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Johnny Cash: The Life

by Robert Hilburn

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3391266,523 (4.19)9
A noted music critic who knew him tells the unvarnished truth about Cash, whose personal life was far more troubled and his artistry much more profound than even his most devoted fans have realized.

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I have personal feelings, while reading this book: my younger daughter did a solo modern dance in high school to the song"Hurt," as a tribute to her dad, who had always loved Johnny Cash; I never felt much for him until then. I saw the Phoenix/Witherspoon movie a couple of times and liked it, but according to Hilburn, the movie differed significantly from his real life. For one, June was not such a resisting angel to Cash's overtures as the movie suggested. And once she had him pegged down, she wanted a lavish lifestyle that forced him to keep working and touring far longer than he wanted to. I hated how the one male baby he had was far more important than the four daughters he already had with Vivian, his first wife. Nevertheless, all his family benefitted by knowing him, getting breaks that Joe (Josephine) Schmoe never would. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Excellent! ( )
  TanteLeonie | Dec 29, 2020 |
Johnny Cash is both a great and an enigma to most music fans: So much public yet so much unknown. His combination of country and folk music with a deeply baritone voice entertained audiences for nearly 50 years. The timelessness of his takes on American life reached for the heavens. Anyone who can elicit praise from Bob Dylan for musical acumen deserves to be remembered.

Hilburn unearths Cash’s life in this in-depth biography. Though both explored and written after Cash’s death, Hilburn uncovers many a niche in Cash’s story that portrays how real life happens. Many of these niches were left out of Cash’s two autobiographies because he surmised they would hurt people who were living. Fortunately, Cash’s children permitted Hilburn the freedom to be honest in his portrayal of their father.

The picture Hilburn paints of Cash is one of deep respect, with deep flaws, and possessing a deep soul. Cash struggled with drugs for much of his life, and this probably cut years off of his life. The drugs probably limited his creativity, which in turn limited his mass appeal. Cash committed marital infidelities during both of his marriages – even during his “Christian” period. He was a bad father to his daughters.

Yet Hilburn’s portrait simultaneously leaves us with glimmers of Cash’s light. Cash ultimately sought redemption through honesty in almost every significant sector of his life. His expression left behind a gleaming record of songs over decades. He made perhaps the best music video of all time in the song “Hurt.” He died beloved by young singers who continued to follow his relevance. He steadfastly stood up for the common man in America. European audiences seemed to love him more abidingly than even American fans. Over the years, he became more, not less, dedicated to his wife June, his daughters, his son, and the Christian faith of his youth.

Johnny Cash expresses the American soul in a unique way, and Hilburn captures this in the nearly 700 pages in this narrative. It’s worth the time to read. I grew up listening to Cash’s music, and this biography fills in a lot of gaps that I have long been curious about. Hilburn brings forth deep research and brings out Cash’s passions through music. Many times, by quoting the songs, Hilburn wonderfully evokes in the reader a sense of the majesty of this American man. ( )
  scottjpearson | Sep 18, 2020 |
I liked - a lot of history of the music industry.
  gbasscpa | Dec 10, 2018 |
He was a mess. A sprawling bio on Johnny Cash. Didnt realize he was so prolific with his records. He put out a lot of them. Many stunk. Also didnt follow why he kept going with the pills. Everyone knew. I'm sure they tried to stop him, but it didnt come through. Very enjoyable read. Learned a lot about the guy. ( )
  bermandog | Feb 14, 2018 |
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Songwriter, historian, fighter of causes; friend to the deprived and troubled; friend of great men; a leader in the temporal world, and follower in the spiritual world, Johnny Cash is the total entertainer.  An internationally famous performer, he carries his love for his country and for country music around the world.  The man in black retains his roots in the soil as he grows in conscience and integrity.  He is one of the world's most beloved and honored stars.
- Johnny Cash's plaque at the Country Music Hall of Fame
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The two-and-a-half-mile walk from the Cash family's five-room, federally assisted farmhouse in rural Dyess, Arkansas to the town center was just long enough for young J.R. to work up a head full of dreams.
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A noted music critic who knew him tells the unvarnished truth about Cash, whose personal life was far more troubled and his artistry much more profound than even his most devoted fans have realized.

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