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Observations placeholder

Cash, Johnny - The Mercy Seat



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Johnny Cash - The Mercy Seat

The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Cash – The autobiography of Johnny Cash

My mind wanders off, gets caught on a problem the band and I having with our stage performance of 'Rusty Cage,' the Soundgarden song I recorded for the Unchained album, then resumes reflection on the story of my life.

 I begin thinking about Pete Barnhill, a friend I made when I was about thirteen. Pete lived two or three miles from our house, down on the drainage ditch near the spot where I went fishing the day my brother Jack got hurt, and he had a guitar, an old Gibson flattop. He also had what we called infantile paralysis, later known as polio, which had crippled his right leg and withered his right arm to about half the length of his left. He'd adapted well.

I wrote about him in the liner notes for American Recordings .  With his left hand he made the chords as he beat a perfect rhythm with his tiny right hand. I thought if I could play the guitar like that I'd sing on the radio someday. I was at Pete's house every afternoon after school and stayed until long after dark, singing along with him, or singing to his playing Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, and Jimmie Rodgers songs.

Pete taught me my first chords on the guitar, but my hands being too small, I didn't really learn to play them.

The long walk home at night was scary. It was pitch dark on the gravel road, or if the moon was shining, the shadows were even scarier. The panthers sounded closer, and I just knew that in every dark spot on the road was a cottonmouth snake ready to kill me. But I sang all the way home, songs Pete and I had been singing, and with the imaginary sound of the Gibson acoustic I sang through the dark, and I decided that that kind of music was going to be my magic to take me through all the dark places.

Pete was an inspiration in more ways than one. I'd never been close to somebody playing the guitar except my mother when I was very small, and I thought he was the best guitar player in the world. To me he was wonderful, the sound he made purely heavenly.

One day I said to him, 'You know, Pete, you've got infantile paralysis, but you sure can play that guitar.' His reply made a deep impression on me: 'sometimes, when you lose a gift, you get another one.'


The source of the experience

Cash, Johnny

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Believing in the spiritual world