Johnny Cash was a man who seemed destined for immortality. A hard-living native of Arkansas whose career spanned five decades and spawned more than 1,000 songs, he was an omnipresent figure on the country music scene, a proudly defiant survivor who used the pressures of fame to fuel his work. Given the scope of his influence and his larger-than-life persona, Cash's death on September 12, 2003, seemed an impossible thing. His songs were rooted in the South but written for the world. Timeless classics like Big River, I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues achieved international recognition, becoming permanent components of the country music canon. This month, BookPage spotlights a special group of volumes that chronicle Cash's remarkable career.
The Man in BlackCash: An American Man (CMT/Pocket, $30, 176 pages, ISBN 0743496299) tells the story of the singer through photographs, letters, lyric sheets, album covers and other visual riches. Sanctioned by the Johnny Cash estate and assembled with the help of Cash's close friend and longtime fan, Bill Miller, the collection of artifacts presented in this colorful volume reflects more than 50 years of country music culture. There are publicity shots of the singer taken for Sun Records in Memphis in the early 1950s; photos of Cash and his wife, singer June Carter; ticket stubs from the Grand Ole Opry; and one-of-a-kind Cash collectibles, including a Slurpee cup from the 1970s emblazoned with the singer's face. (Our favorite photo: a black-and-white shot of Cash, circa 1953, his face innocent and unlined, his arm around a tuxedoed Elvis.) Edited by Mark Vancil and Jacob Hoye, Cash: An American Man is the first title from CMT Books, a new imprint created by CMT: Country Music Television and Simon ∧ Schuster's Pocket Books. With lively text provided by Miller, whose friendship with Cash lasted more than 30 years, this must-have scrapbook also contains the singer's final interview, granted to music journalist Kurt Loder shortly before Cash died, and the lyrics to the last song he composed. Produced by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine, Cash is the ultimate memorial to a man who lived what he wrote and sang what he believed. With tributes from Bob Dylan, Bono, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, the volume provides a complete historical overview of Cash's music. Highlights include a comprehensive discography, an interview with Rick Rubin, who produced four of Cash's albums, and pieces of classic Rolling Stone reportage, including Ralph J. Gleason's account of the performer's 1969 San Quentin concert. There are also excerpts from Cash's two autobiographies, as well as chapters on his screen career and his marriage to June, who, as a member of the famous Carter Family, had a recording career of her own. Rare photographs offer a vivid, behind-the-scenes look at Cash's extended family, including his 13 grandchildren. Singer Rosanne Cash, daughter of the Man in Black, captures the special essence of her father in her foreword to the volume: "He was a poet who worked in the dirt," she says. "He was the stuff of dreams, and the living cornerstone of our lives." Country music's First FamilyFans hankering for more details on the Cash-Carter dynasty should pick up Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? (Simon ∧ Schuster, $15, 432 pages, ISBN 074324382X) by journalist Charles Hirshberg and filmmaker Mark Zwonitzer. Recently released in paperback, the biography, which was a National Book Critics Circle Finalist in 2002, takes an in-depth look at the humble beginnings, heavenly harmonies and history-making careers of the Carter Family. A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter (June's mother) entered the world of country music as a trio starting in the 1920s. This fluid account of their lives, both personal and musical, begins with patriarch A.P.'s birth in southern Virginia in 1891 and continues into the 1970s, creating a context for the folk tunes they made famous ("Wildwood Flower," "Wabash Cannonball"), examining seminal recording sessions and offering a wonderful overview of the cultural forces that influenced American roots music. With their dolorous ballads and gentle instrumentals, their hymns and laments, the Carters helped to shape the sounds of the 20th century. Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? explains how and why their delicate melodies endure. Julie Hale writes from Austin, Texas.