Folsom Prison Blues
In a Nutshell
When you're grounded, it stinks to be stuck at home. Although, maybe you kind of deserved it, seeing as you did break your little brother's favorite toy in half when he asked if you would play with him. But it's so annoying
that all of your friends have the option
to go out and do whatever they want!
Legendary musician Johnny Cash feels the same way in his classic hit "Folsom Prison Blues." Sure, he's not so much "grounded" as "jailed"… and prison is no cup of tea, but he knows that if he wanted to stay out of prison he probably shouldn't have shot that man in Reno. What really makes him mad is thinking about all those people out there on the train headed away from Folsom Prison: "Those people keep a-movin'," he laments, "And that's what tortures me!" They say someone's always got it worse than you, but "Folsom Prison Blues" is about all those people who've got it better. And gosh darnit, don't they just bum you out?
About the Song
|Album||At Folsom Prison|
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
As far as we know, Johnny Cash didn't actually shoot anyone in Reno, but he was accused of a different crime: PLAGIARISM.
We know, you all just gasped and fell out of your chairs, stunned that anyone could do anything so awful. The thing is, Cash didn't really expect to become famous when he rewrote a song by Gordon Jenkins called "Crescent City Blues." (Check out our Songwriting
section to learn more about the similarities.) Eventually, Cash paid Jenkins a settlement for stealing parts of his lyrics, and that was that.
It's not surprising that this kind of thing comes up a lot with writers, who tend to snatch inspiration from anywhere they can get it. Shakespeare borrowed ideas for The Comedy of Errors
from a couple of different sources, but he fleshed out the stories a lot along the way. More recently, Yann Martel, author of the bestseller Life of Pi
, was accused of stealing his story from the Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar. (Max and the Cats, Scliar's book, is also about a boy and a large predatory cat trapped on a small boat in the ocean.) In this case, Martel held out until the lawsuit against him was dropped. Was Martel justified in thinking that he wasn't unfairly using someone else's intellectual property? Where does influence end and plagiarism start?
These are tricky questions. All we know is that you probably shouldn't try pushing this boundary in essays for your English class.
On the Charts
At Folsom Prison
reached #1 on the Top Country Albums and #13 on the Pop Albums Chart (predecessor to the Billboard 200) in 1968.
"Folsom Prison Blues" ranks #164 on Rolling Stone
's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. At Folsom Prison
ranked #88 on Rolling Stone
's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. At Folsom Prison
was hosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry in 2003.