Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the making of Bitter Tears covers the story of Mr. Cash making his album meant to further the voices of Native people in the US. 1964, and someone as famous as Johnny Cash could make the American Indian Movement known to a wider audience, and wider audiences were ready to hear it.
The title track is called “The Ballad of Ira Hayes”. It tells the sad, sad story of Ira, who was from the Pima nation in Arizona. He lived his life on the reservation and then joined the military during WWII. He was sent to the Pacific arena and was immortalized in that photo of the dudes raising that flag. You know the one. Ira is the one who is furthest on the outside, both literally and figuratively. After the war he returned to the reservation in Arizona and was arrested over 50 times for public intoxication. He died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 33, officially of exposure to the elements and alcohol poisoning. Fucking fuck, what this society does to Native people! I’m no journalist, or sociologist, or even an essayist – I can’t write a good article about how a person of color is let down over and over again by systems of oppression, including the fucking military. But, I do believe in the power of a song. Here is Johnny Cash spreading the good word with a good melody:
And for some music candy, Youtube led me to this great rendition:
Which then let me to this. Equally good rendition, though a wildly different interpretation: