Song of the Day #266: ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ – Johnny Cash

cashkrisI recently read a fascinating profile of Kris Kristofferson (by Ethan Hawke, of all people) in Rolling Stone magazine. Hawke painted Kristofferson as a modern-day renaissance man and an unabashed sentimentalist and political liberal who is nonetheless about as “manly” a man as can be.

In the opening of the article, Hawke relays a story of the backstage scene of a tribute concert, where Toby Keith allegedly walked up to Kristofferson and said “None of that lefty shit tonight, Kris.” Kristofferson exploded, shouting “You ever worn your country’s uniform? … Have you ever killed another man and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!”

Apparently Toby Keith denies this ever happened, and after it blew up in the press recently Kristofferson politely said he doesn’t recall the details. Hawke and Rolling Stone stand by the account. I sure hope it happened, and I’ll choose to believe it did.

Kristofferson is an Oxford-educated Rhodes scholar who flew helicopters for the Army and volunteered for Vietnam. They wouldn’t send him, though, preferring to have him train recruits at West Point, so he dropped out of the service and took a job as a janitor in Nashville, hoping to break into the country music scene. As a result his parents disowned him.

He made his name when a guy named Johnny Cash recorded one of his songs. It was a sad-sack hangover ditty called ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ that launched Kristofferson’s career. He went on to be one of the most successful songwriters of his era — one interesting tidbit is that he wrote three of the five ‘Best Country Song’ Grammy nominees in both ’71 and ’73.

And that’s just his music career. Kristofferson has also done quite well on the silver screen, starring alongside Barbra Streisand in the smash hit A Star is Born and doing excellent work for such directors as Martin Scorsese, John Sayles, Tim Burton, Richard Linklater and Guillermo Del Toro.

A renaissance man, indeed.

Well I woke up Sunday morning,
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes,
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
An’ I shaved my face and combed my hair,
An’ stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I’d smoked my brain the night before,
On cigarettes and songs I’d been pickin’.
But I lit my first and watched a small kid,
Cussin’ at a can that he was kicking.
Then I crossed the empty street,
‘n caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken.
And it took me back to somethin’,
That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cos there’s something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’,
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.

In the park I saw a daddy,
With a laughin’ little girl who he was swingin’.
And I stopped beside a Sunday school,
And listened to the song they were singin’.
Then I headed back for home,
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin’.
And it echoed through the canyons,
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cos there’s something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’,
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #266: ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ – Johnny Cash

  1. Dana says:

    Oh, just rename your blog Meet Me in Nashville already!:)

  2. Clay says:

    Don’t hate… celebrate!

  3. Amy says:

    Just spent some time reliving A Star is Born through YouTube clips. Wow, did I ever love that movie! I love how an article such as the one you just read can ignite a curiosity that has you exploring an idea or a person you never gave a second thought to before. That has happened to me so often, and each time I get such a kick out of it.

    Now, out of this song I’m not getting such a kick. I prefer Cash when he sings songs that have more blues and less country twang. Still, I admire that Kristofferson can write songs such as these, and hold his own with Toby Keith and Barbra Streisand – for crying out loud! Whether he is a Renaissance man, he certainly is a fascinating one.

  4. Clay says:

    I’m not crazy about the production of this song and it might be heresy to say so but I’m not always a huge fan of Cash’s voice. But I think the melody is nice and it’s a great lyric.

  5. Ed says:

    The way he made Johnny Cash aware of him was by landing a helicopter in Johnny’s backyard and hand-delivered a demo tape to him.

  6. pegclifton says:

    Wow, I had no idea he had that great bio; I’ve always enjoyed his film performances.

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