Michael Streissguth, who has written extensively about Johnny Cash before, essays a final summation of the singer/songwriter's career and personal struggles in Johnny Cash: The Biography. As the author points out, Cash had a direct hand in shaping his earlier biographies, from which he emerged as a flawed but larger-than-life figure who ultimately had gained control of his demons. While clearly a great admirer of Cash and his music, Streissguth nonetheless chips away at the sanitized version of The Man in Black. In so doing, he makes Cash more human and, thus, his achievements all the more remarkable.
To piece together this complex artist, Streissguth interviewed dozens of people who knew him well at every stage of his development from distant and long-forgotten high school classmates to such inside observers as his daughters Rosanne and Cindy; managers Saul Holiff and Lou Robin; producer Jack Clement; former band members Marshall Grant and Marty Stuart; Bill Walker, the music director for Cash's TV show; and numerous record company executives who witnessed and/or contributed to Cash's rise and fall. Of particular relevance are Streissguth's portraits of two of the most influential figures in Cash life's his flinty and love-withholding father, Ray, and his second wife, June Carter, who emerges as both self-sacrificing and self-aggrandizing. Obsessed by religion and the desire to live righteously, Cash, nonetheless, was more of a drug addict than he ever admitted and, says the author, a womanizer even as he publicly trumpeted his love for June. This is the best study of Cash to date.
Edward Morris is the former country music editor of Billboard and currently a contributor to CMT.com.