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Life Lessons from Johnny Cash Songs

Johnny Cash, the beloved deep-voiced American original, was born on this day in 1932. To celebrate the Man in Black, we pulled some lyrics to live by from his most famous tunes.

Johnny Cash‘s musical legacy is filled with some of the best storytelling and life lessons in song. “Blessed with a profound imagination, he used the gift to express all the various lost causes of the human soul,” said Bob Dylan in Rolling Stone, following Cash’s death in 2003. “This is a miraculous and humbling thing. Listen to him, and he always brings you to your senses.”

Dylan is right. Here are some timeless lyrics from some of our favorite Johnny Cash songs that do just that…

1) “I Walk The Line” 

Johnny Cash Walk The Line

— Johnny Cash, “I Walk The Line”

Johnny Cash once said about this song that “It was kind of a prodding to myself, ‘Play it straight, Johnny.’” And while there’s no question to its stature as a resounding declaration of fidelity, according to musician Rodney Crowell its meaning encompasses even more: I mean, it can be a lot of things, you know, integrity and courage, you know, the courage of your convictions. And certainly, Johnny Cash has stood for that kind of integrity and that kind of stick-to-your-guns mentality.” 

2) “Get Rhythm”

Johnny Cash Get Rhythm

— Johnny Cash, “Get Rhythm”

Johnny tells us when life has got you down, music can be the best medicine for your soul… just add a little rhythm to your blues. 

3) “Folsom Prison Blues” 

Johnny Cash Folsom Prison

— Johnny Cash, “Folsom Prison Blues”

You don’t have to be in a prison cell to feel like you’re in solitary. Anyone who has felt confined by a bad relationship, a dead-end job or a life turn gone wrong can relate to “Folsom Prison Blues.” When asked about why he thought this song resonated with people so much, Cash said, “I think prison songs are popular because most of us are living in one little kind of prison or another, and whether we know it or not the words of a song about someone who is actually in a prison speak for a lot of us who might appear not to be, but really are.” That’s catharsis. 

4) “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town”

Johnny Cash Don't Take Your Guns to Town

—Johnny Cash, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”

Three things: #1: Beware of being overconfident and cocky. #2: Listen to your mother. #3: If you’re going to a bar or club, for the love of Johnny, leave your gun at home. Guns and booze don’t mix!

5) “Cry! Cry! Cry!”

Johnny Cash Cry Cry Cry

— Johnny Cash, “Cry! Cry! Cry!”

For anyone who’s had their heart broken, turn on this tune and hear what Johnny is singing: even when you get dumped, there’s self-empowerment in getting free from a one-sided relationship.