“The Greatest Love Story of the 20th Century”


Sarah Vowell on June Carter’s “Ring of Fire,”

In this song, to compare love to fire isn’t just the music sexy/heat cliche like you give me fever, or, hunka-hunka burnin’ love, or, it’s gettin’ hot in here. This is fire as in brimstone. Old time religion. Written by the daughter of a people who believe in the eternal flames of hell. June Carter was coveting her neighbor’s spouse, which meant she was breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Loving Johnny Cash was a sin. And for her, the wages of sin were death. A death in which the sinner spent all eternity as nothing more than kindling. When June Carter admitted to herself that she loved Johnny Cash, it is, in a small country and western love song way, not unlike the moment Huck Finn resolves to help the slave Jim escape, even though he’s been told that doing so would be wrong. Alright then, he says, I’ll go to hell.

Act Three of This American Life #247, about 47 minutes into the show.

“The Greatest Love Story of the 20th Century”