Well they’re building a gallows outside my cell
I’ve got 25 minutes to go
And the whole town’s waitin’ just to hear me yell
I’ve got 24 minutes to go
Well they gave me some beans for my last meal
I’ve got 23 minutes to go
But nobody asked me how I feel
I’ve got 22 minutes to go…
If there are two great tastes that taste great together, we aint just talking about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (although they are the best candy of all time and all other answers are verboten).
No we’re talking about two titanic talents of a begone era: Shel Silverstein and Johnny Cash.
Silverstein was a poet, artist, songwriter, and most importantly the author of 1974’s Where The Sidewalk Ends and 1981’s A Light in the Attic, two indispensable books of almost every American Gen-X’ers childhood. Certainly mine.
And then we have Johnny Cash. The Man In Black needs no introduction, certainly not one from me, so we’ll leave it at that.
All of this brings us to 25 Minutes To Go, a song Silverstein wrote for his 1962 folk album and one that has been covered multiple times throughout the decades. I haven’t heard them all, but I can’t imagine a more definitive rendition that that of Cash’s.
The premise is simple: a man is sentenced to hang, and he has 25 minutes left to live. With every minute that passes — the most valuable time he has, since it’s all that he has left — he describes each with a descriptive tag, one at a time. The dread builds, but with a gallows humor even as the inevitable occurs.
It starts with his knowledge that he will be in Hell in less than a half hour. Then he has his terrible last meal. He waits for the Governor’s reprieve. Then he makes his plea, to no avail. As the minutes pass, he’s abandoned by the major, warden, even his lawyer. The priest even tells him to get ready for the heat, because there’s no salvation coming.
And yet still, he hopes for some redemption, some last minute pardon, some miracle that just ain’t happening. Ever. And if there was ever the voice to give this song that perfect cocktail of dread, humor, anger, and pervasive foreboding, Johnny Cash owns it outright. Chilling to the bone.
25 Minutes To Go makes the strongest case imaginable that, to quote Soran from Star Trek: Generations, that time is the fire in which we all burn. Tick tock…
With my feet on the trap and my head on the noose
Got 5 more minutes to go
Won’t somebody come and cut me loose
With 4 more minutes to go
I can see the mountains I can see the skies
With 3 more minutes to go
And it’s to dern pretty for a man that don’t want to die
2 more minutes to go…