Johnny Cash: The Biography
A Book by Michael Streissguth
(Da Capo Press)
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2007, Volume 14, #2
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Does the world need another Johnny Cash biography? After all, Cash’s own attempts at setting the record straight (The Man in Black and Cash) are among the two most riveting reads in the genre of modern autobiographies. Both demand to be read and re-read, not simply for the stark and honest manner in which Cash explores the highs and lows of his personal journey, but also for his vivid and often beguiling way with words. His unabashedly naive and rambling narratives take the reader deep into the soul of both the artist and the man. Yet, just as the picturesque autobiography Bound for Glory gives readers no more than an impressionistic rendering of Woody Guthrie’s story — thus making Joe Klein’s Woody Guthrie: A Life a necessary adjunct to the mythic stature he has achieved — Michael Streissguth’s Johnny Cash: The Biography ought to serve a similar function in clarifying and arranging in a coherent way the facts about The Man in Black’s life.
Streissguth, the author of The Johnny Cash Reader and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, wisely avoids competing with Cash at a literal level. Only someone who has lived through Cash’s travails could bring such a visceral tangibility to the events that are described. Streissguth settles, instead, for being thorough and objective. While his writing style never rises above the solidly competent, Johnny Cash: The Biography is meticulously researched, and Streissguth’s love of Cash’s music permeates its every page. The biographical narrative explores Cash as a musician and a man, and it thankfully forgoes the temptation to shroud him in an even deeper mythic guise.
The section dealing with The Man in Black’s final years as a recording artist, specifically his collaborations with Rick Rubin, is perhaps the most welcome contribution to Cash scholarship that Streissguth offers. In addition, the account of June Carter Cash’s last days — and the few months that Johnny had to survive without her — is explored in a sensitive and heartfelt manner that provides insight into a period that Cash’s own writings obviously did not cover. In short, Johnny Cash: The Biography is an admirable attempt at capturing the excitement and power of Cash’s life and work, and the fact that it maintains an objective and reliable tone should make it more and more indispensable as the years pass.
Of Further Interest...
Johnny Cash: The Biography is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box