I have to start this post by saying that my best friend is seriously one of the most amazing people on this planet. I saw this book in an online magazine blurb and shared it and she immediately had it sent to me. Seriously, one of the most amazing people on this earth and I can’t wait for her to get to read this too.
You could speak to almost any person in the United States about their musical influences, or the music they have grown up hearing, and it is almost certain that Johnny Cash will either come up in the conversation, or has had a role to play in the growth of artists that they mention. From the written words of his songs, to his fashion statements, to his dedication to embracing the underdog, Johnny Cash touched the entire world and left a legacy that is almost incomparable. Undeniably, songs like “I Walk the Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Ring of Fire” and “Get Rhythm” are some of the most played and sung songs on this planet, whether it be in the back seat of a car with the windows down, or on the stage of a bar in Nashville by an up an coming artist looking for their star to start shining. And his later songs like “Hurt” reintroduced him to a younger generation, fueling his legacy to remain steadfast over time.
In 2005, Joaquin Phoenix gave the world a glimpse into the inside world of Johnny and his struggles with drugs and alcohol during his career, as well as his love for June. The movie was phenomenal, and once again, the world fell in love with Johnny Cash. Yet for many, including myself, there has not been a deeper glance into how Johnny creatively functioned. While I have yet to read his autobiography, I had not found the answers to what made him tick musically until this book.
Alan Light gave me a glimpse into how Johnny wrote and the things that inspired him. Even more, he fully illustrated how Johnny took a firm stance for the things he wanted in his career. The back end of music and record labels is not a world that everyone sees, or even takes a great interest in. So many artists today sing the songs that are handed to them, to the tune they are told to sing to. While that of course displays their vocal talent, some of the artistry gets lost and the general public as a whole misses out on the beauty that artists create when they write and play instruments themselves as well. The development of a song from start to finish is such a huge path, filled with the smallest of details like the nuance of a word, or how a key can have an effect on the entire song. Johnny Cash was the type of artist who wanted to give his listeners more than a tune to whistle to on the radio, and this book was the first book to really capture that attitude. I loved learning that he developed entire themes for his albums, from trains to religion to the awakening of his mind and soul as he aged. He chose how his albums would be developed and released, and he didn’t back down to the pressures of record label demands. The author took such a deeper focus on this, and it was inspiring to be introduced to the depths of Cash’s writing and artistry.
Even more, this book was my first look into Johnny Cash’s humanitarian outreaches. I had never read nor heard mention of his support for Native Americans. This shed a whole new light on him for me as a person. I feel that I can embrace him as even more of a role model to introduce to my son, or to budding artists, because of course we love him for having taken the underdogs under his wing, and many of us know that he himself presented the perfect story of the average man who loved God and religion but who had his own short comings. But to know that I can look at my son and point to paragraphs in this book and say, “this man was known as one of THE Southern Outlaw musicians and HE embraced every person, no matter what type of person they were and he pursued his dreams on his own agenda, without compromise,” lends an entirely new and greater attitude towards The Man In Black.
If you haven’t picked this book up yet, please do yourself a favor and grab it on your next book shopping spree. I’m including the Amazon link below, should you be more of an online shopper. Trust me, it is worth owning. I am so glad to have this book on my shelves and I hope I can re-read it for more inspiration in my own writing and processes of developing my ideas.