Book Review: Rock & Roll Books

Gift guide

Rock & Roll Books

Johnny Cash: The Biography

by Michael Streissguth
Da Capo Press, 334 pp., $15.95 (paper)

After two autobiographies from the Man in Black, it's difficult to fathom the need for another tome dissecting his life. Nevertheless, Michael Streissguth, best known for his in-depth Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, strives for new insight, additional details, and an overall balance of admiration and criticism in this biography. He succeeds to a degree, but the author's storytelling style is bland and disjointed, turning a fascinating life into a rough slog. Part of Streissguth's problem is chronological. Sections of the book are dedicated to specific time periods, but he jumps around within each one, leading to confusion when he needs to be crystal clear. Perhaps there's a need for an academic recounting of Cash's life but one told in the style of Peter Guralnick's Elvis Presley bios – at an almost daily level. It's not until Rick Rubin arrives in the 1990s that Streissguth's prose shines, precisely because of the time limits the retelling imposes. Cash's interaction with Bob Dylan, the folk scene in Greenwich Village, and the Newport Folk Festival in the 1960s are also detailed admirably. Cash's imposing shadow over the 20th century deserves to be illuminated in a lively and intense fashion that suits his legend, but Streissguth only scratches the surface.

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Johnny Cash

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