Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Saddest Book I've Ever Read

What's the saddest book you've ever read? Like other literate people, Umlaut has read hundreds (thousands?) of books since I learned how to read. However, there's one book in particular that makes me sad every time I open it... and it's been sad since the day it was published. That book is Sotheby's catalog for the September 2004 auction of property from the estate of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

(From the Umlaut Archives)

The catalog is literally the print version of Johnny's haunting final video for the song 'Hurt'...

... only the catalog is EVEN MORE profoundly sad. It's 320 pages of photos and text detailing almost 700 items that were put up for auction after the deaths of Johnny and June in 2003 (They passed away within 4 months of each other). In fact, most of the items featured in the video are pictured in the catalog (including the furniture and iconic piano..). Also featured are every day detritus (furniture... dishes... check stubs... clothes... jewelry... rugs...) as well as items that would cause any Music Geek's jaw to hit the floor (musical instruments.. album awards... photos..).

Some of the items that I found most poignant or amazing were:
  • The 1967 Grammy Award presented to Johnny and June for the song 'Jackson' (which of course was their most beloved duet together).
  • The dozens and dozens of handwritten letters to and from Johnny. For the newbies: In the days before e-mail people wrote letters to each other. The letters that Johnny wrote or received from friends like Carl Perkins, Nixon, Muhammed Ali and Jimmy Carter... and love letters from June.
  • An autographed photo from Elvis Presley to June ("To June, I love you. Elvis").
However, it's hard to really focus on individual items because the book represents the life and career of a musician the likes of whom we will never, ever see again. Songwriters of Cash's magnitude and charisma simply aren't possible in this age of mass media where original creativity is something most wouldn't recognize if it hit them in the face; you can quote me on that. Johnny Cash was / is one of Umlaut's Music Geek heroes and I'm thankful I was able to see him and June in concert.

(Ticket Stub and Guitar Pick from the Umlaut Archives)

Anyway, that's the saddest book I've ever read... "We've been talkin' about Jackson ever since the fire went out."