From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (27)—Ring of Fire

Click here to read the introduction to the Round and Square series "Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin'..."
[a] Smoke and mirrors RF
It burns. Love. It burns.

So sings Johnny Cash, and it is a different kind of hurtin' that we'll be investigating this week on Round and Square. Most weeks we have to ready ourselves for the pining memories of loss and betrayal. This week, we'll hear of Johnny Cash's singeing descent into looooove. Take a look and listen. As always, read the lyrics first. This will be necessary in the first video (which has only lyrics). The second and third ones are from live appearances in the 1960s.

       Ring of Fire
          Artist: Johnny Cash
          Songwriters: June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore

[b] Wild RF
          Love Is a burning thing
          And It makes a fiery ring
          Bound by wild desire
          I fell into a ring of fire

          Chorus x2
          I fell into a burning ring of fire
          I went down, down, down
          And the flames went higher
          And it burns, burns, burns
          The ring of fire
          The ring of fire

         The taste of love is sweet
         When hearts like ours meet
         I fell for you like a child
         Oh, but the fire went wild

         Chorus x2

         And it burns, burns, burns
         The ring of fire, the ring of fire

[c] Tranformative RF
There is no perfect interpretation of the song, not even by Johnny Cash himself. This might be one of the reasons why many people love it and a handful find it disconcerting. His daughter, Rosanne Cash, describes the song as being about the transformative power of love. All I can say to that anything truly transformative has to hurt a little, and the song swirls with the wildfire of the last verse. It also swirled with success. It was Johnny Cash's most popular song, and stayed at number one on the Billboard charts for seven weeks in 1963.

And transformative it was. June Carter co-wrote "Ring of Fire" with Merle Kilgore. Pay attention to June's last name. In the American southland, this Carter name is more famous than the one that spawned Jimmy and Billy. They are country music's royal family. In any case, June Carter's sister first gave it a shot but, as Cash-Carter lore has it, Johnny had a vision of the song with a borderlands trumpet resonance. He eventually recorded it the way that you have just heard it and—here's the kicker—the transformative power was already working its fiery magic. June Carter and Johnny Cash were married four years later.

Finding an East Asian lyric this week requires a little bit of imagination, but I cannot help but pick one with the phrase "wild fire." It is Bo Juyi's (Po Chü-i's) reflection about grass on the prairie. This one's about farewell, and provides a nice cornerstone to the ring cycle of someone we might think of as Cash John-ny.

          Grass on Ancient Plain: A Song of Farewell
          Bo Juyi (Po Chü-i), 772-846
          Spreading here, spreading there, the grasses on the plain,
          A cycle, a year of flourishing, and decay—
          Wild fires burn but can't kill them off
          When spring wind blows, they grow again
          Faraway fragrance overruns ancient roads,
          Bright emerald tint spreads to ruined walls
          Again it's time to bid you farewell
          Lush growth teems with my parting thoughts.
                                     —Translated by Irving Lo

[1]  Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry (Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974), 201.

Liu Wu-chi and Irving Yucheng Lo. Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.

Sunday, November 13th 
I'd Be Better Off in a Pine Box
We're back to the more traditional kind of pain next week, and will explore one of the saddest songs in the history of country music. Doug Stone will tell us about pain so bad (no irony is intended) that he'd be better off on a slow train back to Georgia. It doesn't get worse than this; that is the only good news.

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