Recorded in 1976, Johnny Cash’s single “One Piece at a Time” tells the story of a man who works on an assembly line for GM Cadillacs. The man struggles with feeling inferior in a materialistic world because he cannot afford a Cadillac of his own.
This is where the plot of the song comes in – the man decides that he can have a Cadillac if he sneaks out a single piece every day and assembles it on his own. So, how is this song about a light-fingered man and a car a life lesson? Let’s break down the lyrics:
“I’d get it one piece at a time
And it wouldn’t cost me a dime…”
When you really want something – for instance a Cadillac – trying to achieve it all at once can be nearly impossible. The things worth pursuing take time and commitment. Instead of attempting to get an entire Cadillac at once, the man is willing to take a piece each day, slowly working toward his goal. Going for it all at once is a mountain of a task, so take baby steps.
“Now, up to now my plan went all right
‘Til we tried to put it all together one night
And that’s when I discovered that something was definitely wrong.”
Twenty-four years have passed since the man began taking pieces, but finally he has everything he needs to assemble the Cadillac and live out his dream. Then, as he sits in his driveway putting the pieces together, he realizes he has his problem:
“The transmission was a ’53
And the motor turned out to be a ’73
And when we tried to put in the bolts all the holes were gone.”
After 24 years, GM has come out with many Cadillac models! Putting together pieces from a 1953 car will not fit with a 1973 model. Things don’t line up and suddenly it seems the dream is out of reach. Sound familiar? By the time we reach our goal it may not be what we expected. It may no longer work. Putting together conflicting parts will leave us angry and unsure. It won’t be pretty…
“Now the headlight’ was another sight,
We had two on the left and one on the right.”
But don’t let a perceived failure get you down! You’ve worked a long time – 24 years for the man- for this moment and you have brought together all the necessary pieces, so go ahead and find a way to make it work:
“So we drilled it out so that it would fit
And with a little bit of help with an A-daptor kit”
The parts of the car did not fit, so the man had to adapt so they would. He found a solution to his problem because he remained determined. It wasn’t pretty, but he refused to trash his dream. That’s commitment, pure and simple. Years of knowledge and dedication allowed him to make his dream come to life. And what’s the payoff? Well:
“I got it one piece at a time
And it didn’t cost me a dime
You’ll know it’s me when I come through your town
I’m gonna ride around in style
I’m gonna drive everybody wild
‘Cause I’ll have the only one there is around.”
Your mission is unique. The parts of the dream you’re putting together are distinctly yours. When you get there, after much dedication, you’ll truly have “the only one there is around” and that’s a beautiful thing. When you stay dedicated to a mission or a dream, the payoff of success is pure elation and you’ll “ride around in style.”
Long story short – chase your dreams and don’t give up!
Side note: Johnny’s impression of a woman’s voice at 2:26 cracks me up every time.