In 1964 Johnny Cash released the often-overlooked, protest masterpiece, Bitter Tears (Ballads of the American Indian). Feeding off of pop culture’s desire for protest songs, Cash teamed up with Peter La Farge, a Native American songwriter, to write and record 8 cohesive folk songs focusing on historical struggles of the American Indians. Cash and La Farge cover history with masterful storytelling and personal emotions; mixing sentiment (The Talking Leaves), anger (As Long As The Grass Shall Grow), frustration (The Vanishing Race), heart-break and racism (White Girl), and sad, funny-but-true tales of men come and gone (Custer and The Ballad Of Ira Hayes). Cash’s bellowing vocal and storytelling exposes 31 minutes of emotional & physical neglect performed on American Indians by our country’s ‘forefathers’—the white man- those who still attempt taking what’s not theirs in other countries, to this day.
On Drums, Cash tells the story of a young Native American dealing with the modern era and society’s standards set up for him and his heritage— to adjust accordingly to the New World’s rules, of course:
From the Indian reservation to the governmental school
Well they’re goin’ to educate me to the white men’s Golden Rule
Well you thought that I knew nothing when you brought me here to school…
Just another empty Indian,
just America’s first fool
But now I can tell you stories that are burnt and dried and old…
Remind your family and friends that the land they’re celebrating on, BBQ-ing, drinking beer and laughing, lighting firecrackers and thanking God for their safety and freedom, isn’t theirs. Put on Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears. Remind Aunt Sally and hillbilly, cousin Billy over there in the corner of the yard asking you to turn it off, play something we know!, that this country’s birthdays celebrate our forefathers awesome abilities to steal and kill for what wasn’t theirs to begin with—successfully founding greed, yelling ‘freedom’ and calling it democracy. Johnny Cash doesn’t have to say it on Bitter Tears, but we are America’s fools.