Johnny Cash talks to an empty room during the Covid lockdown

by | Apr 24, 2021

{strumming and picking guitar randomly} A spotlight illuminates a hard circle around a dark haired, young, Johnny Cash. His voice booms over speakers set on the darkened fringes of the stage. His voice and guitar echo in the 200-seat theatre, which is empty due to the Covid lockdown. He speaks,

“How y’all doing tonight? I can hear ya, y’all have had a hell of a time.

Well, so have I. Can ya hear me okay?

I’m just gonna get warmed up, haven’t played for a while. I been wrestling with the devil, after falling into a ring of fire, and then I wrestled a little with the lawd and then I, well, wrestled a little with my conscience.

Y’all had to quarantine, can’t say I know what that’s like. But I did play a concert in a prison, maybe you heard of it? You’re a tough crowd, but I appreciate being here. I feel like I’m among the stars, but it’s only a little place in Texas.

How are you feeling? Are you tired and weary, well, it might help you to know, this world is tough and y’all fighting a hell of a fight, just keep it up and you’ll get through.

Y’know I wear this black shirt for you, and for the thousands who have died. You’ll ride again, just you see. I hear a vaccine on the horizon. It’s comin’ like a fresh wind on the prairie. Just hang in there, Sue, ya’ll just hang in.”

The guitar picking and strumming fades. Johnny Cash disappears, his black shirt and boots are in a heap on the stage. The spotlight fades, leaving the empty theatre in silence.


  1. David O'Connor

    Randal, this really captures that Cash feeling, I’m a big fan. Love the wordplay. You should hand this off to an actor with a booming baritone and record it! Great job.

  2. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Love this concept of a dead musician playing to an empty modern auditorium. Would love to maybe see some more ghosts/hauntings? You’ve captured the voice nicely here. Makes me want to listen to Cash the rest of this nice Sunday!

  3. Jan Elman Stout

    Randal, you really captured Johnny Cash. Your words came to me in his voice. I love that you did a mash up of Johnny Cash + the pandemic–two very strong forces. The empty clothing heaped on the stage at the end is a nice touch.

  4. Sara Comito

    This is probably the most hopeful story I’ve read about the pandemic. I think it’s just awful beautiful. That we are still worthy of the gaze of the Man in Black is something special. And it would be pretty Johnny Cash of him to grace us with a show, sinners that we are. I hope you felt good writing this, because it shines through.

  5. Suzanne van de Velde

    Randal —
    Such persuasive writing, I thought — wait, didn’t he already die? So glorious to hear that voice again, and think that maybe he could be somewhere thinking of us, telling us to be strong.
    Thank you for this — and for sharing your work this weekend.

  6. Judy Bates

    It’s just what Johnny Cash would say to us if he were here. You captured his spirit, and love.

  7. Federico Escobar

    Hi, Randal.

    I enjoyed this piece—in a sad way. All that was left of Johnny Cash is plundered as a way of processing this strange moment of 2020 and thereabouts. It was a good idea, to channel Cash this way. And his disappearance at the end makes me think that, in a way, we have emptied him out by turning to his songs in the search for something to better understand what’s happening.

    Thanks for this piece! I had fun reading it.


  8. Wendy Oleson

    Randal! This ending! This is the kind of ending that feels inevitable while still managing to surprise! “Johnny Cash talks to an empty room during the Covid lockdown” bursting with shadows and ghosts, darks and lights, that black shirt. I felt like I was reading this in black and white—and so much emptiness in that 200-person theatre.

    Right away I felt so much resonance in these lines:

    “How y’all doing tonight? I can hear ya, y’all have had a hell of a time

    Well, so have I. Can ya hear me okay?

    Those lines are enough to undo me. Johny cash is able to get to the heart of this—we’re not okay, we’re gone, and he gets that and hears us, knows we’ve had a hell of a time. And he’s dead, so he has too. Can we hear him? Can we ever hear each other again? Can we speak to the dead and do they speak to us?

    Shoot, man. Shoot.

    And the all the JC-specific details are great—his trouble with the devil, the ring of fire, the lawd, and so on. Sue. And the bit about the vaccine!

    I hear a vaccine on the horizon. It’s comin’ like a fresh wind on the prairie.

    I haven’t been home to Iowa since 2019, so this line about the horizon, the prairie, it gets me too. It’s an exhilarating feeling.

    And that ending again. An absence. The clothing, boots, and empty, silent theatre.

    There’s even something I like about this opening:
    {strumming and picking guitar randomly}
    It’s like those fancy brackets remind me of seats in an old theatre. Or ornate decoration of an old theatre.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    My best,

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