RING OF FANS
LA WEEKLY, SEPTEMBER 19-25, 2003
"I just got to Hollywood. Does something like this happen every time someone famous dies?"
The kid wouldn't say where he was from - he was too streetwise for that - but he would say that he'd been walking on Hollywood Boulevard all day. That's when he'd run across the huge flower arrangement, burning candles and crowd of shaggy devotees surrounding Johnny Cash's star on the Walk of Fame. The news vans with their towering broadcast poles had attracted him, but the bottle of whiskey being passed around had made him stay. It was Friday afternoon and news of the musician's death had brought out a scrappy group of mourners.
"I dunno who paid for the flowers," said one kid, "but I brought the photograph." It was that famous picture of Cash holding his guitar and giving the finger straight at the camera. Someone had scrawled "Goodbye Johnny, we'll miss you" across it like an autographed picture at a Hollywood restaurant. Surrounding the photo were half-empty bottles of Jack Daniel's and Ten High, an unopened can of Pabst, and lots of fresh cigarettes. A wild, ragged youth asked me for a smoke, and when I gave it to him he strode off, bouncing in time to "Cocaine Blues," which was blasting out of a black pickup truck parked next to Cash's star. Back at his circle of friends, he joined in as they sang, "Come on you've gotta listen to me, lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be!" Then they all laughed and high-fived. A Japanese tourist hung back taking a picture from a safe distance, but he didn't escape unnoticed.
"C'mon over here and get a good picture," the owner of the truck yelled. "Get a picture of all these flowers and shit!" The foreigner dutifully advanced, snapped the picture, then hurried away. A German couple wavered, unsure whether or not to walk through the roiling crew.
"What is this?" the man asked me, but the answer was yelled by the ragged kid. "It's Johnny Cash. The greatest motherfucking musician EVER!" The man and woman nodded and turned around rather than look closer. I asked the ragged kid if he had a favorite Cash song.
"I like it when he sings about jail and all that real shit - fuck all these pussy musicians. You know that guy lived the life. Hell, he even killed some guy once."
I told him that "I Walk the Line" was my fave, and he said, "Hell, yeah," and took a slug from his whiskey bottle. Some people walking by scarcely noticed the scene; others stopped to take a moment for their private dialogue with The Man in Black. The kid I'd first talked to came back over.
"This shit is great. All these guys loved Johnny, and they're damn well gonna let him know. Ain't that something?"
I agreed with him on the righteousness of it all. "Y'know," I said, "when Ronald Reagan dies, I bet there won't be a party like this at his star."
"Hell, no," the kid said. "I'll drop my pants and take a shit on it." Then he went back to the truck nodding his head to "Ring of Fire."