JOHNNY CASH: THE LIFE by Robert Hilburn

Reviewed by: Michael Blackmore

“Cash said he was someone ‘made up of bad parts but was trying to do good.’”

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I had long been a fan of Johnny Cash, so Johnny Cash: The Life was a great way to dig deeper into the man whose music has moved me over the years. One of the things that became clear through this biography was the contradictory pulls in Cash’s life, and how they shaped him as a man and artist.

Cash’s life was woven from the threads of his religious faith, struggles, and strong passions—which, when tied to his ambition for a career in music, ultimately made him a legend. It was filled with self-destructive tendencies, including addictions which would pull his life apart, separate him from others and sometimes nearly kill him.

Hilburn shows clearly both sides—you feel twinges of pain when Cash falls apart, and joy when he rises from those depths. Even more powerful is witnessing how intertwined it all is in making him the man, and artist, he was. The depths were as much a part of him as the heights—together they gave him the essence he could express so powerfully in his best music, and an authenticity, which spoke to a vast range of people—from prisoners facing a life sentence for their crimes, to the very rich and powerful.  It is a clear-sighted and powerful portrayal of the man in all his complexity.

Despite this book being 600+ pages, it flew by as it covered the whole of Cash’s life. That’s yet another sign of what a great biography Johnny Cash: The Life is.

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