Back in the Seventies, when the Marvel Comics editorial staff was still doing its damnedest to sound like Stan Lee, they would occasionally make reference to something known as the Dreaded Deadline Doom. That was when their freelancers, for whatever reason, couldn’t get the book ready in time. These days, of course, we just call that “Wednesday.”
(Thanks, folks! I’ll be here all week!)
Anyway. The Triple D usually meant that, instead of getting the latest chapter of your thrilling corporate spandex saga, you were going to get some half-assed fill-in issue they kept in inventory for just such an occasion.
Well, guess what happened here on the nerd farm this week?
That’s right. I blew my deadline. Spent the weekend farting around doing stuff like “living” and “working on other projects,” and didn’t sit down in time to get a new column finished. But, hey! Never fear! I’ve got a fill-in column waiting in the wings! And it’s got at least three-quarters of an ass! By which I mean… It’s not that much different than my usual work. Except there’s, like, fewer words…
So back a few weeks ago, when I wrote my glowing spoiler-free review of Logan, the film that should be the last Wolverine story anyone is ever allowed to tell in any medium, I said something vague about coming back to do a second, spoiler-heavy column analyzing the movie’s themes and multi-layered characters.
Well, this ain’t quite that.
But! Around that same time, I decided to make myself a soundtrack for Logan, using nothing but late-career Johnny Cash songs (because, yes, that’s the sort of thing I do for fun). In terms of theme and tone, I can’t think of a better musical match for a film. Plus, it was a chance to revisit some of my favorite albums, and put the old mix-tape skills to work. So I spent a couple of days putting a playlist together, shared it with a couple of friends, even started writing it up as the basis of that second Logan column I never got around to. But then I decided it maybe wasn’t as good an idea as I thought, and shelved the whole thing.
What follows is my Johnny Cash Logan soundtrack, in YouTube form, with a brief explanation for why I chose each song, and what it represents to me in the film. If you like Johnny Cash, you’ll probably like it, though I doubt you’ll be hearing anything you haven’t heard before. If you don’t like Johnny Cash… though that’s not a sentiment that makes any sense to me whatsoever… You probably won’t enjoy it. But, ah well. To each his own.
One thing to keep in mind before we get things started: not every song here is an exact match for Logan. Sometimes, I chose a song for its themes, its tone, or even sometimes for a single lyric that I thought spoke to the film, even if the song’s overall subject matter has nothing to do with anything. I think it’s all true to the feel of the movie, however, and that’s really what I was going for more than anything. So here we go. Enjoy. Or not. And hopefully, next week I’ll be back with some actual funnybook talk.
This was the song they used in the trailers, and I think it makes a fine theme song for the whole movie. It speaks to Logan’s relationship to pain, to his deep self-loathing, and to his incredible survivor’s guilt.
2. The Beast in Me
Kind of self-explanatory, if you know Wolverine at all. Specifically, though, it puts me in mind of the film’s opening scene, when Logan tries to convince a bunch of car jackers to walk away before things get out of hand. They don’t, and the can of whip-ass he opens seems to hurt him almost as much as it does them.
3. Drive On
Also kind of self-explanatory, if you’ve seen the film: Logan’s working as a limo driver when the story opens. So ha, yes, aren’t I clever? But the song’s not about driving. It’s about moving on, having the strength (or maybe the numbness) to keep going when things are at their worst. And that’s Logan all over. This song defines his character for me, every bit as much as the first two.
The video below is a live performance. I was trying to use album tracks as much as possible here, but I wanted to share Cash’s own explanation of the title, because it resonates with Logan pretty damn well.
4. Personal Jesus
Xavier’s song. Or, rather, it’s how Logan sees Xavier. And it’s easy to see why he would.
I was born in the soul of misery.
Never had me a name.
They just gave me the number when I was young.
I originally intended this as Laura’s song (thirteen… twenty-three… what’s the difference?). But after listening to it a few times, it occurred to me that it applies as much or more to the Logan clone. And, really, to Logan himself. It’s the throughline connecting Our Hero to his genetically engineered offspring.
Fun Fact: This song was written for Cash by Glen Danzig. Who spent much of his adult life trying to look as much like Wolverine as possible without actually getting the funny haircut.
6. Bird on a Wire
Logan’s pledge to Xavier. Even though he knows he’s a rotten shit-heel who’s done a lot of wrong, and even though he sometimes feels “like a fish on a hook,” Logan is determined to spare his savior the pain of memory (half the reason he keeps him so heavily drugged). To take them both away from their world of pain, and on to freedom.
7. Wayfaring Stranger
This one’s a bit of a stretch. But it speaks to Logan’s desire for freedom and peace. And it’s probably how Laura sees him at first. Plus, I needed a song to shift the tempo up from the previous quieter tunes to the next one…
8. Rusty Cage
Continuing on the theme of freedom, and once again referencing (at least obliquely) the beast within.
9. I’m Leavin’ Now
Included primarily because I realized my soundtrack needed at least one lighter moment, to reflect the film’s sense of humor. Also, though, I’ve gotta think this is how Laura saw Logan when he decided to run and leave her behind for the Reavers…
But we’re not the same.
We get to carry each other.
This one speaks to the relationship between Xavier and Logan, with all the tension and pain hanging in the gap between Xavier’s higher morality, and Logan’s failure to live up to it. It’s not a perfect match, but its elegiac ending mirrors the cozy family moment they have over dinner, before it all comes crashing down.
11. I Hung My Head
And then Xavier’s dead. And though Logan didn’t kill him… Xavier himself may have died thinking he did. And for Logan, that might be almost as bad as if he had.
12. Oh, Bury Me Not
An ill fit, in some ways. But I wanted to reflect Xavier’s funeral scene, and something in this speaks to me. Maybe just because it’s the simple, eloquent eulogy that Logan himself couldn’t deliver. Or maybe it’s that “shallow grave, just six by three.”
13. I See a Darkness
After the funeral, the pain and depression become too much. But I think the lyrics speak to the moment better than I can:
You know I have a drive to live. I won’t let go.
But can you see its opposition come rising up sometimes?
This dreadful imposition comes blacking out my mind.
And then I see a darkness.
And then I see a darkness.
And then I see a darkness.
And you know how much I love you.
And I hope that somehow you
Can save me
From this darkness.
14. The Mercy Seat
The Mercy Seat is waiting.
And I think my head is burning.
And in a way I’m yearning
To be done with all this weighing of the truth.
This song (a great cover of an equally-great Nick Cave tune) is, technically, about a man on his way to the electric chair. But it’s also about a man who thinks he’s ready to die. Which is what that adamantium bullet’s all about, now isn’t it?
I’m not saying that Logan’s a Christ figure here. Not really. But in the end, he does find redemption through sacrifice. And blood.
16. Down There by the Train
And since we’re getting Biblical up in here… This gospel number was written for Cash by nerd farm poet laureate Tom Waits, and there’s a peace in that I like a lot. A sense of burdens lifted, and grace found despite a suspicion that you don’t really deserve it. So this is Logan’s death, and his funeral. A daughter found, and Xavier’s prodigal son winding up as a monument to the dream.
17. The Man Comes Around
The film’s actual closing theme. A cathartic, apocalyptic elegy, the perfect musical capper to this story of love, pain, redemption and death. And a great excuse for all us jaded tough guy funnybook fans to sit in the dark a little while longer, and let the tears dry from our eyes before having to face our friends.