervention, allowed him to break free from the drugs, to reconnect with his desire, and to find a new direction in life.
It is in light of his mystical experience and his faith, that Cash questions his link with his father in his autobiography. Did the remaining mark in his body that resulted from his father’s jouissance condemn him to be as “evil” as he was? Thanks to God’s love, J. Cash moved far away from any direct causality. He took responsibility for his evil part – the kakon– and for his acts: “In degrees of male mania, I guess there’s not much difference (though there is some) between shooting dogs and smashing hotel rooms. […] It’s his legacy, but it’s my responsibility”.
References from the author:
 Cash, J, Carr, P., Cash: The Autobiography. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
 Ibid., p. 383.
 Ibid., p. 87.
 Ibid., p. 385.
 Ibid., p. 334.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Ibid., p. 333.
 Cf. Lacan, J., …or Worse. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book XIX. Edited by J.-A. Miller, translated by A. R. Price, Cambridge, UK, Polity Press, 2018, p. 184.
 Cash, J., Carr, P., op. cit., p. 219.
 Ibid., p. 239.
 Ibid., p. 241-242.
 Ibid., p. 335.
 Lacan J., “Presentation on Psychical Causality”, Écrits, translated by Bruce Fink, W.W. Norton & Company, New-York, London, 2006, p. 175: “it is precisely the kakon of his own being that the madman tries to get at in the object he strikes”.
 Cash, J., Carr, P., op. cit., p. 333-334.
Translation: Cédric Grolleau
Proofreading: Eva Reinhofer
Picture : © Céline Danloy