Author: Johnny Cash | Publisher: Harper Collins
This fascinating autobiography of the country music legend recounts the highs and lows, the struggles and hard-won triumphs of his remarkable life.
The story takes us from Johnny Cash’s childhood on an Arkansas cotton farm to his early years at Sun Records. We read of his life on the road and meetings with, and performances for, world leaders. There is also the darker side of his life: the years of addiction to amphetamines and pain killers, a suicide attempt and the spiritual awakening that pulled him through.
He looks unsparingly at his turbulent past, but remains a man of honesty, humility and humour. His memoir reveals his friendships with Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Billy Graham.
I feel cheeky even daring to write a review of Cash. Who am I to review something written by the great Johnny Cash? I mean, compared to him, what do I even know about… pretty much anything? But I’m going to do it anyway. If only because I loved the book, adored it!
I knew very little about Johnny Cash, as it turns out. I haven’t seen Walk the Line (because I heard it was sad, and I prefer to be surprised by my sob-fests), I like his music and I knew his reputation – but that’s about it. So I picked up Cash with great interest…
The book meanders from memory to memory, arranged in loose chronology but more by subject and correlation of ideas. At times, that can make it a little difficult for the reader to follow who, what, when – but if you wanted a timeline, you’d go to Wikipedia. This book is a journey. Any disorientation is part of the immersion process. It’s somehow necessary to get across the feel of the piece. Go with it; you’ll find you pick it all up eventually.
Cash is written as if Johnny Cash is talking to himself, telling himself the story of his life. It reminded me a little of Bob Dylan’s autobiography in that respect; I could actually draw several parallels between the two books. And there’s a strong sense of Johnny Cash’s voice throughout, which gives a lovely feeling of being read to.
The language is beautiful. Perhaps we don’t expect musicians to be able to write well. And, if you read some other autobiographies in this genre, you might feel vindicated in that opinion. But Cash is exquisite, deeply moving, and satisfyingly well-paced. The descriptions of place are lovely. Almost word pictures, creating tangible, internalised images of places the reader could otherwise never have explored and experienced. And the experiences, the sense of the person, is inextricably but not overtly linked to the land and the places in the book, which I thought was particularly clever.
Cash felt very honest and authentic. While I don’t deny that there was clearly some elision of events in Cash (and neither did Johnny Cash, which I think is partly why it feels so “true”), where something has been glossed over it was by obvious design. The hints are there if you choose to look, but this isn’t a warts-and-all, tell-all book. This is a story of a man’s life. That’s the point, and perhaps such a story requires a little self-editing.
Johnny Cash was a fascinating man. I mean, he’s been everywhere and done everything! Despite his success, he comes across as very self-aware, humble, and unafraid to take responsibility for his mistakes and his story. He spent as much time talking about the people he loved as he did himself, and I thought that was rather lovely.
There is a lot of discussion about religion in the book, which some people may find off-putting. Christianity was obviously a very big part of Johnny Cash’s life, and he therefore very understandably wanted to talk about that. I’m not personally religious, and don’t generally have any interest in other people’s religious beliefs (it’s an English thing, you never talk about politics, money or religion, right?)… but I didn’t find Cash moralising so I can’t say it turned me off the book as it might have done otherwise.
All in all, this was a fantastic autobiography, and a lovely book. I enjoyed it immensely and would highly recommend it for fans of the genre, and Johnny Cash (though if you like Johnny Cash, you’ve probably read it already!).