Book Review – Johnny Cash: The Life

I’ve just discovered a great piece of software for my phone. Its called Overdrive, and allows one to check out ebooks and audiobooks from any participating US library right from your phone or computer. For someone who learned a great deal from audiobooks that I was able to listen to at work, as my jobs frequently did not allow the reading of regular books, and who has a limited budget for buying audiobooks, this application was science sent. Yes, I do have my podcasts, and they are all great, but I can chew up anywhere from eight to fourteen hours a day at work alone just chewing up audio products. On the music side, this means I can cycle all the songs I have loaded in about 3 hours. Most audiobooks I’m willing to set down cash for on the non-fiction side are from eight to 15 hours. On the fiction side, twenty to thirty hours is pretty common.

This is the second book I’ve completed through Overdrive, Johnny Cash: The life, by Robert Hilburn. What turned out to be quite a detailed account of Cash’s life, we learn of Cash starting life in poverty, where music first took hold of him. As he grew up, military service would find Cash working mostly in Germany as a radio intercept technician, listening to Solviet morse code transmissions. I was able to identify with a young man, from a simple area of the world coming in to contact with a cross section of America’s youth. Exploring the work of others by radio and record, Cash was not only working on his own material, but experimenting the work of others he enjoyed.

Once back in civilian life, Cash took a job as a salesman for a home appliance store, but like any artist, these things are never part of who they are, and his pay reflected this. It wouldn’t be long before Cash’s love of music would have him relating to other musicians, and eventually knocking on the door of Sun Records, where his musical career would begin.

In this book, we are shown a world of Cash’s personal life and professional life the two sides of a sword that he wielded through the world he occupied. I found myself deploring his early behavior concerning how he behaved as a father, with regular recreational drug use, constantly missing from their lives due to work demands, and a string of reckless behavior that I myself encountered as a child. In his romantic life, Cash displayed the duality of finding a single woman who he was deeply attached to, but when away from home, many other women would get part of his time. Even talking about this to the women he was devoted to, that “they didn’t mean anything” is a way of life I’ve found in the writings of Alpha male behavior types from artists to warriors. This of course, when confronted at home would add to household anxiety and stress. Professionally, Cash worked hard, right up to his last recordings. His turning schedule seemed more demanding to even the worst of military deployment schedules. With records supporting concerts, and concerns supporting records, I found myself exhausted just listening how much this man worked to bring his works to the world. Artistically, Cash was what I see as a mark of a great artist, singular in his vision about what he wanted to create. His body of work speaks for itself.

Duality seemed to be a constant in these writings. While able to spend great deals of money on drugs, and his interest, his homes, he was frequently cited as very generous to those down on their luck. He even employed a great deal of his close and extended family, which was one of the reasons he keep playing venues so much. When Cash fell in love, he fell hard, clashing with the women he’d spend time with on the road from town to town. In his work, he took the business of music as a serious career, yet was the musical champion of the underdog, preforming for the troops, prisoners, and the poor.

There are so many lessons and inspiration anyone can take from the words in this book it would be pointless to pin down each one. I leave that to the readers. I can say that Cash’s works are frequently cited to be that which one should explore if music is their calling in life. For what its worth, the most important lesson I found here was one I was well aware of already, that well all have a limited time in this thing we call life, whatever your passion is, whoever your kindred soul is, go get it, and keep doing that.

I leave you with some of my favorite Cash songs.






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