Growing up as part of the hardcore punk scene in the 1990s, it wasn’t cool to like stuff that wasn’t punk enough. Strange, because all the guys I know from back then are rocking Hall and Oates and Chicago records these days. Regardless, one of the first artists that broke through that snobbery for me was Johnny Cash.

I grew up listening to country. Pop is crazy for the stuff, or at least he used to be. Truth told, I always found it a little bit embarrassing that he listened to it. Flash forward to today and probably half my record collection is country. It’s all thanks to the Man in Black. So when Made Man asked me to live like an icon for a week, there was just one man on my mind.

Here’s what I learned from a week of being JC.

“If I were a betting man, I’d say Johnny Cash would have been more likely to give up the Lord than June Carter Cash. So I wrote my wife a love letter every day.”

Drinking Is Overrated
I’m a man who likes to drink. While Johnny Cash might have worshipped the other JC, if I have a religion, it revolves around copious consumption of spirits. So spending a week not drinking—I chose to emulate the reformed Johnny Cash, because the last thing I need is an excuse to be even more excessive—wasn’t my favorite idea.

But I learned that I actually like not drinking. That my moods are more even when I’m off the sauce. That I don’t need to tip a rye whiskey to sit around reading a book or listening to records. I’m not sure how long this will last, but I do know that I’m not as quick to reach for the bottle even after leaving Cash behind.

I Curse Too Much
Being from New England, I pepper my speech with the “f” word. It can mean anything you want it to, or you can just say it while you think of something to say. Great, right?

Except that cutting back on cursing was the hardest part of my week. I failed miserably at it, which made me realize just how much vulgarity I use on a regular basis. It probably makes me sound like a moron, which I’m not, so going forward I’m going to continue my struggle to speak in a manner more befitting a gentleman. Bonus: The f word is all the more powerful when you use it sparingly, no?

Every Man Needs a Means of Expression
When I was 12 years old my parents vetoed my dream of playing drums and got me a bass. A few years later I picked up guitar, though I was always mostly a bass player. Here’s the thing, though: Playing bass alone is kind of boring. So spending a week picking away on a rented acoustic sounded like a lot of fun.

A great guitar player I’m not, but who cares? The point isn’t to play Carnegie Hall, the point is to relax and have fun. I’ll be buying an acoustic guitar some time in the near future.

Hold Your Babies Tight
Johnny Cash loved two things above all, and they both shared his initials. If I were a betting man, I’d say he would have been more likely to give up the Lord than June Carter Cash. So I wrote my wife a love letter every day.

At the risk of being both obvious and morbid, the time you have with the ones you love is limited by a number of factors, not least of all mortality. It wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone that JC checked out not long after JCC. During Johnny Cash week I got a great appreciation for my wife and the time we have together. I cherish every morning that I wake up and she’s there.

I Still Don’t Believe
Cash loved the Lord, so I hoofed on down to Bible study on a Wednesday. This was one area where my eyes were not opened: I remain an atheist, albeit one with a connection to Catholicism. In this regard, I’m probably not too different from many Catholics. As an old New England proverb goes, an Irish-Catholic is a man who isn’t sure if he believes in Jesus but knows the Pope is infallible on all matters of faith.

I won Bible Study Wednesday, by the way, which has more to do with my English degree than with any formal religious training.

Black Works Like Gangbusters
Seriously, I look really good in black. And I’m pretty sure Johnny and I aren’t the only ones…


Photo of author as Johnny Cash by Jakob Layman.