Just when some people of a certain generation thought it was weird that Kanye West would even go to the White House, regardless of what he said, there comes a documentary that shows celebrity musicians have a decades’ long history of being invited to the White House for one reason or another. “Remastered: Tricky Dick and the Main in Black” explores not only Johnny Cash’s White House connection, but that of other celebrities, too, including Bob Marley and Sam Cooke.
Elvis, too, was invited to the White House. That meeting is captured in the movie “Elvis & Nixon” wherein Michael Shannon of Boardwalk Empire fame, plays the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
In hindsight, from a comfortable distance of four or five decades, and from wherever audiences might watch Netflix, it is easy to see that there might have been an ulterior motive for inviting a music star to the White House.
The filmmakers do allow audiences to know what the reason was for inviting Johnny Cash. They thought they could send some sort of message to the people through the singer. It is made clear that “Nixon and his handlers” thought they had a “key asset” in Cash.
The singer and the president met several times, mostly in the Nixon Library. The visits took place from approximately 1970 to 1972.
Things went wrong. Instead of simply going along with Nixon’s policies, Cash had ideas of his own after having “seen too much.” His prison performances were apparently eye-opening to him, and Cash couldn’t just agree with everything Nixon said, or did as president.
While Nixon wanted Cash to perform some old favorites, such as “Okie From Muskogee,” or “Welfare Cadillac,” Cash declined. He chose instead to sing “What Is Truth?” and “Man In Black,” the latter of which explained Cash’s fashion sense. His black clothing represented the sense of loss at America losing “a hundred fine young men” each week.
Critics have made much out of how Nixon does not seem particularly pleased with Cash’s song choices, and the president can be see stiffly smiling, no doubt wanting the evening to end. Further, Cash’s song also pointed out his “solidarity” with those who were ill, oppressed, lonely or in the army. Thus it is no surprise that a song like “Okie From Muskogee” which criticizes those who burned drafted cards and used LSD, or who grew their hair long. Cash also seemed less unlikely to ever sing “Welfare Cadillac” wherein people take advantage of the system and get rich or at least quite comfortable on welfare.
It is likely that Nixon thought that Cash’s Folsom Prison performance would put them on the same page. The ensuing awkwardness proves that incorrect.
The documentary can serve as a means to teach people who might be too young to have knowledge of this kind of thing that not all celebrities who visit the White House agree with the person in office The current administration excepted. The film also reminds audiences of what Johnny Cash stood for and why his voice (singing and political) are missed by some people still.