[May 28, 2021] In 1969, Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue,’ hit Number 1 on the country charts. The song is about a young man’s quest for revenge on his father, who abandoned him and whose only contribution was to give him the feminine name Sue. We teach our boys to be strong, independent, and honest. How we do it matters a great deal.
“Tough times never last, but tough people do.” – Robert H. Schuller, televangelist, and author
Not surprisingly, in Johnny Cash’s song, the boy named Sue is ridiculed and harassed by everyone, forcing him to become callous and mean. Ashamed of his name, he swears he will find and kill his father for giving him that “awful name.” Somehow, this story resonates with people, primarily men. The song remains popular more than 50 years later.
Interestingly, the song was never meant for a widespread audience.1 Cash performed the song live at the infamous San Quentin State Prison. The prisoners raved at the performance and gave Cash the first glimpse of the strong story being told. Today, references to “A Boy Named Sue” in pop culture abound, and it is now one of the most-referenced county songs of all time.
There’s an old saying in the boxing world that you become a champion by fighting one more round in the ring. Motivation – internal motivation – is what separates the good from the great. Motivation to take that extra step means you have done just a little more than the guy next to you and, in doing so, makes you the winner.
Long ago, when I was an Infantry Company Commander, my unit was taking its semi-annual Physical Fitness Test. This was important to show the chain of command how fit we were for any potential combat mission. The location for the test was not flat. My men chose sloping ground for their push-ups, making it easy for them to complete the event. I told them to reverse themselves to make it harder. My way demonstrated their fitness, not the easy way.
The world is a tough place. We all have to be strong to survive. The weak don’t make it. I’ve learned that getting into good physical and mental shape is a personal choice – discipline matters. If you sit in your basement playing video games, then you aren’t making the difficult choice of getting stronger. You have chosen the path of weakness.
The song, “A Boy Named Sue,” became Johnny Cash’s most requested song. He played it at the White House for President Nixon. He played it on television. I find this unrehearsed, throw-away song became popular, not surprising because it tells the meta-story of overcoming great obstacles. Like the classical hero stories of old, it is about overcoming those odds to achieve victory.