I usually find entertainer biographies sort of boring. I rarely read them, or if I do pick one up, it's unlikely I'll even finish it. That proved not to be the case with Johnny Cash's autobiography, Cash. I'm guessing the book was probably organized and written by Patrick Carr, with Cash supplying the tapes. But Carr stays out of the way, and from page 1, it's Cash's voice that you hear. What a life! A lot of it I already knew, the drugs, the music, June Carter. And some I didn't (a near fatal encounter with an enraged ostrich might get # 1 overall). But to read it, see it, through Cash's eyes, hear it through his voice, leaves me with an even greater respect for the seriousness with which he would come to live his life. His humility, his dark places (lots of warts there), and his faith, are all here. That last point, his faith, cannot be downplayed. I would say about a third of the book deals with Cash's faith in God, and his struggles with drugs and depression. This is no glory hallelujah tale, but a story of man just trying to get some traction in his life, to line his beliefs up with the way he was living his life. In one remarkable passage, Cash recounts, in a Jonah like tale, how he crawled deep into cave, jacked up on drugs, pretty much ready to die. Well, he had a "moment," and crawled back toward the light. For me, this spoke more powerfully than that wildly overrated snooze fest, Augustine's Confessions.
Beyond the religious aspects of the book, Cash writes about an America, or perhaps more accurately, an American South that no longer exists. Shoot, it was fast disappearing when Cash was rising to prominence in the late fifties and early sixties. Cash remembers what it was like to pick cotton, or listen to the radio for his entertainment. Country was really Country back then. Early on in the book he levels a withering charge at the up and coming crop of Country stars:
I was talking with a friend of mine about this the other day: that country life as I knew it might really be a thing of the past and when music people today, performers and fans alike, talk about being "country," they don't mean they know or even care about the land and the life it sustains and regulates. They're talking more about choices - a way to look, a group to belong to, a kind of music to call their own. Which begs a question: Is there anything behind the symbols or modern "country," or are the symbols the whole story Are the hats, the boots, the pickup trucks, and the honky tonking poses all that's left of a disintegrating culture Back in Arkansas, a way of life produced a certain kind of music. Does a certain kind of music now produce a way of life
As far as older crop goes, if you like old Country (and Rock and Roll) music, you'll be treated to numerous stories about such stars as Patsy Cline, Porter Wagner, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Marty Stewart, Connie Smith, Maybelle Carter, Roy Orbison, and many others. Also, all phases of Cash's life (up until age 65 or so), get covered. In particular, I enjoyed his remembrances regarding The Johnny Cash Show, but also the simpler stuff, like when he's just talking about his kids and grandkids. Toward the end of the book, he recounts his first meetings with Rick Rubin, which would put into motion a remarkable string of recordings (the "American Recordings") that Cash would put together toward the end of his life. At that point, Cash didn't even have a record company. Fortunately, Rubin saw Cash for the giant he was, and proceeded with a project that allowed Cash to be Cash. Interestingly, all of this music came out at time when Cash rapidly declined physically. If you have the last album, also titled Cash, check out the back cover, with Cash, spectral, prophetic, barely visible through the window, staring back at us. (I couldn't help but be reminded of Paul's "Through a glass darkly.." in 1 Corinthians 13.) For followers of the Man in Black, we couldn't be more thankful for such an extended gift. This book is a perfect accompaniment.