It's a famous moment in American pop/country music history... Johnny Cash on-stage there in the yard at Folsom Prison, singing the words...
I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die...
And then, famously, the yard erupts in hoots of joy from the prisoners.
Well, here's the deal. I was listening to the Brian Lehrer Show this morning. His guest was Michael Streissguth, professor of English at Le Moyne College and author of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece (.mp3 of interview available here). Streissguth says that sometime ago, he was given the privilege of listening to the original tapes of that concert in Folsom, and guess what? That famous cheer?
It was spliced in by the producers.
They thought it would make a big impression. They thought it would really sell the record. And, you know, clearly they were right. America loves that moment: prisoners cheering gleefully when a guy confesses to shooting a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
The only real trouble I'm having with all this is trying to figure who exactly ought to feel insulted. America? The prisoners? The guy in Reno? Well, he's dead, so I guess his opinion doesn't matter much. Assuming he wasn't just spliced into our reality as well. It's only a song, after all.
I'll let you know if I ever work out the details of who's the asshole here.