The Trail

Why I Wear Black" Johnny Cash Quotes and the Stories Behind Them

3/25/2023 | By Johnny Cash Trail| Johnny Cash

You can't scroll a social media feed without running across a quote from Johnny Cash. The iconic musician has a long career, spanning decades and earning the Man in Black accolades for his contributions to music, TV, and film contributions. We're highlighting some of the most famous Johnny Cash quotes and the meanings and stories behind them.

"Why I Wear Black" - Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash's lyrics to The Man in Black spell out exactly why the musician always wore black:

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black
Why you never see bright colors on my back
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on

… I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who is long paid for his crime
But is there because he's a victim of the times

Johnny Cash was known for his iconic black clothing, which he once explained as a symbol of rebellion against a stagnant society that ignored the marginalized and closed-minded individuals. His music reflected this rebellious streak, with raw and honest lyrics that dealt with poverty, addiction, and redemption themes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Cash was seen as a rebel in the country music scene, refusing to conform to the traditional Nashville sound. His music spoke to those seeking something that reflected their struggles and hardships, making him a voice for the underdog.

"I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It's still my symbol of rebellion -- against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others' ideas." Cash once said.

"You Build on Failure."

"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space." 

Cash was a controversial figure on the country music scene. 

He was arrested seven times for misdemeanors but never did time in an actual prison. (He did pose for a promotional mug shot at Folsom Prison, however, wearing a bandage to appear "roughed up" by guards.) 

His addiction was a high price for fame and success, and he was considered a loose cannon. Cash's drug and alcohol abuse, in addition to infidelities, contributed to the end of his first marriage to Vivian Liberte.

His failures and mistakes could've defined Cash's life and career, yet the Man in Black is better known for his music, for being a champion for underdogs, and his love for his wife, June Carter Cash, and his children.

Cash's Definition of Success

"Success is having to worry about every damn thing in the world, except money."

As a musician who experienced his own struggles, Cash recognized that success is a multifaceted concept encompassing personal and professional relationships, health, and well-being.

Cash battled addiction throughout his life, which may have contributed to his view of success.

Cash's personal experiences and perspective on success are reflected in his music, which often deals with hardship and redemption themes. He was known for his unique style that blended elements of country, rock, and gospel music, and his songs spoke to the struggles of everyday people. 

Cash found success in connecting with his audience on a deeper level.

It is clear that Cash valued success beyond monetary gain and was always looking for ways to push himself creatively and artistically. His willingness to take risks and experiment with different styles of music is a testament to this fact. 

Ultimately, Cash believed that true success is about finding personal fulfillment and happiness rather than just accumulating wealth. His quote inspires people today to redefine their understanding of success and focus on what truly matters in their lives.

"I'm Country."

"People call me wild. Not really though, I'm not. I guess I've never been normal, not what you call Establishment. I'm country."

Cash was exposed to the music of the rural South from a young age, and he learned to play guitar and began writing his songs, which were influenced by various genres, including gospel, blues, and rock and roll.

Cash was never one to shy away from controversial topics, and he used his platform to speak out against social injustices and advocate for the underdog. His music often addressed themes such as poverty, addiction, and prison reform, and his lyrics were known for their raw honesty.

Cash remained true to his country roots throughout his career and never compromised his artistic vision. He was never afraid to take risks and try new things, which is evident in his collaborations with artists from different genres. 

In many ways, Cash's music reflected his own life experiences. He grew up in poverty in rural Arkansas, and his family struggled to make ends meet. These early struggles would go on to influence his music, which often dealt with themes of hardship and resilience.

"Cash Causes All The Trouble."

"Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight."

Johnny Cash said that he sometimes felt like he was two people: "Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight." 

This quote reflects Cash's struggles with his personal demons, particularly his battles with drug addiction. The quote also captures the duality in Cash's music and persona, as he was able to blend elements of both traditional country and western music with rock and roll, and was known for his rebellious image and outlaw persona. 

Cash may have felt like two people, but these two personalities molded him into one of the greatest singers, songwriters, and performers the country music world had ever seen. 
Cash's quote also highlights his challenges as a public figure and how he navigated the pressure to maintain a certain image. 

As an artist, he often had to balance his personal struggles with his public persona and the expectations of his fans. Despite these challenges, Cash remained true to himself and his unique blend of music, earning him the respect and admiration of fans and fellow musicians. His ability to navigate the dualities of his life and career is a testament to his resilience and determination, which are reflected in his music and continue to inspire generations of fans.

"This morning with her, having coffee."

"This morning, with her, having coffee" was Johnny Cash's response to the question, "What is your definition of paradise?" Cash's love story and marriage to his second wife, June Carter Cash, is legendary -- and the source for a blockbuster movie. 

Their relationship began in the 1950s when they met on the set of the Grand Ole Opry. At the time, Johnny and June were both married—to other people. They became friends and continued to perform together over the years, eventually falling in love. Despite their challenges, including Johnny's struggles with addiction and marriages to other people, their relationship endured, and they were married in 1968.

Johnny and June had a close and loving relationship and often performed together. Their duets, such as "Jackson" and "It Ain't Me Babe," are considered classics.

Johnny Cash was a true original, a rebel who refused to conform to societal norms and instead blazed his own trail. His music and message continue to inspire and resonate with fans worldwide. Johnny Cash's quotes and song lyrics remain popular today, and the meaning behind them continues to inspire fans from across the globe.