American Communion (Vanity Fair, October 2004)

An upbeat story about death. There had already been tons of articles published about Johnny Cash’s unlikely late-in-life artistic alliance with Rick Rubin, which began in the early 1990s and ended with Cash’s death in 2003. But no one had really explored Cash and Rubin’s relationship in depth. A few months after Cash died, I approached Rubin about talking intimately, slowly, patiently, about all that went on between him and the Man in Black. He agreed and let me spend hours with him in his Buddhist-surf-Gothic décor house in the Hollywood hills, and played me raw tapes of Cash’s final recordings. To my surprise and delight, there was so much more to the Cash-Rubin story than music. For this article, I shed much of my reflexive, Spy-magazine-trained cheekiness and just told the story.

P.S.: The ostensible peg of this piece was the supposedly imminent release of the album of Cash’s final songs, American V. Because of label politics, the album did not come out until July 2006, with the subtitle A Hundred Highways.

 

The last song that Johnny Cash ever wrote is called “Like the 309.” Like the first single he ever recorded, “Hey Porter,” from 1955, it’s a train song. Cash loved trains—he made two concept albums about them in the early 1960s, Ride This Train and All Aboard the Blue Train, dangled his legs from atop a boxcar on the cover of his ’65 album, Orange Blossom Special, and, in the liner notes to his 1996 album, Unchained, listed “railroads” second in his litany of favorite song subjects, right after “horses” and just before “land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak, and love. And Mother. And God.”

Trains resonated with Cash, and no wonder. He spent his first years in a house hard by the railroad tracks in Kingsland, Arkansas. He counted among his earliest memories the image of his father, Ray, a Depression-era cotton farmer who rode the freights in search of work when there wasn’t cotton to pick, jumping out of a moving boxcar and rolling down into a ditch, coming to stillness only as he lay before the family’s front door. Trains were in Cash’s veins, insinuating their boom-chicka-boom rhythms into his early records for Sam Phillips’s Sun label (in fact, he later recorded a nostalgic album harking back to his Sun years called Boom Chicka Boom) and serving him lyrically as metaphors for adventure, progress, danger, strength, lust, and American Manifest Destiny.

But “Like the 309” is less lofty than all that. “See everybody, I’m doin’ fine / Load my box on the 309,” he sings. “Put me in my box on the 309 ... Asthma comin’ down like the 309.” Yielding to a fiddle solo, Cash stops singing and starts ... wheezing—tubercularly, hammily, on purpose; he’s conflating the groaning, hacking sounds of his dying body with those of an old locomotive. It’s “Hey Porter” turned on its ear, the boxcar interment of the brazen, respiratorily robust young buck who sang in the earlier song, “Tell that engineer I said thanks a lot, and I didn’t mind the fare / I’m gonna set my feet on Southern soil and breathe that Southern air.” And Cash is playing it for laughs.

Every time Cash does one of his comic wheezes, the fellow to the left of me on the couch chuckles but keeps his eyes closed. He listens to the playback intently, legs folded in the lotus position, arms relaxed, feet unshod, his body rocking back and forth in time to the music, lending him the air of a shaman communing with the other world—or, given his untrimmed beard, a Lubavitcher rebbe in the throes of Sabbath davening. When the song ends, the bearded fellow snaps to and says, “Let me play you another one.” The next recording, also from the final weeks of Cash’s life, is of a folk song called “The Oak and the Willow,” which begins, “He once was as strong as a giant oak tree / Now he bends in the wind like a willow ... ” Another song about death, but this time dead serious, and beautiful. Sung from the point of view of a dying man’s son, the lyrics conclude, “A part of my heart will forever be lost when the oak and the willow are gone.” As the song ends, the bearded fellow, Rick Rubin, still has his eyes closed, but that doesn’t keep the tears from running down his face.

In the decade they knew each other, from their first meeting in 1993 to Cash’s death on September 12 of last year, Rubin produced five studio albums for Cash. From the moment their collaboration was announced, it caused a stir—at first, just for the odd-couple novelty of their pairing: the Man in Black, confirmed citizen of Nashville, and the inscrutable ZZ Top–lookin’ dude who founded the hip-hop label Def Jam records in his New York University dorm room with Russell Simmons and later made a name for himself as a producer of hard-rock acts such as AC/DC, Slayer, and Danzig.

But no one was less fazed by the seeming incongruity of the new alliance than Cash—“I’d dealt with the long-haired element before and it didn’t bother me at all,” he commented, drolly adding that he found “great beauty in men with perfectly trained beards”—and it didn’t take long for people to look past the Bard-Beard angle and get stirred up by the music itself. The first fruit of their collaboration, American Recordings, released in 1994, reconnected Cash with his fundamental Johnny Cash–ness, featuring just him and his guitar, playing the rootsy, heartfelt material that he longed to play but that achy-breaky 1980s Nashville had wanted no part of. The subsequent albums of the American series—so named because all the sequels except Unchained have “American” in their title (American III: Solitary Man; American IV: The Man Comes Around) and because Rubin’s label also happens to be called American Recordings—were even better, mixing the rootsier material with Rubin-suggested, idiomatically unlikely songs that, once Cashified, came to be celebrated in the rock world: Soundgarden’s high-grunge yowler “Rusty Cage” re-done as a bluegrass shuffle; Depeche Mode’s aloof synth-pop song “Personal Jesus” as a swamp blues; and, most celebratedly, Nine Inch Nails’ drug-addict confessional “Hurt” as an old man’s devastating appraisal of his life, with the most stunning climax in a pop song since the orchestral glissando in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” As for “Like the 309” and “The Oak and the Willow,” they’ll appear on the as-yet-unsubtitled American V, most of which was recorded last year in the four-month span between the May 15 death of Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, and his own passing—a raw, grief-stricken period during which Cash kept his loneliness at bay by writing and recording at a furious pace, as often as his strength would allow. American V comes out this fall.

Seldom in the annals of modern music, where snuffed promise and blown opportunities are a requisite part of the Behind the Music drama, has something turned out as right as the Cash-Rubin partnership. Everybody won: Cash, re-energized and alight with inspiration, was afforded a happy ending to the recording career he’d effectively given up on, and the world was presented with a late-period chunk of Johnny Cash music that, on its own merits—divorced from sentimentality and the wishful thinking that typically surrounds comeback efforts by older artists—stands with the best work he ever did. “It’s like Matisse doing the jazz dancers when he was in his 80s, you know?” says Rosanne Cash, the eldest of Cash’s children and a fine singer-songwriter herself. “Like a whole new level of art and depth and mastery and confidence. Rick came at just the right time, and Dad was just the right age that that could be unlocked in him. He got all his old confidence back. Only it was kind of a mature confidence—it wasn’t that kind of punky, rebellious confidence of his early years.”

For Rubin, the personal experience of getting to know Cash was even more edifying than the satisfaction he took in reconnecting the old-timer with his muse. The two men wound up enveloped in something more intense than a friendship, a deep kindredness that greatly moved Cash’s family and friends, and, frankly, kind of freaked them out. “You could see that their connection went back into the mists of time somewhere,” says Rosanne. “Like these guys didn’t just meet 11 years ago.”

As Rubin progressed from his 30s to 40s, and Cash from his 60s to 70s, the two became confidants and sounding boards on matters spiritual as well as musical—a sort of Tuesdays with Morrie scenario without the slush and hokum, and with a more reciprocal exchange of wisdom between the dying man and the younger man. Plus really cool tunes.

Rubin is not what you think he is. The long hair, the Hell’s Angels beard, and the wraparound shades he wears in public suggest a standoffish, substance-abusing ogre who speaks, if he speaks at all, in noncommittal grunts—a grouch savant fluent only in the visceral language of rawk. In fact, he’s chatty and thoughtful, with the dulcet speaking voice and gentle mien of a divinity student. He adheres to a vegan diet and seldom wears shoes. He claims never to have taken drugs, and to have been drunk only once in his life, when he took a mixology class while attending a Harvard summer program in his teens, “and for the final, we had to mix, like, 30 different drinks and taste them all, and I got really drunk and I hated it.” The shelves of Rubin’s library, in his home just above the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, are crammed with religious texts and path-to-enlightenment guides: the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, The Great Code (Northrop Frye’s definitive lit-crit companion to the Bible), how-tos on both raja and hatha yoga, Listening to Prozac, Mind over Back Pain, something called The Knee of Listening, by someone called Adi Da.

Just off the library, in the south end of the living room, stands a tableau that, at first blush, seems comic—an enormous stone Buddha statue, flanked by two nearly-as-enormous stereo speakers. But this is pretty much Rubin in a nutshell: an earnest spiritual quester who finds deliverance in both meditation and loud music. “I used to be a magician, from the time I was 9 years old till I was 17 years old,” he says. “When you’re that age, you can’t really tell the difference between magic and spirituality and the occult. They were all kind of part of this same other world. And I honestly find the same thing in music. It’s this other magic world, and it takes me away.”

Cash, though a devout Christian, didn’t dismiss Rubin’s patchwork spirituality as hooey. A fellow bibliophile and comparative-religion junkie, the antithesis of the stereotypical southern rustic with a suspicion of fancy book learnin’, he delighted in his producer’s pan-theological curiosity. Out of their frequent discussions of religion developed an odd custom, certainly unprecedented in producer-artist relations: for the last few months of Cash’s life, he and Rubin took Holy Communion together every day, even if they weren’t physically in the same place, and even though Rubin, who was born Jewish and doesn’t profess allegiance to any one faith, is not technically eligible to receive the sacrament. At an appointed time, Rubin would call Cash and Cash would “officiate,” instructing Rubin to visualize the wafer and wine.

“I’d close my eyes,” Rubin says, closing his eyes, “and he would say [Long pause, intake of breath], ‘And they retired to a large upper room for the Passover feast, and Jesus picked up the bread, took a piece of the bread, and passed the bread around. And he held up the bread and he said, “This is my body, which is broken for you. Eat, and do this in remembrance of me.”’ [Eyes open.] Then Johnny would say, ‘Visualize the eating, swallow. Feel it. Wait a minute.’ And then he would say [Eyes closed again], ‘ ... and then he picked up the jug of wine. He poured the wine, and he said, “This is my blood, which is shed for the remission of your sins. Drink, and do this in remembrance of me.” And they all did drink.’”

“Even after he passed away,” Rubin says, “I continued doing this with him. I would say that, for between probably four and five months, it felt exactly the same, his presence was much more available—I could get quiet and I could hear him say it. After that, for some reason, it started changing a little bit. I don’t know enough about the afterlife to know why that would be, but something changed. As time has gone on, it’s a little harder to do. But I still do it.”

It’s strange to reconcile this tender admission with the demo CDs by Slipknot and Audioslave that are strewn about the floor—and stranger still to think that this is the same man who wore a hellion’s black leather jacket and took a pie to the face in the goofily raucous 1986 video for the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (To Party)”—but there’s no doubting Rubin’s sincerity, or the solace he finds in Cash’s flickering, fading presence. In darkness, having spent several hours in Rubin’s incense-scented library, I return to my hotel, down the road, and turn on MTV. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s Rubin in another hip-hop video, a new one, by another of his production clients, Jay-Z. Decked out in those wraparound shades and a skullcap, Rubin rides shotgun in Jay-Z’s car, bobbing expressionlessly to the beat while Jay raps, “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”

In the early 1980s, Johnny Cash was trapped in a kind of pre-iconic limbo, having not died young enough for his legend to be burnished by the romance of early flameout, having not grown old enough to bask in the warmth and reconsideration of a sentimental public. Though he remained a decent live draw, his record sales were in the tank, and his longtime label, Columbia, couldn’t be bothered with him, focusing its energies on younger country acts. Sensing his label’s lack of interest, Cash became uninterested himself, going through the motions on his new albums because he suspected they wouldn’t get played or promoted anyway—a chicken-and-egg cycle of indifference for which, he admitted, he bore some blame. The chicken metaphor is apt, because in 1984, in a frustrated act of self-sabotage, he recorded an “intentionally atrocious” single, in his words, called “Chicken in Black.” Though he didn’t write the song himself, “Chicken in Black” parodied his Man in Black image by inventing a scenario in which an ailing Cash undergoes a brain transplant, receiving the brain of a bank robber called the Manhattan Flash, while Cash’s original brain is implanted in a chicken, who goes on to wow them at the Grand Ole Opry, and ... well, it’s really not worth going into any more detail. Columbia took the bait; in 1986, after 28 years, he was dropped from the label.

“It was a sad reflection on where country music had come,” says Kris Kristofferson, one of Cash’s closest friends. “When I was growing up, the big stars of country, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb—once they made it, they were there forever. It wasn’t like pop music: Here today, gone tomorrow. But when country music got so much bigger, largely through Cash, who was a bridge to Bob Dylan and Neil Young and people like that, it became more like pop music. And Columbia—which he built—did something awfully cold.”

Cash found a deal in 1987 with Mercury-Polygram, but no further commercial success. The only thing that sustained his public profile in any meaningful way was his participation in the Highwaymen, a part-time supergroup of crinkly country outlaws whose other members were Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kristofferson. By 1991, Cash wrote in his 1997 autobiography, Cash, “I’d given up. I’d already started thinking that I didn’t want to deal with record companies anymore. Saying goodbye to that game and just working the road, playing with my friends and family for people who really wanted to hear us, seemed very much like the thing to do. I began looking forward to it.” Which was fine—Cash was financially well-off, with homes in Tennessee, Virginia, and Jamaica, and didn’t need hit records to put food on the table.

But still, it was an ignominious end to a recording career that had caught fire at Sun in 1956 with “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” and reached its apex in the late 60s with two electrifying jailhouse-concert albums for Columbia, At Folsom Prison (1968) and At San Quentin (1969). The prison albums had been especially validating to Cash, in that their success won him the respect of the counterculture and sealed the deal on his first comeback. Just a few years earlier, he’d been hooked on barbiturates and amphetamines, had detonated his first marriage, to Vivian Liberto (the mother of Rosanne and his three other girls), and acquired an image as Nashville’s most temperamental star, notorious for having kicked out the footlights of the Opry stage in a fit of pique. By ’68, though, he had gotten religion, gotten off pills, and married the woman who facilitated both processes, June Carter, his soul mate, stage-mate, and a scion of country’s legendary Carter Family. Cash’s 1970s were pretty good, too, particularly in the early going, when he had his own variety series on ABC, The Johnny Cash Show, and established his enduring persona on the title song of his album Man in Black: the oaken-voiced troubadour who “wear[s] the black for the poor and the beaten down / Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town.” But by the 1980s, alas, as country coifs crept mullet-ward and Nashville became enamored of line dancing, it was Cash who was feeling beaten down.

Rick Rubin, by contrast, had had a very good 1980s—so good, in fact, that by 1985, when he was only 22, he was already starring as himself in a barely fictionalized movie account of the rise of Def Jam records, Krush Groove. A year earlier, while he was still an undergraduate studying film at N.Y.U., he and Russell Simmons, a Queens-born promoter and manager of the rappers Run-D.M.C. (and the older brother of Run, a.k.a. Joey Simmons), had started up the label, and that same year Def Jam scored its first big hit, “I Need a Beat,” by the 16-year-old LL Cool J. Two years later, Rubin produced the first rap album ever to go to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, and engineered hip-hop’s signal moment of crossover into the white-rock world, pairing Run-D.M.C. with Aerosmith on a remake of the latter’s “Walk This Way.”

By the early 90s, Rubin had amicably parted ways with Simmons, moved to Los Angeles, and started his own label, the more rock-oriented Def American, while also moonlighting as one of rock’s busiest producers-for-hire, working with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Mick Jagger. In 1993, having decided that the word “def” had become passé, he dropped it from the name of his label. With that change came a desire in Rubin to sign a different kind of act to his roster. “At my current label, I had only ever worked with new bands,” he says. “But as a producer, I had gotten to work with grown-up artists. And I just thought it’d be nice to find the right grown-up artist who, maybe, is in the wrong place, who I could really do something great with. And the first person who came to mind was John. He already had legendary status, and maybe had been in a place where he hadn’t been doing his best work for a while.”

The late 80s and early 90s saw a lot of veteran artists pulled from the shelf and dusted off—it was popular music’s era of re-reckoning, a time when CD reissues and the advent of the “classic rock” radio format inspired music fans to halt their relentless pursuit of the new and reconsider the old-timers they’d consigned to the nostalgia circuit. A consensus suddenly arose that, wait a minute, Tony Bennett and Burt Bacharach aren’t elevator-music practitioners but elegant masters of songcraft, and that such dormant architects of 60s pop as the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn might have something new to offer. Then there were scrappers such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young, who never disappeared or fell off the A-list but went through serious creative funks, and who managed to will themselves back to fighting form without anyone’s help.

Cash had made a few stabs at artistic resurrection in the 1980s, covering two Bruce Springsteen songs on his 1983 album, Johnny 99, and an Elvis Costello tune on his first Mercury album, Johnny Cash Is Coming to Town, but he floundered when it came to sustaining any kind of compelling vision for the length of an entire album. “I knew he was looking around for some fresh inspiration and enthusiasm,” says Rosanne Cash. “But he’s the kind of guy who needs somebody to provide the keyhole. And he didn’t have that.”

As it happened, Rubin was not the only person with Cash revivalism on the brain. U2 had already enlisted Cash to sing lead on “The Wanderer,” the final song of the band’s 1993 album, Zooropa, and, around the same time, Cash was getting feelers from the organizers of Lollapalooza, the alternative-music festival, about joining their ragtag road show of pierced, tattooed youthquakers. But Rosanne, protective of her father, feared that he would be turned into some kind of cute artifact-mascot for the Lollapalooza kids. “I just said, ‘Dad, please don’t do it,’” she says. “I didn’t want him to put himself in a situation where he wouldn’t get the kind of respect he deserved.”

Rosanne was equally dubious when her father announced to her in the summer of ’93 that he was signing up with Rick Rubin and American Recordings. “I thought, This is odd. I wonder how this is gonna work,” she says. “Just knowing the acts Rick had worked with, it did cross my mind: Is he gonna try to make some kind of parody out of Dad?”

Acting quickly after his brainstorm to sign Cash, Rubin had gotten in touch with Lou Robin, Cash’s manager since the early 70s, to arrange a meeting. Robin wasn’t all that clued-up on Rubin’s oeuvre—his bookings for Cash were strictly for “45 and up” audiences, he says—but he decided there was no harm in having Rubin come visit backstage the next time Cash was performing in the Los Angeles area. And so it came to pass that, one night early in 1993, Rubin drove south to Santa Ana, in Orange County, to see Cash play a show with his backup band and his wife, plus June’s two sisters, Helen and Anita, at a dinner theater.

“Other than the fact that it was packed and the audience was going crazy, it would have been depressing,” says Rubin of the show’s setting. “But it was, in fact, a great show—more of a revue than a concert, a family show. A lot going on. June’s sisters came out and they sang Carter Family songs. As soon as I saw it, I was thinking, Wow—I imagine that him playing in theaters would be a much better experience. And my goal was to make that transition happen as quickly as possible.”

Backstage after the show, Cash rose from his seat to shake the hand of his unusually comported visitor, who was dressed, the singer later recalled, in “clothes that would have done a wino proud.” They exchanged hellos ... and then stared at each other, silently, for a solid two minutes.

“I’m thinking, What do I say? How do I break the ice here?” says Lou Robin. “They were just kind of sizing each other up.”

Eventually, both men overcame their intrinsic shyness and got to talking. “I said, ‘What’re you gonna do with me that nobody else has done to sell records for me?’” Cash recalled in a 1997 interview with Terry Gross of National Public Radio. “He said, ‘Well, I don’t know that we will sell records. I would like you to go with me and sit in my living room with a guitar and two microphones and just sing to your heart’s content, everything you ever wanted to record.’ I said, ‘That sounds good to me.’”

And thus began Johnny Cash’s revival.

For several weeks that autumn, Rubin sat in his living room like the musicologist Alan Lomax on a Mississippi porch, listening and recording intently while a gnarled, authentic article of Americana banged away at his repertoire. From about two o’clock in the afternoon to eight each night, Cash, with just an old Martin acoustic for accompaniment, did spirituals, love songs, hillbilly songs, old originals, favorites by Jimmie Rodgers and Kris Kristofferson—dozens of songs, all of which Rubin got on tape.

“A lot of the material on the first album, and on the first disc of the box set that we put out [Unearthed, a collection of outtakes released last year], is material recorded during those first meetings, of just getting to know each other, and him playing me songs,” Rubin says. “You know, ‘This is a song that I remember, when I was picking cotton, that we used to sing.’ Or ‘This is one that my mom used to sing to me.’ Or ‘This is one that I used to hear on the radio.’ Or ‘This is one that I recorded in 1957 and no one really ever heard it, but it always meant a lot to me.’”

“It gave me a profound sense of déjà vu,” Cash told the journalist Sylvie Simmons in an interview shortly before his death (published in the book that accompanies Unearthed). “It very much reminded me of the early days at Sun Records. Sam Phillips put me in front of that microphone at Sun Records in 1955 for the first time and said, ‘Let’s hear what you’ve got. Sing your heart out,’ and I’d sing one or two and he’d say, ‘Sing another one, let’s hear one more’ ... ”

For Rubin, it was as much an education as a get-to-know-you exercise, because, truth be told, he hadn’t been a studious Cash fan before signing him. Like any American kid growing up in the non-South, outside the sphere of Opry influence—in Rubin’s case, in Long Beach, New York, an upper-middle-class suburb in the Buttafuoco belt of Long Island—he absorbed Johnny Cash by osmosis, simply because Cash was one of those figures who were ubiquitous in the formative years of people born in the 60s, forever on TV variety shows and in the collective cultural consciousness. “I thought of the image of the Man in Black,” says Rubin. “The Man in Black was a big part of who he was in real life, as well as a mythical image associated with him. I would always try to find songs that were suited for that.”

Of the songs that emerged from the living-room sessions, there was none more black than “Delia’s Gone,” an old traditional that Cash had performed years before but forgotten the words to, forcing him to come up with some of his own. A twisted psycho-ballad about a remorseful jailbird who done killed his woman (“Delia, oh Delia / Delia all my life / If I hadn’t shot poor Delia / I’d have had her for my wife”), “Delia’s Gone” set the tone for what became American Recordings, a solo acoustic set of mostly dark songs, worlds away from “Chicken in Black.”

Rubin had originally imagined that these songs would be fleshed out with a band, and brought in various musicians, including Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers and Chad Smith and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to back Cash on the new material. “But after going through that process, after trying a lot of things, the acoustic demos were the most exciting to me,” says Rubin. “Once we decided that that’s what the album was going to be, I suggested, ‘How would you feel about getting up in a little club and doing some of these songs acoustically? Just to see what it’s like playing them in front of an audience, by yourself?’ And he said he was open to it, but he was clearly nervous about it.”

Remarkably, Cash had never performed solo in his long career. Even at the very beginning, in the boom-chicka-boom days of “Hey Porter” and “I Walk the Line” at Sun, it was not Johnny Cash, but Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, his buddies Luther Perkins on lead guitar and Marshall Grant on bass. But on a Monday late in 1993, Rubin called the Viper Room, Johnny Depp’s tiny Sunset Strip club, just down the hill from Rubin’s house, to see when it next had an open night for a simple solo set. That Thursday, before an invited audience, Depp stepped onstage and said, “You know, I never thought I’d get to say this, but here’s Johnny Cash!” Cash, by himself, took the microphone and went right into “Delia’s Gone.” “He was really nervous about it, never having relied on his own guitar, and I was nervous watching him,” says Tom Petty, a good friend of both Cash and Rubin. But Cash held the audience rapt, and with each eruption of applause after a song, he gained confidence in himself and in Rubin’s plan.

American Recordings was released in the spring of 1994, its cover a stark, sepia-tone photograph by Andrew Earl of Cash in a preacherman’s black frock coat (which really was the coat that he wore regularly) standing in a wheat field, flanked by a black dog and a white dog. There was no title on the cover, just the word CASH in enormous block letters above his head—a conscious attempt to reinforce Cash’s mythic status; it might as well have said GOD. Martyn Atkins, who was American Recordings’ creative director at the time and designed the cover, says, “I told Rick, ‘Let’s make a statement, let’s make it as bold as possible.’ Johnny had been a bit Vegas-y, a bit Branson, for a while, and we needed to take people back to what he truly was, to the character of the early days.”

The produced–by–Rick Rubin angle won American Recordings the most attention a new Johnny Cash album had received in more than two decades, and the praise was unanimous; Rolling Stone gave it five stars, and the LP went on to win a Grammy for best contemporary folk-song album. MTV even gave some airplay to the video for “Delia’s Gone,” the album’s opener and first single, which featured Kate Moss as Delia, lying motionless as the bloodstains from Cash’s bullets spread across her sundress. Johnny Cash was officially hippified.

‘Out on the road it started feeling like 1955 again,” Cash wrote in his autobiography. “I began playing young people’s places like the Fillmore [and] discovered all over again how it felt to play for a crowd of people with no chairs or tables, standing on their feet, jammed together, energizing each other.”

Still, Cash had dates to fulfill at the oldster venues, too, putting him in a situation tantamount to that of the ’66 Beatles, whose touring obligations had them playing their old mop-top hits to screaming-girl audiences even as they already had the progressive, psychedelic music of Revolver in the can. “He was kind of living in two worlds musically at that point,” says Tom Petty. Indeed, the Nashville machers and programming directors of country radio didn’t know quite what to make of American Recordings. “It just wasn’t their flavor of what country was,” says Lou Robin. “They weren’t gonna play ‘Delia’s Gone.’ But pretty soon Americana radio picked up on it, and they liked it very much.”

Even Cash’s buddies in Nashville were perplexed, if accommodating. “That first record caught us off guard,” says David Ferguson, Cash’s longtime recording engineer. “We never imagined John singin’ just naked, with no reverb or echo. We didn’t know what to think. But we found out Rick was good for John. Here’s this new young rich guy that’s into his music and wants to turn him into even more of a superstar than he is!”

Unchained, the 1996 follow-up to American Recordings, was even more outré by country standards, in that it contained songs by Beck and Soundgarden. The first album had some songs on it by non-country songwriters, such as Tom Waits’s “Down There by the Train,” Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” and, most eyebrow-raising, the heavy-metalist Glenn Danzig’s “Thirteen,” but all these songs, even in their original form, fit comfortably into Rubin’s Man in Black schematic. However, there was absolutely nothing about Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage,” with its swirling, air-raid-siren electric guitars and screamy vocals by Chris Cornell, that suggested it was a natural for Johnny Cash. Except to Rubin. “When I played Johnny the Soundgarden version, he was horrified. He thought I was insane,” Rubin says. “He just looked at me like ‘What are you thinking? Have you really gone off the deep end? I don’t think I can sing that.’” Unwilling to give up, Rubin recorded a demo version of what he heard in his head, with him singing and the guitarist Dave Navarro on backup.

“Rusty Cage,” needless to say, sounded just like a Johnny Cash song when it was finished, with Cash singing the climactic line “Gonna break my rusty caaaage ... ” about 12 octaves lower than Cornell had (or so it seemed), and then intoning, rather than singing, the kicker, “ ... and run!” As he gained Cash’s trust, Rubin began burning rock-pop compilation CDs and overnighting them to Cash’s home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, allowing Cash to pick and choose which songs he wanted to have a go at. Sometimes, Cash would politely leave certain songs uncommented upon; the same compilation that had Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” on it, for example, also included two untried songs by the Cure, “Lovesong” and “Never Enough.” But at other times, as in the case of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” Cash was so impressed as to say, “I wish I’d written that song myself.”

Picking non-country songs for Cash was a fraught business, for there was a fine line between the bold reach and the humiliating exercise in kitsch. During the Unchained sessions, Cash and the Heartbreakers tried out Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” a what-the-hell juxtaposition that Rubin was initially convinced could work. “We recorded a basic track of it, and it was hard to stop from laughing,” says Mike Campbell, the Heartbreakers’ guitarist. “But the thing is, Johnny wasn’t laughing. He was totally caught up in it, trying to learn it and find a way into it. [Imitating Cash’s grave basso] ‘Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love ... ’”

 

More often than not, though, Cash demonstrated a gift for making any song his own. American III: Solitary Man, released in 2000, opened with a cover of Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” a song that, in its author’s original, 1989 version, was a casual, poppy affair, its defiant lyrics more of a premise than a statement. But when Cash sang, “You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down,” it took on a whole new resonance, evoking an image of the singer robed, sandaled, and stoic, clutching a staff in a Cecil B. DeMille movie. “When I heard his version, it was like I’d never done it,” says Petty. “It dropped my jaw—something about the authority his voice carried. When the army and C.I.A. people called me and asked me to use it in their training programs, they wanted to use the Johnny Cash version. I guess it sounded more American.”

Unchained is the most “up” of the American albums, its full-band sound a reaction to the sparseness of American Recordings. After it won the 1997 Grammy for best country album, Cash and Rubin took out a full-page ad in Billboard that reprinted the famous 1970 photograph of Cash jovially flipping the bird to the camera during a concert at San Quentin State Prison, with the accompanying text, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.”

Something went horribly wrong with Cash’s health between the making of Unchained and American III. He had never looked young, even in youth, but he started to age unnaturally fast, like Keir Dullea in the final weird-out sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey—his hair falling out, his forehead veins bulging, his body stooped, his hands trembling.

In truth, Cash had been a physical wreck from the get-go of his collaboration with Rubin, “in a tremendous amount of pain since the day I met him,” the producer says, most noticeably from a medical procedure on his jaw in the 80s in which some facial nerves were severed, leaving him with a pronounced droop on the left side of his mouth. He’d also had bypass surgery in 1988, was a diabetic, was prone to bouts of pneumonia, and had ravaged his digestive system with booze and painkillers. (A relapse had landed him in the Betty Ford Center in the early 80s.) “He was very stoic,” says Rosanne Cash. “He was from the old school, where you suffered, and it was, you know, like an art. You just did it—you didn’t talk about it.”

But around ’96, he started demonstrating Parkinson’s-like symptoms—shakes, disorientation, dizziness, a general weakness—that couldn’t be ignored. “It was like he was holding a team of wild horses at bay, for as long as he could, and then he just didn’t have the strength to hold it at bay anymore,” says Rosanne.

Late in ’97, Cash nearly died, his doctors unable to rouse him from a medically induced coma. As Rosanne explains it, “He had pneumonia, and his lungs were so weakened that they had to put him on a ventilator. And because they put him on a ventilator, he couldn’t be conscious the whole time. So they put him under with medication, to keep him sedated and give his lungs a chance to heal. And they tried to bring him out, but he wouldn’t come out.”

June, a devoted “prayer warrior,” in her husband’s words, turned to the johnnycash.com Web site to exhort all his fans to pray for Cash on a specific Tuesday night, 12 days into his coma. Rubin, for his part, hired a “professional pray-er, a woman in New York who was a Christian who had some kind of powerful ability,” to join in the vigil. That night, the Cash family gathered around his hospital bed and clasped hands, “and within a matter of hours,” June later recalled, “he just started squeezin’ my hand.”

Eventually, Cash was assigned the vague diagnosis of diabetic autonomic neuropathy, which is not a disease but a collection of symptoms caused by nerve damage. Essentially, his nerves were so shot that involuntary functions like blood pressure, respiration, and vision were badly affected. Cash was forced to give up touring, which left him with just the recording studio as a creative outlet. Whereas Unchained was recorded mostly in Los Angeles, American III and American IV were recorded largely at Cash’s studio in Tennessee, a little cabin on his compound in Hendersonville, north of Nashville. When his strength permitted, Cash made brief trips to L.A. to finish the tracks.

It’s a measure of Rubin’s respect for Cash that he was willing to record in Tennessee, because, truth be told, the place put the normally beatific producer in a state of unease. Cash paid no mind to Rubin’s eccentricities and appearance, and the effervescent, compulsively hospitable June adored him, relishing the challenge of preparing him vegan meals and dragging him along on her frequent antiquing trips in the countryside. But in the larger context of the Nashville recording community, “I felt alien,” Rubin says. “You know, ordering a pizza with no cheese and getting laughed at.” In one instance, the Cashes decamped from their main home in Hendersonville for a weekend getaway to their place in Virginia, completely forgetting that Rubin, who was due back in L.A. that day, was still asleep in their guest room. Rubin awoke to find himself locked in and unable to get out. When he finally was able to yank a door open, he set off the alarm system, which prompted the police to arrive and discover what they took to be an unkempt vagrant who had broken into the Cash home. Rubin protested, “No, I’m really Johnny’s producer, I’m supposed to be here,” but was held on suspicion, missing his flight. It was only after he found a copy of John L. Smith’s The Johnny Cash Discography in Cash’s library and demonstrated to the cops that he had indeed produced Johnny Cash albums, holding out his driver’s license for corroboration, that they let him go.

Perhaps because the specter of death loomed, Cash and Rubin’s discussions of their shared enthusiasm, religion, intensified in the later years. Until they got to know each other, neither man had ever found anyone else in the music industry as curious as he was about matters spiritual—though they couldn’t have come about this curiosity in more different ways. Cash’s story, as one would expect, is biblically dramatic: One day in 1967, strung out on drugs and in a nihilistic funk, he wandered into a Tennessee cavern called Nickajack Cave and crawled as far as he could, for two or three hours, until his flashlight batteries wore out and he lay down, presumably to die. But then, lying there in pitch-darkness, he had an epiphany that God, rather than he, controlled his destiny and would choose his time to die. Cash resumed crawling, blindly, until he felt a breeze, followed it, and writhed his way out of the cave’s mouth—where he found his mother and June waiting with a basket of food, having discovered his Jeep at the entrance. Rubin, on the other hand, never had any particular epiphany. Though he got no kick from the rote, ritualistic Judaism practiced by his family and was expelled from Hebrew school for goofing off, he says he always felt some sort of “yearning” and a sense that, somehow, his life was a continuation of a previous one. Whereas his fellow Def Jam veterans went through knucklehead phases before maturing into fine spiritual men—Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys is now a practicing Buddhist, Joey Simmons is now an ordained minister known as Reverend Run—Rubin found his laid-back, Zen demeanor early, meditating and lighting incense even as he went through his punk-rock phase. (The hard-ass appearances in the Beastie Boys and Jay-Z videos are mere comedy, he says, “theater of the absurd, like pro wrestling.”)

The ritual of taking Communion together arose out of a theological discussion Cash and Rubin were having one night in April of 2003. Rubin was staying with the Cashes in Hendersonville, having planned to accompany them to the Country Music Television channel’s big night of the year, the Flameworthy Awards, at which Cash was to receive a special-achievement award. But Cash was too ill to go, so June agreed to accept the award in his stead while he and Rubin stayed home and watched the ceremony on TV.

Some months earlier, in a previous theological discussion, Rubin had told Cash of his fascination with Dr. Gene Scott, a white-bearded, cigar-smoking televangelist who broadcasts out of a cathedral in Los Angeles. “He’s this old, eccentric, really smart, crazy person,” says Rubin. “He’s often belligerent to his audience. But at the same time, when he actually teaches, the teaching is unbelievable—just scholarly, brilliant, more like a university class than like a typical sermon. He did all these shows about Communion, and it really moved me. I was brought up Jewish and had never done a Communion. I made a copy of the tapes and sent them to Johnny. At first he was wary, because the guy’s really bonkers. But at the end of it, he was crying, and said, ‘I’ve heard 50 sermons on this topic, and that was, by far, the best teaching of that that I’ve ever heard.’”

Somehow, as they were sitting there watching the Flameworthy Awards, the topic of Communion came up again. “And I said, ‘You know, I would love to try it sometime,’” says Rubin. “And he said, ‘Let’s do it together, right now.’ He called and had someone on his staff get his Communion kit, and we did Communion for the first time.” With the TV still blaring in the background, Cash performed the priest’s role, speaking the words and presenting the offering of wafer and wine—“crackers and grape juice,” Rubin says, “because that’s what happened to be in the house. After that, I suggested that we start doing it together every day. We continued on doing it right up until the end.”

Cash was in and out of the hospital regularly in his final years, yet he kept on recording when his health permitted, mostly in his cabin in the woods, and, when he wasn’t up to even that, while sitting on the bed in what used to be his son John Carter Cash’s room in the main house. His voice on American III and American IV is noticeably more quavery and unsteady, a circumstance of which he was conscious and, at times, embarrassed, but it lent the songs a poignancy and drama that even he couldn’t have pulled off in his physical prime. Never was this clearer than in tracks one and two of American IV, “The Man Comes Around” and “Hurt”—a wham-bam mortality diptych that represented the summit of the American series. “The Man Comes Around” was a brand-new Cash original, inspired by a bizarre dream he had in which he walked into Buckingham Palace and found Queen Elizabeth sitting on the floor. Taking notice of Cash, Her Majesty pronounced, “Johnny Cash, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind!” “It kept haunting me, this dream,” Cash told Larry King in November 2002, around the time of American IV’s release. “I kept thinking about it, how vivid it was, and then I thought, Maybe it’s biblical.” Sure enough, Cash found the thorn-tree reference in Job and spun the dream into a song based on the book of Revelation. “My song of the apocalypse,” he called it. With its spoken introduction—“And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder ... ”—“The Man Comes Around” sounds as ancient and scary as any of the old rural ballads collected by Harry Smith on The Anthology of American Folk Music, and was praised as Cash’s best new song in years.

‘Hurt” was another of Cash’s Rubin-provoked radical departures, a song by Trent Reznor, who, in his guise as the band Nine Inch Nails, traffics in spookerama atmospherics and songs about alienation and despair. (Reznor recorded his version of “Hurt” in the Los Angeles house where the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate.) Cash’s youngest child and only son, John Carter, a burly, bearded, metal-loving guy who was in his 20s when his father started working with Rubin and often acted as a sounding board for his dad on Rubin’s heavier suggestions, said even he was taken aback by the concept of his father doing “Hurt.” “I was a little wary about it, because I sort of cut my teeth on Nine Inch Nails, so to speak,” he says. “The aggression and the hopelessness of it seemed almost like a little bit too much.”

Unlike Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” wasn’t blaringly loud or electrified. The issue was the words. “It’s a strange song,” says Rubin. “I mean, the opening line is ‘I hurt myself today.’ It’s such a strange thing to say. And then the next line is ‘To see if I still feel ... ’ So it’s self-inflicted. It’s such a strange thought to open a song with.” In Reznor’s hands, the song was sung by a junkie clear-eyed enough to recognize the ruin he’d made of his life: “What have I become / My sweetest friend / Everyone I know goes away in the end.” In Cash’s version, with his pitch wobbling uncertainly over the words “What have I become,” the singer became an old man lamenting his mortality and frailty, feeling he’s outlived his usefulness.

The song’s power made it an obvious candidate for a single and, therefore, a video. Rubin enlisted his friend Mark Romanek, the virtuoso visualist behind the best videos of Nine Inch Nails, Lenny Kravitz, and Madonna, to direct the clip. “The initial conception was to do a somewhat stylized piece—in Los Angeles, at a soundstage—and it was going to be based very loosely on imagery from Samuel Beckett plays,” says Romanek. “We were going to have some cameos of people like Beck and Johnny Depp.” But logistics sent that highfalutin plan out the window. At the time, autumn of 2002, Cash wasn’t willing to travel to Los Angeles, and he was headed in a matter of days to his home in Jamaica, where he always went when the Tennessee weather turned colder and tempted pneumonia.

Romanek and his crew had no choice but to go to Tennessee and come up with something on the fly. Rubin suggested that maybe they could film in the House of Cash, a roadside building in Hendersonville where Cash kept his offices, and where his mother, who died in 1991, used to run a small museum of his memorabilia. “The museum was in a state of some disrepair, because there had been some flood damage, and it had been closed for, I think, a good 15 years,” Romanek says. “When I saw the state it was in I went, ‘Wow, this is great, this is really interesting.’ And the idea of showing the museum without prettifying it or fixing it back up kind of led me to the idea that, well, you know, let’s just show Johnny in the state that he’s in.”

The resulting video was shocking in the exact opposite way from how videos are usually shocking—not because it featured explicit images of sexuality and gunplay, but because it featured explicit images of mortality and infirmity. Romanek discovered a trove of archival films at the House of Cash—home movies, TV appearances, promo films, all of Cash in his pompadoured, virile prime—and intercut them with new scenes of the messy, uncatalogued jumble of stuff in the House of Cash and of the feeble, tremoring Cash himself, seated in his dark living room, surrounded by his collection of bronze Remington sculptures. At one moment during the filming, June descended the stairs above the living room to watch the proceedings. “I glanced over and I saw June on the stairs,” says Romanek, “looking down at her husband with this incredibly complex look on her face—filled with love and earnestness and pride, and a certain amount of sadness.” With her permission, Romanek included a couple of shots of June as she looked on, and these shots, of her stricken, loving gaze at her dying man, are the most devastating part of the whole film.

The “Hurt” video was a sensation upon its release in early 2003, a “Have you seen it?” word-of-mouth phenomenon that elicited both praise and concern that Johnny and June had gone too far, revealed too much of their pain and frailty. The Cash children burned up the phone lines discussing it, wondering if it was such a good idea. “I cried like a baby when I saw it, I was sobbing,” says Rosanne. “June was just sitting there, just watching it, patting me. See, they had a kind of an unflinching eye. They weren’t sentimental in that way. It’s like, they’re artists—they use their life for their work.”

Romanek’s film of “Hurt” would go on to be nominated for video of the year and best male video at MTV’s 2003 Video Music Awards (and would lose in the latter category to “Cry Me a River,” by Justin Timberlake, who rightly labeled his victory “a travesty”). Cash was reveling in all the attention the video was getting when, in early May of last year, June was admitted to the hospital for what was expected to be routine gallbladder surgery. But her doctors unexpectedly discovered a severe problem with a heart valve, and her health quickly deteriorated. She predeceased her husband, dying on May 15. “It was so shocking to think—you know, all of our anxiety had been focused on Dad for 10 years, and the whole time she was slipping away,” says Rosanne.

“I think my mother knew very well that she was a lot sicker than everybody else thought she was,” says John Carter, Cash’s sole child with June. “I think she knew. And I think I had a perception that she believed that she was not long for this world.” Rosanne remembered, in retrospect, a time in the summer of 2001 when the family had gathered at her father’s place in Virginia for a Vanity Fair photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz. At one moment, June took Rosanne aside and said, furtively, “I just want you to know that your daddy and I have had a wonderful life together. We’ve had so many adventures. We’ve been so happy together, and we’ve just loved every minute of it.”

“I was just so taken aback,” says Rosanne. “It was unlike her, ’cause she was usually very light and very chattery. I said, ‘It’s not over, June.’ And then I forgot about it, because, you know, she was a little crazy. I thought, ‘Oh, she just had a cuckoo moment.’” But June was usually “fun crazy,” says Rosanne, and this time, she realized after the fact, June had been serious and on the level—she knew she was dying but kept mum for the sake of her ailing husband.

“I spoke to Johnny maybe a half-hour or an hour after she passed away,” says Rubin, “and he sounded, by far, the worst I’d ever heard him. He sounded terrible. He said that he’d experienced so much pain in his life and that nothing came anywhere near to how he was feeling at that moment. Normally, it was easy to be optimistic and make him feel better. But on this call I just didn’t know what to say. I just listened, and tried to send loving energy and support to him, and really take it all in and try to share what he was going through. At some point I asked him, ‘Do you think you could look inside, somewhere, and find some faith?’ And when I said that, it was like he became a different person. He went from this meek, shaky voice to a strong, powerful voice, and he said, ‘MY FAITH IS UNSHAKABLE!’”

Cash wasted little time in getting back to work on music. “It actually got more intense after June died,” says Rubin. “Because before, we always worked kind of casually, either whenever we had a song or whenever he felt like recording. Now he said to me, ‘I want to work every day, and I need you to have something for me to do every day. Because if I don’t have something to focus on, I’m gonna die.’”

Rubin cues up a recording that Cash made and sent to him shortly after June’s death. It’s a gospel song by Larry Gatlin called “Help Me.” Elvis Presley did a version in the early 70s, but, like lots of Elvis’s 70s work, the song was gunked up with excessive, 700 Club–style orchestration and choir vocals, the soul and emotion schmaltzed right out of it. Cash’s version of “Help Me” is pure, naked grief, almost too private to listen to. “I never thought I needed help before,” Cash sings to God; “I thought that I could do things by myself.” And then—this is the chorus, the part where Elvis unfurled the words in an unctuous croon—Cash stops the guitar, and all you hear is playback hiss and his cracked, worn voice, pleading rather than singing: “With a humble heart, on bended knee, I’m beggin’ you—please—help me.”

“He was just dismantled with grief,” says Rosanne. “And so he was just working as much as he could. But it was heartbreaking.” The Cash children were resigned to the idea that their father didn’t have long, that, as John Carter puts it, “he yearned so much to be with my mother that he wanted to just go with her.” But Rubin wasn’t having any of this. Since he’d only ever known Cash to be an unwell man, miraculously rebounding from one severe health crisis after another, he thought this, too, was surmountable.

In his endless hunger for books about health and enlightenment, Rubin had come across the works of a doctor named Phil Maffetone, a performance expert and kinesiologist who specialized in devising comprehensive nutrition and exercise programs for extreme athletes, people who compete in triathlons, ironman competitions, and ultra-marathons. “I’ve never been one for exercise in my life, but I read his book, and it got me inspired,” says Rubin. Via e-mail, he got in touch with Maffetone, who promptly informed Rubin that he had given up his practice and wasn’t seeing patients anymore. But Rubin persuaded Maffetone, who turned out to be a music enthusiast, to treat Cash.

Cash, at that point, was wheelchair-bound and barely able to see because of diabetes-related glaucoma. But within a short time Maffetone had Cash walking unaided again—“no walker, no cane, nothing,” Rubin says—and improving in general. He called Rubin one day and announced, “I’m gonna come out to L.A. for a month, and we’re gonna work, and we’re gonna continue doing all the stuff on my program. And when I get back home, I’m gonna have a party on the lawn of my house, invite all of my friends over, and I’m gonna push my wheelchair into the river!”

Rubin flew to Nashville for the last time in the summer of 2003 to work with Cash on American V. “I was supposed to be there for two or three days,” says Rubin, “but we were really doing good and making progress, kind of on a roll. So I extended my stay. And then, the next morning, when I woke up, I got the call that he was back in the hospital.”

Nevertheless, Cash rallied with Maffetone’s help, and was intent on attending MTV’s Video Music Awards on August 28, since “Hurt” was nominated in six categories (it won in one, best cinematography). However, his doctors—his regular ones, not Maffetone—pronounced him insufficiently healthy to make the trip from Tennessee to New York, and by early September he was hospitalized again.

This time it was pancreatitis, yet another complication of the diabetes. Cash spoke to Rubin once more on the phone, promising that he would be out to L.A. soon to work on the album. But he didn’t pull through, passing away on September 12, at the age of 71. “Rick seemed to be more shocked about it than we were,” says Rosanne. The Cash children had endured their father’s struggles long enough to see the writing on the wall, but Rubin, who had gotten just 10 years of Cash’s companionship, had a hard time accepting the finality. “The way I saw it,” he says, “we were going to go on for at least another 10 years.”

 

There’s still lots more from the American sessions in the vaults, and therefore the potential for Rubin to issue posthumous Cash albums in near perpetuity, à la Tupac Shakur. But Rubin insists that American V will be the final word, “’cause there’s something that doesn’t feel good about the Tupac-ing.”

Cash’s presence is down to embers now, making the Communion ritual a different experience for Rubin, a solitary one. But he keeps at it, and stays in touch with the Cash clan. A few months ago, he received an unexpected package from John Carter. Inside it was a little leather case holding a flask, a cup, a snippet of Scripture (John 6:35), and some instructional notes written in Johnny Cash’s hand (“Open the bread. Give thanks. Eat. Pour wine”)—it was Cash’s personal Communion kit. Included was a note:

 

Rick:

One of my father’s greatest joys in life was spreading his faith, and I never saw him more joyous than when he shared it with you. He cherished, as I know you did, the daily Communion with you. It seems only fitting that you should have this. You were many things to my father in the last decade of his life—mentor, defining inspirator, producer—but, most of all, a friend. My father learned to believe in your vision, and, in doing so, reawakened his own. His vision lives on, as does the faith he instilled in so many. May your heart grow in faith and peace.

Blessings,

John Carter

September 4, 2006  Link  Vanity Fair  Share/Bookmark

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