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Johnny Cash has always been the cool country singer for rock stars, from Elvis to Dylan to Springsteen. Now, at 61, he may officially be a senior citizen, but it hasn’t stopped him from making new inroads in music. And sometimes in the most unlikely places. That’s Cash singing solo on ”The Wanderer,” the closing track of U2’s Zooropa, a song U2 front man Bono wrote with Cash in mind. ”I think it’s a masterpiece,” says Cash, who has known U2 since 1985, when the Irish band visited his Hendersonville, Tenn., home and sang rockabilly songs-the genre that launched Cash 38 years ago. ”I’m amazed at the spirituality in rock & roll. People who criticize it only hear the surface. They don’t hear the heart and soul. This particular song’s got a postapocalyptic feel about it. It’s like there’s been devastation, and I’m looking for something-God, or a woman, or myself. Maybe I don’t really know what.” Currently, Cash is looking for career rejuvenation. He hopes to find it at Def American Recordings, where he has just signed after five hitless albums in six years at Mercury Nashville. Cash insists he went with the eclectic Def American, best known as a rock and rap label (the Black Crowes, Sir Mix-A-Lot, the Jesus and Mary Chain), for only one reason-to work with owner/producer Rick Rubin, the man behind Mick Jagger’s Wandering Spirit and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik. ”It’s got me just as excited as when I was 21,” says Cash, who’s writing again after a long dry spell. The album should showcase Cash’s rock as well as his country side-he has already solicited tunes from Tom Petty, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. ”I keep calling writers, saying, ‘Please write me a song.’ And you know, they’re sending me their spiritual things, although they’re kind of from a far-out direction. That’s great. I’d like to see more of it, especially in country. There’s a treasure of music waiting to be born there.” Does that mean Cash might spearhead a New Age gospel movement in Nashville? ”I’m not trying to spearhead any kind of movement in country music,” he says. ”I gave that up a long time ago.” -Alanna Nash