33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
The Man in Black,
This review is from: Johnny Cash: The Life (Kindle Edition)
Biographers of musicians tend to face the same basic problem: outside of their music and antics, musicians tend to be as boring as anyone else (and for many the music isn't of much interest). Johnny Cash was different. He was an intelligent man, devouring books on history and religion. He was an iconoclast, when musicians' views are more often as predictable and conformist as they are simplistic. He had a deep abiding love for and commitment to gospel music, despite resistance from the music industry and a spotty record of church attendance. He did, like so many musicians, have serious drug problems, but Hilburn doesn't make that the focus of his biography. Rather, he keeps the focus exactly where it should be--on the music. It's a testament to the strength of Cash's songwriting that Hilburn can include so much of so many songs. They work as well as poetry as they do as songs, even the ones I wasn't yet familiar with.
Cash was a titan of music. What other musician could you write a 700 page biography on that would feel shallow in parts. Cash's career spanned across so many decades (from the 50s on) and trends in music (rockabilly to folk to outlaw country) and he interacted with so many other great musicians (from Elvis to Bob Dylan to Kris Kristofferson) and public figures (Nixon and Billy Graham) that inevitably something will leave you wanting more. Hilburn hits the most important points well, though, from the prison shows to Cash's passion for the downtrodden to his drug addiction (at too great length, that, but that's Cash's fault) to his triumphant final act with Rick Rubin. The book is packed with vignettes, like Cash being one of only three musicians to write Steve Earle a note while he was in jail for cocaine and weapons possession. Hilburn writes it all well and with a deep knowledge of the music (if with = a hint of snobbishness).
Disclosure: I received a complimentary e-copy of Johnny Cash: A Life via NetGalley.