Songs Of The Day 4/25/2015: Johnny Cash – “Wer Kennt Den Weg” + “Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama”

Speaking In Tongues: Johnny Cash bought his first guitar in Germany, where he was stationed during his time in the Air Force. It cost him twenty Deutschmarks, which works out to about five bucks. When he worked as a radio operator in Landsberg he formed a band called The Landsberg Barbarians. That’s also where he wrote “Folsom Prison Blues,” after viewing a B-movie called Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (“1000 Convicts As Dangerous As Dynamite – With A Killer Warden Who Lit The Fuse!” read the posters). Landsberg also had a prison, where an aspiring but mediocre young painter who awkwardly dealt with social situations wrote a book called Mein Kampf. Reviews were mixed at best.

Anyway, screw that loser, back to Cash. After his star ascended he re-recorded a few of his songs in German for the land where, it’s fair to say, his career actually began. American country music found a foothold in Germany for some reason, so the idea was a solid one from a business standpoint.

I thought we’d do a Cash twofer today. “Wer Kennt Den Weg” was his revision of “I Walk the Line,” and I honestly believe it kicks some serious ass. Cash’s rounded twang works shockingly well with the harsh German language. As with a couple other songs we’ve heard this week, the content of the lyrics went through some changes. “Wer Kennt Den Weg” translates to “Who Knows the Way?” And it’s not quite the brave story of doggedness that “I Walk the Line” was; it’s more of a longing for things left behind.

Same goes for “Wo Ist Zu Hause, Mama” (“Where Is Home, Mama”) which is his German reworking of “Five Feet High and Rising.” Here Cash isn’t talking about a steadily increasing flood of impending panic like the original, but rather – according to a translation I have no reason to doubt – it’s about a family searching for a home. There’s a whole other kind of poignancy to these words that’s different from “Five Feet High”: At first they conjecture their home is just down the road. When that doesn’t work, they try looking behind the mountains, then in the valley, and finally – here’s the kicker – “in the bright stars.” Something to think about, ’cause mortgage rates are way affordable on Uranus right now.

This was fun. Tomorrow we revert back to English.

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