Retro Review: Cash by Johnny Cash

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I don’t read a ton of biographies, auto or otherwise. Many of them come across as very dry as they recount events in life chronologically, and no matter how well done that is, it can get boring. The ones that really stand out are the ones that put the feeling and soul of a person into the work, whether that’s the ghostwriter creating a character or the person themselves dictating and getting it written down/cleaned up, I don’t know. Either way, when it’s done right, it creates a compelling story. The two examples I can think of in this vein are Me by Katharine Hepburn and Art of the Deal by Donald Trump. Those books really stand out as you get a feel for the person and how they’re living in the moment that it’s written, not just their chronological life story.  Cash by Johnny Cash is no different, and perhaps even exceeds these two examples.

Each section is framed with him talking about the current road performance he’s on, so you get the feel that you’re sitting with Johnny on the tour bus while he’s just going on old-man style about his glory days, and it’s inviting like hanging out with a favorite grandpa. Within that framework he bounces around to different stories. At first is early life – which it’s amazing how not all that long ago time-wise it was so difficult a life for so many people, it makes you realize how much the troubles of today’s modern times are just complete nonsense and that people these days are the biggest whining complainers imaginable.  How he had to toil in the fields all day dawn til dusk even as a young child, and come home to no electricity is pretty amazing. That’s not even 100 years old.

His 50s-60s life is very compelling, with lots of stories of great musicians like Elvis, Carl Perkins and others, and of course his own recording career taking off. It was cool that he was a part of the military and he had quite an interesting job in that regard as a person who deciphered Russian Morse code for our intelligence programs. There’s a lot of cool detail, and he interjects with a story from Jamaica which is riveting.

Later in the book, it gets heavy. He talks a lot about his drug use, his problems, his failings as a human being. It makes it very clear this is honest and not just some presentation of him as some idol, which I appreciate. And he couples that with some of the most amazing witness testimonial of God’s grace and the glory of Jesus Christ that I’ve ever seen in a book. It’s from an honest man’s perspective and not someone who’s doing it for appearances, and that’s what makes it so powerful.  We all have failed and fall short of the glory of God, and this is an example of that, and how we can keep striving as humans to be perfect in Him. It’s really inspiring.

The end drags a bit as he just wants to mention every friend and family member and acquaintance he’s ever come across, but that’s just 20 pages of the book and it feels like a coda after the story sort of a prolongued thanks section rather than part of the text itself. Even with that, it’s a fast read, riveting, compelling and you’ll get a sense for a big musician who really is an everyman in both the way he looks at the world, in his failings and in his redemption. It’s a beautiful story and I respect Johnny Cash more than most musicians as a result.


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