Johnny Cash, the original badass. The Man in Black, who would have turned 81 today, is one of the most fascinating, exciting, funny, and kick-ass figures in music history, from the time he was a young boy who used to pick and eat cotton buds against his mother’s wishes to his too-soon passing in 2003. Do yourself a favor, and listen to At Folsom Prison tonight. The hoots and hollers in “Cocaine Blues” remain exhilarating all these years later.
To celebrate Cash’s birthday, let’s take a look back at some of his best f*ck you moments throughout his long, storied career, from the time he deciphered Russian Morse code during the Korean War to when the U.S. government sued him for setting a forest on fire, killing dozens of condors in the process. Needless to say, Johnny Cash > dumb birds.
1. Cash went to jail (never prison) seven times in his life, including his most infamous run-in with the law in 1965 in El Paso, Texas, near the Mexican border. Authorities thought he was smuggling heroin, but he was instead found with 688 Dexedrine capsules and 475 Equanil tablets. Cash spent the night in jail, was forced to pay a $1,000 fine, received a 30-day suspended sentence, and had this famous photo taken of him.
2. That same year, Cash was arrested in Starkville, Mississippi for trespassing while…picking flowers. In 2007, Starkville celebrated the Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival.
3. While serving in the Air Force in Germany during the Korean War, Cash formed his first band, the Landsberg Barbarians, with fellow GIs. Obviously, they didn’t last, but it sounds like they had one hell of a time while they were together. “We were terrible,” Cash once said, “but that Lowenbrau beer will make you feel like you’re great. We’d take our instruments to these honky-tonks and play until they threw us out or a fight started.”
4. Cash don’t care. During his time in Germany, he deciphered Russian Morse code, and was the first American — yes, even before President Dwight Eisenhower — to know that Joseph Stalin had died.