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Johnny Cash: The Biography Paperback – September 4, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. An American legend's biographer must keep the story compelling and fresh, inserting new interviews, revealing details and a delicate balance of respect and criticism. Streissguth (Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison) delivers all three elements with unflinching insight into the Man in Black's life and career, drawing from the archive of Cash's former manager, the late Saul Holiff; extensive interviews with Cash's longtime record producer and collaborator, Jack Clement; the only surviving member of the original Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, bassist Marshall Grant; and numerous childhood friends and family members. Unlike the 2005 film Walk the Line, which concludes with a clean and sober Cash, this book examines the singer's continued substance abuse well into the '70s and '80s, chronicling also the singer's dedication to Christianity, his extramarital dalliances, his reliance on outside songwriters and his banishment to the tourist haven of Branson, Mo. Streissguth writes with elegance, even when citing conflicting information and details that taint Cash's image. His treatment of Cash's relationship with wife June Carter Cash, who preceded her husband's 2003 death by five months, is particularly revealing. The author also weaves his own observations and reviews of the man's work into the text and sustains interest throughout-even though readers already know how this story ends-making this an exemplary music bio for fans of the man, the music or the genre.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Country music historian Streissguth's biography is admirably thorough. Besides the drug-crazed demon Cash too often became on the road--and he was on the road as much as possible until disease and decrepitude disabled him in the 1990s; one of his daughters recalls that after more than three or four days at home, he would be beside himself with restlessness--Streissguth portrays a craftsmanly performer concerned with what his music expressed. Cash was an advocate for the poor and oppressed, a patriot of pioneer America, and a committed Evangelical Christian. Accordingly, he sang about dirt farmers (his own family background), prisoners, outlaws bad and good, and salvation in Jesus Christ. He opened himself to the influence of other performers, most notably Bob Dylan, whom the country music business in general distrusted, to expand not only his repertoire but also the audience for his messages. He succeeded in grabbing new listeners for all but his Christianity, and the poor reception of his record-album and film The Gospel Road keenly disappointed him (Streissguth implies that it is one of Cash's best personal achievements). Streissguth leaves us mightily impressed with the volume of Cash's work and the convictions that animate it, and perhaps even more impressed by Cash's endurance of his own self-destructiveness. Streissguth essays no psychological or sociological explanations for Cash's behavior, which is perhaps just as well. Despite many poor word choices, slips into publicity-speak, and a tendency to glorify too much of Cash's music, Streissguth gives everyone interested in Cash a very satisfying book about him. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306815656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306815652
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #826,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Streissguth is a professor in the department of Communication and Film Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. He is the author of several books including Johnny Cash: The Biography (Da Capo, 2006). He has produced two documentary films: Record Paradise (2012) and Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (2008).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By David J. Smetters on October 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Streissguth's journalistic approach is a refreshing contrast to the psychological blather of many biographical writers. There is a healthy balance of respect for Johnny Cash and a straightforward look at his extramarital relationships, substance abuse, and devotion to Christianity. Both the complex and simple sides of Cash are revealed through detail-rich interviews with those who knew him well. Indeed, the extensive interviews with band members, friends and family are what make this book so compelling and fresh. For instance, the interview with Rosanne Cash, his eldest daughter, helps us understand Cash's drug addition, his role as a father and the insecurities he experienced as a performer. The Man in Black has never been revealed in such color and light.

While Streissguth doesn't attempt to retell every story or dispel every fable about Cash, the book is well researched and rich with detail, including investigations that delve into the roots of well-known myths. Even life-long fans of Johnny Cash will come away with a new understanding of what pushed, pulled and propelled the singer through his life and career. If there was room on a bookshelf for only one book on Johnny Cash, this would be my pick.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John Julian on September 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found the book to be a great read. More than just the same rehash of his life that I have read before. Streissguth has broken new ground in his telling of the Johnny Cash story. He brings important players--such as brother Roy Cash and former manager Saul Holiff--out of the shadows, traces the roots of various Cashian myths and offers new insights throughout. Fits the bill for Cash fans and newcomers alike. Great photos, too. The following passage is an example of the new perspective that the book delivers: "Drug use became Cash's convenient sin, the one that made for a great redemption story but that had no visible victims other than himself. As long as the drug-obsessed media focused on his addiction, the story functioned as a smoke screen. Cash rarely had to deal publicly in any substantive way with questions about extramarital affairs he engaged in during the 1970s and 1980s or with the pain that he'd brought upon his wives, daughters, friends, and band members."
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Karen Santucci on September 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
First, let me say that I own and have read the 290 page "advance reading copy" of this book. Being a fan of Mr. Streissguth's previous work on Cash, especially the impressive "JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON," I anticipated a "defintive" take on Cash's life and legacy - unfortunately that simply is NOT the case. The most interesting thing about this book are the comments and recollections of the only remaining member of Cash's original band the Tennessee Two/Three, bassist Marshall Grant (legendary picker Luther Perkins passed away in 1968) who has written his own book which should be TRULY interesting coming from a man who not only witnessed but who actually contributed to forging the Cash legacy. More so than not, this biography and it's writer seem to head in the right direction by grabbing your attention then leading you nowhere. Sadly, this seems to be the pattern throughout much of book as many other interesting events from the singer's life are either left out or not properly explained in complete detail the way they should. In the end, while some interesting things do get mentioned very little is actually explained which makes this book incomplete and unimpressive. A proper telling of Cash's "complex" life and legacy, should be told in a manner that is not only scholarly, informative, and interesting, but extensively detailed in ways that are reserved for a artist of this enormous magnitude (Example: Peter Guralnick's Elvis biography LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS) and Streissguth seemed like the person who could pull it off! Unfortunately, he doesn't do that IMO. Perhaps it will take a more complete writer of Peter Guralnick's level to offer that defintive Cash biography because this one, again, totally misses the mark.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jack B. Shaw on September 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
JOHNNY CASH The Biography... is so much more than just another `Johnny Cash' book. As I began reading it, I quickly found myself wishing that this remarkable resource had been available before I met John. I believe that it would have better equipped me to... `Understand'.

The writing is a segmented marvel of arduous research and analysis that somewhat removes the `shroud' from a life so unusual... and filled with mystery, that it has typically defied nearly all previous attempts to account. Streissguth masterfully depicts a detailed life journey of a man who, I'm convinced, was called and anointed of God to fill a deep divine purpose (of which we may never fully understand)... and unrelentingly dogged by Hell's hounds for eternal damnation. Thank God... in the end, He and John won!

Friend and Minister, Rev. Jack Shaw
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
While he was never one of my favorite recording artists I simply could not resist the lure of "Johnny Cash: The Biography". Certainly anyone with an interest in the history of American popular music cannot deny that Johnny Cash would have to rank as one of the most fascinating figures of the past fifty years. He was the real deal who sang about life experiences that just about all of us could relate to. Author Michael Streissguth, who had previously penned "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of A Masterpiece" offers up an intimate portrait of this highly enigmatic artist who was beloved by generations of Americans. Americans had come to admire the man who had seemingly seen and done it all!

I enjoyed "Johnny Cash: The Biography" for a couple of reasons. First of all, I had never read about Johnny's childhood nor was I aware of the circumstances that led him to Sam Phillip's Memphis Recording Service back in 1955. As a student of American popular music this book certainly helped to fill some missing pieces of the puzzle for me. Likewise, I appreciated learning more about Johnny Cash's entire recording career including his move to Columbia records in 1958 as well as his somewhat improbable but ultimately successful tenure at Rick Rubin's American Recordings label towards the end of his life. Understanding the kinds of material Johnny Cash was interested in recording helped to give me some real insight into the soul of this legendary performer. But "Johnny Cash: The Biography" covers so much more ground than simply his recording career. Michael Streissguth delves into much of Cash's personal life as well. His was a life of peaks and valleys, success and failure, personal torture and remarkable success.
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