50 years ago today, New Year’s Eve 1968, Johnny Cash took time from whatever revelry the night might’ve had in store for him to write a letter to himself. It was Cash’s capstone to what he considered the most important year of his career and personal life, and many Cash fans and historians would probably concur. From his marriage to June Carter, to playing his legendary show at Folsom Prison, to touring England and taking a vacation in Israel, it was all dictated in endearing Johnny Cash fashion on five pieces of House of Cash stationary between 8:35 pm, and 9:10 pm, December 31st.
This detailed glimpse into Johnny Cash the man shows the incredible specificity with which he recalled his year, naming off many of the people involved with the now historic concert at Folsom Prison, from Glen Sherley, who was the prisoner who wrote “Graystone Chapel,” to even a young reporter named Gene Beley, who worked for the Ventura Star Free Press, and was one of the few people there who saw the event from behind-the-scenes. On his trip to Israel, Cash remembers each place he saw with great clarity, even spelling (most) of the places out accurately from memory.
One funny note about Johnny Cash’s recap is that he segments it into numbers, but there’s two #4’s, and two #5’s. It’s a snapshot of Johnny Cash’s life at his apex, and hard to not feel his magnanimous nature as he makes mental notes of what he’s accomplished, while also taking time at the end of the note to remember others.
As the close of another year brings the inevitable stock taking of our own lives, Johnny Cash imparts lessons how how best to be grateful, humble, and think about others when looking at one’s life. 50 years on, and we’re still learning from Johnny Cash.
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The note was originally unearthed by Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, and was included in his book House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash, from 2011. For people having trouble reading the note itself, a rough translation can be found below.
Dec. 31st, 1968
I feel that this year, 1968 has been, in many ways, the best year of my 36 years of life. It has been a sober, serious year. Also probably the busiest year of my life, as well as the most fulfilling. Remebering back, without reviewing dates and schedules—the first high point of the year was;
1. Feb. 1968 at Folsom Prison. June – my dad, Rev. Gressett, the Statlers, Carl Perkins.— the new song by the prisoner—Rehearsal in the Sacramento Motel—Luther, Marshall, Fluke—The Show—Glen Sherley—Coach Kelley—My dad watching the prisoners, tears in his eyes—the warden giving me 12 cups.—leaving the prison—not too excited about a possible album—Compliments from everyone—Hugh Cherry—Bob Johnston—Gene Beley—Robt Hilburn – – – – – The later excitement over the sound –
2. My marriage to June Carter on March 1st 1968. A beautiful day in Franklin, KY. — Micky & Monroe—Luther Margie Marsha, Etta fluke Joyce Kilgore—the church the audience June Rosie Carlene crying—George Morgan singing. The reception – People people people, Roger – Luther – Alone with June – Beautiful night.
3. May 1968 England Scotland – Albert Hall – Front page Glasgow, Good reviews. — Israel – praying – getting recorder- Valley of David—Jerusalem – King David Hotel. Via Dolorosa – Cavalry – Emotional experience – Jacob – Bethlehem – Dead Sea – (taste of water) – Qumran – Jericho – refugee tents and huts – Gethsemane – Mt of Olives – Wailing Wall – Haija – (the view from the hotel) – Caesarea – Nazareth – Cana – Tiberias – Sea of Galillee – Beduins – Magdala – Mt. of Beautifuls – St Peters perch – Mt Tabor – Valley of Jezrael [sic.] – Haifa – Caesarea – Tel Aviv – Dan Hotel – Israeli food. (bacon & eggs.- Show & Dinner with CBS.
4. Water skiing with six girls. Fishing in Old Hickory —looking for aarowheads with Braxton – Garden. Best Garden ever—New evergreen trees Jim & Pop Carter—Pool—[???]–Garage.
4. (Show dates $4,000 to $12,000 this year) (per day)
Roy Orbison’s house Buras – I acquire his lot. Plan orchard. Buy property near Smithville with Braxton.
5. Oct 1968 DJ Correnation – CMA Show “Folsom” top Album – Nominated for top entertainer.—[Glen Campbell TV Show] Carnegie Hall (sellout. Standing ovation) Palladium (sellout – Standing ovation) ditto every English date.
5. Filming of documentary — Wounded Knee S.D. — Medicine Men – ‘Big Foot’ — Show at St. Francis — turn away crowd. Tennessee State Prison.
6. Dec. 1968 New York Kraft Music Hall.
7. Luther’s death. The fire. The intensive care unit. – dead – funeral – Marshall Fluke Roy Margie Gressett etc. –
8. Sept 1968 – Bob Wootton “accidental” discovery – Fayetteville Ark. Gov Rockefeller
9. Now Jimmy Howard death. Jan – Corky Harland Waylon June & Jan—Military funeral
31st, 9:10 pm