The same day Natalie Maines took a public stance that criticized the president for leading the U.S. into the Iraq War in March 2003, Johnny Cash checked into Baptist Hospital in Nashville with pneumonia.
The American public went crazy on the Dixie Chicks because of Natalie’s statement, and the incident cost the band its mainstream audience. As it turns out, the Man In Black might well have come out publicly against the Iraq War, too, if he weren’t in such poor health.
Daughter Rosanne Cash had put her name on a full-page ad in The New York Times just two weeks prior, joining Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Dave Matthews and T Bone Burnett among a group of musicians who said, “War on Iraq is wrong and we know it.”
“People were rabid,” Rosanne told the Wisconsin magazine The Progressive. “They attacked me mercilessly after I did the press conference with Musicians United to Win Without War. He knew that he couldn’t tolerate that.”
It was a rough year for the Cash family. June Carter Cash died in May. Johnny died in September. Yet even as his health was declining, Johnny remained focused on the Middle East drama.
“In the two weeks leading up to the invasion, my father was in the hospital,” Rosanne said. “He was very sick. The doctors put him in a medically induced coma. He went to sleep not knowing if we had invaded Iraq. It was the last thought on his mind. When he woke up, I was sitting by his side. He looked at me and reached over to pull the television over to him. He was looking at me like, ‘Did it happen?’ I said, ‘Dad, it happened.’ He went, ‘No! No!’ Can you imagine? This is the first thing he thought of when he woke up from a weeklong coma.”
Here’s the part of it all that’s too bad: Were he in better shape, Johnny would have been a really good role model for the rest of us. All the finger pointing and the hostility that Americans on both sides of the aisle could have — and should have — been avoided. The Man in Black was able to articulate his viewpoint without all the anger and would have been a good symbol for civility.
“He didn’t care where you stood politically,” Rosanne noted. “He just took you as a person on face value. He could love all stripes, and that’s why all stripes claim him. He didn’t judge.”
Johnny, of course, set the example for Rosanne’s latest album. She recorded The List by picking songs from a selection of 100 titles he put down on paper for her as the greatest country songs of all-time. Earlier this month, it brought her the Americana Music Award for Album of the Year.