Sun Records and Gospel Music

Yesterday I learned that I could download any of my albums on Google Music to my Android phone. And I started backing up all my music and important files a few years ago. Why I never made this connection, that my phone could do the exact thing I intended it to do, is a mystery to me.

Why it doesn’t have all the album and artist titles correct and why I can’t edit them on my phone, is because Google thinks it’s smarter than Joe American and doesn’t understand that some people would rather listen to Carl Perkins instead of Katy Perry. I’ll see what I can do next time I have a desktop computer available, because Google (and Facebook) won’t let you access their regular sites from your phone.

Truly the stereotype about young people being natural with technology is false. I’m so bad that I think the ROK editor thought I was a troll when I first started writing for them. It’s bizarre that I’m so computer stupid, because otherwise I have a gift for language.

So I’m back with my vast collection of Americana treasures. Since I wasted your time with this update, I feel like I should say something profound.

Johnny Cash left Sun Records because Sam Phillips wouldn’t let him sing gospel music. Phillips said he loved gospel but that it wasn’t viable commercially. Cash pitched a fit and burned the bridge, for which he was later deeply regretful.

It’s strange how gospel was a sort of genre in itself that wasn’t incompatible with otherwise very anti-gospel music. While at Sun, Cash had a song about failing school but getting an A for “loving in the dark.” Indeed, Jesus saves.

Cash later came to repent of his wild living and even gave his first wife Vivian his support to publish a painful tell-all memoir. That biopic shortly after his death that hired a woman who could sing of course glossed over all of this, because true love or something. The history is that Cash had a painful life of disappointment and crawled into a cave near Chattanooga in order to die; by a miracle he found his way out and repented.

Johnny Cash, warts and all, was a true Christian who understood humility. Carl Perkins probably was also. But what about Elvis?

Elvis grew up in northeast Mississippi in an Assembly of God church, which is an offshoot of Pentecostalism. I have a friend in Jackson (middle west Mississippi) who grew up AG. He says people who grow up AG never continue into adulthood. From what I’ve seen here in Chattanooga, this seems true. (Tangentially, just east of here in Cleveland is the epicenter of the Church of God.)

People (rightly) criticize his ex wife and daughter for ruining his legacy and giving his money to Scientology, but they got that idea from the books in his library. In his last years, Elvis read very widely and made all kinds of markings in his books.

The true genius in Elvis is that when you hear him sing, you believe him. It’s not something that can be faked. I have more Willie Nelson than I care to admit, and I don’t believe a word he’s ever sung. But Elvis bleeds integrity.

When I was a teenager, Elvis’s traveling preacher stepbrother spoke at my (Baptist mega) church. He said, “I realize Elvis had a lot of problems, but he was the most profound thinker.” And when struggling with whether to become a Christian, Elvis told him, “Those are the people you need to trust.”

So should I take Elvis gospel seriously? He lived a life of drugs and polyamory, but he also had a deep profundity and seemed to realize there was an important spiritual dimension to everyday life.

I don’t have an answer to that question. Perhaps he was just a lost soul trying to find his way to truth. He wasn’t given a very good spiritual foundation. I think God uses what He has available. It’s not like Pentecostalism can really speak with timeless authority on morality.

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