Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn - review by Charles Shaar Murray

Charles Shaar Murray

Man in Black

Johnny Cash: The Life


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 679pp £20

If the Grand Canyon could sing, it would sound like Johnny Cash. And if Monument Valley had walked on two legs and, moreover, taken to dressing itself in head-to-toe black, it would probably look like him too. At the peak of his career, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was one of the greatest unifying forces in American cultural life, cherished by rednecks and hippies alike; equally beloved at the Grand Ole Opry or the Newport Folk Festival; at a maximum-security prison or the Nixon White House; at a Billy Graham Crusade rally or a Bob Dylan recording session. His work straddled country music, rock (both ancient and modern), folk and mainstream pop. Like Bob Marley and Miles Davis, he was, in the mass consciousness, the iconic personification and grand archetype of a musical genre within which he was, in many crucial aspects, both atypical and anomalous. And like Davis and Marley, he was welcomed into many record collections where jazz, reggae and

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