Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Johnny Cash’s Finger

with 100 comments

johnny-cash-finger-2

As he grew old, Johnny Cash came to resent the Nashville country-music establishment, which all but abandoned him and the other aging “country” artists who had defined the genre to embrace new pop-oriented country artists like Garth Brooks. His late album Unchained (1996) was virtually ignored by the establishment.

However, the album won a Grammy for Best Country Album. Cash and his producers American Recordings posted an advertisement in Billboard Magazine with the above image as a “thank you” to the Nashville country music industry after winning the award. The infamous photo of Cash giving the middle finger to the camera was taken back in 1969 during his San Quentin prison performance.

A tireless advocate for the prison reform, Cash began performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1960s, leading to two highly successful live albums, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969). In the latter prison, when Cash performed his prison song “San Quentin” (“I hate every inch of you/May you rot and burn in hell/May your walls fall and may I live to tell”), he nearly caused an uprising. The definitive, iconoclastic image made its way into Cash’s Hollywood biopic, Walk the Line, but the gesture was actually shot during a rehearsal session toward the annoying cameraman, the concert’s official photographer Jim Marshall.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 22, 2009 at 6:53 am

100 Responses

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  3. […] a New York street, concert-goers queuing outside The Matrix, Jefferson Airplane cover Volunteers, Johnny Cash showing his middle finger at San Quentin prison, and double portraits that brought together Joplin and her rival Grace […]

  4. […] this, except for this hillbilly ass-hat. (God, I hate him. He’s the opposite of funny. Git THIS done, motherfucker.) I love Eddie Izzard. (I got to see him in Philly. Well worth the money.) I even […]

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  6. […] I see this fellow once each week playing Johnny Cash cover tunes. When I asked him if I could take his portrait, he flipped me off. Not until later did his gesture register with me. […]

  7. […] Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at Jim Marshall’s camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert […]

  8. […] Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at Jim Marshall’s camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert […]

  9. […] Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at Jim Marshall’s camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert […]

  10. […] Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at Jim Marshall’s camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert […]

  11. […] Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at Jim Marshall’s camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert […]

  12. […] From Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at Jim Marshall’s camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert Mapplethorpe’s portrait of an androgynous Patti Smith in white shirt and braces on the cover of Horses, and the late Amy Winehouse posing provocatively in bed on her wedding day, photography has often spoken louder than words when it comes to enshrining a performer in the public eye. […]

  13. […] tunes. When I asked him if I could take his portrait, he flipped me off. Not until later did his gesture register with […]

  14. […] see this fellow once each week playing Johnny Cash cover tunes. When I asked him if I could take his portrait, he flipped me off. Not until later did his […]

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  18. […] Johnny Cash “flipping the bird” at Jim Marshall’s camera during a soundcheck in San Quentin prison to Robert […]

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  21. […] changers. Now, sure, the middle finger ending isn’t necessarily beautiful expression. But when Johnny Cash did it, we labeled him an icon of the everyman struggle, so why is it any different for these […]

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  22. […] changers. Now, sure, the middle finger ending isn’t necessarily beautiful expression. But when Johnny Cash did it, we labeled him an icon of the everyman struggle, so why is it any different for these […]

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  26. […] disrespect to Johnny, but we gotta say we prefer Ernest Tubb’s rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues.” […]

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  31. […] towards failure. The story of the image is told by Alex Selwyn-Holmes on his interesting website Iconic Photos. After the quote is a 1959 video of Johnny Cash playing Folsom Prison […]

  32. […] photo was taken by Jim Marshall, who is a very well-known music photographer, while touring with Johnny […]

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