A-to-Z Challenge 2023 – J is for Johnny Cash – Resilience in Songs #atozchallenge #songs

The 2023 A-to-Z blogging challenge theme is resilience. Resilience is the ability to get back on our feet and keep going after life knocks us down and kicks sand in our faces. Resilience is how the psyche survives and copes, but resilience doesn’t necessarily wear a cape of positivity.

The 26 songs I’ve chosen show us, musically, what resilience looks (sounds?) like. I’ll offer a reflection of the resilience in each song. The songs are alphabetical by the artist’s first name or the group’s name, except for M, O, U, and X.

#AtoZChallenge 2023 letter J

J is for Johnny Cash and A Boy Named Sue.

The songs I’ve put up so far have dealt with some fairly serious resilience issues. I’m lightening things up a teensy-weensy bit with Johnny Cash’s song, A Boy Named Sue, which was written by Shel Silverstein. This song has its funny lines, but there is a serious undertone.

The first several lines provide the background of the narrator being abandoned at three years old by his father. If that wasn’t traumatizing enough, the dad named the boy “Sue” back in the ‘olden days’ when names were typically gender-specific. As a consequence of being named a ‘girl’s’ name, the narrator explains…

I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
My fists got hard and my wits got keen,

Okay, right or wrong, at an early age, Sue’s resilience instills in him a coping device to deal with people who make fun of him for his name. He defends himself the only way he knows how: with physical violence and sharp thinking. When he is old enough to go out on his own, resilience turns to vengeance, and he…

…rode from town to town to hide my shame.
But I made me a vow to the moon and stars
That I’d search the honky-tonks and bars
And kill that man who gave me that awful name.

Vengeance-driven resilience keeps Sue searching through the years for…

…the dirty, mangy dog that named me “Sue”

When Sue finally finds his dad in a saloon and confronts him, the revenge fight is on. Sue is fighting for his honor, his dignity, his identity, and his need to get even for enduring a life of shame and embarrassment. They kick and gouge in the mud, the blood, and the beer until they pull their six shooters at the same time.

The moment of truth arrives. Dad tells the son that giving him the name Sue was a resilience strategy, perhaps even an act of love, so he really ought to be grateful and not resentful. In fact, a little appreciation for the gravel in your gut and the spit in your eye would be nice, thank you very much.

I knew you’d have to get tough or die
And it’s the name that helped to make you strong.

Ah, shucks, Pa… Sue suddenly sees things from a different perspective, and his psyche is somewhat soothed and pacified that his dad had his best interests at heart when he named him Sue.

Sue apparently lets go of his hatred for his father, but he vows not to name his own son Sue, because, reasons or not, he still hates that name.

When we think about the impact of names—whether birth names, nicknames, or those nasty playground name-taunts—and how names affect our self-image, positively and negatively, we can see why we erect protective barricades around our egos, which are often quite fragile, in order to cope. Coping strategies, are resilience in action.

Names matter. Our name is our identity.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time


  1. You oughta thank me before I die
    For the gravel in your gut and the spit in your eye
    ‘Cause I’m the son of a bitch that named you Sue…

    Shel Silverstein wa a genius…

  2. Both Johnny Cash and Shel Silverstein are legends – incredibly talented. I had that song on a cassette and listened to it right through the 70’s.
    Visiting from the A-Z and thoroughly enjoyed your theme and the post. All the best for the challenge.

    1. Yes, they are legends. Shel Silverstein’s book, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, is one I pull off the shelf to revisit the poems for the memories and for the laughs. Thanks for stopping by on the blogging train. I’ll stop by and visit you, too. 😉

  3. A lot of meaning woven into those lyrics. It makes me appreciate more the talent of songwriters like Johnny Cash

    1. Aging has influenced my interpretation of songs I grew up with. I used to think this song was funny and light-hearted. It was clever and made me laugh. It makes me kind of sad now.

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