2 Songs You Didn’t Know Glenn Danzig Wrote for Music Legends Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

As a founding member of the horror-punk band The Misfits in the late ’70s through his transition to Samhain and namesake, the murkier metal of Danzig in the 1980s, singer Glenn Danzig has written a catalog of hundreds of songs.

Inspired by the silver screen—the band taking their name from Marilyn Monroe’s final film in 1961, The Misfits—Danzig penned Misfits songs from the titles of 1950s and ’60s cult and b-movies, sci-fi, and more ghoulish flicks from the likes of Ed Wood and George A. Romero (“Night of the Living Dead“), or films starring “The Merchant of Menace” Vincent Price (“Return of the Fly“), and paying homage to one of the first women of horror, Finnish actress Maila Nurmi, with “Vampira” in 1981. Danzig added more songs from his own movie-tinted and macabre mindset like “Die, Die My Darling” and “Horror Business,” “She,” “Where Eagles Dare” and “Hollywood Babylon.”

Crooning more like his idol Elvis Presley, and influenced by everyone from Chicago bluesmen like Willie Dixon and The Doors to Bo Diddley and The Ramones, Danzig continued showing his depth as a songwriter with the harder core goth-punk of Samhain (1983-1987) and through the bluesier doom metal days of Danzig by the late ’80s through the present.

Adding to his already “dark” catalog of music, in 1987 and 1994, Danzig ended up writing some woeful tunes for two music legends.

Here’s a look at 2 songs Glenn Danzig wrote for Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.

1. “Life Fades Away,” Roy Orbison (1987)
Written by Glenn Danzig and Roy Orbison

“Few people recognize that Glenn Danzig is a ‘heavy metal Roy Orbison,'” read a 2011 post on the official Roy Orbison Facebook page. “He and Roy were friends and wrote a great song in 1987 called ‘Life Fades Away.'”

When producer Rick Rubin was working on the soundtrack for the 1987 drama Less Than Zero, starring Robert Downey Jr., Andrew McCarthy, James Spader, Jami Gertz, and Flea, he combined a collection of original songs and covers, including KISS’ “Rock and Roll All Nite,” performed by Poison, Slayer’s rendition of the Iron Butterfly’s 1968 classic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “A Hazy Shade of Winter” by The Bangles.

Rubin, who was also producing the debut (self-titled) album for Danzig in 1987, including the hit “Mother,” enlisted Glenn to co-write two tracks for the soundtrack. Along with Rubin, Danzig co-wrote “You and Me (Less than Zero),” which he performed with the Power and Fury Orchestra, and another song co-written with and performed with his friend Roy Orbison called “Life Fades Away.”

In classic Orbison twang and “Crying” falsetto, “Life Fades Away” is a sorrowful telling of the end of one’s days and all they must leave behind, the song was recorded less than a year before Orbison’s own passing on Dec. 6, 1988, at the age of 51.

“It wasn’t a Danzig song,” said Danzig in a 2019 interview. “I wrote him a Roy Orbison song because I’m writing for Roy Orbison. I got to go out to his pad in Malibu a couple of times, teach him the song and then I was in the studio with him, Rick, and [assistant producer] George Drakoulias. It was a really cool experience.”

Featured on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, and played over the closing credits in the film, “Life Fades Away” was later released on the 2017 reissue of Orbison’s 1992 posthumous album King of Hearts.

My time has come, the clouds are calling
December wind has come my way
And now I feel the will falling
All at once it’s too late
Life fades away

The night is my wake
All thoughts slip away
And even though I must leave you
Remember I love you

I’ll always be in your memory
And I will always be with you when I’m gone

I’m tired of tomorrow
Lost for today
I long to be
At peace forever
My eternity
And even though I will miss you
I must leave you

2. “Thirteen,” Johnny Cash (1994)
Written by Glenn Danzig

Glenn Danzig wrote the more ominous tale of “Thirteen,” about someone who lived a perpetual life of hard luck, for Johnny Cash while the country legend was recording his 81st album, American Recordings. The album also included songs contributed by his former stepson-in-law, Nick Lowe, Tom Waits, along with covers by Leonard Cohen and Kris Kristofferson and was produced by Rick Rubin, who had previously worked with Danzig on the Less Than Zero soundtrack and Danzig debut.

“Cash or his kids had heard the song that I wrote for Roy [Orbison] and they’re like, ‘You should get this guy to write you a song,'” shared Danzig, who ended up writing “Thirteen” for Cash within minutes. “They said, ‘You want to write him a song?’ I go, ‘Fuck yeah, I’ll write him a song,’ and I had it in 15 to 20 minutes. ‘Thirteen’ was just my idea of Cash as a badass and cool and the Man in Black.

Danzig also wrote another song for Cash “Come to Silver,” which he was never able to share with the legend and later recorded on Danzig’s fifth album, Blackacidevil, in 1996. “But I played it for him [Cash] and he’s like, ‘I love it,'” said Danzig.

Following his work on American Recordings, Danzig received more unexpected songwriting offers from some of Cash’s friends. “I remember getting a call in the studio: ‘Glenn, Johnny Cash is on the phone.’ I’m like, ‘what?’ He’s like, ‘Glenn, we’re on the road and I’ve got a couple of friends who want to talk to you,'” said Danzig. “And Kris Kristofferson gets on the phone telling me he loves the song, and would you write me one? And then Waylon Jennings gets on the phone, and my mind is blown.”

Bad luck wind been blowin’ at my back
I was born to bring trouble to wherever I’m at
Got the number thirteen tattooed on my neck
When the ink starts to itch 
Then the black will turn to red

I was born in the soul of misery
Never had me a name
They just gave me the number 
When I was young

Got a long line of heartache, I carry it well
The list of lives I’ve broken reach from here to hell
Bad luck wind been blowin’ at my back
I pray you don’t look at me 
I pray I don’t look back

I was born in the soul of misery
Never had me a name
They just gave me the number 
When I was young

Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Redferns via Getty Images

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