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Your Own Personal Jesus (Sunday AM Punk Rock Gospel)

Posted in country music, Music & Life & Sundays, Mythos, Spirituality & Religion, Sunday AM Punk Rock Gospel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by alphabetfiend

Have your personal Jesus call my personal Jesus and we’ll work somethin’ out. How’s Sunday work for ya?    

For this week’s Sunday AM Punk Rock Gospel, I’ve chosen a song that’s gone through quite a transformation since its early 90’s hey-day. Originally done by Depeche Mode, “Personal Jesus” got a whole new spiritual life when covered by the late great Johnny Cash.    

    

Johnny Cash recorded “Personal Jesus” for his 2002 album American IV: When the Man Comes Around. Brilliantly produced by Rick Rubin, the album is a masterful collection of Cash covering songs by such diverse artists as Nine Inch Nails or Simon & Garfunkle. (Hurt; A Bridge Over Troubled Water) It’s clear from Rubin’s song selections that he’d listened to a lot of old Johnny Cash records. Each song is a glimpse into Cash’s psyche, soul and sound.    

    

“Personal Jesus” was an especially perfect choice and yet not at all obvious.    

Johnny Cash? Depeche Mode? Whuuut?    

C’mon, think about it! “Personal Jesus” was made for Johnny Cash. It’s a Jesus song! And damn can Johnny sing us some Jesus.    

“Gospel music is part of what I am and part of what I do,” — JC    

By 2002, singing about Jesus was old hat to Cash: he’d struck an earthly aching chord with songs like “Redemption”, “I Saw the Light” or (my fav) Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Chunk of Coal.”    

Sinner? (Johnny Cash)

Johnny was the sinner striking out towards redemption.    

There was a sadness in Cash: an ill-healed injury, a bruised history. Yet Cash wasn’t brow beat or beat down. He wasn’t ashamed or unwilling to change. Johnny Cash was a work in progress… he was “Us”. For all the hurt his voice conveyed there was also yearning, learning and hope.    

Before I heard Cash’s cover of Personal Jesus, I never saw the song as spiritual or even especially meaningful. It seemed, to me, to be more about SNARK than SPIRIT.   

With that voice like an open gash, Cash gave it gospel. Personal Jesus” was never meant to be a spiritual hymn or religious statement. Dave Gahan reportedly wrote the song about heroin, after battling a nasty addiction to the stuff. (Guess that explains the snark.)   

Saint? (DM's Dave Gahan)

For me, the Depeche Mode version elicits memories of an illicit afternoon of stolen sex with my high-school boyfriend who was supposedly my ex-boyfriend (who should have definitely stayed an ex.) He’d shown up with his shiny new CD, hot to trot, hopin’ to be my very own personal Jesus. While he sang along,  fancying himself as unholy savior, I sat there thinking A) This again? What am I doing? and B) He bettah not be thinkin’ he’s my personal Jesus. Until I finally busted out with “Y’know you’re really not” and he said, “Oooh, yes I am.”    

Let us take a moment to thank our blessed father who art in heavan, for it was Johnny Cash who took ultimate and final possession of “Personal Jesus.” Sorry DM fans, sorry MM* fans, but it’s true. “Personal Jesus” is Johnny’s. Always will be. Sorry ADC but you aren’t my personal Jesus. Never waz.    

Everyone must find something to give their life texture and meaning, be it Jesus or Johnny Cash. We’re all setting our own moral barometers and looking for guidance — in the pages of The Koran or in the pages of Nietzsche. Whether we find peace in ancient psalms or Ginsberg poems, we’re all in search of the joy that obliterates pain, the light that illuminates the dark.    

    

What is more personal than Jesus?    

Often, when someone’s found what they’re looking for, they’ll become convinced that they have what the rest of us need. But spirit is a private matter. No one can save another’s soul. Even those belting out “Jesus Loves Me” beneath the same rain-pelted church roof  are singing to their own singular versions of God’s first-born.    

Historian/Author Stephen Prothero explored the many-faced Jesus in his book American Jesus. The book examines how Jesus has affected our culture and how our culture has affected Jesus.    

No religious personality has captivated so many Americans for so long as Jesus. Indeed, as Boston University historian Prothero demonstrates in this sparkling and engrossing book, Jesus is the one religious figure nearly every American, whether Christian or not, past and present, has embraced. From Thomas Jefferson’s cut-and-paste Bible to Jesus Christ Superstar, from the feminized Christ of the Victorians to the “manly redeemer” of Teddy Roosevelt’s era, from Buddhist bodhisattva to Black Moses, Prothero surveys the myriad ways Americans have remade Jesus in their own image.    

(Publisher’s Weekly)      

    

Whether you view Jesus as a diety or not, there’s no denying that Jesus has become an American icon. Chances are, you too have your own personal Jesus. We should all have our own personal Jesus! Who doesn’t sometimes need to reach out and touch faith?    

Personal Jesus    

Reach out and touch faith
Your own Personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own Personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there    

Feeling’s unknown and you’re all alone
Flesh and bone by the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer    

Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith    

Your own Personal Jesus
Feeling’s unknown and you’re all alone
Flesh and bone by the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer
I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Your own Personal Jesus
Reach out and touch faith    

This video is beautifully done — sun-faded familial shots of Johnny & June intercut with raw b+w photos of haggard looking celebs. (Kris Kristofferson, Kieth Richards, Dennis Hopper, Billy Gibbons, Kate Moss, Sheryl Crow, Justin Timberlake, Johnny Depp, Chris Rock, Lisa Marie Presley, Travis Barker and Kid Rock.)    

   

Who or what does your Jesus look like? Who’s listening to your prayers? What do you reach for when you’re all alone, just flesh and bone by the telephone?   

I sometimes suspect that Johnny’s personal Jesus was June.    

    

After June died, after they buried her, the Robot Boy was reading the paper when tears welled up in his green eyes. I was… surprised.     

Wow, he said. Johnny’s not long for this world.    

RB passed the paper and pointed at a photo of Johnny Cash at June Carter Cash’s funeral. Cash, in a black suit and tie, was seated in a wheelchair; his face was graven and distant. A man was offering condolences, hand out-stretched, but Johnny saw right through him, as if he were in a whole other plane of existence. As if one or both of them were ghosts.    

They’ll be one of those couples, predicted RB. It won’t be long, now that June’s gone.    

And it wasn’t. It wasn’t long at all. I cried and cried the day Johnny died but having seen that picture, I’d say I was prepared. I could see the peace in it.    

    

*Marilyn Manson also covered “Personal Jesus.”    

The Holy Banana is from Stuff That looks Like Jesus, a gallery of one Jesus after another, whether in a dusty moth-wing or in the chocolatey layers of a kit kat candy bar.     

“Dead Characters” (the Jesus Big Boy painting) is by the ever-brilliant Mark Ryden.“Jesus with Desk Lamp” is by Branden Martz (just one of many amazing multi-media artworks on view at his website.) Expect to hear more about Mr. Martz!    

American Jesus by Stephen Prothero is available at Amazon.

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