Michiko Kakutani has a really moving review of a new Johnny Cash biography, by Robert Hilburn, that is as good as anything I’ve read for describing the strengths of Cash’s music. It begins:
Johnny Cash’s life was a country song full of love and loss, passion and heartbreak — grief, loneliness, guilt, faith, melodrama and striving for redemption. His rough childhood and youth, and turbulent struggles with addiction and family tumult, gave him empathy for sinners in search of salvation and all those who had done hard time or known hard times. His plain-spoken writing and gritty, soul-deep singing transcended musical genres and gave voice to ordinary Americans’ experience of adversity. He was that rare outlaw beloved by soldiers and student protesters alike, by rock ’n’ rollers, convicts and devotees of Billy Graham’s crusades.
As Bob Dylan said of Cash and America: “He is what the land and the country are all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here, and he said it all in plain English”; if “we want to know what it means to be mortal, we need look no further than the Man in Black.”
The whole thing is worth reading.