WHERE’S MY SHIP? By Marilyn Armstrong

I was out in Arizona talking to a Blue Corn Navajo lady who made jewelry. She had carefully given me her tribal affiliations and all I had to say was “Eastern European Jewish,” which lacked panache. I don’t seem to have much of an ability to show a lot of dash in casual conversation. Whatever talent I have, it’s more introverted.

Nonetheless, it was a good conversation. I casually said I was ” … waiting for my ship to come in and hoped it had a fortune on board for me.”

Photo: Garry Armstrong

She asked me, seriously, whether I’d been out on the docks looking for my ship. Looking for my ship? She said “Yes, you have to watch for them. Otherwise, they can pass you by and you’ll never know you missed it.”

I’m sure I forget for years at a time to go look for my ship. It’s probably come and gone and I’ll never see it, even in the foggy distance.

It’s like looking for your writer’s voice. Recently, a lot of people have claimed to be looking for it. Or grumpily asserted they can’t figure out what it is and thus will never find it.


Your writer’s voice is you. Written. It is how you feel, what you mean. In words. Written down. That’s it. The beginning and the end of it. Anyone can find it, but you have to be looking for it. Most people are not looking. They are afraid to find it.


They think they are looking, though. They think your “writer’s voice” as a kind of style or form. Not true.

Your “voice” IS you. You are your voice. Once upon a time — more than 40 years ago –someone told me I wrote like I was afraid my mother would read it. I realized she was right. I was afraid my mother would read it. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I could not find my voice until after she died because I was afraid of what I might say.

The voice was there. I just wasn’t ready to use it where anyone might hear me.

If you are looking for your voice, stop reading books about it. A college course isn’t going to help you. Write how you speak and write what you say … the way you really say it. You should go back to your writing and read it aloud. It should sound like natural speech. More to the point, it should sound like your natural speech. If it doesn’t, rewrite it. If it sounds stilted and phony, it is.

Not everyone needs to find their voice. If what you want to do is write about what’s going on in the world, you only need to write well. Your voice need not come into it.

I want to add a bit here on style and form. Style and form (or format) are not your voice. They are formulas and relate to whatever type of writing you choose as your specialty. In other words, your audience or readership. If you are writing for children (for example), there is a rather rigid formula (with which I almost entirely disagree), especially if you want schools to use your work. Really great kid’s writers have ignored the formalities of the genre and written what they wanted to read when they were young.

I was planning to be the next great “author” although I was never sure what kind of great author.  Everyone tells you to “write like yourself.” Except when you are young, you aren’t sure who “yourself” is. Maturity is terribly time-consuming. It can take most of your life.

The book to read

Finding your voice means letting go of the writers you admired and not trying to sound like them. It means hanging loose. It doesn’t matter what you are writing about, whether it’s for kids, technicians,  news-readers, or lovers of magic.

Many of us are unready to find our voice because we’re afraid our mother, father, pastor, brother, or husband will hear us. Worse, they might understand us and then, maybe, they won’t like it. Or us.

As for my ship? I’m not hanging out by the dock, watching for it. For all I know, it’s already on its way back to wherever it came from.

JOHNNY CASH AND NINE INCH NAILS – RICH PASCHALL

Covering Hurt, by Rich Paschall

You probably know what it means to “cover” a song. That’s when one artist records, or “covers,” the work of another artist. Sometimes the later version becomes a bigger hit than the original.  Such was the case when white artists were “Covering R&B Music” and getting all of the radio airplay. If you have been following this space, you probably have noticed we have covered this topic often. (Pun intended.)

You may have been “Disturbed” to learn that a heavy metal group covered the classic “Sound of Silence.” You may have wondered “Who Covered Who” when we talked about the folk-pop hit “Both Sides Now.” You knew Rick Astley was “Never Gonna Give You Up,” but could you imagine another singer offering the same thing? If you are up “After Midnight,” you may be singing the Eric Clapton song, but did you know he was actually covering another artist’s work? We have presented many cover songs with the question, “Who Sang It Best?”

Johnny Cash

When you think of country-rock legend Johnny Cash, you probably do not think of him as a cover artist. He was a prolific singer-songwriter and penned some classic hits like “I Walk The Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Man in Black” and “Flesh and Blood.” He also wrote songs with his wife, June Carter Cash. She wrote “Ring of Fire” with Merle Kilgore which became one of Johnny’s biggest hits. Of course, he also performed a number of songs written by others.  He recorded an astounding 97 albums, several were posthumous releases.

Late in life Cash had a resurgence in his career when he teamed up with legendary record producer Rick Rubin. As co-founder of Def Jam Records, Rubin was not exactly known for working with country stars. In fact, he produced some of the early hip hop artists, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run DMC, and others. He also worked with heavy metal acts like Slayer, Metallica, AC/DC and a list of famous hard rock bands

For his American Recordings label, Rubin produced an album for Johnny Cash, released in 1994, that included six cover songs as well as some new material Rubin solicited. How did Rubin team up with Cash?

In 1992, Rubin saw Cash at a Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert and felt that Cash was still a great artist who had been pushed aside by the industry. Cash was understandably skeptical of someone who had worked in very different musical genres, but Rubin promised Cash creative control. “I would like you to do whatever feels right for you.” So Cash went back to the way he performed in the early years, just Johnny and a guitar. The record was simply called “American Recordings.”

The album was a critical success and revitalized the career of one of Country Western’s greatest stars. This lead to another album with Rubin producing in 1996, then another and another. In 2002, American IV: The Man Comes Around was a double LP consisting of mostly cover songs, and a surprising selection at that. It included country, traditional (Danny Boy, Streets of Laredo), pop, and the “industrial rock” hit by Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt.”

Cash did not know what to make of the Nine Inch Nails recording so Rubin sent him the lyrics. “Just read the lyrics. If you like the lyrics, then we’ll find a way to do it that will suit you.” Cash read it. He got it.

Nine Inch Nails songwriter and lead singer Trent Reznor was not exactly enthusiastic about the idea of Cash doing his song but thought it probably would not happen anyway. When he received the recording, he was not impressed. “It didn’t sound bad, it just sounded something wrong, it sounded alien,” Reznor said.

Enter movie director Mark Romanek. He had previously produced a number of famous artists’ videos and was looking for a chance to make a Cash video. “I begged Rick Rubin to let me shoot something to that track,” Romanek told Dave Urbanski, author of a January 2003 biography of Cash. Johnny Cash was not really interested. He was old and sick did not want to stay in Tennessee where it was wintertime and cold. Romanek knew it was a race against time. He was given a small amount of time in which to work.

They used the long-shuttered House Of Cash museum, a former home, to film the video. The place was in a stay of decay. While Romanek did not have any intention of splicing in other footage, they found a complete library of Johnny Cash films at the home and added some cuts of a younger Cash.

When Reznor received the video, his mind was changed. “Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps… Wow.” He had written the song at a dark and desperate time in his life, and it carried a very personal meaning for him. “[Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning – different, but every bit as pure.”

For comparison, we offer the Nine Inch Nails version. We won’t ask who sang it best.

Rubin and Romanek talked about the making of the video in the following cut. Some music heavyweights offer up their comments as well.

Sources: “Why Did Johnny Cash Cover Hurt?”  radioX, radio.co.uk, 26 February 2020.
Hurt (Nine Inch Nails Song)” en.wikipedia.org
The story behind Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’, still the saddest music video of all time,” by Christopher Hooton, Independent, independent.co.uk, 6 October 2015.
Johnny Cash: “Hurt”, The Story Behind The Video,” by Paul Goodman, spinditty.com, 17 February 2020.

A GOOD DAY FOR GOLDFINCH – Marilyn Armstrong

Flying around and teasing each other. It’s both feeding and playtime. They like flying at each other and getting another bird to leave that perch. Even when there are plenty of perches.

I think it’s a bird game similar to “king of the hill.” Our dogs play king of the hill. I’ve seen squirrels play it and sea lions, too.

A crowd of Goldfinches

More flapping Goldfinches

More flying finches

Fly away home

Usually, when one Goldfinch changes color, they all change at about the same time. This year, a few have changed and some have already bred. Others, mere fledglings, are still pale, almost white or slightly grey. And most are still slightly olive. It was a strange winter. Kind of a non-winter, and I don’t know what will happen as we move through spring into summer.