to the bones

Here’s a song that really touches me. It’s by Johnny Cash, near the end of his life.
It reminds me of the great love he had for his best friend, June, and how hard he was trying to hold to what’s true.

There’s a line or two in this song that I don’t really connect with, but overall this video has such a sense sincerity that after watching it, the usual background noise of whining and petty thoughts seems to fall away.

15 thoughts on “to the bones”

  1. Hi, yes, this is a great song. Both this and the original by Nine Inch Nails ( are superb.

    But, like nearly all the music I used to listen to (I’ve listened to very little music in the past ten years and now don’t listen to any music at all – the only CDs I have are Buddhist chants and some Buddhist songs!), I can’t exactly call it cheerful!

    I wear this crown of shit, (‘thorns’ in the Cash version)
    Upon my liar’s chair,
    Full of broken thoughts,
    I cannot repair.

    But even if the lyrics were positive, the tune alone is enough to encourage a period of enjoyable wallowing in negativity…. which hardly squares with the Buddhist message of facing what is real, and LETTING GO of everything to our source. Which is a source of light and wisdom and peace.

    I think the problem I have with music is both the atificiality of the emotions it produces (stick a track on repeat and feel the same over again. Want deep and meaningful? Play this. Want to feel cool? Play this) and the way it stands between me and my own real experience.

    That’s just how it is for me. And even with movies too these days, even in the best of movies, I’m starting to feel the same way. That it’s all just so much fluff standing between me and my real experience of my real life.

    I’m not suggesting it should be like this for anyone else, and – I’ll readily admit – I’m a total hypocrite because I watch loads of movies and, not just films, I have read at least one novel a week since I was a kid – and have ZERO intention of giving up literature!

    But I understand the restictions against novels and films and music placed on monks here in Thailand for example. They are, at best, distractions. After all, time is short. Practice hard.



    1. I know what you mean about music and artificially of the stories it tells. I gave up listening to most music back in the 80’s because it felt like shallow, emotionally manipulative b.s. And I think that’s a great point about music serving as an “on-demand emotional ride.” “Push a button, pop a pill, and off you go, everytime like the first time.”

      Unusually for me, I felt a lot more in this one. Perhaps it’s because John was at the end of his life, but it seems like he’s talking about what’s really important in the end. What was the line, “you can have it all, my . kingdom . of . dirt.”
      Looking at all his really huge awards, now just collecting dust in the dark, the inevitable separation from those he loved the most and so intensely, and what an empty thing fame is….
      Like you say, perhaps it’s weight is in the message from one who knows, “time is short. Practice hard.”

      1. Thank you Chong Go Sunim. Like I say, this is only my own experience and, as with you and this song, of course sometimes, now and then, some music will step up from nowhere and really say something to me. So thank you for sharing this song with us, and for the discussion too. _/\_

  2. this song does not connect with me, it feels like dead end street. I don’t even listen to music for a long time, since Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) died, I loved Nirvana though, still do, lyrics and music are amazing, for me it was Dharma, (I have weird way of listening to Dharma). But when Michael Jackson died I started to listen to his music and watch videos and that was like totally amazing, Dharma on a higher level for me(yes, I learned so much from Michael Jackson!). His greatness I find in the ability to totally connect with deep inner force, the foundation of being, from there he took and brought out the great dance, great music and great energy. The power within, eternal limitless source. That’s why I mentioned that new movie “Karate kid”, I took my 10 year old to see it, but learned something for myself. Inner essence.

    Have anybody saw movie “Milarepa”? It was made by Tibetan monk, abbot, very good movie, the way they did it also amazing, Milarepa and his story is my great insparation. I wish Chong Go sunim would watch the movie.

    1. Hi Tanya,
      I think I understand what you mean by a dead end street. Not so good if one dwells on this song too long. As Marcus said, we need to let go of even this and move on.
      Actually, “Milarepa” has been sitting next to our tv, unwrapped, for over a year now!^-^ It sounds like I should take a look at it.

  3. Moved deeply. I have watched people die on their death beds and I come away feeling the same as he is in this song. People dying ponder this about their life and I come away pondering this as well, for me, it is a reminder to do the best that I can. For I also saw a man at the end of his life and he shined so brightly, there was no fear, there was no anguish, just peacefulness and beauty. It was as if one could step right through him to this light and all was as it should be. It was so incredible and lovely, beyond my limited words to express. But it seems this is what people should try and achieve versus many are in anguish wondering about what they have done in their lives, scared of dying, in pain and suffering to the end. Very sad to see. Yet, uplifting, for me, to see this beautiful man show me another way of doing it, or being :). A state of Grace…

  4. There is one song which is my all time favorite, I suggest you put it in your(this) website in the visible place somewhere. The energy of message is really profound, it is vulnarable and yet invincible. It is the choir of sunims from Hanmaum Seon Won concert.

    “time is short. Practice hard.” I cannot quite agree with the way it is put, because with every breath you take you are always on the edge with death, kind of, there is no garantee you would live to the old age, every moment is like last moment, “practice hard”- implies you have to do something, but in fact real practice is when there is ease and no-practice.

  5. Powerful, evocative… but don’t quite know what way he would find a million miles away if he had to do it over again, as the song states, guess that’s left up to the viewer to fill in.

    The video presented an interesting representation of his riches being empty and dank. The images of Christ were puzzling — is Johnny showing his utter pain, how he relates to Christ’s pain, or his ultimate redemption in Christ — or some combination.

    Maybe my take on the video as being powerful, yet being a mixed message reflects my own life to some degree. I think I probably do reflect a mixed message — trying to follow the path, but following digressions every now and again.

    1. I didn’t get the Christ images either. His redemtion through Christ (and his pain) was all I could come up with. One of the things about this song, to me, is how Johnny turned it into something very profound, whereas looking at the lyrics, I have the suspicion it’s original theme was about drug addiction

  6. check it out :

    I just uploaded sunim’s choir ! (I hope I’m not gonna get into trouble for uploading to youtube without permission)

      1. I have the DVD, so I got dvd ripper software (free from internet) and “extracted” this video;
        Youtube uploads only 10 minutes max at a time, I think I did not upload it right away because it was a bit over that, I also thought because there are no subtitles.
        I will upload the third song today.

  7. Wow! What a wonderful choir — everyone sounds beautiful together (even though I know not one word of Korean). The subtitles are great for those like me who are limited to English.

    1. Hi Gary, it was really moving. The subtitles are okay, but I itch everytime I read them because they just don’t have the sense of poetry and nuance that the Korean does.
      (The way they created such a nice sound was to put some of us far, far away from the microphones! ^-^)

  8. Thank you for sharing that Tanya :).

    You are funny Chong Go, I think the beauty of the sound is coming from within each and every one of you and that is what made it sound/feel so nice! 🙂

    I do not know Korean, but I just listened and felt, and it was truly beautiful. I agree that the lyrics did not do the meaning justice, it seemed that there was something more and deeper than the words could convey… But, to me, it is about trying to feel and understand the deeper meaning of words, which one should do in this case.

    Again, moved deeply! Thanks:)

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