Johnny Cash Quotes: Lessons on Letting Go, Authenticity, and Spirituality

by Emily Morgan

Johnny Cash was much more than just the “man in black.” He symbolized an entire movement in country music. While his songs may not have been the happiest or most uplifting, his songwriting was unapologetically authentic. Cash timelessly captured his painful childhood memories, battles with drugs and alcohol, and love lost in his poetic songwriting.  

Few country music stars have a similar generational reach that came effortlessly to Cash. As a way to pay tribute to his profound, powerful storytelling, here are a few quotes from Cash that prove his words will stay with us for generations. 

Cash On Letting Go Of The Past

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”

Anyone that’s ever heard a johnny cash song can listen to the emotion in his lyrics— it’s palpable and sincere. You can also tell he’s singing from genuine pain he had in his heart. 

Johnny Cash was just 12 when his brother was involved in a terrible accident with a saw that left him dead. This fateful event would forever change Cash. He used his grief in many of the songs he wrote. 

Even though he was so young, he threw himself into songwriting as a coping mechanism, writing songs, stories, and sketches as a way to mourn. 

Despite living through such a tragedy, Cash’s quote is a reminder not to let your past haunt you and always move forward. 

Cash on Singing From Your Gut

“You’ve got a song you’re singing from your gut, you want that audience to feel it in their gut. And you’ve got to make them think that you’re one of them sitting out there with them too. They’ve got to be able to relate to what you’re doing.”

It’s no coincidence as to why Cash became such a prolific icon in country music. His raw sincerity in his lyrics made it easy for his fans to relate to him. 

Besides his poetry in his lyrics, Cash’s voice makes him an icon for the ages. A deep, resonant voice wavering between baritone and bass — may be the single most recognizable voice in country music. His working-class voice symbolizes a blue-collar American rolling up their shirtsleeves with rough hands, despite their common-man problems. 

He effortlessly blurred the lines between country, rock, and folk music during his nearly half a century career. He undoubtedly had a knack for storytelling, evident in his classic songs like “I Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Get Rhythm,” “Home of the Blues,” and “I Still Miss Someone.”

Johnny Cash on the Duality of Man 

“Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble. They fight.”

Talented, God-fearing, and flawed like the rest of us, Cash was a multi-faceted man whose music continues to help us keep carryin’ on, despite our inner demons we battle. 

If you know anything about johnny cash’s life, you know that he struggled with substance abuse for many years— years that brought us iconic songs but left Cash with pain and heartache. 

Despite his moments when he was “fighting” with his two personalities, Cash settled down after marrying his longtime love, June Carter. Even though his demons would ultimately stay with him until he died in 2003, his partnership with Carter contributed to overcoming his battle with substances. 

Cash on Spirituality

“How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.”

Widely known for his outlaw image full of degeneracy and rowdiness, Cash was a man of faith. Once he remarried to June Carter in 1968, Cash began re-examining his life and decided to come back to his Christian roots. 

The spiritual examination led to a two-and-a-half-year journey, which prompted Cash to receive a degree in theology and becoming a minister. In the late ’70s, he was encouraged by the Reverend Billy Graham, who became a close friend. 

Even though he never attempted to lead a sermon, Cash did preside at the wedding of his daughter Karen.