Get me Johnny Cash on the phone

Many years ago I read an astonishing book called ‘The Executioner’s Song’ by Norman Mailer. It’s an incredible read about a man called Gary Gilmore who for a while in the 1970s became the most famous man in America. Gilmore was a convicted murderer who was facing life on Death Row at a time when no one had been executed for many years. He began legal action to effectively force the authorities to execute him. Which they did in 1977.

Without in anyway excusing his crimes, it’s fair to say that Gilmore had a really tough life. The book doesn’t gloss over what a shit he was either, but it does give a rounded picture of the man and his obsessive relationship with his girlfriend Nicole and that events that led up to him going out and killing two men in cold blood.

A tiny detail in the book, that really struck me, was that he was a huge fan of Johnny Cash and in fact asked for (and got) a phone call from Cash prior to his execution. For me it spoke volumes about Johnny Cash’s ability to reach out to so many different people through his music and that during a time when death was close, Gilmore would choose Cash as someone important enough to share in the time he had left. So it’s really a song about what an incredible communicator Johnny Cash was, that people felt he was their friend.

There are a tv smithfew songs about Gilmore and perhaps the most famous is “Gary Gilmore’s eyes” by The Adverts. A few years ago I met the amazing TV Smith from the Adverts (See picture) and told him I also had a Gilmore song.

I’ve sung the song now for many many years and I hope to finally commit it to record when I record my next album. Meantime here’s a live version I did last month for The TV sessions.

 

Get me Johnny Cash on the phone

Johnny Cash picked up the phone in his Tennessee home
and dialled a number he’d been given
At the end of the line was a man about to die
with no time for the priest but a need to be forgiven

Gary Gilmore said “Hello, I was hoping you might phone.
I guess by now you’ve heard about my crimes.
I killed two Mormon men, for no reason I can give.
Just like the man you shot in Reno, just to watch him die.”

He said I need someone to sing me back home
Someone who understands the pain of being alone
A plaintive cry to cut right to my bones
Warden get me Johnny Cash on the phone

Then he spoke about his mother and a picture on the cover
of a record they always played
Don’t take your guns to town – well I guess I let her down
went off the rails and I could not be saved

He said I need someone to sing me back home
Someone who understands the pain of being alone
A plaintive cry to cut right to my bones
Warden get me Johnny Cash on the phone

And they sang ‘I walk the Line’
Tears welled in Gary’s eyes
All his crimes could be confessed
This was Gary Gilmore’s last request

Will you sing one for Nicole? She’s my heart she’s my soul
She’s the reason I’ve chosen to die
On every word she ever spoke I will hang until I choke
Then saddle up with the Riders in the sky

And they sang ‘I walk the Line’
Tears welled in Gary’s eyes
All his crimes could be confessed
This was Gary Gilmore’s last request

He said I need someone to sing me back home
Someone who understands the pain of being alone
A plaintive cry to cut right to my bones
Warden get me Johnny Cash on the phone