How I loved that silly song as a kid. It didn’t take but a couple of times hearing it to memorize the lyrics by heart, I still remember them, even sang along with them just a few days back. I also have to admit that I still like that old tune, even if it is pretty rough around the edges. After all, I might still have more than a few rough spots myself.
Since I’m a sucker for a good song and story, have been all my life, the old classic was bound to strike pay dirt. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one of the male persuasion that sang along with the Man In Black. A good song, like a good story, lets us know who the protagonist is and who or what they might be up against right from the get-go.
Oh boy, the old classic got off with a bang, “Well my daddy left home when I was three and he didn’t leave much to ma and me, just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.” That’s a tough road for a kid and those few words tell a lot about the man and his story. In case you’re not familiar with the old tune, the road for the antagonist gets worse – much worse.
I remember thinking as a kid it just couldn’t get worse than this. The next line in the song paints and even harsher story, “Now I don’t blame him cause he run and hid, but the meanest thing that he ever did, was before he left, he went and named me Sue.”
A dad naming his son after a girl in the song made the bad man the worst of all human beings. Not only does the man desert his family, but seemingly inflicts insult to injury for good measure and we were left loathing the type of person the song was painting the portrait of. The kid in the song grows up in turmoil, fighting his way through life, “Some gal’d giggle and I’d turn red, some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head, I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.”
The truth is life ain’t easy for anyone… even if you sport an ordinary name. Tough times come to all of us, Christ himself confirmed it, “In this world you will have trouble.” As Christians, we’re usually the protagonists in our stories, especially if we’re the one telling the story, but there are times, even as parents, when we’re the antagonist… Although it takes a deep search to find it since it feels quite the opposite most of the time.
The song spins the tale of a scarred boy who grows up seeking to fulfill his vow to, “Kill the man who gave me that awful name.” He finds his dad in a tavern, “I knew that face was my own sweet dad from the worn-out picture that my mother had.” The fight to the death ensues and the dad eventually facing death admits, “So I gave you that name and I said goodbye, I knew you’d have to get tough or die… cause I knew I wouldn’t be there to help you along.”
The secular song had a profound twist that most likely surprised and influenced the prisoners in Folsom prison that Johnny Cash was singing to on the original recording, “I came away with a different point of view.” Isn’t all of life about perspective? It is the profound gift of free will that allows us to see and feel during our times of trials.
The harshest of times and our darkest hours have brought about the best in us… And why not take heart?
“FOR I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD…”