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Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Cash’

“The cotton fields, that’s where the music came from. Chopping cotton, picking cotton, had to have a good mule to stand up in front of you. Soon, everybody be singing to chase away those blues.”
James “T-Model” Ford

When I was a little bitty baby 
My mama would rock me in the cradle 
In them old cotton fields back home
Cotton Fields by Lead Belly

 

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You may have never seen cotton fields in the south, or heard of Huddie Ledbetter—who is better known as Lead Belly. But the two came together in 1940 when Lead Belly recorded a song he wrote called Cotton Fields. As you can see from the links below the song found its way into the world via a variety of musicians including Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Harry Belafonte, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Elvis— along with Lead Belly’s original version.

Lead Belly was a blues musician born in 1888 on a plantation in Louisiana. He was one of those great musicians that led a tumultuous life. One that included prison time, as well as playing in clubs in New York City. Lead Belly died in 1949, but his influence has carried on well after his death. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain said Lead Belly was his favorite performer just before playing Lead Belly’s  Where Did You Sleep Last Night?

According to Wikipedia, Cotton Fields was featured on the TV programs The Muppet Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show, and in the movies Elvis: That’s the Way It Is and Cool Hand Luke.

And for what it’s worth, I didn’t take that cotton field photo above in Mississippi or Louisiana, but outside Mobile, Alabama.

Scott W. Smith

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“For her life, any life, she had to believe, was nothing but the continuity of its love.”
The Optimist’s Daughter written by Eudora Welty
(And included on Welty’s headstone in Jackson, Mississippi)

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Pulitzer Prize winning writer Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She earned an English degree from the University of Wisconsin, studied advertising at Columbia in New York City, before working for a radio station in Jackson and as a WPA photographer in Mississippi. Her literary career formally began in 1936 when  Death of a Traveling Salesman was published, which incase you’re wondering was written about 15 years before Arthur Miller’s landmark play Death of a Salesman. 

“He pulled the brake. But it did not hold, though he put all his strength into it. The car, tipped toward the edge, rolled a little. Without doubt, it was going over the bank. 

He got out quietly, as though some mischief had been done him and he had his dignity to remember. He lifted his bag and sample case out, set them down, and stood back and watched the car roll over the edge. He heard something – not the crash he was listening for, but a slow, unuproarious crackle. Rather distastefully he went to look over, and he saw that his car had fallen into a tangle of immense grapevines as thick as his arm, which caught it and held it, rocked it like a grotesque child in a dark cradle, and then, as he watched, concerned somehow that he was not still inside it, released it gently to the ground. ”
Eudora Welty
Death of a Traveling Salesman

More shorts stories, essays and novels followed and she was soon able to write full time. She was on staff with the New York TImes her writings led to speaking engagements at Harvard University and abroad. From 1960 until her death in 2001 she lived in Jackson, and her family home which I photographed on Monday is now known as the Eudora Welty House (virtual tour with link). The house has been called, “one of the most intact literary houses in America in terms of its authenticity. Its exterior, interior, and furnishings are as they were in 1986 when Welty made the decision to bequeath her home to the State of Mississippi: paintings, photographs, objects d’art, linens, furniture, draperies, rugs, and, above all, thousands of books in their original places. With virtually every wall lined with books, it is evident that this family of readers valued the written word.”

It is in that Tudor Revival home, across the street from Belhaven College,  is where Welty wrote The Optimist’s Daughter, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973. A friend of my who went to Belhaven in the 80s said it was not unusual to see Welty outside her home and around town.

According to the The Eudora Welty Foundation they fund “a Eudora Welty Scholar; develops teaching resources that will expand appreciation of Eudora’s writing and photography; supports study of her work; assists in preserving Eudora’s home and garden; and hosts seminars, competitions, and festivals for young writers, established authors, and the public.”

The first book I ever read of Welty’s was One Writer’s Beginning which I just learned is available in audio in Wetly’s own voice. Lastly, several of her stories were made into films and TV movies including most recently the short film The Purple Hat (2010) written and directed by Gregory Doucette.

P.S. It is not known what Jackson (if any) was the inspiration for the Johnny Cash and June Carter song Jackson, but I did find this interesting bit of info from Billy Edd Wheeler, one of the writers of Jackson who just happened to also Yale’s School of Drama as a playwriting student:

Jackson came to me when I read the script for Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (I was too broke to see the play on Broadway). You know, the way the man and woman go at each other. When I played it for Jerry, he said “Your first verses suck,” or words to that effect. “Throw them away and start the song with your last verse, ‘We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.'” When I protested to Jerry that I couldn’t start the song with the climax, he said, “Oh, yes you can.” So I rewrote the song and thanks to Jerry’s editing and help, it worked. I recorded the song on my first Kapp Records album, with Joan Sommer, an old friend from Berea, Kentucky, singing the woman’s part. Johnny Cash learned the song from that album, “A New Bag Of Songs”, produced by Jerry and Mike.
Billy Edd Wheeler (who wrote Jackson) with Jerry Leiber
Spectropop

Here’s the song Jackson recorded for The Johnny Cash Show, a program that U2’s Bono has said was an early inspiration for him:

Scott W. Smith

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“The ‘surplus society’ has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality.”
Kjell Nordstrom and Jonas Ridderstrale, Funky Business

We live in a culture that is swimming in “a sea of sameness.” I’m not sure who coined that phrase “a sea of sameness,” but I first heard it from Tom Peters many years ago. The phrase instantly resonated with me because it was so easy to look at the world around me and see that it was true—from fast food restaurants, to automobiles, to Hollywood movies.

The big question is once you notice “the sea of sameness” around you, what do you do about it? If you like the sameness of the life you are living and are surrounded by then there is no dilemma. But if you no longer care to conform to the “sea of sameness” then the only sane thing for you to do is step off the track you’re running on. Rebel. Change.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”
General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

Of course, the courage to change may take years…or something you do today. (Or at least take the first step towards.)

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Howard Beale
Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky

You can apply that where you will, but since this is a blog on screenwriting that’s where we should look. Are the stories you’re writing the stories you are dying to tell? Here’s how screenwriters Gill Dennis and James Mangold laid it out in the script Walk the Line where record producer Sam Phillips gives some advice to a young Johnny Cash who had just performed a lackluster gospel song for him in hopes of landing a recording contract:

“If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out there in the gutter dying and you had time to sing one song. One song people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know what you felt about your time here on earth—one song that would sum you up, you telling me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune that we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, about how you’re going to shout it. Or would you sing something different? Something real. Something you felt.  Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. ”
Walk the Line

I hope that’s the kind of script you’re working on now. (Or you at least have a file started.)

Scott W. Smith



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“Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City!”
                                                  Music Man, written by Iowa native Meredith Willson

How high’s the water, mama? 
Five feet high and risin’ 
                                                   Johnny Cash
                                                   Five Feet High and Risin’ 

 

I was supposed to get my haircut today…that didn’t happen.

When the morning begins with a segment of the NBC Today Show in Cedar Falls, Iowa you know there’s trouble in River City. Just two blocks from my office the Cedar River flows. In fact, we chose the name River Run Productions for our company because we saw the river as a metaphor that runs though Iowa and eventually into the Mississippi which eventually runs into the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.

Little did we know when we launched in January of ‘07 that just four months later I would be doing a shoot in Brazil including flying in a seaplane over the meeting of the waters where the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers meet. 

But back in Cedar Falls today it was a long day of partaking along with hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers (including my partner who lost his home in the Parkersburg tornado two weeks ago) filling and placing sandbags trying to keep the river at bay. So far it’s been working to protect the downtown area, though many people in the low lying areas have evacuated and much of their homes underwater.  And the river is not supposed to crest until sometime tomorrow. 

 

Somewhere between moving boxes of photographs and memories to the basement Saturday night due to a tornado warning and taking the same boxes upstairs this morning in case of flooding, one can’t help but examine what you really need in your life.

I took all of these photos today and will give updates in coming days and then bring it full circle in regard to screenwriting and life.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday June 11, 2008 Update

The sandbagging on Tuesday paid off in Cedar Falls as the river crested at 2 AM with the downtown being spared from any flooding despite a record level of 102 feet. I drove over to Waterloo to help artist & friend Paco Rosic with his battle to hold back the flooding there from his restaurant/studio. Without much sleep in the last two night he and his father are winning the battle when most have given up.  Here are some shots of the front, inside (the multiple cords going to several water pumps), and view from the back of Galleria De Paco (voted this year as the #1 attraction in Iowa).

 

Thursday June 12, 2008 Update

Where’d all the good people go?
I’ve been changin’ channels
I don’t see them on the tv shows
Where’d all the good people go?
                                                                                                 Jack Johnson
                                                                                                 Good People

The secret’s out, Jack. A lot of those good people are in Iowa. They’re even on tv. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams showed some of them in last night’s broadcast, including a nurse who volunteered in the morning after working an all-night shift in an intensive care unit. All told, I heard 5,000 people and 250,000 sandbags filled and placed on the levee helped keep the river back in downtown Cedar Falls. (Not that I put myself in the good people category, but I did make a brief cameo on the NBC segment in a non-speaking role as “Volunteer passing sandbag in white long sleeve t-shirt and camera strap around front.”)

It appears the worst is over in Cedar Falls but problems continue to mount in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City and in other cites across Iowa and the Midwest. All of this reminds me of a quote from Steve Brown who I produced a video for in Nashville a couple years ago:

“The one thing I’ve learned is every day the world rolls over on top of someone who was just sitting on top of it yesterday.”

I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t think of that quote. I used to keep a list I called the roll over club. It contained names like John Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana, Mike Tyson, Kenneth Lay (Enron), Michael Vick, Britney Spears, Barry Bonds…you get the picture.

The point is things change quickly when your sitting on top of the world. I’m fond of pointing to Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air where after reaching the peak of Mount Everest exhausted he took a few pictures and then began his decent. Krakauer writes, “All told, I’d spent less than five minutes on the roof of the world.”

Over the years I’ve seen many people who were at the top of the world before it began to roll: Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeves, and Michael J. Fox come to mind. Ali continually reminded us that he was “the greatest” though he had to recant that later, when Reeves died due to complications from a horse riding accident that had left him paralyzed one headline read, “Superman Dies,” and Fox had an amazing dream year in his early 20’s when he was the star of the top rated TV program that he shot in the day and then went to his night job shooting “Back to the Future” that would become a #1 box office hit long before his career and life took a blow as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

And in 1990 The New York Times  ran an article on The Man Who Own Prime Time about Brandon Tartikoff who had become the youngest person ever to be chosen the head programmer of a network at 31 and rose to become president of NBC Entertainment. Under his leadership NBC flourished with a string of successes including Cheers, The Cosby Show, LA Law, Family Ties and Seinfeld and for one incredible five year run NBC was the No. 1 Network for five consecutive seasons. Seven years after that article appeared Tartiloff died at age 48 from Hodgkin’s disease. 

Despite human’s great accomplishments, the above stories and this recent flood are reminders of how fragile we are. 

Whatever mountain top you are reaching for know that if you are one of the fortunate ones who gets to the summit you don’t get to stay up there very long. An acting teaching once told me “When your feet hit the ground in the morning if you don’t want to be an actor more than anything then don’t pursue it because it’s too hard to make it and too hard to stay if you do make it. So unless you love acting it’s not worth it.” That’s great advise for the screenwriter as well.  

In the June 5 issues of Time magazine there is an article called “How to Live Live With Just 100 Things.” Lisa Mclaughlin writes, ‘Excess consumption is practically an American religion. But as anyone with a filled-to-the-gills closet knows, the things we accumulate can become oppressive.” Dave Bruno started what he calls “the 100 Thing Challenge,  a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.”

Maybe trading in your multiple piece spoon, fork and knife set for a spork won’t bring the Jewish concept of Shalom or peace (what Cornelius Plantinga Jr. calls “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight…Shalom, in other words is the way things ought to be.”)  But maybe it’s a step in the direction of that happy ending we all seek.

I think that is the single greatest reasons why movie audiences yearn for (in some cases demand) a happy ending. Because one of the deepest longings in life is to find shalom. Look at many of the films people return to again and again (The Shawshank Redemption, Titanic, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Finding Nemo, Rocky, The Wizard of Oz) and you will find this concept over and over again. Most (all?) films at least show a small corner of shalom or it’s opposite, a world lived outside the garden.

Who doesn’t want to have that moment of clarity that Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire has as he writes his mission statement and says, “It was the me I’d always wanted to be”? 

Often it takes an event like a flood, 9-11 or a death in the family, or a personal illness to get our attention. Out of difficult times we need to have hope that there is a purpose and meaning to our suffering. Let’s not forget those who have lost greatly in the recent tornadoes and floods and pitch in where we can. And in time we’ll hear stories from this flood about how good things came out of the calamity.

Just like the Johnny Cash song Five Feet High and Risin’:

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.
We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they were causing us to have to leave home, 
But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land. The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

Sunday June 15, 2008 Update

This morning’s early morning lightening storm was kind of an exclamation point to two weeks of strange weather for the area.

And all the flooding in Iowa proves one thing: Jay Leno was wrong. Back in the first week January just before the Iowa caucuses he said that the word caucus was an Indian word meaning the only day of the year anyone pays attention to Iowa.

From two weeks ago when Parkersburg and other towns where hit by a tornado to the flooding of last week has provided the national press with lots of dramatic images.

Things began to return back to normal in Cedar Falls on Friday when the downtown ban was lifted and the national guard moved on. By Friday night hundreds of people had gathered in Overman Park to watch a movie in the park. Late Saturday afternoon I rode my bike downtown and saw Cup ‘O Joe was open on Main St. and the distinct sound of a Bob Marley song was being performed live at The Hub: 

Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!

                                            Bob Marley
                                            Three Little Birds

 

 

Wednesday June 18, 2008 Update

It’s tough out there
High Water Everywhere
                                                                              
Bob Dylan   
                                                                               High Water (For Charlie Patton)
 

It’s hard to believe that is less than a week that flooding in Iowa alone as displaced tens of thousands of people and caused over $1.5 billion in damage. It’s a classic man vs. nature battle that will also have long a term economic impact.

Just about a month ago I did a couple days location scouting for Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It in the very areas being hit by flood waters; Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Vinton and Cedar Rapids. Probably a good choice by Mandate Pictures to shoot their roller derby film later this summer in other states. 

But those areas will rebound because that’s what good Midwestern people do. And I thought I’d share with you some photos from this part of Iowa that I hope will be a refreshing break from the images you are seeing on the TV day after day. 

Vinton, Iowa Library

Vinton, Iowa Courthouse

 Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

Cedar Rapids Historic Theater

 

 

Photos and text copyright ©2008 Scott W. Smith

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