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cash 'n' carry
johnny got my gun
by brian anderson
1.20.03
humor


A radio sketch
-----

RECORDING: "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED" THEME

ROBERT SIEGEL
Welcome back to "All Things Considered"; I'm Robert Siegel. Nevada is well known for its line-up of tourist attractions, from the classy to the trashy. But one of the most unusual can be found in Reno, some miles away from the tourist epicenter in Las Vegas. Wally Ballou joins us from member station KNNO to talk about how people can live up to song lyrics.

RECORDING: "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES" BY JOHNNY CASH

WALLY BALLOU
...ly Ballou for station KNNO and National Public Radio. Johnny Cash has been a country music institution since the 1950s, when he recorded at Sun Studios - the Tennesee studio that gave the world Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Now after five decades of his music, one of his most famous songs is being made into a rather unique tourist attraction.

SOUND EFFECT: GUNSHOT

SOUND EFFECT: MAN MOANING

SOUND EFFECT: BODY DROPPING TO GROUND

BACKGROUND RECORDING: PAPERS SHUFFLING AND MEN TALKING QUIETLY

WALLY BALLOU
"I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" is, of course, a line from "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash: the song that gave him his first taste of success. Since the song was released in the late 1950s, it's become world famous. And now Casin-O-Ren-O in Reno, Nevada, is allowing people to do just what the song says...and in the process, bringing up intense legal battles.

BACKGROUND MAN
So you understand this paper you're signing?

JUAN MARTINEZ
Yes, I do.

WALLY BALLOU
Juan Martinez was formerly a poker dealer here at Casin-O-Ren-O. Now that the cardrooms have been closed down in order to make more room for slot machines, he finds that he has no means of supporting his wife and three children.

JUAN MARTINEZ
After I got fired, I just sort of wandered around Nevada for a while. Eventually, though, I had to face up to facts. The unemployment only lasts so long, you know. I saw nowhere else to go.

WALLY BALLOU
Juan is now signing a waiver against wrongful death, here in the fluorescent-lit backroom of Casin-O-Ren-O. A life insurance policy is being taken out on him, naming his family as beneficiaries. A signed statement claims that his forthcoming death is entirely accidental and in self-defense.

JUAN MARTINEZ
Sometimes you have to take extreme measures, you know?

RECORDING: JUAN MARTINEZ'S DAUGHTERS GREETING HIM

RECORDING: FADE IN DIFFERENT FAMILY, LAUGHING

WALLY BALLOU
The Barry family, from Milwaukee, considered going to Las Vegas on their vacation, but John Barry, husband and father, says that they decided on spending two weeks at Casin-O-Ren-O for various reasons.

JOHN BARRY
Well, y'know, it's a great family place. My wife loves roulette, and I get a chance to make the dream of a lifetime come true. You don't really feel like you're living life in the suburbs: you wonder, our ancestors, they had a rough and tumble life, but it was worth living. You wanna capture some of that feeling. Life in a cubicle dulls you, and you want to feel some of what it felt like when people were really alive, before society really went downhill in this chaotic, overly-PC era. And the kids love the shows.

SOUND EFFECT: GUNSHOT

RECORDING: MAN MOANING "URRGGH!"

SOUND EFFECT: BODY FALLING TO GROUND

WALLY BALLOU
For your $1200, you get a free lesson with a handgun, ear and eye protection, the shot itself, and a souvenir photo saying "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die." T-shirts are available in the gift shop. Marksmanship instructor Mark Gruschecky personally oversees all the training and the execution of the shooting itself.

MARK GRUSCHECKY
We have a modified pen that we bought from a rodeo that went out of business. It opens into a fairly narrow alley with a sawdust-covered floor to make cleanup easier. Most of the time it's easy enough, and one shot is all you need. Sometimes we have a nervous customer, and they just wing the target on the first shot. We calm the customer down and then we let them take another shot. By then, the target is usually fairly immobile.

SOUND EFFECTS: TWO GUNSHOTS IN RAPID SUCCESSION

WALLY BALLOU
"Shooting a man in Reno" has proved to be a lifesaver for Casin-O-Ren-O. On the verge of bankruptcy two years ago, casino manager Delia Smythe says that the added attraction has brought Casin-O-Ren-O unprecedented business.

DELIA SMYTHE
We're adding a new guest wing, and we finally have the money to put in a new small auditorium for non-marquee shows. And we're giving back to the community, as well: a substantial percentage of the profits go to the local orphanage. And because of the attraction, we're getting a chance to help out some of the fatherless families in the area.

WALLY BALLOU
Not everyone is appreciative of the "I shot a man in Reno" attraction. The Parametric Life Insurance Company of Hartford, CT, is leading a consortium of insurance companies called Insurance Providers against Intentional Death, attempting to get local laws in Nevada reformed. They have a hearing with the state appeals court judge later this winter.

RECORDING: CROWD CHANTING "EQUAL GUNS FOR EQUAL RIGHTS!"

WALLY BALLOU
In addition, the attraction has drawn fire from equal rights groups who take issue with the fact that the employees - however temporary they may be - of "I shot a man in Reno" are all men. Casino officials respond that the song specifies "a man" rather than "a person." Several groups have been attempting to persuade Cash to record a new version, changing the line to "I shot someone in Reno, just to watch them die." Word maven William Safire disagrees.

WILLIAM SAFIRE
While the use of "them" as an indefinite singular pronoun has been documented since the 13th century, it is still rather ambiguous and confusing. Traditionally, "him" was used for indefinite antecedents with no expectation of gender, and I believe that "him" is the best choice.

RECORDING: JOHNNY CASH SAYING "HELLO, I'M JOHNNY CASH" TO CHEERING CROWD OF FOLSOM PRISON INMATES

WALLY BALLOU
And Cash himself? While the superstar refused to comment for this report, NPR has learned that his management organization has brought suit against Casin-O-Ren-O for part of the substantial profit that the casino is making.

DELIA SMYTHE
It's absurd: Johnny Cash doesn't even have the rights to the derivatives from the song. BMI, the industry organization that collects and distributes royalties, only covers the song itself.

WALLY BALLOU
Or do they? Cash, as writer of the song, may have some claim under copyright law. However, under his original recording deal with Sun Studio, ambiguous wording may have awarded all future rights to Sam Phillips, the owner of the studio. The music rights to many of these songs become muddied in later years among various companies, including Columbia and Bertelsmann. Soon, a judge will have to decide if shooting a man in Reno infringes on someone else's rights.

RECORDING: JOHNNY CASH SINGING "AS LONG AS THE RIVERS RUN..."

WALLY BALLOU
No matter how long the rivers run, Johnny Cash's music will live on, somewhere. And with luck, the various lawsuits will not last quite so long.

SOUND EFFECT: GUNSHOT

SOUND EFFECT: MAN MOANING "URRRGGGH" AND FALLING TO GROUND

RECORDING: "FOLSOM PRISON BLUES" COMES UP UNDER SOUND EFFECTS

SOUND EFFECT: GUNSHOT

SOUND EFFECT: MAN MOANING "GRRRAGH!"

SOUND EFFECT: GUNSHOT

SOUND EFFECT: MAN MOANING "URK!"

WALLY BALLOU
For KNNO and NPR news, I'm Wally Ballou.


ABOUT BRIAN ANDERSON

"Brian, clearly you're meant to be wearing something with a cowl...or at the very least, elbow patches and/or tweed."

more about brian anderson




COMMENTS

tracey kelley
1.20.03 @ 12:50p

This is hysterical.

Absolutely hysterical.

erik myers
1.20.03 @ 6:54p

It's about goddamn time you've posted. Awesome, just awesome.

Soon, a judge will have to decide if shooting a man in Reno infringes on someone else's rights.

That is just fucking brilliant.

sarah ficke
1.20.03 @ 6:56p

Welcome to the party, Brian!

This is fantastic. I love the part about the orphanage. Love it.

robert melos
1.20.03 @ 10:22p

Wow! Very impressive. I loved it.

erik myers
1.21.03 @ 10:34a

The problem is that I see "Wally Ballou", but in my head I hear Steve Colbert.

sarah ficke
1.21.03 @ 4:14p

So Brian, your next effort should be to get this recorded. Just think of the possibilities!

adam kraemer
1.21.03 @ 5:14p

I'm just impressed with the Bob and Ray style.

brian anderson
1.21.03 @ 5:22p

And I'm impressed whenever anyone under the age of 50 recognizes Bob and Ray. Prize to you, Adam, for recognizing Wally's old gig.

robert melos
1.21.03 @ 10:26p

Okay, last night I said how impressed I was with this piece. I'm still impressed with it, but all day long I had that damn song running through my head!



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