I Listened to You and I Heard You

So, the folks over at The 9513 point us to the new Johnny Cash video.  It’s a remix of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

And I’m just going to state for the record that it’s terrible.  There are many reasons why it’s terrible–the “remixing” adds nothing to the song, just some syncopated rhythms and a busy mishmash of noise that sounds mostly taken from a typewriter; the remixing doesn’t tell you anything new about the song; the difference in recording quality between the original and the added pieces is too great to go by unnoticed, but seems to, etc. etc. etc.

But here’s the main problem, as I see it (and I’m hoping some of you DJs will advise me if I’m off-course), but it seems to me that, if you’re going to do this type of remix, the point is to bring new artistic ears to the song, to say to the song “I listened to you and I heard you” and then for you to take your artistry to it and to make from it something new, something you have added your vision to.

In what way is this remix anything other than the equivalent of Pete Rock banging a tambourine in his basement along with a record?  In what way do you listen to that and feel like Rock’s addition has made a new song?

The thing of it is, I think, that it’s hard to hear “Folsom Prison Blues” as anything other than the iconic song it is.  I mean, I sympathize with Pete Rock in this case.  You hear the song and you think, “Wow, that’s a classic” as if “classic” means immutable.  But, of course, immutablility and remixing are opposites.  In order to remix the song, you have to start from the premise that this is not the only configuration the song might take, that it can be broken down, reconstituted, and redone in such a way that it is something new.

And thinking that about an iconic song is difficult, I’d imagine.

But this?  This with almost nothing added or changed?  With a video that’s designed to say “Vaguely old fashioned”?  I mean, what’s the purpose of that?  To give CMT an excuse to put Cash on the air?  I don’t know.  But I don’t like it.  It feels like a total failure of the whole art of remixing.

4 thoughts on “I Listened to You and I Heard You

  1. Well, I think it would take a brave person indeed to make a substantial change in Cash’s original version, even now that he’s dead. I forget where it was that I heard Rodney Crowell talking about nervously asking Cash to participate in recording “I Walk the Line Revisited” and Cash’s reaction when he discovered how the song had been changed. It was a funny story, and Cash did do the revised version (which is a wonderful account of hearing the song for the first time and what it meant to Crowell), but it sounds like he was kind of annoyed along the way.

    Now, that’s no reason for doing a bad remix, but it may suggest why a good one wasn’t done.

  2. I think you’re right. But it does then beg the question of why a remix album would be proposed if the people participating weren’t going to have the gumption to actually remix it.

  3. I must agree; it’s a bad remix. I suspect the main problem is that the original style is so straightworward that any “embellishments” hang on it oddly without melding with in in any way. I’d feel sorry for the remix “artist”, but really I suspect that the man has ears, and therefore should have known this was awful before he released it.

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